On Homer Simpson Hermeneutics: Egalitarian Marriage, Last Names, and a Response to Andrew Klavan

I have been listening to Andrew Klavan's podcast since Episode 1—I've enjoyed his books, his lectures, and much of his work on the podcast. I find him culturally interesting and quite likable. This opening is not a bit of honey to butter up Andrew (should he read this); rather it is a serious and truthful comment about a podcast I am subscribed to, even though I have not paid my $8 a month: my life is pretty good all things considered, so I do not need my life changed, even if it might be for the better. I recall a brief back-and-forth I had with Andrew on twitter about what I perceived to be a lack of nuance regarding the use of language concerning 'feminism.' But, I enjoyed the exchange and moved on. However, I was quite troubled by the rather shallow theological commentary Andrew offered today. Let me give the full context.

In episode 340, Andrew took the time to answer one final question and the person (Richard?) asked the following (time stamp: 35:00-36:50):

Dear Supreme Leader Klavan…my long-time girlfriend and I are planning on getting married next year after deciding it is time to have children. However, she is undecided on whether or not she wants to take my last name. What are your thoughts on this topic, perhaps you could help me [Richard] to convince her?

Now, to provide some context before I respond to Andrew's words; when my wife and I got married, I decided fairly early on that I would take her last name. I wrote a bit about that entire journey in Mutuality magazine so I won't rehash all of it here. Needless to say, I was fairly confident where Andrew would go with his answer, but I've been surprised before.

This time I was not surprised.

I won't quote the entirety of Andrew's comments, as I would be here all night and, frankly, I worked a 10-hour day and I am exhausted.

Andrew said:

I strongly believe in taking your husband's name for a number of reasons, the most politically incorrect one of which—which has never stopped me from saying anything before—is I do believe in a leadership role for husbands and fathers, I do believe that you are taking over the leadership from a father…

Become a family, become a new family. That's what you are doing, you are becoming a new family, a new family has a name—I think it should be the name of the husband. If you got to make one up then make one up, but become a family…do not dwell in the past, become one flesh, have a new family.

Much could be written in response, but the first item worth noting is that Andrew does not actually offer justification for his view. I am assuming, if he has a Bible verse in mind, that he is thinking about Ephesians 5.

However, if one looks to Ephesians 5:18-33 for the language of "leading," one is hard-pressed to actually find such language. The grammatical dependency of v.22 on v.21 means the entire household code is governed by mutual submission—husbands and wives. Whatever follows in vv.22-33 must be subordinated to v.21. That is how exegesis works.

As someone who took his wife's last name, I find Andrew's comment about my 'leadership' somewhat odd. I do not suddenly gain authority in a marriage relationship the instant I place a ring on Allison's finger. Rather, the idea of taking Allison's last name reflected for me a principle drawn in Gen 2:24, where I leave and go to her (not that everyone must take their wife's last name). The New Testament vision is not "who is your father," but "God is your father."

Andrew's caveat about making up a new name is a respectable concession, and simultaneously an easy one. My wife and I knew above all that we wanted to have the same last name. However, is the husband too good for his wife's name? Is he above her history, her story, her desires to remain true to her culture? As long as the husband does not accept his wife's last name, then everything is fine.

I'm sorry, but I find this very difficult to swallow theologically and biblically.

I've noticed a very similar trend in other conservative shows like Louder with Crowder (I have criticized Stephen Crowder here). There is a largely unsophisticated and, shall we say, uncritical edge to this sort of thinking. For instance, the assumption of male leadership in the home is entirely assumed, not argued for. Like I mentioned with Stephen Crowder, Jared, and Gerald, the hidden figure behind this sort of flawed reasoning is not Jesus, Paul, or Moses—it is Homer Simpson. What I mean is this: a culturally inert reading of Scripture that prioritizes the man over and above the woman, reflecting the attitudes and characteristics of one Homer Simpson.

It is also an amusing image, of Homer trying to read the Bible, but I digress.

There is no Scripture actually offered (the proof text Andrew offers does not support his reading; indeed it undermines it as I've briefly shown) to substantiate his brief claim. What makes this deeply troubling is the cultural supposition of male headship (Andrew never uses this terminology, but the language he uses is standard) within conservative political circles. Male headship, simply put, is the cultural air they breathe.

Which makes Paul's words about women so shocking. If the Corinthians, the Ephesians, or any other ancient group were alive today, they would be at home with Andrew and Stephen and much of my political sub-group regarding women—which says a lot about how regressive much of modern political conservatism actually is.

Thankfully, Paul is far more culturally inclusive of women and wives.

•    Who else in the New Testament advocates for mutual submission between spouses (Eph 5:21 & 1 Cor 7) in a time where the idea of a husband submitting to his wife was unheard of?

•    Who else in the New Testament names a woman as an apostle (Rom 16:7), a position of unique apostolic authority?

•    Who else in the New Testament calls a woman a deacon, a woman patron (προστάτις) of some high status who supported him (Rom 16:1-2)? A woman who read and explained Romans to the church in Rome, even?

•    Who else proclaimed that women and men were "one in Christ," affirming their blessedness as equal participants in the church and as full recipients of the promise (Gal 3:28)?

•    Who else names a wife before her husband, illustrating a cultural disregard for social hierarchy (Rom 16:3)?

•    Who else affirmed women's right and authority to prophesy in church (1 Cor 11:5) and their mutual interdependency with men 1 Cor 11:11-12)?

•    Who else affirms that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for all people, given by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:12-29)?

•    Who else calls women "co-workers" (Phil 4:2-3), especially given the likelihood they are church leaders?

•    Who else says wives have authority over their husband's bodies, and likewise (1 Cor 7:3-4)? Where is 'leadership' in this scheme?

•    Who else says that both wives and husbands have a sanctifying role in marriage, and have spiritual authority over their husband's spiritual lives (1 Cor 7:10-16)?

•    Who else calls women "sisters" instead of making stereotypical jokes about their personhood (Philemon 1:2)?

•    Who says women and men are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27)? Well, this one is probably someone other than Paul, but your get my point.

As I mentioned to Stephen, and I mention now to Andrew, the New Testament vision is a vision worth pursuing. As it unfortunately stands, the New Testament is more liberating toward women than either Stephen or Andrew, and I am disappointed in my conservative sub-culture. They may believe they are just being 'politically incorrect,' but in reality, they are being 'politically correct' to their base.

Real courage is going against the grain. Political conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have an enormous chance here to embrace the moral vision of the New Testament. By including women as equal participants, equal leaders, equal image bearers in Christ, you are saying far more about the dignity and worth of women than those who willing denigrate women for capital gain.

I do not know about all of you, but I will take the witness of Paul over Homer Simpson any day.

Nick