There we were. My friend and I were drinking coffee, talking about our days, enjoying each other’s company—and then she used a phrase that makes me cringe. My friend, a bright, assertive, and strong leader in our church, referred to her husband as the “priest of the home.”
In the Old Testament, the Levites served as priests, and their job was threefold—to carry the presence of God with them, to worship God, and to pronounce blessing on their people. They were the spiritual elite. They went into the presence of God on behalf of those deemed unworthy.
But Jesus turned the system upside down with his death on the cross. When he breathed his last, the veil separating common man and God’s presence tore from top to bottom, giving everyone equal access and making all believers priests.
My husband and I are both in fellowship with Christ. We are both priests and share equal responsibility in leading our family, church, and greater community. My husband is not the priest of our home. He is a priest, as am I.
The term “priest of the home” is an attempt to put more leadership, control, and responsibility on men, stripping women of the equal access Christ died for. This term, which never appears in Scripture, is an attempt to uphold patriarchy, a sad reality women have endured ever since the fall. This belief in husbandly priest-ship elevates husbands above wives in function. It comes from a toxic theology—that God appointed men to rule over women, and husbands to rule over wives.
Why would my friend use that phrase to describe her marriage relationship? I know she believes the spiritual reality expressed in 1 Peter 2 that we are all a part of a royal priesthood. From my observations I’ve also concluded she and her husband work together as a team to lead their family spiritually, practicing co-leadership and mutual submission.
As my friend uttered those agitating words, I immediately experienced fear and some annoyance. This friend was a strong leader who was given the opportunity to speak and teach in our church. I immediately worried she might drop this phrase with a mic in her hand, potentially confusing members of our body and undoing all the illuminating teaching my husband had just done on Ephesians 5 not too long ago.
It would have been easy to roll my eyes and offer quick correction. It also would have been easy to say nothing and avoid a tough conversation. Though tempting, I did neither of those things. I spent some time in prayer and asked God to help me approach the subject in a way that would bear much fruit. I was not interested in simply telling her where I stand. I wanted her to experience more freedom and abundant life.
When we did talk about gender and the use of the term “priest of the home,” it happened quite naturally. She actually approached me because she was thinking about writing a book about spiritual giftings and equality in the kingdom of God! I was able to point her towards resources that I believe will further elevate her view of marriage and gender.
I asked her, “I know you know it is okay to be a strong, assertive woman who leads with authority, but are you ever insecure about it?”
Her response was exactly what I needed to hear. She said, “Well, yeah. Not everyone grows up with a dad like J. Lee Grady.”
In that moment, I was struck by the sheltered reality I grew up in. My dad authored books that address how the Bible had been misused to keep women in spiritual bondage. My parents always modeled egalitarian values. The church I grew up in empowered women in ministry and had women on staff and on the vestry leadership team. I studied ministry at a college with faculty that supported my calling into ministry. In so many arenas, I was protected from the harmful lies society and the church have told women. I am free from the baggage carried by many who have not been so sheltered.
Accepting the beautiful spiritual reality that men and women are free to use all their giftings and leadership abilities is liberating, but not exactly easy. It’s made much harder by years of overt and subtle messages that women should not lead because they will lead some man astray with their pretty figure or they won’t be liked because they’ll be perceived as bossy or a know-it-all, or their husband won’t feel like a real man, or….the list goes on. Even when we come to a deeper understanding of equality and marriage, like shards from a bullet wound, little bits of lies remain.
My friend knows God created men and women equally. She knows husbands and wives were created to rule together. She knows Christ ordained women in ministry and leadership. She knows he created her with strong leadership abilities, strategic insight, and a deep desire to see the body of Christ come into full maturity. The trouble is, though she knows all of this, she has not always believed it.
Those of us who know and believe God’s freedom for men and women have both the privilege and responsibility to walk the road of healing with our brothers and sisters who have suffered lies, limits, and shame. The conversations won’t always be easy, but the ones motivated by love and grace are always worth having.