Dancing Around Patriarchy

Sheila Greqoire tweeted an interesting “gotcha” against complementarians recently:

This is truly an odd way to talk about any roles–gender or otherwise. It’s as though she thinks of them as some kind of independent fiefdoms in perpetual competition with one another. Of course, that is how feminists see the sexes, so I suppose her well was already poisoned in that respect. But that’s not how all or even most roles work in practice.

For one thing, roles often overlap. For example, lighting the candles before the service on Sunday morning is often an acolyte’s role. He has been assigned to that task. But if the acolyte is absent on Sunday morning, the candles do not remain unlit because no one else is allowed use the candle lighter. Instead, the role passes to someone else–often to an usher or the elder who is on duty. This is simply the nature of delegation. When a task cannot be carried out by the one to whom it was delegated, it returns to the one who delegated it because he has the responsibility to see it done.

However, this overlap is not always bidirectional. For example, the board of elders at my congregation is charged with making sure our Sunday morning worship is carried out faithfully. That is one of the roles delegated to us by the congregation. But if an elder is absent during the monthly meeting, the acolyte doesn’t show up to cast votes instead. Does this mean that the established offices at my congregation have been designed to restrict acolytes? Of course not. This is simply the nature of responsibility. The ones who have been given a responsibility are the ones who must decide how best to fulfil it–including whether to delegate parts of it and determining who is fit to help. When the buck stops with someone else, you cannot presume to fulfil their responsibility your own way.

And, of course, none of the roles at a congregation are meant to be in competition with one-another. Neither the acolyte nor the elder earn more points for their respective service because points aren’t a thing. If more people come to the 8:00 service than to 10:30, that doesn’t mean the 8:00 usher team “wins.” This is because the roles were never independent, but rather about everyone working together in an orderly fashion to help the church run smoothly. Every role is intended to serve the congregation rather than the individuals fulfilling those roles. Anything else is vainglory.

Those of you paying attention might notice a pattern forming here. Different roles united in purpose, one-way delegation, ultimate responsibility resting closer and closer to the source of that delegation… There’s a word for this kind of arrangement: hierarchy.

It shouldn’t be surprising. Any roles humans create are a result of God giving us certain responsibilities. But true responsibility always bears the authority to carry it out, and that will inevitably involve others in some way. American hyper-individualism perpetually forgets the social nature of humanity, but when God first gave Adam responsibility over the Earth, he also gave him a helper–a woman to whom the king would delegate some of his authority. Hierarchy was part of Creation and human nature well before the Fall.

Unfortunately, feminists like Gregoire have rendered themselves color blind. Where the wise see things like authority, hierarchy, delegation, or cooperation, the feminist can only see different shades of power. Authority is a power disparity. Hierarchy is entrenched power. Delegation is power over slaves. Cooperation is manipulative power. So when she observes the roles that emerge in a man’s household and notices them proceeding from the father to whom God gave responsibility, she can only see restrictions of women–another shade of power.

But believe it or not, Gregoire does actually have a point here.

When it comes to the order of creation and the sexes, the Bible teaches patriarchy–that God has appointed fathers to govern households. Patriarchy existed before the Fall in a perfect world, and God reaffirmed it afterwards as well. But as much as feminists hate Biblical patriarchy, her comment was directed against complementarianism, which is something altogether different.

Complementarianism is a modern theology based on the observation that God created men and women to complement one-another. Not only does tab A fit into slot B, but differences in constitution, thought processes, inclinations, abilities, etc. all work together to make sure men and women have everything they need to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the Earth in harmony. Accordingly, traditional gender roles generally reflect these differences because men and women have tended to settle into the habits and tasks they’re each most adept at.

Now, that observation is indeed true–men and women are designed to complement one another. However, it’s also insufficient because it skirts the fact that God deliberately created a hierarchy in creation as part of that complementary design. Instead, it makes the roles a matter of circumstance rather than God delegating to man and then man delegating to woman. At best, complementarians hide this as a matter of marketing–to make Biblical patriarchy appear benign and inoffensive to a feminist culture. At worst, it’s an attempt to create a compromise between patriarchy and feminism–a synergistic false doctrine borne from their own distaste for father’s God-given authority.

No matter how inept Gregoire is at understanding it, I believe she is picking up on what complementarians try to hide: the very God-given authority she despises. And that is why even the best kinds of complementarianism aren’t particularly helpful. Feminists don’t hate because they fail to understand God’s design; they fail to understand God’s design because they hate. Trying to bypass that hatred by covering up the source will never work unless you intend to never tell the whole truth–and at that point, you’re just a false teacher.

Arguing with women isn’t going to accomplish much–especially feminist women. They’re not built for it. The solution to feminist rebellion isn’t to present Biblical patriarchy in a way they’re more likely to dialectically appreciate; that’s just waiting for women’s permission. Instead, present Biblical patriarchy as God’s Word does, and then live it as God’s Word commands. Fulfill your responsibilities with gusto. Be bold enough to tell women “no” when you need to. Be willing to rebuke, correct, and exhort; and support other men who do the same. The women who can accept that will follow. The rest are of no ultimate consequence.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Family, Feminism, Tradition. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dancing Around Patriarchy

  1. Oakthorn says:

    This is excellent. It’s the clearest explanation of the problem with complementarianism that I have ever read.

  2. Chad says:

    Another excellent post. The goal: to raise my daughters with understanding of the good in patriarchy and the beauty of delegation. Agree that you skewer complementarianism. Just speak the truth and don’t try to market it.

  3. Lonnie says:

    I have just one question for this feminist, and I don’t ask it flippantly or sarcastically (though it may appear I do)-

    What is a woman?

    As always, thank you, Mr. Cochran.

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