The Mainstreaming of Patriarchy
Carlos printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 12:53:08 PM EST
Quoting Russell Moore on patriarchy may be a little peripheral on a site centered on what to do with the religious right, but it might be of interest to observe the spreading of theocratic ideas like biblical patriarchy. The migration of these ideas from small Presbyterian groups to the largest protestant denomination in the US raises some serious concerns. Moore's dominionist interpretation of the Bible threatens not only the rights of sexual orientation minorities, but also the rights of women. Here is what Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says:
If complementarians are to reclaim the debate, we must not fear making a claim that is disturbingly counter-cultural and yet strikingly biblical, a claim that the less-than-evangelical feminists understand increasingly: Christianity is under-girded by a vision of patriarchy.

It is noteworthy that the vitality in evangelical complementarianism right now is among those who are willing to speak directly to the implications and meaning of male headship--and who aren't embarrassed to use terms such as "male headship." This vitality is found in specific ecclesial communities--among sectors within the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the charismatic Calvinists of C.J. Mahaney's "sovereign grace" network, and the clusters of dispensationalist Bible churches, as well as within coalition projects that practice an "ecumenism with teeth," such as Touchstone magazine. These groups are talking about male leadership in strikingly counter-cultural and very specific ways, addressing issues such as childrearing, courtship, contraception and family planning--not always with uniformity but always with directness.

Patriarchy then is essential--from the begetting of Seth in the image and likeness of Adam to the deliverance of Yahweh's son Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh to the promise of a Davidic son to whom God would be a Father (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26) to the "Abba" cry of the new covenant assembly (Rom 8:15). For too long, egalitarians have dismissed complementarian proof-texts with the call to see the big picture "trajectory" of the canon. I agree that such a big-picture trajectory is needed, but that trajectory leads toward patriarchy--a loving, sacrificial, protective patriarchy in which the archetypal Fatherhood of God is reflected in the leadership of human fathers, in the home and in the church (Eph 3:14-15; Matt 7:9-11; Heb 12:5-11). With this being the case, even the so-called "egalitarian proof-texts" not only fail to demonstrate an evangelical feminist argument, they actually prove the opposite. Galatians 3:28, for example, is all about patriarchy--a Father who provides his firstborn son with a cosmic inheritance, an inheritance that is shared by all who find their identity in Christ, Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.

This understanding of archetypal patriarchy is grounded then in the overarching theme of all of Scripture--the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph 1:10).16 It does not divide God's purposes, his role as Father from his role as Creator from his role as Savior from his role as King. To the contrary, the patriarchal structures that exist in the creation order point to his headship--a headship that is oriented toward redemption in Christ (Heb 12:5-11). This protects evangelical theology proper from both the impersonal deity of Protestant liberalism and from the "most moved mover" of open theism. Indeed, the evangelical response to open theism would have been far more effective had evangelicals not severed the issues of open theism and egalitarianism. Open theism is not more dangerous than evangelical feminism, or even all that different. It is only the end result of a doctrine of God shorn of patriarchy.

Ironically, a more patriarchal complementarianism will resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family-fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied big-tent complementarianism never can. And it also will address the needs of hurting women and children far better, because it is rooted in the primary biblical means for protecting women and children: calling men to responsibility. Soft Patriarchs is, in one sense, a reaffirmation of what gender traditionalists have known all along--male headship is not about male privilege. Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families.




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Thanks for highlighting this.

I think the roots of rigid partriarchalism in Southern Baptist life began with Bill Gothard and his "Basic Youth Conflicts."

Before he appeared, male headship did not receive much emphasis from the pulpit.  After he appeared, it became a frequent topic.

That's my experience.  I grew up in New Mexico.  It may have been different in other parts of the country.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 01:32:20 PM EST

I was in Oregon at the time, and it became prominent there too in the late '70's to early '80's when Gothard was blossoming.

Anecdotally, I was working in a Psychiatric Unit of a local hospital in Portland, Ore. around '81 to '82. It was a standard belief of the staff that "Gothard was good for business" due to an increase of Psychiatric crises among conservative religious women before Gothard left town.

by Baptistoe on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 04:46:38 PM EST
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Interesting, Mainstream Baptist. I was curious to know more about Gothard and went here and here. Apparently he is still alive. Just took a quick look. Maybe he has moderated some. I am not familiar with Gothard or his connection to the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. I did not see any reference to patriarchy or headship. Still conservative, no doubt, but it didn't look like, on the surface, at least, an aggressive sort of sexism or heterosexism now popular amongst certain groups.

by Carlos on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 07:05:41 PM EST
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Carlos writes: "Quoting Russell Moore on patriarchy may be a little peripheral on a site centered on what to do with the religious right, but it might be of interest to observe the spreading of theocratic ideas like biblical patriarchy."

It's not clear to me that patriarchy is necessarily a theocratic idea. Patriarchal systems do exist without theocracy -- many social institutions oppress women without necessarily doing so for the sake of religion; and it is conceivable that a theocracy could exist without patriarchy.

However, to address Moore's argument on the merits, Biblical writers existed within, and their attitudes were shaped by, particular societies in which institutional oppression (including racism, sexism, and classism) existed. For example, the Bible describes slavery, which existed in the time of Moses and in the time of Jesus. New Testament writers refer to slavery without necessarily condemning it as a social institution. However, that does not mean that those writers necessarily endorsed the institution of slavery. Likewise, New Testament writers describe patriarchal systems, and not always in the context of condemning gender discrimination. However, that does not mean that those writers necessarily endorsed the institutional oppression of women.

The Bible does not claim, as does Moore, that "Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families." Nor does it claim that slaves benefit from slavery -- another oppressive institution which it also describes without specifically condemning it.

The teachings of the Apostle Paul emphasized, however, that the individual Christian should not merely conform to the prevailing social conditions, but be transformed by the renewing of her or his mind.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

The concept of "renewal" is found throughout the teachings of Paul, and it is linked to an individual's desire to break down barriers of oppression which separate humans from each other, and from a closer knowledge of God.

For "you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." (Colossians 3:9-11)

And, as Galations 3:28 makes clear, for the individual Christian who is transformed in the knowledge of Jesus, there is no justification for Christians to engage in ethnic discrimination, class distinction, or gender oppression toward one another, because "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

by jhutson on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 02:06:43 PM EST

Thanks Jonathan for raising a good point about the relationship between theocracy and patriarchy and for challenging Moore's interpretation of the Bible. My admittedly imprecise use of the word "theocracy" was meant only to dramatize the connection of Moore's ideas to orthodox reconstructionist Presbyterian thought and its rigid understanding of the Bible.

by Carlos on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 02:24:09 PM EST
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when you say that patriarchy threatens the rights of women.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that the right to life movement isn't about abortion at all, but it is an attempt to suppress the rights of women.  When the pill became available, women were freed from the confines of pregnancy and with it their traditional role of stay-at-home mother and homemaker.  The more independent women became, the more they asserted their rights, the less they were under the control of men.

Jimmy Carter recently said on the Larry King show that ".  . .one of the first things that a male fundamentalist wants to do is to subjugate women to make them subservient . . ."

By taking away women's right to choose, they are attempting to assert their power over women.  The right-to-life meme is a smokescreen to shield what their real agenda is.  

Some folks, of course, are sincere about the right-to-life movement, but I can't help but think many others have an ulterior motive.

by LynChi on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 05:20:40 PM EST

I am always saying that the emphasis on abortion isn't about the unborn babies, its about controlling women and subjugating them under male power. These people do not care about babies once they are outside the womb. They only care about making the woman's life hellish.

I just read an interesting article about The Fundementalist Agenda. In it, they compare the main points of Islamic and Christian fundementalism, and go over their common points:

They identified five characteristics shared by virtually all fundamentalisms. The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God--and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right--must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers. [emphasis mine]

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase "overcoming the modern" is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created.

It's about power. Period. God and Scripture is a convenient excuse to blast humankind back to the Dark Ages, where men were men, and women were baby machines. God was in his heaven, and the hierarchy was intact. Big Daddy talked only to the little daddies, who talked to the daddies beneath them. Women did not have a voice, choice, or a means of escape.

Today, these fundementalist Dominionists want to make their dream of a Godly world happen through force of law. They've removed women from power in their own circles- witness the Dominionist coup of the SBC in 2000. I am sure that Mainstream Baptist can detail what happened when a non-creedal faith was suddenly given a creed- it splintered the denomination. Jimmy Carter left it in disgust.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 07:00:06 PM EST
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my suspicions about Middle-Eastern sky-gods are confirmed. (The terminology is Gore Vidal's, to give credit where it is due.)

by MaryOGrady on Thu Nov 24, 2005 at 10:57:02 AM EST

Soft Patriarchs is, in one sense, a reaffirmation of what gender traditionalists have known all along--male headship is not about male privilege. Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families.

has always been about male privilege which is to say that even in times of peace and prosperity when 'soft' patriarchy was the model (in this culture a model lost for a couple of generations now) the results were frequently not good for women or children individually (although probably good for species survival).
There really isn't much softness to patriarchy and male headship has always led to grotesque abuses of power in every culture and every time in which 'male headship' was codified and enforced.
The notion that women not be allowed control of their reproductive lives and the refusal to seriously address the consequences of overpopulation or even acknowledge that there is a problem are as insane as the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

I also take exception to the notion of 'evangelical feminism'. Socially conservative women who advocate for 'male headship' are not, by definition, feminist. I understand that Concerned Women for America need some secular cloak but they're the modern day equivalent of the women who worked to deny other women the vote and worked to deny other women effective contraception. Calling themselves 'feminists' does not change this.
I appreciate this FP post directly introducing the elephant in the living room. According to PEW only about 1/4 of the American people wish to embrace and enforce 'traditional gender roles'. If the rest of us manage to point out that this is the primary goal of the religious right and that SCOTUS justices like Scalia and Roberts and Alito are part of that 25% we may be able to avoid the inevitable cultural meltdown which will occur when their bigotry is combined with great power.

by colleen on Thu Nov 24, 2005 at 01:33:04 PM EST



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