Why is patriarchy so entrenched not only within the major faith traditions, but particularly among Christians? One obvious answer is that the “he will rule over you” of Genesis 3:18 was one of the first consequences of sin in the garden. But unlike the other effects of sin—death, toil and work, or even pain in childbirth—male rule has been elevated and advanced as a biblical ideal by religious leaders from the early centuries to the present day. What would happen if Christians also enshrined the other effects of sin, like death for example, as we have male rule?
On the contrary, Christians consistently resist death; we oppose the thorns and thistles of labor through technology and agriculture, just as we work to improve the experiences of childbearing. Yet, male authority receives an enduring endorsement from the church, making it harder to question and challenge, without the fear of opposing God as well.
Weeks after Barna released their 20-year study showing the significant drop in women’s involvement in American Christian churches (the first drop in its history), two separate conferences were held to equip pastors in advancing male authority. Featured speakers, both popular and highly educated theologically, made an appeal to male authority based on what they perceived as a “masculine orientation” of Christian faith. Here we observe a new turn of events in the Christian patriarchal movement. These pastors believe that there is something about God’s being that is “masculine.” Why do they believe this?
They arrive at this position by drawing on the male language of Scripture. For example, Jesus was male and Scripture reveals God as father, not mother. Jesus selects twelve male disciples and teaches them to pray to God as father. Further, males are frequently noted as the leaders in Scripture. They are described as the “head” of women, and wives are described as being called to submit to their husbands. Most tragically, those pastors supporting male authority believe that Jesus submits, eternally, to God the Father.
They make this case because they wish to extend hierarchy they suppose exists within the Trinity on males and females. Hence they promote the incoherent—or inconsistent—notion of equal in being, but unequal in role, or authority. How can you be equal in being but unequal in authority? To do so renders the word “equal” meaningless. This “separate but equal” or “equal but different” rhetoric was used in the Unites States to segregate schools, restaurants, restrooms, hotels, buses, and even churches according to skin color. However, the courts decided that separate is never equal because “separate” too easily creates segregated social structures that are inherently unequal and unjust.
Even so, Christians employ the same flawed logic to exclude women from positions of authority in the church. To deny females equal authority not because of their character, their intimacy with Christ, or their giftedness, but solely because of gender—which is a fixed and unchangeable condition—is to create communities, organizations, churches, or marriages that are inherently unjust.
As these teachings attribute hierarchy to the Trinity, and further, connect this hierarchy to the masculinization of God, they construct the most extreme patriarchal worldview in all of church history. It is riddled with biblical and theological errors. Yet we can be thankful that decades of careful egalitarian scholarship means a reasoned response can be made.
Read next week’s Arise to find egalitarian responses to these challenges!