Patriarchy. To some readers this could sound, well, patriarchal — chauvinistic, anti-woman, rolling back the rights won by suffragists, resulting in manipulative behaviors, unloving lifestyles, and even domestic violence and abusive fathers.
But to others the term connotes a more-Biblical lifestyle; a rejection of feminism, anti-life attitudes and abortion; the natural conclusion of homeschooling, and/or a return to a safer and more secure mode of life that respects men, returns women to their place in the home and ensures sons and daughters won’t fall prey to worldly influences.
Until last week, YeHaveHeard only included one column touching on the topic, An open letter to newbie homeschoolers (Dec. 2, 2009). Before that, I’d written more about the subject on my old site, FaithFusion.1 Yet throughout this week, patriarchy, families, fathers’ roles and children’s obedience will be in direct focus, starting with this, the first of a five-column series.
Last week’s open-letter-styled Sure you want to support Vision Forum? named one of patriarchy’s chief proponents, a homeschooling-oriented organization based in Texas.
But my intent isn’t to be just another “watchblog” and go after names and offices. Not that I’m disregarding those either, but I hope to focus not on personalities, but on vital doctrinal issues.
There is a risk to doing this: it’s not like all problems are solved by picking on patriarchalism. After all, they’re often the ones who teach as if all our problems will be solved simply by seeing the dangers of feminism — and that can too easily result in chauvinism. But it’s a start: seeing more clearly what the Bible doesn’t say.
That’s a lot of isms. Before proceeding into what patriarchy proponents believe, let’s lay out how this series will define the three “main” views of male/female roles.
I’m sure people hold to many overlapping subsets of these — for example, some who practice egalitarianism may not even know the term, or do not believe women should be pastors over congregations. But most Christians’ beliefs about men and women can be categorized like this:
1. Patriarchy or patriocentrism
In conscious opposition to feminism, egalitarianism, and the humanistic philosophies of the present time, the church should proclaim the Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy as an essential element of God’s ordained pattern for human relationships and institutions.2
This view, advocated by organizations such as Vision Forum or others who like the word “vision” (such as “Visionary Daughters”), emphasizes that a husband/father is the head of his household — patriarchy, similar to how families behaved in the Old Testament.
Some patriarchy preachers even teach about a father being equivalent to the “priest” of his family, representing his wife and children to God. And many other lifestyle choices are based in Old Testament descriptions of, say, King Saul giving his daughter in marriage to David.3
With a man as the head of his household, a wife submits to him, and she, along with their sons and daughters, join in to fulfill his vision for the family. Closely affiliated with these tenets is the belief that one should seek “a full quiver” (Psalm 127: 4-5) — i.e., have as many children as possible.4
Daughters, especially, must train as “helpmeets” for their own husbands, if they marry, by serving their father until such time as he finds them husbands.
Many of these beliefs are not inherently anti-Scripture: for example, though many Christians may argue against keeping daughters at home until marriage, or arranged marriage, nothing in the Bible expressly forbids these practices. However, they are also not commanded in Scripture. And to say these beliefs are as Biblical as Scripture’s most important messages, especially the Gospel, leads to problems. If nothing else, some “patriarchy” practitioners, or patriarchalists, teach and act as if their auxiliary beliefs are as vital as the Gospel — at best a risky message.
2. Egalitarianism or feminism
There may be other verses used to support the idea that in Christianity, men and women have not only equal value, but nearly equal roles. Yet Galatians 3:28 is the main one I’ve heard to support this belief in egalitarianism.
Many egalitarians use this is a “filter verse” to interpret many other sex-roles-related Scripture passages, such as Paul’s interesting instructions about head coverings.6 In this view, because we already know “there is no male or female … in Christ Jesus,” it makes sense to conclude men’s and women’s roles need not be diverse or unique.7
In effect egalitarians’ definition of equal means there is little or no difference how husbands’ and wives’ roles function at home. So while a husband may be his family’s main provider, it’s fine for a wife to work outside the home as well (perhaps with their children in public school).
From what I’ve seen, this leads to lessened emphasis of unique traits of men and women, or boys and girls. Some Christian egalitarians believe women may even serve as pastors in a church; after all, we are all one in Christ, and we don’t want to be chauvinistic.
As one woman once kindly argued to me, to say otherwise would be to limit God’s gifts to members (such as a woman with a teaching gift). That in effect would say to certain parts of the body, “I have no need of you,” she said, a violation of Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12 that the body of Christ has members with diverse gifts.8
Most patriarchalists seem to base their views upon reactions against egalitarianism/feminism. From what I have read and seen, patriarchalists are either ignorant of the third belief, which I believe to be more Biblical — or else view it with suspicion as if it’s an un-Biblical compromise.
Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church. It is rooted in more literal interpretations of the Creation account and the roles of men and women presented in Scripture.9
This seems to be the most solid and Biblically based view — I will not hide my “bias”!
Complementarianism is (or should be) founded not just in a this-is-the-way-it-must-work basis, or a reaction against either feminism or patriarchy, but passages such as Genesis 2, Ephesians 5 and many other texts that echo this glorious truth: God has always planned to pattern human marriage, and husbands’ and wives’ roles, upon Christ’s love for His Church.
That love, grounded in the Gospel of the living Word Who is both grace and truth (John 1) is the basis of our roles. And how Christians teach and act those roles must come from the heart — not simply by following a particular education or courtship model.
This allows for some varying perspectives on many more-difficult Scripture passages about, say, women keeping silent in church.10 It also helps prevent legalistic attitudes about a wife working outside the home, or daughters going to college. This avoids practicing The Gospel Plus Patriarchy, but the Gospel alone — born out in these areas of life.
Regardless of how Christians apply those beliefs exactly, Christians should agree on this: no view claiming husbands and wives have different roles (i.e., servant-leader or servant-follower) means that anyone is inferior. Many theologians show from Scripture that this is reflected in the Trinity: God the Son, Jesus Christ, obeys God the Father and is even “subordinate.” This in no way means either “Person” of the Trinity is more important; in fact, they are all fully God.
Perhaps the best source for learning more about complementarianism is the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and their main book, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (I still haven’t read it all; I tend to focus on the chapters relate most to what I need to learn. Perhaps that’s how it should be read.)
The rest of my series this week will focus more on what complementarianism is not.
While I don’t want to commit the same error of only reacting against the wrong idea, it can be helpful to learn by contrast. And too many patriarchalists teach and act in ways not only not commanded in Scripture, but often commanded against. At stake is not only families’ health, or whether parents encourage a son or daughter to use all of his or her gifts for God’s glory, but whether Christians are upholding the Gospel, and not The Gospel-And-My-Shiny-Family-Belief.
- Some of that material has been adapted here. ↩
- The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, authors and date unlisted, Vision Forum website (accessed June 14, 2010. ↩
- Such interpretations of Scripture are actually not done based on “literal” reading, i.e. reading a text for its natural meaning; for more, see Sure you want to support Vision Forum?, June 9, 2010. ↩
- For a Biblical overview and rebuttal of “quiverfull,” see Does the Bible permit birth control?, Matt Perman, Desiring God Ministries, Jan. 23, 2006. Pastor John Piper also provides an excellent shorter version at Is it wrong to use birth control?, March 5, 2008. ↩
- Galatians 3:28. ↩
- 1 Corinthians 11: 2-13 ↩
- Though this can be a complex issue, I can’t resist a short rebuttal: Galatians 3:28 is talking about men’s and women’s equal status in salvation, and has little bearing on, say, Paul’s qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3. ↩
- Another mini-rebuttal: no gift is without limits, as Paul makes clear with even big gifts like knowledge, tongues and prophecy. ↩
- Theopedia.com entry on complementarianism. ↩
- 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35. ↩