Men and women are created in God’s image, in fact God’s image is not complete without one or the other. Humankind is made in the image of God, male and female, of course. But since the fall, man has ruled over women. And society by and large has reflected that, patriarchal in nature, the man ruling. When God’s kingdom comes in Jesus, I see the tables turned: women who all too often were under the heels of men having authority.
This is a debated issue, one on which good Christians disagree. The many friends and family I have who would hold to an ethic in which there is hierarchy: the man having authority over the woman, really don’t live it out much that way at all, if at all. It is usually an arrangement in which they both rule, in some cases it seems the woman gladly letting her man make some hard choice. But actually that is mutual. The woman often has her domain and the man, his. And more often than not, I think both weigh in on major decisions. Not unlike an egalitarian, or I would prefer the word (as I think Scot McKnight has said before) complementarian for this position, although complementarian has been used for what has been called the soft patriarchal position, I just described. Practically speaking it has little or no difference with an egalitarian marriage or relationship in which all have rule or authority or place according to their gifting from God.
Of course this is a huge subject, and I could start working on it a bit to scratch the surface, providing links for any who want to explore further for themselves. But I want to call attention to what I think is an important blog post by Rachel Held Evans (thanks to Scot McKnight, for calling our attention to this this morning in your “Weekly Meanderings”). One that will be controversial, for sure, though I think she covers what needs to be said on the subject without at all suggesting that all who hold to and practice a patriarchal ethic fall into this darkness. It is entitled, Patriarchy and Abusive Churches. One quote from it:
My evangelical brothers and sisters, we have an abuse problem and we need to talk about it. Talking about it does far less damage to Christ’s reputation in the world than covering it up.
Now obviously, abuse is a result of sin and no denomination or community is immune to sin’s effects, but we do see a trend in which most of the organizations facing scrutiny over abuse and sexual misconduct charges of late are characterized by authoritarian, patriarchal leadership and by cultures that routinely silence the voices of women.
So the point I want to make today is not that all who subscribe to patriarchy are abusive, but that patriarchy in a religious environment, just as in any environment, has a negative effect on the whole community and creates a cultural climate more susceptible to abuse than one characterized by mutuality and shared leadership between men and women.
Read it carefully, remembering that Evans is not saying that those who hold to the complementary patriarchal position are suspect at all. She is calling attention to something which I believe should be considered along with the sin that needs to be exposed according to the accountability called for in scripture.