Pictures of a battered and bruised Taylor Armstrong (star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) are circulating in the media, once again demonstrating that wealth, beauty, and celebrity are no match for male domination. What do Armstrong and women around the world have in common? They have all suffered the negative impact of patriarchy in some way or another. The outcome has been objectification, marginalization, marriage and family struggles, serious economic problems because of divorce or abandonment by one's spouse, the silencing by faith communities, inequity in the workplace, physical abuse, and sexual assault.
"Patriarchy literally means 'rule of fathers.' Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. 'Honor thy father,' became a euphemism for the duty to obey the king." (Wikipedia. "Patriarchy." Accessed October 11, 2011)
Authority, power, and control are key components of patriarchy. "Who has ultimate authority?" becomes the question asked all too often in marriage seminars, church councils, business boardrooms, and government proceedings. Typically, the answer given is "men."
We see, however, that whenever anyone, male or female, believes that they have ultimate authority, abuse occurs. God knows this. When the Israelites demanded that they be given a king like all the other nations, God warned them that bad things would happen if they gave absolute power to a king other than him (1 Sam. 8).
Jesus taught us that the power structure of the kingdom of God is the reverse of that which is found in the world. When asked by his disciples who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he pointed to a child (Matt. 18). When teachers of religious law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, he replied, "The Lord our God is the one and only Lord" (Mark 12:29, NLT). When the disciples began to argue about who would be the greatest among them, Jesus replied, "In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people...but among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant" (Luke 22:25-26, NLT).
Patriarchy and servant leadership are mutually exclusive. Patriarchy is a system built on domination and subordination and always has a negative impact on women, children, and marginalized men. Servant leadership, as demonstrated by Jesus, embodies equality, respect, and the empowerment of others. It is time for Christians to wake up to the fact that patriarchy in any form is contradictory to God’s plan for his people.