On Pairs Figure Skating and Drawing Conclusions

There I was, pondering my next blog post on poetry, the psalms and lament, when this happened: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/an-olympic-lesson-for-husbands-and-wives. I didn’t go looking for the post — it found me in some horrible karmic way and here I am, now stuck trying to process it as maturely as possible.

I don’t know the author, John Ensor. I know he is closely affiliated with John Piper and the Desiring God ministries. I choose to assume the best about him, believing unless shown otherwise that he is a man who loves Jesus as much as I do, that he is faithfully trying to live out our shared Christian faith, same as me. I start with the choice to believe that he is honoring the authority of Scripture in his life, same as me.  I point this out because I want to make abundantly clear that I am not questioning Mr. Ensor’s character or faithfulness to God. We can disagree on the topic of gender roles (and do we ever!) and still honor one another as God’s image-bearers, as indeed we both are.

Moreover, I actually don’t want to come to fisticuffs about the content of the piece.

Instead, I want to talk about how unconcerned Mr. Ensor seems that he is uneducated about the topic upon which he is writing, and that his lack of education doesn’t seem to give him pause. There is, I submit, a self-awareness that is missing in this piece, and I find that hugely disconcerting coming from someone with the full backing of John Piper and the Desiring God ministries, especially on a topic that most everyone in evangelical Christendom knows is as divisive and tectonic as gender roles. We all of us need to take great pains here with our thinking, our language choices, our assertions. Lives are actually at stake.

It could be me, and I may very well be wrong, but he seems genuinely unaware as to the athletic requirements of male and female figure skaters, and he doesn’t seem to care.  It would seem OK to him to simply pronounce his observations as true without having to do the (postmodern for sure) self-awareness work behind the scenes to identify his preconceived ideas about how figure skaters interact on and off the ice. Further, he seems unconcerned with then juxtaposing his preconceived ideas up against an educated point of view, for example, one held by an actual set of pairs figure skaters.

If he were to talk with actual pairs figure skaters, maybe he would find out that all his assumptions are correct. She is following, he is leading. Hers is a “…diminutive and more attractive strength of beauty, grace, speed and balance.” He’s the actual muscle. “He takes responsibility for the two of them and she trusts his leadership and delights in it.” She has less to lose than he does.

Or, maybe he’d discover something entirely counterintuitive to his preconceived ideas. Maybe he’d discover that female physical strength shows up differently than male physical strength, that for example when the male skater is hoisting the female skater up over his head, she is working as hard as he is physically so that her weight is bearable. Maybe Mr. Ensor would find out that the strength-to-weight ratio of a female figure skater is superior to her male counterpart, but that it doesn’t matter anyway because raw physicality is only one aspect of pairs figure skating — that there is mental toughness, poise, planning, I don’t know, maybe even accounting and costume design and running the Zamboni. Maybe there is more going on than meets the eye, even Mr. Ensor’s eye, and that it might very well be limiting to our understanding of the world around us to draw conclusions using only our eyes as our exclusive source of information.

I would be 100% behind Mr. Ensor’s piece if it was simply a personal reflection that shares with the rest of us something meaningful for himself. We need to be open to other people’s stories and how they make sense of their lives, even when we disagree. Indeed, he started out in a way that suggested this was precisely what he was up to, saying, “Sochi is helping me be a better husband.”  Had he stuck with this approach, we would have read one man’s experience of pairs figure skating and been left with the respectable option to draw our own conclusions on the merits of his complementarian model.

But he didn’t. Rhetorically, the piece is designed to position the complementarian model of marriage as obviously superior to the egalitarian one, and since superior, therefore Godly (the logical fallacy there probably should be a post for another day. But I digress).

Pairs figure skating becomes a metaphor for marriage and Mr. Ensor’s point of view becomes universalized as definitive for every Christian marriage. Rhetorically, you are supposed to feel like a complete putz if, after pondering the beauty of pairs figure skating, you still insist that equality in marriage is a good thing.

Why, oh why do I care? Because I see this sort of rhetorical action all the time in evangelical circles and I wish it would stop. It has somehow become de rigueur to be oblivious to having a point of view that is shaped by one’s unique experience, needs, privilege or lack thereof, self-aggrandizing tendencies, interpretation of particular Scriptures, even beliefs about how the Bible itself functions. It has somehow become a badge of honor to eschew expert opinion, data, research or open-minded inquiry, and instead just make pronouncements, especially about the Bible, nominally for all Christians in all places at all times, based on ones’ own point of view, interpretation of Scripture, or (apparently) one’s uplifting experience watching pairs figure skating.

Am I the only one who feels we can, we must, do better than this?

%d bloggers like this: