I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s when the family on Leave it to Beaver was highly regarded (1957-1963 plus reruns). Ward was in charge and June supported him and kept house. Ward Cleaver was definitely the head of the house, and in our Southern culture we understood that the father WAS the head of the house.
However, in more recent years a belief widely accepted in many fundamentalist and Reformed circles takes the husband’s place in the home to a far greater level. Rather than being generally head of the house, the husband is now considered the absolute head of the house with total directive and spiritual authority over his wife.
This belief is Christian Patriarchy and here are some ways Patriarchy causes intense harm; we will explore them more fully later in the series.
Women and girls are 100% human—the same as men and boys. They have equal intelligence to males; equal skills; and equal potential in all areas. Women and girls are able to reason and make decisions. Women and girls participate in the image of God in equal measure with men.
But in Christian Patriarchy, these qualities are not fully recognized. Instead, wives are subject to their husbands and bound to his decisions, his orders, and his will. They are expected to submit meekly to whatever the husband demands. This is wrong, oppressive, and is not healthy.
Christian Patriarchy Makes Men the Voice of God
Christian Patriarchy makes men the voice of God. Some men are more spiritual or more qualified than others, but NONE are qualified to represent the voice of God. As we will see in a moment, this situation often results in very negative consequences.
The idea is that men are directed by God and have the responsibility to direct their wives. But I contend that women can follow the voice and direction of God just as easily as men can.
Christian Patriarchy Develops an Environment for Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Abuse Against Women
Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are rampant in all areas of society—including churches of all kinds. However, Christian Patriarchy often becomes a breeding ground for abuse and also attracts those who are already abusers because it is an ideal environment for abuse. Men are highly respected and women are expected to submit to them. I don’t think this is ever a good thing, but it provides an excellent context for abuse of women and girls.
Christian Patriarchy Gives the Wrong Counsel to Abused Women
One of the most tragic outcomes of Christian Patriarchy concerns the counsel pastors and other leaders give to women and girls who come forward to report abuse. Very often the response is that the female victim is the one at fault–the girl enticed the man with her clothing or behavior, and the wife did not do enough to support her husband and make him happy.
Instead of reporting abuse to the authorities, the church leaders’ advice to the abused wife is to make a greater effort to be subject to the abuser and make him happy. Separation is frowned upon and divorce is usually forbidden as a sin. It is up to the abused wife to fix the situation she created—and she does this by becoming more subject to her abuser.
Folks, this is not right! This is criminal.
Christian Patriarchy Misrepresents Biblical Passages
Those who embrace and teach Christian Patriarchy draw support from a few biblical passages they consider God’s firm law but, in my opinion, they ignore the context of the passages—especially the cultural contexts of the time they were written. Some frequently used are…
Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
1 Peter 3:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.
1 Timothy 2:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived.
1 Corinthians 11:
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
These passages are used as if they are the very word of God—eternal propositional truth. But these opinions were written by people (not God) to address issues in particular congregations and based on the culture that existed at the time. They are not the eternal word of God.
How Should We Respond to those Who Teach these Things?
First of all we should remember that those who teach these things are our fellow believers. And we should not accuse them of using these beliefs to control women (though some might be guilty of this). These leaders and teachers, for the most part, actually believe what they teach—but I think they are seriously mistaken. We need not condemn the leaders, but we should call out the misguided beliefs themselves that lead to great harm to people.
We will expand on these harmful consequences later in the series.
Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy
- How Christian Patriarchy is a Misguided and Harmful Belief that Does Tremendous Damage
- The Alleged Biblical Basis for Christian Patriarchy
- Examining Passages from Genesis Used to Support Patriarchy in the Church
- Complementarian Patriarchy and Fundamentalist Patriarchy are Both Harmful; But How are They Different?
- John Piper and Christian Patriarchy
- John Piper Tells an Unconvincing Story to Illustrate Gender Differences between Men and Women
- The Many Women Leaders in Paul’s Circles Don’t Seem to Represent Christian Patriarchy
- 5 Ways Christian Patriarchy Harms Men
- The Feminine Side of God in the Bible
- Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection
- An Overview of Bill Gothard’s Role in Today’s Cultish Fundamentalism
- Resources on Christian Patriarchy, Abuse, and Extreme Fundamentalism