Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Is a Benevolent Patriarchy Good for God’s People?

patriarchy, male headship, apartheid, slavery, Bible

Apartheid, even when enacted with benevolence and kindness, is a social system where one group of people is more and another group is less.

Slavery, even when the master is benevolent and kind, is a social system where the master is more and the slaves are less.

Patriarchy, or a traditional understanding of male “headship,” even when the man is benevolent and kind, is a social system where man is more and woman is less.[1]

In these three systems, the people belonging to one group consistently have more power, prestige, and social freedoms than those in the other group. Plus, the people in the more powerful group typically have easier access to money, education, and advantageous work opportunities, as well as easier access to quality medical and legal services.

History has shown that the people in the more powerful group are usually reluctant to relinquish or share their power and privilege; they may even believe that their hierarchical rule is for the good of the people in the less powerful group.

None of these three systems is God’s ideal. Yet all these systems have been condoned and perpetuated by Christians who have quoted scriptures to support their privileged position.

Genuine equality and mutuality between all people, regardless of race or gender, etc, is the New Creation ideal (Gal 3:26-28). There is no place for a caste system or a fixed hierarchy in the body of Christ (2 Cor 5:16-17 NIV). There is no place for either favouritism or discrimination (James 2:1ff).[2] Jesus especially warns against notions of power, prestige, and primacy among his own followers. In Jesus’ kingdom, the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, and the last are first. In other words, there is equality.

Patriarchy, even a benevolent one, is not good for God’s people because the system makes more of men and less of women. There is no mutuality or equality or justice when men have authority over women.


Footnotes

[1] The word “patriarchy” comes from the Greek and literally translates as “rule of fathers.”  It refers to a social system in which men have much more political power and social freedom than women.

[2] All human beings are intrinsically equal and should be treated as equal and have access to equal opportunities, especially in the community of God’s people. Moreover, we should provide assistance and support for those who have less in order to bring a balance. Equality is the goal (2 Cor. 8:13 NIV).

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10 thoughts on “Is a Benevolent Patriarchy Good for God’s People?

  1. A benevolent ruler or tyrant is still the ruler/tyrant. And since the ruler has all the authority, he/she can change how benevolent they want to be at any given moment. Adding the word benevolent is simply saying that the one who wants to control your life wants it to feel somewhat acceptable and beneficial to you.

  2. Marg, some people would answer what you said there with a truth that I feel sort of miss the point: They will say that there is, of course, hierarchy in the kingdom. There are elders and pastors and we set ourselves under those who know more.

    They are right. But the difference between a Christ-inspired “hierarchy” and a flesh one is that the reason some are elders and pastors is gifting, not some incident of being born in the right skin color or gender. And we listen to/ submit because we know or think they actually know better in what they teach.

    It is not “he is the pastor because he got the right [eye colour, or whatever physical attribute] and we should do what he say even when he is unwise, because he got [green eyes/ whatever].

    And “obey him because he is the man is not a case of following wisdom, but of following some external rank.

    Do this makes sense? Others are welcome to disagree.

  3. Retha, Yes, that makes sense to me. That’s one of the reasons I used the adjective “fixed”. A “fixed” hierarchy is one where some people are locked in and others are locked out of certain social strata. In patriarchy, men are locked into a higher rank and women are locked into a lower rank simply on the basis of their sex. It is rare for women to be leaders where the culture is patriarchal.

    God has called some people to be leaders, but I wouldn’t use the word hierarchy in that context (especially considering the etymology of the word: “rule of priests”.) According to the New Testament, leaders in Christian churches are neither rulers nor priests.
    More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/male-priesthood-women-ministers-collection/

    I do not believe that there should be a fixed hierarchy among God’s people. And being a leader does not mean belonging to a higher class. Rather, as Dale Fincher from Soulation has said:
    “Leadership is a fluid and seasonal role you play depending on your responsibility in the moment and the larger task at hand. Some men and women are gifted with more managerial skills than others. Some with more visionary skills than others. It has nothing to do with manhood and has everything to do with being faithful with what you’ve been given.”

    In my church, leaders are not in a higher social strata. They are just like everyone else except that they have a function of leadership. And potentially anyone, regardless of race, gender, wealth, etc, can become a leader. It depends on their individual gifts, talents and skills, etc. No able person is excluded from that possibility.

    Also, as much as I respect our leaders, and I do, I am not “under” them. I really think we need to remove words like “over” and “under” when speaking about relationships within the body of Christ. There are no “overs” and “unders” in the Greek New Testament when speaking about healthy relationships and healthy leadership within the church.
    More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/authority-in-the-church/
    And here: https://margmowczko.com/christian-living/wade-burleson-christian-leadership-hebrews-13/

  4. Marg, I love this! And I agree with both you and Retha. Another problem with male authority, like slavemaster authority and apartheid authority, is that it’s unlimited. A policeman has authority over me, but he can’t come to my house without a search warrant. My boss has authority over me, but he can’t tell me what to do when I’m off the clock. But other than criminal acts which are forbidden to all citizens, a patriarchal husband has unlimited authority over his wife.

    As for church leaders, they typically have authority only over the governance of their churches. if they try to take more authority than that (such as telling the congregants how to live their lives), they are way out of bounds.

  5. Yes, exactly, in apartheid, slavery and patriarchy, power is unlimited and the will of the person or group in authority can impose on, and intrude into, the “lesser” person’s will, conscience, wellbeing, and sense of self. All healthy authority is restricted and limited.

  6. “Also, as much as I respect our leaders, and I do, I am not “under” them. I really think we need to remove words like “over” and “under” when speaking about relationships within the body of Christ.”
    Marg, I think this very much reflects your Australian cultural worldview – as a Brit it does mine too. These cultures tend to be more egalitarian in their view of any leadership – we have “tall poppy syndrome” which makes us suspicious of anyone who puts themselves above us. Working with a lot of Americans, I notice that they generally are much more likely to expect leaders to be in authority “over” them, and obedience and followership seem to have a high value (at least among the Christians with whom I work). I imagine this is why there is a greater tendency to follow “celebrity pastors”. Most Brits and Aussies I meet are uncomfortable with that kind of leadership. I think egalitarians have a much harder time in US Christian culture – it’s really not something I had to think about much until I started working with Americans.

  7. Hi Lizzie,

    I take your point about our culture. (The “celebrity pastor” bit is interesting.) But it’s not our culture that influenced my statement in the post. I was thinking about Jesus’ teaching, and verses about leadership in the Greek New Testament.

    I am certain that Jesus wanted to change the culture, and still wants it changed. And the Greek New Testament never uses the word “over” in texts about legitimate leadership in the church. Unfortunately many English translations have added this word in some texts.

    An equivalent for “over” is found however in Matthew 20:25-28.

    “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over (katakourieuousin) them, and their high officials exercise authority over (katexousiazousin) them. Not so among you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slaves –just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”

    I think we still have a way to go before we see the kind of leadership Jesus taught about – a leadership with no “overs” and “unders”.

    I’ve written more about this here: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/authority-in-the-church/

  8. Marg
    Thanks for your posts today.

    I serve on staff of a church. Today, I have had to deal head on with an issue of spiritual abuse within our church towards several women in abusive marriage relationships.
    Your posts today really spoke to me in the midst of this.

  9. Hi Donna,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’m deeply saddened every time I hear about abuse in the church, especially abuse in “Christian” marriages.

    God bless you and your ministry.

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