Equality not Patriarchy
by Pat Joyce
(with her permission)
PATRIARCHY - Is it God's Order?
By Pat Joyce
When I became a Christian, I had no idea what constituted a Biblical lifestyle, so I looked to the “experts.” They said that God’s way was a chain-of-command structure with the husband as the authority in the home and the pastor and elders as authorities in the church. At first, I did not question but attempted to conform while I agonized with the Lord over my rebellious nature. Over time, I noted that all those in authority were male and wondered why the God, who I knew loved me, appeared to favor men? Didn’t He create me? Was I of less value because of my gender? Why was it that deep down, even after years asking God to change me, I still could not accept the second-class status assigned to women? Is patriarchy God’s design, God’s order? This question is so fundamental.
We know that God does not approve of discrimination. Yet discrimination against women is inherent in patriarchy. The system that I encountered was patriarchal to the core. “Any espousal of patriarchy is an espousal of male domination. The very definition of patriarchy presents a male-dominated and male-controlled society and therefore means a philosophy of male supremacy.” (1)
With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at the Biblical record. To start with, we need to remember that the Bible is full of violence, betrayal, selfishness, immorality, idolatry, and unbelief--a seemingly endless list of sinful acts It also presents the thoughts and philosophies of our fallen nature along with His truth. We must learn to discern the difference. We need to realize that scripture includes true records of false ideas. Just because it is in the Bible does not mean that God approves.
A limited look at the Old Testament record shows that, in general, women were under the control of their father or husband who considered them as their possessions. They were denied education, and they could not inherit. Women's lives were expendable in order to protect men, and polygamy was acceptable. Only men had the right to divorce, and women were mainly valued for producing male heirs.
In contrast, when the Holy Spirit came to Mary, there is no record that He asked her father or Joseph first. The mere fact that Jesus spoke to women broke with the tradition of His day. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman and commended Mary for ‘sitting at His feet’ to learn, an expression that indicates that she was a disciple! In Luke 11:27-8, He rejected the idea that women were baby machines. In Mathew 19, Jesus opposed the double standard for divorce. He pointed out from Genesis 2 that divorce was not God’s plan but a concession that He had allowed Moses to make because of their sin. Then, Mark 10:12 adds, “and if she herself divorces her husband…” which overrode the Jewish tradition that a woman couldn’t institute a divorce since she was the man’s possession along with the concept that women were property and that polygamy was acceptable. (2)
After His resurrection, He could have appeared to one of His male disciples at the tomb. However, He chose to appear first to a woman, Mary Magdalene, instructing her specifically to go and tell “my brothers.” His actions forever proclaim to her and to Christian women after her that their commission is not limited to a women’s ministry.
The early church did not embrace patriarchy, teaching that both male and female are created in the image of God. The scripture shows men and women moving together to spread the gospel. The few scriptures that seem to limit the ministry of women stand in stark contrast to the whole of the record. In the last few years, traditional understanding of a woman’s “place” has become even more suspect as scholarship has provided accurate translation and interpretation of these passages. (3).
So what went wrong? As Christianity spread through the Gentile world and a second generation of Christians emerged, equality and freedom slowly faded. Replaced by the traditional male domination that filled secular society, Greek philosophy and pagan customs made their way into Christianity. The church adopted the secular governmental structure of the Roman Empire. Clergy separated from laity, and women were barred from this new ministerial class. (4) The supernatural gifts of the Spirit, so present in the early church, were stifled; and the Dark Ages fell on the church.
The attitudes of the early church fathers were molded by pagan ideas that women are evil, inferior, unequal and unclean. (5) These concepts along with Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy influenced how they interpreted Scriptures as they applied to women and male/female relationships. Their writings birthed traditional theology, which generally displaced Jesus' teaching about women. (6)
While the reformation began the return to Christ’s doctrine, it remained patriarchal. Biblical interpretation “continued to be skewed by misogyny, hierarchical worldview and the perennial influence of Greek philosophy.”(7) It is interesting to note that in revivals sprinkled through the last two thousand years, the status of women is consistently elevated. (8) Could this be the leading of God’s Holy Spirit? Cultural norms around the world today are definitely patriarchal, particularly in developing nations. Even in developed countries, male primacy, while not as blatant as it was even twenty-five years ago, is still clearly present in society and in the home. The results are devastating.
As for the church, “the traditional theology of womanhood is unequivocally patriarchal, ascribing to women an inferior condition, a secondary importance, and a subordinate status. Consequently, under authoritative male headship, ‘covering’ and control, women have at the best of times been "honored’ as second-class citizens. They have been dominated, marginalized and occasionally patronized while men have been elevated.”(9)
There is no place for patriarchy in the kingdom of God. It is a human institution based on a fallen sin nature. Patriarchy's fruit is deplorable and can never be part of the kingdom. It’s time to acknowledge it as sin and throw it out. Christ has restored access to God for all who will come to God through Him. We know we "all are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise,”(10) and the promise does not discriminate.
So having read this and having read your Bible and experienced life, I hope you believe and act as if both genders are equal, ‘for there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus’.