The Problem of Patriarchy

Lady-justice-jury

I’m not ready to write this post. I’m unqualified (though in the process of formal theological study), under-researched, pastorally inexperienced, sinful, and prone to partisanship. I possess a woeful track record in the way I have previously thought of (or not), objectified, mistreated, disappointed, denigrated and misled young women. I am white, male, highly educated and from a relatively privileged background which has been largely devoid of prejudice and difficulty. Misogyny is a mystery to me in real terms, as I have never experienced it. In many respects, I am the worst kind of figure to write any kind of meaningful polemic against patriarchy, as I embody many of the things that are wrong with it, have benefitted hugely from it, and continue to inhabit a system, culture and tradition which are steeped in it. Despite momentum in a positive direction, women in the 21st century are faced with the tragic reality that, as the late James Brown once said, ‘it’s a man’s world’. Even a cursory glance at the news will reveal plenty of evidence attesting to the daily struggle which too many women endure throughout the globe. Here are some typical, clickable examples, in no particular order:

1. Jehovah’s witnesses.

2. ISIS.

3. Wolf whistling & harassment.

4. A range of stories from girls as young as 11.

5. Sexism in the US military.

6. Victim blaming.

7. Academia. See particularly #61 #55 #48 #15 #3 & #1.

8. A man’s view on women’s sport.

Granted, I haven’t exactly fact checked this narrow range of sources, and I’m sure that for every story that gets published, dozens remain unheard. Nevertheless, even if we take such stories with a sceptical pinch of salt, we needn’t look very far to be confronted with the scale of the problem. Often, such atrocities are taking place uncomfortably close to home, which brings me to the focus of this post. As anyone with one foot in the camp of evangelical Christianity, and another in the sordid land of social media will likely have heard in the past week, stories like the few I have listed are not the sole preserve of the ‘heathen’ (irony intended). Patriarchy, sexism, misogyny and victim blaming are alive and well within the walls of the church, as demonstrated by the reprehensible manner in which Karen Hinkley was treated by the Village Church combined with the Josh Duggar scandal. Predictably, reactions have been mixed. Some responses which caught my attention include this post by Kristen Howertonanother by Erin Wathen, and this one by Matt Redmond.

I’d recommend reading all of the aforementioned posts thoroughly, particularly the supporting documentation surrounding the way Karen Hinkley was treated by the Village church. The picture they paint is devastatingly bleak, or to echo the sentiment one of my Twitter friends chose to describe the original Village church article: miserable. Sadly, as another of my friends who happens to be a well respected academic subsequently remarked, neither the Duggar scandal nor the spiritual abuse at the Village church is particularly surprising. She was of course absolutely right, which brings me to the crux of this post.

The problem with patriarchy is that it is endemic. It is hard wired into humanity, and from a Christian perspective I believe that this is a direct consequence of sin. Without getting sidetracked by tawdry evolution vs creationism debates (for the record, I am no young earth creationist) I take the scriptures at face value when they record the story of Adam & Eve’s disobedience of God leading to a range of grave consequences for his creatures. One of these is described in the following terms:

“..Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16 ESV).

Scholarly disputes over biblical literature as regards historical accuracy notwithstanding (I take these very seriously as a burgeoning scholar), and whatever the literal/figurative nature of the creation narratives in Genesis may be, I think the authors of this text were onto something when they proposed a root cause for the corruption of the human condition. Put simply, why does the functional and deliberate hatred of women exist? Why does patriarchy exert such a stranglehold on humanity, and infiltrate church communities just as much as it does everywhere else? At the risk of oversimplifying to the extreme, I would suggest that it is because the kingdoms of this world (nation states, cultures, subcultures, etc) are not under the rule and reign of their ultimate creator: The God revealed in Jesus Christ, who promises that a new Kingdom is coming when all causes of evil are utterly eradicated. Until then, we have a fight on our hands.

Sin is the problem. Patriarchy is one of many consequences. The Church is called to witness to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, part of which involves the embodiment of an alternative community where, amongst other things, patriarchy has no place as it is part of the old world order. Sadly, I believe that one of the many ways in which the problem of patriarchy manifests itself within the church is the so called ‘conservative’ view that male only leadership (also known as a ‘complementarian’ view of gender roles) is the biblical norm. Questioning such leadership is discouraged. Women are effectively silenced and relegated to roles wherein they are expected to be submissive. Abuse can and does flourish under such conditions as men are encouraged to dominate both in the home and at church. Victims of abuse can and do suffer from accusations of blame for their offenders actions. Male only leadership all too often instils a culture of male only privilege. Such a mindset is symptomatic of a patriarchal culture, and arguably led to and/or contributed to the disgraceful events at the Village church and the Josh Duggar scandal. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to bring us freedom from sin, death and evil, and thus any such patriarchal tendencies are to be vehemently resisted and challenged.

A patriarchal view of male only leadership within the church is thoroughly biblical, in the sense that it belongs to a corrupt, sinful world which Jesus Christ himself promises to destroy and make new. I contend therefore, that to be Kingdom minded requires the church to do likewise. Male only leadership is history. Biblical equality is part and parcel of Jesus’ grand mission of cosmic redemption. We are to live in the good of this here and now, as counter cultural witnesses to the truth.

Admittedly, this long standing argument won’t be settled by a hasty blog post like this one. My purpose here isn’t to write a theology paper, but rather to share some of my own partially formed reflections on a weighty and complex topic. I don’t claim to offer a conclusive theological solution to the problem of Patriarchy as regards church governance or marital roles. Thankfully, the scholarly discussion is well under way. Two pertinent examples include this extensive reflection on a recent book advocating a complementarian view by Dr Stephen Holmes, and this excellent looking book by Dr Lucy Peppiatt. Conservative scholars needn’t be concerned that we’ll lack theological depth as egalitarians. Rest assured, we’re coming for you, on a rescue mission, as it were.

To be blunt in getting back to the point, if the twin examples of the Village church and the Duggar scandal teach us anything, it’s that parts of the evangelical arm of the Western church are drastically failing to live in a manner consistent with the gospel. The way women have been treated in these two isolated examples is deplorable, sickening, outrageous, and unacceptable. Action must be taken. Repentance and change must be forthcoming. Particularly if these words by St. Paul are to become a tangible reality:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:28-29 ESV).

True, this verse is out of context. Yet so too are many of the proof texts used to buttress misogyny within the church. You’ll forgive my candour if I suggest that, for now at least, I’ll simply give as good as I get. Notably, Jesus’ own words regarding the one exception whereby believers can legitimately divorce were conspicuously absent from the correspondence between the Village church and Karen Hinkley (Matt 5:32, 19:9).

Silence is synonymous with approval. I may not be ready to write this post but I must speak up, since I am not just another hapless sinner perpetuating a dominant culture anymore. Seven and something years ago, I encountered Jesus Christ for the first time in my adult life and became a born again Christian (yes, one of those, the kind that makes you recoil and shudder whenever you hear one mentioned). For me at least, this was a game changer. My life since then has been one of gradual, persistent transformation and whilst I remain disastrously flawed and in desperate need of my Saviour’s grace on a daily basis, I am no longer a slave to the tyranny of my own sin. One implication of this is that I am not helpless against the problem of patriarchy. On the contrary, I am called to defy it.

So too are you. Especially if you are a born again believer in Christ, and even more so if you are male. Make no mistake, we shall all give an account to the Lord for our actions and inactions on the face of this earth. Men, I’m speculating, but I’m guessing that how we treated God’s daughters is likely to be very high on Jesus’ list in our final performance review.

Choose. Very. Wisely.

J

*Update* Matt Chandler has issued an apology on behalf of the village church, and the elders in particular, regarding their handling of church discipline. Though he makes no specific mention of Karen Hinckley he does address some of the broader, connected issues. Warren Throckmorton provides a link to the sermon here, and Chandler picks up the topic in question around 24 minutes in:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2015/06/01/matt-chandler-expresses-remorse-and-asks-forgiveness-in-sunday-sermon/

Tellingly however, he makes no apology for the underlying theological convictions of the church. Listening to his discussion of church discipline leading to excommunication (based on Matthew 18) he explains that a church in these circumstances is no longer able to ‘affirm’ that a believer is a follower of Christ any more.

It is difficult not to read into his comments as relating directly to the case in question, given the rhetoric he uses to describe the significance of removing a believer from church membership. In fairness however, Chandler doesn’t directly make this connection, and so charity should inform how other believers respond to his statements. That said, I remain unconvinced that the real problem is how to apply ‘sound’ theology in a ‘loving’ and ‘compassionate’ way, as Chandler suggests. I would seriously question just how sound the theology I have seen evidenced really is, and whether or not it would withstand robust scrutiny. As I’ve already said, I’m not writing a theology paper here, but if and when that day comes, there’ll be no hiding behind appeals to ‘good’ theology/poor practice.

Nevertheless, I am tentatively encouraged by this development, and sincerely hope and pray that God leads the Village Church and any and all affected parties through a process of genuine repentance, healing, restoration, and where possible reconciliation. Even so, the wider issue of Patriarchy remains unresolved, and my challenge stands: we shall all answer to Jesus eventually. Choose carefully.