Rationalizing Inequality

I’ve recently become acquainted with what has been called a prayer of repentance that is posted on the website for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). In the prayer, the author makes the following declaration:

“We repent for the sins of our chauvinist brothers, covering up abuse in the name of authority and male leadership.” (reference)

Is it good to repent of “covering up abuse in the name of authority”? Of course. Is “covering up abuse,” however, an accurate definition of what it means to be a chauvinist? Actually, no it’s not.  The term has a much broader meaning.

According to the Oxford dictionary, male chauvinism is “male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” (reference)

Another post on the CBMW website explains why they believe all women are supposed to function as subordinate “helpers” to men:

“Yet in passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.” (reference)

Men, apparently, are to look at how the first man, Adam, related to “helpful animals” in the Garden of Eden to understand how men should relate to women.

One of the earliest members of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, offers the following explanation for what he sees as the necessity of male leadership in the church:

“And God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths.”  (reference)

Helpful animals? Characteristic weaknesses? Are these comments evidence of an attitude that is prejudiced against women? In my opinion, yes they are. In other words, they are examples of male chauvinism.

Should the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood repent of chauvinism? Yes, I believe they should. Rather than inaccurately limiting their understanding of chauvinism, however, I believe they should acknowledge and forsake their prejudiced belief that women may not share authority with men because of alleged “characteristic weaknesses.” I believe they should also ask forgiveness for suggesting that men should pattern their relationships with women based on how they may relate to “helpful animals.”

A similar form of rationalization can be found on a website for Mars Hill churches. The website claims that they are not a hierarchical institution. They then proceed to define what it means to be “hierarchical” very narrowly: “Women are not permitted to be an elder or deacon, serve Communion, teach men, lead worship, pray or speak in the church service, etc.” (reference)

If women are not allowed to be elders, deacons, serve communion, teach men, lead worship etc., would this be an example of a hierarchical institution? Yes, certainly. Are all of these restrictions necessary, however, for a church organization to accurately be referred to as hierarchical? No, they aren’t.

According to an online dictionary a hierarchy is “any system of persons or things ranked one above another.” (reference)

In Mars Hill ministries are men ranked above women? Yes, they are. According to their website, “only qualified men should be elders-pastors.” (reference)

Only male “elders preach, enforce formal church discipline, and set doctrinal standards for the church.” Mars Hill insists on a model of “male leadership in the governments of home and church.”  (reference)  Is this an example of a hierarchy based on sex? Evidently, yes. It is therefore a “hierarchical” model of governance, despite the organization’s claims to the contrary. An organization that is governed exclusively by men is properly referred to as a patriarchy. (reference)

In the case of both websites (CBMW and Mars Hill), the same rationalization strategy is used to obscure the reality that women may not share authority with men, simply because they are women. Definitions of social injustices such as chauvinism and a male-dominated hierarchy are artificially narrowed to apparently exclude these organizations.

In my experience as an educator and a psychotherapist, it tends to be the case that those who attempt to rationalize their own hurtful or offensive behaviour largely succeed in deceiving only themselves. My hope is that both the CBMW and Mars Hill will stop pointing fingers at someone else’s brand of chauvinism and inequality, and finally someday recognize and repent of their own.

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A Case for Male Authority? The Fly in the Ointment

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:1-4, NKJV).

“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12, NKJV).

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

The verses I have quoted above are sometimes used to support the view that only men should hold positions of leadership in the church. “Leadership” is defined in various ways, depending upon one’s particular faith community or denomination. Some churches bar women from all of the roles listed. Others allow women to be deacons, but not elders or bishops. Some equate the term “elder” with pastor, and say that this is an office a woman may not hold. Still others only insist that the “senior pastor” be male.

Despite often insisting that the Bible is “crystal clear” with regard to its teaching on the role of women, patriarchal traditions seem unable to come to an agreement on the extent to which a woman’s authority should be limited.

The view that only men should hold positions of authority becomes even more tenuous if we examine what the New Testament has to say about bishops, deacons and elders in its original language. In the New King James Version of the Bible, bishops, deacons and elders are all described as fulfilling the function of “ruling.” Other English translations may render this term as “leading.” In each case, the word translated as ruling or leading is a form of the Greek verb “proistemi.” Many complementarians seem unaware that the noun form of this word is used to describe the church ministry of a woman named Phoebe. According to the apostle Paul she was a “prostatis” in the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:2). If we translate proistemi and prostatis consistently for men and women,  Phoebe is described as a “ruler” or “leader” there.

So, just as male bishops, deacons and elders fulfilled the role of ruling or leading in the church, so did Phoebe—a woman.

Some complementarians have told me that because deacons must be “the husband of one wife,” they cannot possibly be women.  Women may indeed not be husbands, but I don’t believe the apostle Paul is writing to address questions about women in ministry here. Judging from the evident context of his letter, he is actually prohibiting male polygamy. What does this say about women in ministry? Actually nothing at all.

And Phoebe may also have been a “deacon.”

The same Greek word used to describe husbands who are deacons is also used to describe Phoebe. In addition to calling her a “prostatis,” the apostle Paul refers to her as a “diakonos” in Romans 16 verse 1.

But, some have told me, it is clear that the men who were bishops or deacons were told to “rule their houses well,” to demonstrate that they were fit leaders for the church. Surely this must include authority over wives? On the contrary, all of the verses dealing with a man “ruling his house” specifically indicate that his authority pertains to “his children.” Nowhere in the New Testament is a Christian man commanded to rule his wife.

Children, of course, require adult care and supervision because of their level of developmental maturity. Women, on the other hand, are developmentally equal to men; they do not require adult supervision.

So, the next time someone takes Bible verses about bishops, deacons and elders out of context in an attempt to rationalize a tradition of male authority in the church, you may want to remind them of Phoebe—the proverbial fly in the ointment.1

1 “In English, the phrase fly in the ointment is an idiomatic expression for a drawback, especially one that was not at first apparent” (Wikipedia).

 

 

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Where did things go wrong? An in-depth exploration of the emergence of male authority in the church

Why do some Christian leaders see a male-dominated hierarchy in the creation story?

Why have some Bible translators added commands to the Bible that cannot be found in the oldest Greek manuscripts?

Why have some translators referred to men as “leaders” and women as “servants” even when the same Greek word is used to describe both?

Why do English translations of the Bible say that women may not “teach or have authority” over men?

All of these questions, and other related issues, are addressed in the following video presentation:

Please feel free to share with friends, family, church leaders, and groups for discussion. May the Lord use it to inform and to encourage prayerful reflection.

 

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“What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You”: Is this book telling women the truth about men?

In his book entitled, “What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You,” David Murrow makes a number generalizations about men.  He seems to believe that his view of what it means to be a man is normative, healthy and Christian.  He writes as if men are simply “wired this way” by God.

Here are some of his assertions, followed by my responses:

Murrow:

If a man is not allowed to be the spiritual leader in his home, he won’t know what role to play because “men are hierarchical thinkers” (p. 152).

Response:

This is only true if a man has been exposed to a patriarchal social environment, and has internalized this culture as normative.  He may even believe that “his” normal is “God’s” normal.  Simply put, this comes across as an egocentric perspective that seems unaware of the dynamics of gender-socialization.  Some men are socialized to be hierarchical; others to be egalitarian.  Even men who internalize hierarchical norms can learn to be more collaborative.  This has more to do with nurture than nature, and it has nothing to do with God’s design.

Murrow:

“Modern Christianity has begun morphing into a ‘woman thing’” (p. 134).  “Today’s church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing and close-knit community.”  Men “feel unneeded, so they go passive or leave the church altogether” (p. 138).

Response:

If men do not recognize their emotional and relational needs (for safety, relationships, nurturance and community) and seek to have them met in healthy ways, they are prone to try to get them met in unhealthy ways (e.g. through addiction).

Murrow (makes a number of comments about sex):

Men are like “chocoholics” when it comes to sex.  If a man is unable to come home after work and “indulge [his] fantasy,” he will believe his wife is saying, “get your ya-yas somewhere else, buddy.”  Wives shouldn’t be surprised to later find their husbands “engaged in masturbation, porn, or an extramarital affair.”  Men, according to Murrow, need wives to be “generous with the chocolate” (p. 118).

“Men actually get a cocaine-like shot of pleasure from looking at a beautiful woman.  So here’s your assignment: Give your husband as many cocaine shots as possible.  Satisfy his addiction by looking your best” (pp. 163-164).

“And why are looks so important to men?”  “Men compare. Men compete. Men size each other up by their spouses” (p. 164).  “Having a knockout wife raises your social standing at work, among your relatives, and even a bit at church” (p. 165).

“First realize that sex is one of the cornerstones of the male psyche.  If a man has a satisfying sex life, everything is right with the world.”  “Here’s something else your husband hasn’t told you: It’s his greatest source of comfort.  Sometimes it’s the only way he can access the emotions trapped deep in his heart” (p. 167).

“You are competing for your husband’s body.  It’s you versus a thousand foes—food, drink, drugs, illicit sex.  Fight for his body and you’ll win his heart” (p. 171).

Response:

Women are not responsible for their husbands’ behaviour.  They are not responsible to give him enough sex so that he won’t fall prey to gluttony, alcoholism, drug abuse or sexual immorality.  Men are responsible to regulate their own impulses and manage their own appetites.  We are encouraged to “walk in the Spirit” so that we will not fulfill the “lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

If sex is the cornerstone of a man’s psyche, if it is his greatest source of comfort, if it is the only way for him to access his emotions, he may have a sexual addiction.  He should be assessed by a qualified psychotherapist.

If he has married his wife because he believes her beauty enhances his social standing at church (or anywhere else), he should seek to understand his worth as a loved child of God and friend of Jesus Christ.  If he measures his status by comparing his wife to someone else’s, I believe he should prayerfully consider the words of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV).

Murrow:

“Since the beginning men have brought home the bacon; women have fried it up in the pan” (p. 162).  “Your husband wants you to take charge of the menu” (p. 163).

Response:

This is a gender-stereotype.  Some men enjoy cooking.  Some men do not.  In some societies, men and women have equally been responsible for hunting and gathering.  In others, men have hunted while women have prepared food.  In still others, women hunted while men prepared food.  Again, this has more to do with nurture than nature.  There has never been a universal pattern for all humanity regarding cooking based on gender lines.  Murrow’s comment seems to be an expression of his personal preference, and he seems to believe wrongly that it is universally true and part of God’s design.

Murrow:

“If your husband is a follower of Jesus and an enthusiastic church-goer, these chapters may not have a lot to say to you.  But read them anyway.  You need to know what he’s not telling you—about God, about church, and about the role of faith in your marriage” (p. 134).

Response:

Your husband may not be telling you these things, simply because he may not be thinking them.  Many men are very comfortable in collaborative, non-hierarchical relationships.  Many are aware of their emotional needs and seek to meet them in healthy, non-sexual ways.  Many are not sex addicts.  Many do not struggle with sexual immorality or substance abuse and blame their wives.  Many do not measure their personal worth by their wife’s outward appearance.  Many do not compare their wives to the wives of other men.  Many Christian men attribute their worth to being a loved child of God, created in God’s image, and redeemed by the life Jesus gave for us on the cross.

In my opinion, Murrow’s book does not present an accurate picture of Christian men.

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