Despite the nice sounding quote from John Piper [above) anything other than an egalitarian approach to the role of women and men in partnerships, marriages, households, workplaces, churches and indeed society, can potentially leave the door open to abuse of rights and abuse of power. Most Conservative Evangelicals in this country no longer buy into the idea that men are superior to women. Many now insist that scripture teaches that there are only two contexts in which male headship actually applies: the household, and the Church. Women are not inferior, but different they say.
What progress is this? Surely it still leaves the door open for spiritual abuse and the abuse of this claimed positional power.
Over the last couple of years there has been a noticeable increase in religious commentators linking the doctrine of headship and domestic violence. Kelly Ladd Bishop writes, “Most complementarians [see below for explanation] appeal to the servant leadership of the man and the loving submission of the woman. The idea is that a man is to lead his home by serving his wife and family, and this should never involve abuse. The problem is, while many complementarians may truly be outraged by domestic abuse, their theology enables it. Any time there is a power imbalance, one party becomes vulnerable, and the door is opened to abuse.”
A prime example of this imbalance is in the words of leading Evangelical John Piper, who is also one of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He spoke out in response to one of his Youtube subscribers who asked, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”. His first response was to clarify different types of abuse, suggesting there are different responses for different forms. This might sound okay on the surface but then John Piper states that if the abuse is just verbal women should be encouraged to ‘endure the abuse’. Does he not know that emotional, spiritual or psychological abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse?
He later offered some clarifying remarks and encouraged women to seek out civil protection. Sadly, what he does not see is that when you are in an relationship with a significant imposed power imbalance (in the sense that you live under an improper authority that is justified by your own faith) then how does a wife seek civil protection and at the same time make sure ‘it does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband?” ...There is no such thing as “civil protection” that arrives at the beck and call of a beaten wife and hangs around her home to protect her. [Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, Dr. Ruth Tucker]
Here is another example. During a talk about the meaning of Bible verses on male headship an image of newly-shorn actress Kristen Stewart flashed appeared on an overhead screen. It was during a talk at a women’s conference in Sydney that had over 3000 participates and 1600 viewers online. As reported by Anne Lim in Eternity magazine, Carmelina Read, the Dean of Women at the Presbyterian Christ College in Sydney, said "it might be more in line with God's good design to have long hair because it was a visible sign of the difference between men and women in which God delighted". Ms Reed then went on to say that women should consider themselves as ‘helpers’ of men in the workplace.
I just don’t understand why people can’t see that Jesus didn’t come to patronise women or defend a tradition that places women lower in society and home. He came to show how women inspire, nurture, care, defend, bring about change, fight the powers of greed, how women are often the cause of our faith in Jesus. For goodness sake, Mary, his own mother, was an inspirational radical protestor who sang about a defiance against political oppression, inequality and cruel regimes (Luke 1:46-56). Where was the headship and authority of Joseph? No precedents being set here. So where does it come from?
Last week most of America was glued to their TVs or Ipads watching the Senate Committee hearing over the suitability of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court Judge, and filling the vacant space left by Anthony Kennedy. The high profile and global nature of this event is due to the allegations made by a number of women that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted girls at High School, and College. Judge Kavanaugh has a great deal of support from the Conservative and predominately evangelical Republican Party who have accused the Democratic Senate members of political games and manipulation in order to delay the appointment of Kavanaugh. A friend of mine was visiting the US at the time and shared a photo of her colleagues sat watching the hearing live on Youtube. It sparked some comments from people both sides of the Atlantic – including one comment from a clergy person in the UK saying, “Seems like a witch hunt I’m afraid. No evidence being presented to corroborate witness statement, Kavanaugh testimony strong.” Later that evening I was watching comments made by Americans include suggestions that what Kavanaugh is alleged to have done was merely a misdemeanor, and comments like ‘boys will be boys’ were offered. Why is it that so many jump to the defence of someone we know nothing about? Don’t get me wrong, I defend wholeheartedly the principle of someone being innocent until proven guilty, but when a woman’s testimony is questioned because of a perceived political agenda, or a man’s defence is based solely on his position and power, we are in danger of giving an appalling confidence to the abuser whoever it might be. I am fearful to the core for my two daughters who are growing up a in a world where a man pinning a woman to the ground can be described as ‘boys just being boys’, and how world leaders like Trump and Berlusconi laugh off comments that degrade and demean a woman’s body by what they say and what they do behind closed doors, or even from the platform. The Church has to take seriously how its theology can encourage an environment where this is allowed to happen. It makes me so angry to think that the Church (particularly in the States) has helped to create an environment where there is even the remote possibility that a man’s lie can be accepted over a woman’s truth.
Read below for a more egalitarian hermeneutic.
Christian Theology actually asserts that men and women are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The ethical and spiritual justification for this is inspired by a proper reading of the Bible, by focusing on passages that deal in primary truths (i.e. they aren’t contradicted and therefore held as ultimacies) about human nature (eg. Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28); rather than passages concerned with correcting cultural or customary norms (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-7). For those that like boxes, this view puts me clearly in the Egalitarian Evangelical box. In other words, I hold to the Bible stating that there is no defining difference between men and women that can possibly defend the notion that one gender has authority over the other. Women and men are made equal, in authority, for the glory of God, and for the common good. When this truth has not been honoured, like for most of Christian history (certainly since the 3rd century CE) it has been due in part to the warping of the natural order by either societal a-values or dogmatic religion predominantly for the benefit of men. We now have the privilege of hindsight and thus can see the imbalance that has held society and the Church back for far too long, and damaged many lives.
Despite this, the clear majority of Conservative Evangelicals still hold to a theology of ‘Complementarianism’ in which men and women are declared equal, but with an important caveat; when it comes to the Household and the Church, men are given the role of ‘leader’. And for women, a life of faithful obedience in the Church or in the home is lived out by ‘helping’ the man, by supporting and complementing their leadership. This is due to a particular reading of a few passages by the Apostle Paul, such as 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. In which submission of women and men is put within the context of our call as Christians to submit to Jesus. In addition, through a simple reading of the Gospel narratives, it is seen that Jesus calls men as disciples, and how God chose to be God as Man Incarnate. Further, Paul is very explicit in this letter to Timothy about what women should and shouldn’t do in the life of the Church (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-7).
There are number of problems with this view (biblical justification for an egalitarian approach)
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.