Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making Distinctions, Part 1

This is a series that I am writing for the Complegalitarian blog. In an effort to spread controversy as far and wide as I can (which may not be very far, but here I go anyway), I am reproducing it here for my own blog.

Making Distinctions...

Between Patriarchy and Complementarianism
As I see it, ground level complementarianism simply states that there are divinely purposed roles for men and women to function in the family and in the church (yes, some roles not being swappable). Patriarchy can be seen as an extreme form of complementarianism, but I believe that its characteristics are less an extension of Complementarianism and more like Complementarianism's 'cult,' like the Jehovah's Witnesses are to Christianity(1). Therefore, I find much about patriarchy's views on complementarian principles objectionable.

1. Husband/father headship. Complementarianism simply gives the husband/father the role of representative leader that carries a unique accountability to God (Genesis 3). With that role logically comes a certain amount of authority. Complementarianism does not place the husband over the wife in terms of authority but logically maintains that deference be given to him because of his position. Is this a "priviledge?" If it is, it is a slight one and one not without narrow limits. This is not male hierarchy or male superiority any more than it is female inferiority.

Patriarchy seeks to centralize all authority to the head position and expands its reach into areas of life that minimizes the other figure in the marriage and home, namely the wife. Patriarchy views wives as means to the husbands' ends. From this point of view comes all the examples of husbands micromanaging (to put it nicely) their wives' lives for the purpose of making husbands' lives fulfilled and convenient. This is neither biblical nor justifiable. Scripture gives to the man a wife as a helper. Nowhere does the Lord God call her a maid, a butler, a servant, a tool, and certainly not a slave. As my pastor once preached as well, "Marriage is not to make you happy; it is to make you holy." Indeed, God commands the man to leave his home (meaning his familial identity) and cleave to his wife, yet patriarchy insists on the husband making the wife conform to his leanings and identity. One could more biblically state that the husband should be the one conforming more to his wife's identity instead.

What does the position of head contain? A man has the responsibility to make sure that what he and his family does is right in the sight of God, simply put. He is the one that has to answer for the collective state of his household; this doesn't mean that he speaks for his wife as an individual, but for both husband and wife as a unit.

2. One flesh unity in marriage. Complementarians and Egalitarians both agree that husband and wife should act together in building the character of their marriage and family. Patriarchy seeks to make this task univocal rather than in unity, and since authority is centralized in the husband, he then might find himself deciding things that he likely has little wisdom to give, like how many babies his wife should bear, what clothes his wife should wear, determining the occupations of his children beforehand, etc. The result is clearly not one flesh unity, but forced conformity (as discussed above).

3. Eve was created to be Adam's helper/helpmate. Complementarianism acknowledges that Eve wasn't just any female, but Adam's wife, pointing to a relationship between the two that existed the moment she began to exist. Outside of this relationship, who Adam and Eve were to each other would have been meaningless. Similarly, as Complementarians apply the Adam & Eve theme to the rest of humanity, it only makes sense in a marriage relationship that a woman is her man's helpmate. Therefore, there cannot be any patriarchal generalization that females in society are helpers to males in society. Thus, it is not wrong for women to hold positions of civic authority over men and similarly not wrong for women to have authority over men in the church provided that their authority does not violate a more foundational principle of 1 Tim. 2:12 (that women cannot have authority in church over their own husbands).

4. Wives are to submit to their husbands. That 'wives are to submit to their husbands' does not conversely mean that husbands are not to submit to their wives, yet this is precisely what patriarchy implicitly holds. (Oh, perhaps husbands may submit to their wives, but in patriarchal terms, such submitting must be done only if he wills or desires to submit. Pathetic.) A wife's submission is to God first and to her husband second and that submission to her husband is because of her submission to God. I am not now going to kill wifely submission with a thousand qualifications, so please don't misunderstand when I say that when a husband is sinful in his treatment and demands of his wife, her obligation not to sin is greater than her obligation to submit to her husband, so a wife should not feel compelled to obey the will of her husband in those times. Let me be redundant for clarity: a husband's sin need not be his wife's sin as well.

5. Should a husband submit to his wife? We've asked this question before on Complegalitarian without making this particular distinction, so allow me to make it here. Patriarchy says 'no.' Complementarians should correct the question to read "When should a husband submit to his wife?" As stated above, the mandate that wives are to submit to their husbands doesn't negate the fact that husbands need to listen and submit to their wives--when?--on the occasions that they should submit to their wives. This is what "mutual submission" means to me. It isn't 50/50, because 50/50 can be unjust by disregarding the nature of the subject.

First of all, these are not contrary statements. One may now try to accuse me of using an argument from silence, but I'll remind us that it is legitimate when we would expect circumstances to otherwise contradict the silence. In a couple of instances in scripture, we see married women acting without any explicit direction from their husbands in action very much in accordance to the providence of God.

Example 1 - In Genesis 2:1-4, Moses' mother orchestrates the saving of Moses' infant life by putting him into the basket in the river and then directing Miriam to watch over the baby.

Example 2 - To Moses again, his wife is the one that decides to circumsize their sons without his intitial knowledge.(Exod. 4:24-26) If patriarchy (the kind we're talking about) were the case, we would expect to see a reprimand of some kind of both women for making decisions that their husbands had to comply with--ahem--submitted to. But we don't. Instead, we see Yahweh's implicit approval of these women as having acted in accordance to His will when (especially in the latter case) the husband had not.

As a Complementarian, I see many problems with Patriarchy and agree with many of our Egalitarian commenters about them. However, I do object to the blurring of Complementarianism to share Patriarchy's views in the same way and in the same relationship.

(1) The most striking similarity about this comparison is the psychological irony that both Jehovah's Witnesses and Patriarchalists seem to play out, that all things so done by the ruling authority in the name of loving God and loving family actually end up robbing God and family of the love they truly ought to receive by substituting a false love of cultish control and demanding compliance in all things.

1 comment:

Thursday's Child said...

Excellent post. You hit the nail right on the head.