Romantic gynocentrism and the reviling wife: Reflections on last week’s conversation with David Edgington

By Paul Elam

Greetings, and welcome back to the 425 podcast, where the only place we kneel is before the cross. If you recall, last week I interviewed Dr. David Edgington about his book, The Abusive Wife. It was a fantastic discussion of which I was honored to be a part. That said, I’d like to do a bit of dissection on our interview, as it is germane to what I believe is the most important discussion among Christian men since the Reformation, and likely before that as well.

While there was much that David and I agreed on, there were a few points of contention that I want to focus on in this talk, but before I do I want to make clear that I hold the good pastor in high regard. I fully expect to meet him in heaven some day. Whatever differences we have, they do not diminish my respect for what he’s done, and the significance of his voice in this badly needed discussion.

In writing The Abusive Wife, David challenged the modern narrative about men and women, and in doing so he didn’t hold back criticism of the modern church and the egregious bias against men so common to modern clergy. He spoke truth to power, challenging the church to cast aside its blind, often hostile prejudice against men, and its utter refusal to acknowledge and confront evil behavior in women. In doing this, he clearly emulated Christ, challenging religious authorities to recognize and turn away from their hypocrisy and to instead honor God’s word as it is written.

With that in mind, I offer this talk to David as a loving invitation to explore this important subject with me more in the future, and an opportunity to challenge any faulty conclusions I might make in this review of our discussion. I write this now, keenly aware that he is not here to immediately rebut anything I’m saying. I leave that door wide open for him to do so, at any time of his choosing.

A short synopsis of our talk confirms that we both see the manifestation of the problem with the church in the same light. We both see the church making men accountable for their own sin, and assigning them blame for the sin of their wives. That is, when the church even recognizes the sin of the wife. Often, usually, it doesn’t. And has no need to since the man will held at fault either way. The church seems to recognize that a married man and wife are one flesh, but somehow forgets that they are still two souls, responsible as individuals to God for their sins.

We both recognize the problem of reviling wives who spread threat narratives and other false accusations about the husband; acts of relational aggression so common to modern women. We also both recognize the reviling wives who seek to turn children away from their earthly fathers, alienating them at the children’s emotional expense as a way to wage war within the marriage. It’s a problem that escalates during the divorce, which the church often encourages women to file in defiance of God’s word. And finally, we both recognize the deeply entrenched, seemingly intractable resistance to addressing any of these problems, both in the church and the rest of society at large.

Where we begin to differ on all of this is on the problem’s etiology. David attributes the blindly destructive tolerance of women’s sin to feminism’s influence in the pulpit and pews. And to be sure, there is plenty of evidence backing that idea. Feminism is a widely practiced ideology, even by those who claim not to be feminists, and it permeates nearly every aspect of modern human existence, especially in the west. It casts women as an oppressed class, perpetual victims of an imagined form of overbearing patriarchy that doesn’t exist and actually never did. But that particular die has nonetheless been cast. Women have warmed up en masse to the victim role. Indeed they’ve wallowed in it, and men have lined up across the western world to validate their ideas and promise to make things better.

So, the summarized view of David here, as I understand it, is that people have been corrupted by feminist ideology that requires them to view women, not as default sinners, but as default, innocent victims with little to no personal agency. This bad script kicks in full force whenever there is marital conflict when the man, who is by the same corrupted script, presumed sinful and blameworthy. Now, right-minded people, in particular Christians, abhor mistreatment and seek to right wrongs- to fight sin. Christians of both sexes see the protection of women as a Godly mandate. This setup provides a perfect breeding ground for viciously misemployed chivalry. Woman in peril? Not in my church! Come, brothers, gather your torches and pitchforks!

Ostensibly, it all makes perfect sense, even though it often results in horrendous injustice and the complete destruction of families. Feminism, as a destructive force on the family, is just doing to Church families exactly what it’s done to everyone else’s family for the past 60 years. And to the Occam’s Razor guy in me, that explanation checks a lot of boxes.

But, I respectfully submit that there’s more to this picture. During our discussion, David brought up the Song of Songs, suggesting that this, which he referred to in rather passionate romantic terms, serves as both the model of love expressed in our relationship with our wives, and with our lord. Here’s that bit from the interview.

Let’s stop there for a moment and take a deeper look at this. I think part of the problem here is in the definition of the terms. David referred to the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon, as descriptive of romantic love. But here’s part of the problem. Romance, as it is known and practiced today, has nothing to do with anything scriptural or spiritual. Zero, zip, nada. If you do a word search for any biblical reference to “romance,” you’ll do so in vain. That word, nor its equivalent, ever appears anywhere in scripture.

And while the Song of Songs sounds romantic, indeed it appears to gush romance in parts, it more accurately resembles Eros, the timeless motive of human sexual longing which, at its more pathological extreme, results in infatuated obsession. In philosophical sense, particularly in the works of Plato, “Eros” is used to describe the passionate, often irrational desire that drives human behavior, especially in the context of sexually infatuated attraction and longing. That reality no doubt played a significant role in the ancient controversy among Jewish and Christian bible scholars about its inclusion in the Septuagint. And while the Song of Songs is firmly established as part of the biblical canon in both Jewish and Christian traditions, there continues to be discussion and debate about its interpretation and the reasons for its inclusion.

I will revisit that in just a bit, but right now the important point to make is that romance isn’t just an emotional or sexual state, or a combination of the two. It’s not just two lovers enraptured with each other. Nor is it the intimacy produced by two becoming one flesh. Nor is it anything, I assert, that springs forth naturally from the obedient Christian heart. It is certainly, and without question, not something prescribed by scripture. There is no biblical instruction for marriages to be based in romance, especially as at the time of its authorship, the idea of a marriage being based on romance, or even Eros, would have been considered insane and incredibly irregular. Most marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom. Parents and other family members played a significant role in choosing a suitable partner, focusing on factors such as social status, economic benefits, and family alliances. There is no evidence that being hot is part of the equation. Solomon didn’t marry 700 wives and have 300 concubines for Romantic reasons. He did it for political expedience and to expand his sphere of influence. As for the average person, there is no historical evidence whatsoever that a romantically based marriage was even thinkable.

Romance, which for some reason many people are convinced has always been the standard for marriage, has nothing to do with the kind of love that can only be gained from extensive shared life experience. Romance is actually just the codification of infatuation and sexual passion into an ethos that serves women, and only women, at the expense of men. Like it or not, that also means it’s at the expense of the family. That’s hardly a way to promote the order and structure for marriage as is clearly prescribed in the Word of God.

Romance requires men to defend women’s honor, even when they don’t have any. Romance requires men to lower themselves to appease women, and to submit to their desires, even when they’re behaving like tyrants. Romance is the poorest metaphor I can think of for a relationship with God.

Allow me, if you will, to bore you with some history. The word “Romance” itself, in its various forms, began to appear in the vernacular languages of Europe around the 12th century, some 2,000 years after the Song of Songs was written. It initially referred to stories and poems, which often involved tales of gallantry, adventure, and courtly, or what we now call romantic, love.

As I have alluded to in other talks, romantic love owes its roots to medieval Europe and was loosely fashioned after the military code of chivalry that had feudal tenants and vassals kneeling before and pledging fealty to a royal lord. I say loosely because in the old feudal system, there were considerations given for pledging blood and sword to royalty. Even Kings owed something in return for the loyalty given them. The new, romantic narrative of love fully pedestalized women, placing them above man in worth and standing, and was peddled to the masses by the powerful and influential courts of Europe. Like feminism, it regarded women as untouchable and created a one-way power dynamic that we see acted out across the western world to this day. This irrational, romantic model of love eventually commandeered our collective consciousness, giving birth to a system in which women weren’t just to be courted, they were to be wined and dined, pampered, indulged, fawned over and deferred to at every turn because doing otherwise is considered both unloving and unmanly. If you visit an average church, you might just hear it called unchristian.

Now, even though this model for love was eventually embraced by the western world, it’s only been in the past 150 years that people began to marry based on it. In the scheme of things, it’s a very new, experimental way to approach marriage. And by the looks of things, the experiment is not working out that well. Once social and legal pressures were taken off of romantic marriages to stay intact, those marriages began to dissolve like sugar in hot water. To quote Denis de Rougemont’s 1939 classic on romantic love:

“Romance feeds on obstacles, short excitations, and partings; marriage, on the contrary, is made up of wont, daily propinquity, and growing accustomed to one another. Romance calls for ‘the faraway love’ of the troubadours; while marriage calls for love of ‘one’s neighbor’. Where, then, a couple have married in obedience to a romance, it is natural that the first time a conflict of temperament or of taste becomes manifest, the parties should each ask themselves: “Why did I marry?’ And it is no less natural that, obsessed by the universal propaganda in favor of romance, each should seize the first occasion to fall in love with somebody else. And thereupon it is perfectly logical to decide to divorce, so as to obtain from the new love, which demands a fresh marriage, a new promise of happiness—three words, ‘marriage’, ‘love’, ‘happiness’, being synonyms. Thus, remedying boredom with a passing fever, ‘he for the second time, she for the fourth’, American men and women go in quest of ‘adjustment’. They do not seek it, however, in the old situation, the one guaranteed—‘for better, for worse’—by a vow. They seek it, on the contrary, in a fresh ‘experience’ regarded as such, and affected from the start by the same potentialities of failure as those which preceded it.”  [Love in The Western World]

To recap; in the Song of Solomon we read of a reciprocal desire, a love that flows equally between the lovers, which by its nature differs from the uneven display of romantic gynocentrism. As described by C.S. Lewis, romantic love positions the male lover as abject before a woman who actively adopts the role of his pedestalized superior:

“Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modeled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as ‘midons,’ which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’.”   [The Allegory of Love]

Unlike the mutual display of love in Songs, Lewis describes the attitude of romantic love as ‘a feudalisation of love,’ one which necessitates a man lower himself on proverbial and literal bent knees in permanent obedience to an elevated women. Suffice to say it’s an error to attribute romantic love, at least as described by Lewis and other authorities, to the love portrayed in Song of Songs – or indeed to love as described anywhere in the Bible. The conflation of these different kinds of love can only result in a chimera – a creature cobbled together from parts of different animals to create a monstrous hybrid. I would encourage David and others to dig deep into these points of contention and, as always, I welcome discussion, feedback, or dissent in the comments below.

Despite this glaring inequity in power, the romantic ethos, valuing women over men, contorting and exploiting the human instinct to protect and provide for women, continues. And it continues to be conflated with the kind of love that should guide a marriage. That gives us precisely what David and I discussed in our interview about his book. The men in church whose default setting is to persecute any man with a woman’s finger pointed at him aren’t Christians acting to combat sin and bring their fellows into alignment with God’s will. They are medieval knights in shining armor, defending the innocent and fair maiden from harm. It’s a kind of twisted harem seeking by thirsty boys longing for women’s admiration and approval. That has nothing to do with feminism, and everything to do with romantic gynocentrism.

Finally, David and I touched on the topic of marriage itself, and more specifically the men who look at the modern marital landscape and decided to opt out. I pointed out Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he advised single men and widows to remain unmarried.

Here’s a clip of that interaction:

OK, let’s dig into this a little bit, as well. If I am reading David correctly here, he’s insinuating, or at least speculating that 1st Corinthians 7 could possibly be the result of Paul’s personal experience with marriage; that perhaps in Paul’s life previous to becoming a Christian he was married to a reviling wife, or that there was some other marital experience that led him to reject marriage and suggest that rejection all unmarried and widowed men.

But here’s the problem with that. It totally discounts the fact that Paul’s words are in fact not Paul’s words. They are the words of our Lord and Savior, expressed through Paul’s divinely inspired writing. Asserting otherwise reduces everything he said to some kind of divorce bitterness, or perhaps a history of being abused by a wife. I’m sorry, but if we accept that explanation it requires us to deny and reject God’s word, and it would call into question every line of scripture from the holy bible.

From 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASB)

I understand the difficulty in coming to terms with this. The Apostle Paul, by every indication, would clearly be called red pill, and indeed MGTOW in modern times. A dedicated bachelor with no interest whatsoever in the distraction of marrying a woman. As he said in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34,

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.”

Dear listener, that is either the wisdom of the Lord speaking to you through His chosen apostle, or it’s just the resentful musings of a man soured on marriage due to his personal experience. It can’t be both. And we don’t get to choose which version we like based on the argument we’re making at the time.

Now, moving on, I return to the beginning of this conversation, of a church that has lost its way, ignoring God’s word in order to side with women, who are now perceived universally as the victims of men. It might be easy to conclude that we’re discussing two different topics, one being what marriage ought to be based upon, and the other whether men should engage in marriage to begin with. I think the two are actually intimately and inextricably bound together.

First, and this is something neither David nor I addressed in our discussion, the church abdicated its responsibility for marriage quite some time ago. Any moral authority the church had over the marriage covenant died in 1639, when the first license for marriage was issued by the state of Massachusetts and honored by the church. The church has been compliant ever since, injecting the state into the covenant meant to be strictly between a man, a woman and God. By its complicity, the church removed God from authority over marriage and replaced Him with the state. It’s worth mentioning that here, but rather than sidetracking any further now, I will be addressing it in a podcast at some point in the future.

For now, if we are going to address the problem of the reviling wife, we cannot do so in any earnestness without acknowledging the bad script that got us here. All of it.

We are now living with congregations full of entitled, demanding women who are better described as Disney style princesses than adult women ready to take on the awesome responsibilities of a husband and children. Few to none would qualify as a Proverbs 31 wife. Sure, feminism has acted like an accelerant, but only on a fire that was already long burning. To assume that feminism is the singular underlying evil demonstrates the myopic vision that a romanticized view of women engenders and demands.

The phenomenon of romantic gynocentrism has rendered the average women unfit for matrimony. It matters not if she’s a pink-haired termagant in an Antifa T-shirt, or if she’s a churchgoing, demure and soft spoken schoolmarm longing for the days when men were men. Both women pine for the power and authority over men that romantic gynocentrism affords them. These are two kinds of women who typically don’t like each other, but it’s not because they’re different. Under the difference in dress and social manner, they are one in the same. They are just fighting over who will benefit from the mandated chivalry of men.

These two kinds of women, regardless of their apparent differences, are on the same team when accusations have been levied against a man. They both rally men to inflict their will on the victim.

The deleterious effect isn’t limited to women. The effect of romantic mandates, as so aptly described by Lewis and De Rougemont, has transformed men into weak-willed sycophants, thinly disguised houseboys who settle for building a façade of leadership and male strength, asserting their Godly authority as long as their alleged better half isn’t listening. And to their disgrace, they can be reliably counted upon to add muscle to the witch hunts that the women instigate. They are the chief enablers of the reviling wife.

Of course, accepting all this puts one at a heck of a crossroads. What do you imagine would happen to a church, should it echo the sentiments of Lewis and De Rougemont and challenge Christians to abandon their pursuit of such a distorted and unchristian version of love? What would happen to any church that urged women off of their pedestals and into the real world? …………….. That’s right. Total collapse. Women would leave Sunday service fast enough to go get breakfast. And the men, true to the romantic ethos, would just be a half-step behind them.

And that, my brothers, is where we are at. Romantic gynocentrism has a stranglehold on the western church because it has a stranglehold on the western world. And until men are willing to seek God’s approval more than women’s, it will remain as such.

As for the Song of Songs; its intended message and the reason for its inclusion in the Septuagint, I am sure speculation and debate will continue about that long past my lifetime. For now, in the big picture view, I still see a man of purported great wisdom, who like his father before him, fell from grace because of his relationship with women. I see that book as much more warning than prescription.

Let’s turn for a moment to Proverbs 20:5, which states: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

Let’s consider that “The purpose in a man’s heart,” refers to the inner world of a man. His yearnings, goals, intentions, ambitions, and dreams. Now, it says, “is like deep water,” meaning that it is hidden from plain view, from others, and often from the man himself. The totality of his purpose and the core of his beliefs are concealed in the deep, often inaccessible well of a man’s heart.

And now, this critical ending declaration, “But a man of understanding will draw it out.” A man of wisdom, a man with insight, a man who has the ability to search for and find that which is hidden, even his own thoughts and intentions. This is a man with the requisite skill and integrity to plumb the depths of his inner most being and bring light to the truth. And this, I argue, is what is missing from the discussion about romantic gynocentrism. It is a superficial thing, unsuited to examination or testing. Its dictates cannot and will not bear scrutiny. And it sits out of reach, wreaking havoc as almost all men live in willful ignorance of its existence. The first rule of romantic gynocentrism is that you don’t talk about romantic gynocentrism. It’s an unhelpful way to begin a discussion.

And that brings me to the really important part of this dialogue. During my talk with David I asked him what we should do about the problems we both agreed we were plaguing the church and plaguing the relationship between men and women. What do we tell young men about all this? How do we actually start to fix the problem? David is working on a sequel to The Abusive Wife where he intends to expound upon answers to that very question. I look forward to that when the time comes.

Meanwhile, I’d like to offer my pitch for where we start to set things right, beginning with the namesake of this podcast, Ephesians 4:25. We first must quit lying to young men. We need to stop indoctrinating them into a Hollywood fantasy that turns out to be a rigged game against them. Having challenged and overcome our own misguided thinking, we can make sure they at least see a more sane, scripturally sound way to view love. We need to counsel them about what the bible actually tells us about the sexes, the folly of pedestalizing women, and the nonbiblical nature of romantic gynocentrism. We should advise every young man in every church in the west that if he is ever accused of any kind of wrong doing by a woman, that his church family, more likely than not, will turn on him like a quiet, smiling lynch mob. He’ll be thrown directly under the bus with assurances he’ll be prayed for. Tell every young man that if he ends up in a divorce, he will get crushed by a court system designed to ruin him. And finally, importantly, that the Lord has explicitly provided a path away from all of this insanity in 1st Corinthians 7.

There’s no other way to say it, gentlemen. If we want to look past the problem of the reviling wife and start addressing why the church enables all her drama and abuse, we need to quit living in the fairy tale of romantic gynocentrism, return to scripture and rediscover our willingness to speak the truth.

If you know young Christian men, please send them the discussion David and I had, as well as this podcast. Send it to clergy as well, to elders and deacons, but don’t expect much. Most of them would rather eat glass than upset midon.

All of this makes me so very thankful for you, my brothers in Christ. We’re among a small number of people who can draw it out; whose hearts yearn for the light. And I truly believe we are the hope for the Christian church. It may take a hundred years, but it’s on all of us to get the ball rolling.

Till then, I wish you all the best. Praise the name of Jesus Christ.

* * *

You can listen to the video version of this article here.