Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Problematic Patriarchal Paradigm for Women

Ethics in Unethical Times

P. Andrew Sandlin, Editor

Summer 2010

Rejoicing in God’s Lordship 
While Rejecting the 
Problematic Patriarchal Paradigm for Women
(pp. 127 -137)

 An article by Cynthia Kunsman

What Makes Patriarchy Significant?

There are currently many different types of patriarchy within Evangelical Christianity, a term that simply translates as “father rule,” describing a concept of male governance. Though issues of gender were once previously viewed as a non-essential observance of Christian doctrine in evangelical circles, a formal movement began in the late 1970s to advance a particular patriarchal view of gender hierarchy as essential Christian doctrine, the observance of which is suggested to be essential to the practice of Christian orthodoxy.1 These patriarchal concepts espoused in the Danvers Statement of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have become increasingly popular and institutionalized since the statement’s original publication. 2 From Wade Burleson’s advocacy to keep unmarried females in active missionary service during his tenure on the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 3 the popularity of the “True Woman” Conference that boasted an attendance of 6,300 women in October 2008, 4 the dismissal of female professors from Baptist seminaries, 5 to the protest of Sarah Palin as the 2008 U. S. Vice Presidential Candidate,6 the gender debate continues to demonstrate its growing relevance.

The very broad concept of contemporary of patriarchy within Evangelical Christianity crosses nearly every denominational boundary through the vehicle of home schooling, where a Reformed presence exerts a great deal of influence. Some, but not all, patriarchalists derive their core concepts from Covenant Theology’s “Covenant of Redemption,” which has been reinterpreted to support the belief in an eternal hierarchy within and among the divine Persons of the Godhead.7 This concept of Eternal Subordinationism (ESS) maintains that God the Father reigns as supreme over the other divine Persons in the Trinity, followed in authority and position by Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively.8

This is the commonly accepted term, originally coinedby Giles, but it now accepted by Ware and Grudem, the theory’s most contemporary and zealous evangelists. This concept is then applied by analogy to support a permanent submission model, relegating women within both marriage and family to the role of “submitted sonship” to their personal patriarch.9

Christ is constrained to do the bidding of God the Father under a novel social interpretation of the Trinity,10 and likewise, all women are analogously, ontologically, and eternally subordinate to men.11 Though some groups reject a hierarchical view of the Trinity and vary in regard to how they apply the concept to gender relations, these patriarchal groups do share basic beliefs in a subordinate and subservient role for women, beliefs that lead to both sacerdotalism (priestcraft) and a unique type of familial and gender-based ecclesiocentricity (church-centeredness). Activity in all areas of life revolves around the designated family patriarch. Please explore with me the comparisons and contrasts of a balanced view of women with a few of the most notable problems with the gender agenda of the patriarchalists. 
The Basis of Balanced Conduct for the Woman Who Honors God

Eternal Salvation by Grace through Faith. Without distinction of gender, Paul declares in chapter 2 of his epistle to the Ephesians that all believers, given the gift of salvation,are created to do good works. We are God’s workmanship without respect to gender, though Paul tells us that believers have a particular and unique duty to carry out God’s ordered plan for each of us, finely crafted by the Creator for his marvelous plans and purposes (Rom. 6:13; Isa. 55:9; Eph. 3:20). Considering God’s will through a process of deduction, it is God’s desire that both genders embrace his irresistible invitation or calling (klesis) to receive eternatl salvation (Rom.11:29; 1 Cor. 1:26; 1 Cor. 7:20; Eph. 1:18; Eph. 4:1–4; Phil. 3:14; 2 Thess. 1:11; Tit. 1:9; Heb. 3:11; 2 Pet. 1:10). God gives every believer special spiritual gifts of grace and virtue (charismata) in order to equip him or her individually for his divine plan (Rom. 1:11, 11:29, 12:6; 1 Cor. 7:7, 12; 2 Cor. 1:11; 1 Tim. 4:14; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4:10). Through the individual’s ministry of love and use of their gifts, God fitly joins each believer with the Body of Christ to both advance the ministry of the Church through evangelism and to edify the Body in love (Eph. 4:1–16; 1 Cor. 13).

Ways in Which Women Honor God.  The New Testament establishes even more specifics of conduct for women who believe in Christ (1 Cor. 11, 14; Eph. 5; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2, 5; Tit. 2; 1 Pet. 3:1–12). A woman first becomes a Christian and then serves God in a capacity that is appropriate to her gifts, which he endowed in special creation as female. Marriage represents one possible ministry for a woman, serving as a suitable helper to her husband, though remaining single presents another equally valuable alternative. A woman also powerfully serves God by working alongside her husband to raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. A woman’s activities flow first from her identity in Christ and then manifest through the unique gifts bestowed upon her by God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:16–24; 1 Jn. 3:17–19). Her activities flow into more specific acts of worshipful vocation as directed by her gifts, talents, and personality.

Faith-Based Locus of Control.   Scripture also encourages all believers to follow the guidance and the witness of the Holy Spirit as God divinely puts his very laws into the hearts and minds of those who believe in him (Heb. 10). In 2 Corinthians 5:7, Paul teaches us to walk by faith rather than by sight, for our afflictions here are temporary and our suffering will not compare to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). In fact, we are called to be of good cheer and to rejoice when we suffer because the experience works to bring forth great blessings for us (Mt. 5; Jas. 1:1–2). Confidence and the peace that passes all understanding do not come from outward circumstances but through the assurance of trust and faith in God (Jn. 14:27; Phil. 4:6–7). The Christian’s sense of control comes from faith within and is based neither on the appearance of circumstances nor on the outward standards of comparison of the flesh.

Problems with the Patriarchal Standard for Women

Patriarchal Roles Dictate Gifts and Callings.  When those who espouse the patriarchal view mentioned earlier seek to understand how we should live in this world on a practical level, their presuppositions concerning gender teleology demand an interpretation of Scripture that follows a humanistic perspective as opposed to a Christ-centered one. Rather than beginning with woman’s soul, patriarchy starts with a woman’s role, applying inductive reasoning to derive purposes from narrowly defined standards as opposed to a deductive celebration of finding that woman’s unique ministry in Christ.12 Gender role determines her gifts under the patriarchal paradigm, and the earnest woman who desires nothing more than to submit herself unto God’s Lordship is often called upon to forsake her gifts and any personality traits that fail to neatly conform to the patriarchalists’ vision.

I find it ironically fascinating to note that the term “role” does not appear in the New Testament but actually derives from the French language and is applied to denote performance in a play. The only close equivalent to the word “role” found in the New Testament is “hypocrisis,” the transliterated term used by Jesus to condemn the legalistic standards and performances of the Pharisees.13 Lacking true faith in God, the Pharisees acted out the religious standards of their prescribed “roles” like the acting out of the parts in a play about the outward manifestations of those expected to have faith. The Messiah mocked these disingenuous performances of legalism as a counterfeit of the spontaneous fruit of true faith.

Ontological Subordination of Women. The patriarchal teachings regarding Eve’s origin suggest that because Eve was taken from Adam’s substance, she is of lesser essence than Adam, thus making all women tools created from men for the essential purpose of enhancing the lives of men.14 Aberrant patriarchy defines Eve as the “indirect” image of God or only a “derivative,” secondary created being, just a little lower than Adam in essence. Adam was made in God’s image; but this paradigm suggests that unlike Adam, Eve was made in man’s image, thus only bearing God’s image indirectly. Nancy Campbell expands upon this presupposition by stating that Eve was the only creature that was not made as a new creation. Unlike all inanimate objects and all other created beings including “all the animals, she was not a new creation…. She was part of man. Out of man. Made for man.”15

Campbell’s extreme example not only dehumanizes women by classifying them as less contingent upon the Creator than inanimate matter itself, she highlights a more common, vaguely defined teaching found throughout patriarchy subtly suggesting that women require a male spiritual intercessor by employment of the rhetorical technique of unstated assumption. Though many in patriarchy employ this same technique in order to argue male intercession for women by distorting Ephesians 5:22–32, Campbell’s statement also echoes language that is traditionally understood to be part of the Gospel of Reconciliation suggesting that the process of redemption for women differs from the process of redemption for men (1 Cor. 5:17–21). It also creates a false dilemma most easily and directly satisfied by a human male mediator that has already been suggested by this ontological argument.

Many believe that this patriarchal paradigm objectifies and scapegoats women and subtly facilitates and justifies spiritual, psychological, and/or physical abuse on a theoretical level. As promoted by the presuppositions about a woman’s constitutional subordination (a belief that women are more prone to deception and sin than men), some patriarchalists find it easy to lay blame for undesirable outcomes in life on the failure of the inherently flawed woman, his ontological lesser. Many within patriarchy tend to attribute marital problems and failures to the “weaker vessel” that is presumed to be morally inferior to her male spouse.

Some men scapegoat and blame women for domestic abuse, framing physical abuse as an inevitable consequence of a wife’s resistance of what patriarchy claims to be God’s ordained “authority-submission structure.” The Christian husband finds no other alternative but to resort to physical abuse of his wife in response to what is defined as his wife’s sinful resistance of his authority.16 Wives, therefore, not only provoke their own physical abuse but are also required to submit to abuse because of their ordained subordinate and submissive feminine role.17 For those who accept this concept of the Eternal Subordination of the Son within the Trinity, it naturally follows that men rule over their wives like God the Father reigns eternally over Jesus the Son, assigning something of an analogous type of eternal Suffering Servant role to women, albeit lacking any expectation of God’s satisfaction with her travail (Isa. 53).

Controlling Outcomes Through Works. Although the Reformed Faith clearly declares that the believer can and should rest confidently in faith in God’s sovereignty to order the circumstances of life, many patriarchalists ardently strive to control circumstances by human means. Rather than contentment through dominion over the self in every circumstance as manifested by walking after the Spirit through faith, patriarchy redefines Genesis 1:28 in terms of a system of pessimistic avoidance of negative consequences through legalistic striving which demands a focus upon formulas, lists and performance as the operational means by which to please God (Rom. 8, Heb. 10–11). Followers believe that negative circumstances and outcomes in life stem from the failure of the believer to manifest a sufficient level of humility and submission, a failure that exposes one to punitive harm and consequences. Patriarchalists thus embrace a works-based causality in practice rather than the causality of God’s sovereign providence that they ironically claim in their statements of faith. In so doing, these believers who profess a Reformed Theology actually manifest semi-Pelagianism wherein a believer magically directs his or her own fate through good works.

For the patriocentric woman (one whose life centers on the desires of the family patriarch), extra-Biblical and cultural imperatives enforced through positive and negative pressure required by the manipulative religious system promote shame, condemnation and employ manipulation. To ensure the understanding that their own works must be covered morally and approved for merit by their patriarch mediator, earnest women who fervently desire to honor God follow a system of works-merited grace through submission can develop relationships that are not based on love but upon striving, fear of failure, fear of negative outcomes, obligation and guilt.18 Although Proverbs 29:25 reminds us that the fear of man brings a snare for us and Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 10 to refrain from measuring ourselves against others through comparison, this practice of condemnation emphasized within this type of patriarchy fuels compliance with established cultural patriarchal standards that are promoted as express Biblical mandates.


The Christian woman living the balanced live manifests wisdom in the knowledge of the Word of God, applies the Word in faith apart from prescribed cultural formulas, brings glory to God through her ever more Christ-like and transformed conduct, and boldly speaks the life-transforming message of the Gospel to a desperate and dying world. Such a Christian woman’s unique gifts and callings largely determine how her actions will manifest all that God has poured into her. For the woman who finds her identity in Christ alone and not in identification with a prescribed group standard that is maintained through role performance, her life in the Kingdom of God is not eating, drinking, or even concerns of gender, but instead follows an agenda of righteousness, peace and joy under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14).

The Apostle Paul addressed both legalism and God’s purposes in darkening the understanding of the Jews in order that salvation might come to the Gentiles. Although grace and salvation first came through the Jewish people to the Gentiles, these Gentiles were called to minister grace and the Gospel to the Jews so that both believing Jew and Gentile would find mercy and salvation. These gifts and callings of God unto salvation are irrevocable (Rom. 11). Just as Paul describes the tension between Jewish legalism and New Covenant liberty which resulted in ministry to both Jew and Gentile, I fervently pray that the disparities between those who reject the aberrant patriarchy described here and those who embrace it will miraculously work salvation and ministry within the whole Body of Christ in the fullness of time.

By commitment to the rightful dividing and applying of the word of truth with all diligence to matters concerning gender, the tension created by the differences in the interpretation of Scripture can teach us balance within the Body of Christ which will mature and benefit the whole Body (Prov. 27:17).

May the diverse gifts that the Spirit bestows uniquely upon all of God’s beloved women serve to edify the whole Body of Christ, exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think. When the curtains of this temporal life close, may both patriarchalist and non-patriarchalist alike be found within the embrace of God's mercy and saving grace, bringing us together into unity of the Faith (Eph. 4:13).