Doug Wilson, The Gospel Coalition, and Sanctified Rape Culture

Red Riding Hood's mother warned her about the patriarchy

Red Riding Hood’s mother warned her about the patriarchy. Credit: David Wolf, used under CC license.

Major trigger warning: extreme rape and rape culture apologism, victim blaming, slavery and Confederacy apologism.

Note: this is a long post. If you only have time to read part of it, I’d recommend starting here.

The following is a quote by Douglas (Doug) Wilson, a complementarian pastor, from his book Fidelity: What It Means to be a One-Woman Man:

The sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

We cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

The quote is part of an excerpt posted by Jared Wilson (no relation as far as I know) to The Gospel Coalition blog, with an approving note that explains the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey and “other modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission.” (h/t Rachel Held Evans.) [eta: the original post and the initial followup have now been removed; Jared Wilson has made a final statement on the situation, including what he calls an "apology."]

It is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read. Maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked. It’s not wildly different from from things John Piper or Doug Wilson’s wife Nancy have said about submission and authority in sex.

But Wilson goes much farther than any rape apologist Christian writer I’ve ever read, and that’s a lot of people. His notion of godly sex is little more than sanctified rape. In the name of Jesus.

He also says (as Jared Wilson states in a comment defending this filth) that “rape is judgment upon a culture that does not cherish and protect women.” We should be OK with this, according to Jared, because Doug Wilson isn’t blaming rape survivors for being raped. He’s only blaming all women who want to be treated equally and all of our allies. That’s all.

Doug Wilson’s supposedly loving and just god apparently thinks women being raped is an appropriate punishment for a culture that fails to protect women…by (allegedly!) believing in gender equality.

Oh, and in Jared Wilson’s world, the popularity of 50 Shades is evidence that men “lust” to rape and women long to be raped in the absence of proper gender roles in sex. This is a very creative and uniquely fucked up way of implying that men who rape can’t help themselves and that women are asking for it.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about this, but there are several Christians already explaining in detail how this trash is a glorification of rape. Rather than duplicating what they’re saying, I’d like to point out a few things that I think are less likely to come up in Christian criticisms of Wilson.


First off, let me just say how awesome it is to see Christians organizing to condemn harmful teachings like this. This wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago. I’m really happy to see that hateful misogyny and violence in the church are much more likely to be vocally challenged these days.

However. I’m already seeing critiques that confuse and conflate consensual BDSM and consensual rape fantasties with Doug Wilson’s praise of marital rape.

Look. There are serious problems with 50 Shades of Grey. It portrays controlling, abusive behavior and domestic violence as romantic and loving. It takes to a whole new level the rape romanticizing trope of a young female virgin being ravished by an experienced, domineering older man who ignores her sexual boundaries and “gives” her what she doesn’t know she secretly wants. It mirrors very real problems with abuse and coercion in some BDSM relationships and communities.

Yes, 50 Shades romanticizes sexual and other kinds of abuse. But there’s no comparison between a work of fiction that glorifies abuse and a pastor using his considerable, direct influence on people’s lives and choices to equate sexual abuse with god-honoring sex. And whatever one’s moral or ethical feelings about erotica or consensual sexual power play, it’s not even in the same universe as pastors teaching that a husband having sex with his wife is basically plowing a field he owns.

If you think I’m exaggerating, please note that Nancy Wilson has written, under her husband’s oversight, that a heterosexually married woman’s body is a garden belonging to and tended by her husband, and that “a husband can never trespass in his own garden.”

My point is, Christians, please don’t suggest that Wilson basically advocating marital rape is the “only thing worse” than 50 Shades being “pornographic.” Just don’t.

A second point: Doug Wilson is not only a rape apologist; he’s also a slavery apologist. And contrary to Jared Wilson’s dismissal of commenters who repeatedly tried to point this out, this is absolutely relevant to Wilson’s teachings about obligatory female submission in sex.

Wilson is the co-author with Steve Wilkins, a white supremacist, of a pamphlet called Southern Slavery as it Was, which claims that Southern slavery  “was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity” but a relationship between “friends and often intimates”:

Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, [slavery] was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates…

The [WPA Slave] Narratives consistently portray an amazingly benign picture of Southern plantation life. Affection for former masters and mistresses is expressed in terms of unmistakable devotion. Testimony to the good treatment, kindness, and gentleness of many so-called “heartless slave holders” abounds. Many of the old slaves express a wistful desire to be back at the plantation.

Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care. In the narratives taken as a whole, there is no pervasive cry of rage and anguish.. abuses came from a distinct and very small minority. [emphasis mine]

If you can stomach any more: video of Wilson on why he’s a Paleoconfederate, why the post Civil War Reconstruction Amendments – you know, the ones that abolished slavery (in theory) and established black citizenship and voting rights (in theory) – “inverted the meaning of the Constitution,” and why the Civil War wasn’t God’s way of ending slavery and is to blame for racial animosity today.

What does this have to do with rape apologism? Firstly, both Wilson’s rape and slavery apologism hinge on that little word ”patriarchal.” He’s trying to sell a vision in which white male patriarchy rules benevolently over the rest of us, for our own good and protection.

The parallels are striking. Wilson and Wilkins paint a romanticized, nostalgic picture of affectionate and devoted relationships between black slaves and the white men who owned them as property. Wilson does the same with patriarchal marriage, spinning a theology in which husbands view wives as property and soil to till as “cherishing” and “protecting” women. He tells women that sexual domination in straight marriage is “protection” against rape – that it’s for our own good and satisfaction – while crafting falsehoods about American slavery as a paternal institution that protected and provided for slaves, and afforded them “simple pleasures.” It’s no coincidence that he blames feminism for causing rape and simultaneously sees the end of slavery as the source of “racial animosities” in the U.S.

Wilson means for us to accept a theology that revolves around authoritarian hierarchy, with white, straight, cis, Western men at the top, and everyone else knowing our proper place. We’re meant to accept that movements for racial and gender equality are actually the causes of racist and misogynist abuse and violence, and that the real root of such violence – white male patriarchy – is actually its remedy.

This isn’t just about Doug Wilson. It’s about an entire culture of white Christians who promote his teaching of sanctified rape and domineering patriarchy as godly theology. It’s about a culture that conveniently ignores his vile racism when it suits them, thinking they are remaining “neutral.” In fact they implicitly endorse his racism by promoting him as “sound and compelling” while refusing to acknowledge, much less condemn his defense of slavery. This is about an entire culture that majors in perpetuating rape culture and racism by looking the other way.

Maybe this is all too abstract. Let me give you a few examples.

My former Sovereign Grace church is led by men closely affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. For a long time they carried books on marriage and gender roles by Doug and Nancy Wilson in the church bookstore. Then they stopped. Why? Not because Wilson wrote a heinously racist and revisionist pack of lies about slavery (which, I have to be clear, was never sold in the bookstore), but because passages from the said pack of lies were plagiarized from other authors.

I’ll say that again. A well known reformed evangelical church continued to carry Wilson’s books, knowing he is an unrepentant, racist fraud of a “historian,” until Wilson got in legal hot water for lifting material for his trash writing. Plagiarism > racism and lying, apparently.

After my church pulled the Wilsons’ books from the bookstore, leaders in my former church continued to recommend and give out free copies of these books in private – in SECRET – while presenting a public front of no longer endorsing them. I know this because my husband and I were given copies by our premarital counselor.

Another thing: as an astute commenter at The Gospel Coalition noted, Wilson’s view of slavery is relevant to his comments on sex not only because “they give a dramatic example of his views on submission and dominance,” but also because black female slaves were systematically sexually abused and exploited by overseers, slave owners, and other white men.

[Wilson's] views on slavery are at least somewhat relevant [to his views on marriage], in that they give a dramatic example of his views on submission and dominance. Someone who can promote the institution of southern slavery (which I will note was widely accompanied by the rape of slaves by masters) is likely to misunderstand the delicate and beautiful interplay of marriage as well.

As it happens, Wilson and Wilkins comment on sexual violence against female slaves in their pamphlet…by basically denying that it ever happened on any kind of large cultural scale. They claim, against the historical record and the rather obvious fact that millions of black Americans have white ancestry, that there’s essentially no evidence that black slave girls and women faced systematic sexual violence and exploitation. Further:

To imply that black men would be indifferent to the sexual abuse of their women is to imply that they were somehow less manly than other men who would be indignant over such abuse. This common assumption about slave men is not only unrealistic and unsubstantiated but an insult to their humanity and patently racist.

Jared Wilson’s responses to this commenter:

  • “The topic of slavery is not what this post is about. You’re welcome to comment on the subject of this post, even if you insist on continuing to be wrong about what it says, but otherwise you can take your antipathy for Doug Wilson somewhere else. This isn’t a “well, he’s wrong about x so I’m going to assume that he’s wrong about y” sort of blog.”
  • “No more comments on slavery. They are off topic.”

A final point. Now that Rachel Held Evans and other prominent Christian bloggers are criticizing the original post, Jared Wilson has posted a rebuttal [update: this post has been taken down, see the eta at the beginning of the post]. Spoiler alert: Doug Wilson respects women, angry commenters were already outraged at Wilson and TGC (guilty as charged on that count, but I’m sure others are not), and we’re all just opportunistic critics (wrong, Jared. I’ll criticize you and Doug any old time).

But I want to particularly note this self-defense that Jared Wilson quotes from Doug Wilson:

Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class.

Thanks, Doug, for using a racist and xenophobic joke about your critics being foreigners who obvi don’t understand English to prove my entire damn point.

42 Comments

  1. Wow. I knew complementarians were willing to go to great lengths to justify their misogyny, but WOW. I am now glad that I got out when I did.

    Great post.

    • The longer I’m away the more I see how fucked up what I grew up with was, and that some of these people really, really loathe women.

      Thanks.

  2. This is powerful. Thank you. I’m so glad that I saw how damaging complementarianism was to my marriage when I did. (Oddly enough, I was the one holding onto it – my husband was anxious to be partners, not my lord and master.)

    • Thanks, Dani.

      I think that’s one of the most perverse things about this culture – there’s such Stockholm Syndrome that women are often the ones pushing for more authoritarianism. I saw Jared Wilson just tweet that he’s getting encouraging notes from mostly women – nauseating, but not surprising. They get girls and women to internalize this poison.

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  4. Thanks for this. The (probably unrelated) Wilsons deserve every impassioned, eloquent rebuttal that they can get. I just added my own progressive Christian response to this garbage, for what it’s worth–inspired by Jared Wilson’s recent follow-up, which just misses the point completely. Don’t know if your comments or mine will move people like Wilson to rethink their views. But hopefully it will help to prevent some vulnerable minds from being naively sucked in by them.

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  6. Love this post! Thank you. Could not agree more.

  7. Pingback: 50 Shades of Confederate Grey: Rape Culture And Slavery |

  8. Ugh. So gross.

  9. I agree with everything you’ve said here.

    Someone over at the Wartburg Watch posted this other quote of Doug Wilson’s:
    “Treat women right is a biblical message. Treating them wrong is bad. Oh . . . but here is the problematic part. Right and wrong are defined by God, and not by mutual consent, or by feminine insecurities, or feminist compromises, or by masculine insecurities, or by zeitgeist-riddled cultural observers, or by evangelicals desperate to be accepted with the cool kids, or by chin-stroking, Bible-surrendering academics.”
    http://www.dougwils.com/Sex-and-Culture/cloacina-goddess-of-sewers.html

    And since, as an elite male, he gets to interpret ‘what God says’, the implication is that, whatever their perceptions, women haven’t been badly treated unless he tells them they have. Talk about owning the discourse!

    • And that is where he gets it all wrong. Right and wrong ARE defined by mutual consent. Almost everything we call “wrong” is wrong because they cause harm to another without their consent. Especially in the realm of sexual relations.

      Sex is not the problem….sex without true consent is the problem.

      Men like this deserve to be exposed and then ignored until they can learn to play nice.

  10. Brava!

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  13. Excellent post, Grace. I commented on the Gospel Coalition blog highlighting the same sickening passage that you did and my point was ignored. You summarized my own views so well in this post, especially linking Wilson’s ‘benevolent patriarchy’ in slavery and his views on sexuality, marriage, etc. I think you can go further and see disturbing elements of blood and soil fascism in “Southern Slavery, As It Was.”

    Given Wilson’s standard defense that people need to ‘read my books,’ I read “Southern Slavery, As it Was” and am now halfway through (by some miracle) “Black and Tan”. I can tell you that Wilson is defensive and incredibly arrogant, constantly lashing out against academic historians and pretty much anyone else who disagrees with him. He is convinced of his own moral and intellectual superiority and constantly insults detractors. He also, as my Holocaust scholar wife pointed out, uses many of the same tactics that Holocaust deniers use in his defense of Southern Slavery.

    What is particularly sad is that he has now been endorsed by John Piper, the Gospel Coalition (I want expect better from Tim Keller, DA Carson and some others associated with the coalition), Frank Turk (assoc w/ Phil Johnson and John MacArthur) and many other evangelicals. And so the cultural and theological context of my childhood and teenage years continues to crumble as it becomes more extreme and alien to me…

    One more thing, Grace. If you want to see internalization to the extreme, see Doug Wilson’s daughter’s (Bekah) response to Rachel Evan’s post…truly sad and disgraceful – http://www.feminagirls.com/2012/07/18/thems-figthin-words/

    • White reformed evangelical leaders know that Wilson is simply indefensible on the slavery question, so they just pretend his writings on it don’t exist. It’s easy for them to do, in part, I suspect, because many of them secretly think black people talk too much about slavery and it wasn’t as bad as it’s made out. And many of them lionize white slave owners and Confederates as super godly Christians. So…why would they bother calling Doug out to stand with black people when they’re wallowing in their privilege and color blind racism in the first place? There’s no incentive for them to challenge him. John Piper is probably the best of that crowd on race issues, and even he has said some pretty damn racist things. Wilson is just a more extreme version of them.

      I saw Wilson’s daughter’s post. It made me sad. Internalized misogyny, indeed.

  14. Grace,

    Thanks so much for this. I had no idea that Wilson was such a blatant racist/White Supremacist/Southern slavery apologist as well.

    Though it makes perfect sense. I mean, it fits in well with a white man who imagines that “colonizing” and “conquering” are positive attributes. Sharing on my page.

    • Yea, Wilson is way out there. Reformed evangelical leaders know it, but they go on recommending him, giving him a platform like he’s mainstream, and looking the other way. They’re really good at that. And yes, his views make perfect sense together. I feel silly that I didn’t think to unpack the “conquer” and “colonize” language in this post, because um, that’s pretty blatantly the language of white and Western supremacy.

      • It’s rather indicting the fact that some White Evangelicals would not even recognize that being the case, or thinking that it’s a good thing, “in the right hands.”

        But it makes perfect sense. At least Wilson’s honest about the connections between his patriarchy, his racism and his theocracy – even if he’s lying through his teeth that he’s NOT been doing this…

  15. I have started a series on this brouhaha here (note: this post is written from a complementarian perspective, partially defends Doug and Jared Wilson, and may be triggering – G).

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  17. Your writing appears to be intellectually dishonest and you have really slandered Doug Wilson. He made several points, supported by his bible study of how words are used in the passages he quoted but you did not address those points or question him. If you had honest disagreement based on his scholarship, you could have addressed that. Instead you call him a rape apologist. I bet very few of your readers actually researched what you accused him of to see if it was true, either. Anyone who reads what amounts to character assassination has an obligation to research it to see if the accusations are true. Also, you have not presented his writings about slavery accurately although the information on the slavery pamphlet is on the internet for all to see. That is an old controversy and has been dealt with. The other author took full responsibility for the plagiarism. If you disagree with other conclusions, use documentation instead of emotion.

    • Yes, the real issue with the pamphlet is the plagiarism. That was totally the point of the post.

      I think I can live with being called an intellectually dishonest slanderer by folks who support a Paleoconfederate historical revisionist (psst, that’s a fancy word for “liar”) whose wife says women can’t turn down their husband’s sexual advances. I will find some way to sleep at night.

    • Instead you call him a rape apologist.

      Because that’s just a side-issue, right? Has nothing to do with anything that Doug Wilson or Jared Wilson are or are doing here? They’re not apologizing for rape – they’re just blaming rapists for getting raped…

      We didn’t read the article? It’s pretty small. And our reading comprehensions are just fine, thank you. Unlike, say, a man sticking up for a rape apologist by suggesting that we’re too stupid to actually read in the first place?

  18. This part right here, actually, sums up the problem: Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class.

    That’s a dictate. It’s a declaration that anyone who is intelligent will agree. Anyone who doesn’t agree, doesn’t understand. There is no room for discussion. It’s the fundamental problem of “complementarianism”. It requires that one partner so subordinate their ability to reason that compromise, and shared experience are, at best, diminished.

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  21. If ‘this’ is what evangelicalism produces in the questionable form of an evangelical man’s oh so arrogant mind and life about women, then ‘evangelicalism’ really ‘is’, just as bad as the worst forms of ‘fundamentalism’. I think the penny just dropped about this for me this morning. This man’s dreadful statements and the dreadful chapter of a book Jesus would surely publically denounce, and tell all honest souls to burn, really is the bad, ugly fruit, of the logical end to which the worst extremes of evangelicalism can possibly be taken. Jesus said,”you will know them by their fruits.” And, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Come to think of it, the man’s comment about ‘penetration and planting’ re sex, does sound a little like a mysogenist man who wrote the Koran and had a strangely similar demeaning belief about women! Now ‘that’ observation is just a little ‘scary’ don’t you think?

  22. What is the matter White people? I am totally ashamed that ANY white person would be defending this man’s view on slavery….and to be clear, I am white.

  23. My personal (outside of evangelicalism) opinion is that the white right-wing evangelical movement is either a product of the slaver churches, or has allied with them so thoroughly that they might as well be.

    It’s just Nixon’s and Goldwater’s Southern Strategy at prayer.

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