I’ve been in the process of moving, which means downsizing, sorting through old boxes, and (in what I considered a stroke of genius) setting up a roomful of stuff to give away and hosting a party to minimize what I haul to Goodwill. If I give my friends enough wine, undoubtedly they will be persuaded to appreciate my junk.
It was in unpacking a box of books that has sat around for years that I came across my old copy of Her Hand in Marriage by Doug Wilson. I remember reading it maybe a decade ago or more and not being totally repulsed by it, in spite of the fact that I quietly disagreed with statements like “Sons are trained for independence, whereas daughters are trained to pass from one state of dependence to another.”
Actually, I remember being heartened by a couple of passages. So I skimmed through the book to find them, and there they were. Doug’s assertion that according to Mosaic law, the price of immorality falls on the man rather than the woman. I remember thinking ten years ago, huh, that’s an interesting take on things.
But the context of this assertion is appalling on closer reading, and something clicked. It all made sense. Many people have asked the question, as I have: why does Doug keep harping on the supposed (and fictional) “secret courtship” in the Jamin Wight abuse case? Why does he consider this relevant to modern law on consent? Why does he put so much emphasis on, you know, forgiving the poor sinning bastard and making sure that he isn’t punished too much?
The answer: because, first of all, he’s basing his teachings on modern courtship on laws in which women are stoned on their father’s doorsteps for not being virgins. The burden of maintaining the woman’s virginity lay on the father, says Doug. And it still does.
Because, second of all, Doug is teaching sexual mores from an ancient law requiring women to marry their rapists. Because Doug is somehow claiming that this law means “in a biblical society, the price of immorality was high, on fell on the man.”
On page 54 of the book, Doug quotes Deut. 22:28-29, the law saying that raped women have to marry their rapists, and that the rapists need to pay for them like they’re virgins. Doug doesn’t interpret this passage inaccurately and try to argue away the rape: he says in cases of “seduction and rape, such a bride-price is mandatory.” He points out that a woman’s virginity was valuable, monetarily speaking, and that if a virgin got raped in Old Testament times, then her rapist had to pay her bride-price, and a pretty good one at that. In fact, maybe a higher one than he would have had to pay in other circumstances! This is what Doug Wilson is referring to when he says that the burden of “immorality” is on men. There are two wildly bizarre twists of logic in this statement. First, that rape = “immorality,” (a word used to describe consensual fornication) and second, that paying a generous dowry (with or without marrying the woman you rape) is somehow a higher price than, you know, being raped and then being forced to marry your rapist.
Why would Doug largely ignore modern laws on consent when he talks about Jamin Wight’s abuse? Why would he write a letter to the judge blaming Natalie’s parents for not somehow preventing this? Why would he talk as if seducing/raping a 14-year-old is akin to a romantic relationship? It’s all in his book on courtship. In Mosaic law, which is what Doug’s book on courtship focuses on, consent didn’t factor in to sex-related punishments except in one case: if the girl was betrothed or married and someone heard her scream for help and then made this known, then she didn’t get executed for adultery.
The punishment for a single girl having a roll in the hay with her boyfriend: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.
The punishment for rape, if it’s a single girl getting raped: her dad could require they get married and that the guy pay her bride-price.
What’s at play here? The girl’s value, aka her virginity. Her being forced or not forced is not a factor in the punishment. This was pretty consistent with other bronze-age ideas about women, maintaining a clear line of progeny and so on, which is why other religious texts adopted similar laws that are still in effect.
Doug has the gall to assert that according to these bronze-age laws, men and women are treated equally: that men are expected to remain physically as pure as women are. However, this is not remotely true and Doug doesn’t even try to make a case for it. There’s no equivalent law to the one he cites where if a woman marries a man and thinks he’s not a virgin like he said he was, she gets to call his parents to task and demand that they prove he’d never had sex before. “Bring out the journals where you did a room check every night! Give me the sworn affidavits from all the village girls and the visiting prostitutes! Where’s the doctor’s note saying he’s free of VD?” And if they can’t prove this, that he gets stones hurled at him on his dad’s doorstep until he dies. Men’s virginity comes up as an issue in Mosaic law exactly never. It’s not even mentioned. Do men get capital punishment for adultery? Yes, if the adultery is that they’re sleeping with a married or betrothed woman (see Deut. 22: 22-24). Do men get killed for adultery if the woman is single and it’s the dude who’s married? It’s not even addressed, so no. Adultery for married-men-only didn’t exist, because in the event of extramarital sex with a single girl, the already-married man potentially got to marry again regardless of whether or not he forced her. Polygamy to the rescue.
So, again: what’s at play here? The girl’s value, based entirely on her virginity.
What’s at play in Doug’s hissy fits over the Greenfields “not protecting” Natalie? her value, based on her virginity. It had nothing to do with her trauma, since Doug has never acknowledged there was any. It used to be said in Christ Church circles back in the day that the Greenfields were a constellation of shining stars: all beautiful, statuesque, admired. Ben Greenfield had ambitions towards national fame; some of the others did as well. There were a few families like that, and it was well-known who they were.
Having virtuous, beautiful women in his congregation is a major way Doug Wilson measures his pastoral acumen — you can tell by how often he mentions that submissive women under godly authority are beautiful, by how he brags about what the women in his congregation look like — and conversely, how ugly all the “small-breasted-biddies” and “lumberjack dykes” out there in non-Christian society are. You can tell by how he claims that non-Christ Church people favorably compare the women in his congregation to other women elsewhere.
When Jamin Wight abused Natalie, Natalie was whispered about in Christ Church — I know because I heard the whispers. She’d had sex. She was not a good girl. She was no longer a star in the Christ Church constellation. She was no longer a face and a body that Doug Wilson could comfortably pad his congregation with, could wallpaper the background with when visiting dignitaries paid him court.
Her value was in her virginity. Her consent or non-consent was of secondary, if any, importance. That’s why Doug responded the way he did to Jamin’s crimes. His theology of sexual ethics, drug straight from Deuteronomy 22 and explained over the course of 100 pages.
Doug asks his readers to consider the painful outcomes of not espousing the model he sets up in this book — presumably, divorce, maybe single motherhood or something like that. But let’s consider the painful price to the many, many people who have tried to follow his teachings and have gotten a raw deal instead. Even some of the ones who don’t think they have — I keep hearing about some women (though certainly not all of them) in his denomination who literally say of married sex, “women don’t like it, just lie there and pray for it to be over quickly.” I keep reading smothered evidence of abuse on CREC fronts that have yet to become public; I keep reading essays and comments from people who have been deeply wounded by Doug’s teachings.
Doug Wilson’s fruit is not how many beautiful, talented, chaste women he has sitting in the Logos Fieldhouse on any given Sunday. It’s what they say about him when they’re no longer bound by family, job, community or the threat of hell.
It’s what he does to the least of these.