15 November 2009

How do you define "biblical patriarchy"?

Amy linked to an interesting article on the Patriarchy Movement, and when my comment in response went into its fourth paragraph, I decided to just post it here. I think there is a great deal of danger in discussing these topics without first defining your terms, because clearly what the other author means by Patriarchy, and what I mean by it, are two completely different things. But I would have answered (if anyone had asked) that I do believe in biblical patriarchal headship in the family...so now I'm curious as to whether the entire movement is really as atrocious as she claims. I guess that means I have some more things to add to my reading list.

Here are my thoughts:

Maybe I just haven't read enough literature from the "Patriarchy Movement" but I've never understood that they teach that women are to be doormats who never ever speak up and give their thoughts in any way, shape, or form, and who allow their husbands to continue in sin without saying anything. That is completely unbiblical.

My understanding of patriarchy is a simple acknowledgment that, on a team, only one person can be the official leader. Only one person can make the final decision. Only one person is in charge of directing the efforts of the rest of the team. Anything else is chaos at worst, and confusion at best. It appeared to me, as I began to look into it, simply to be saying that husbands are designated by scripture to be the team leader, the one who is ultimately responsible. And wives are to support them in that role.

Now, a wife can certainly offer her opinion, and even assume some of the responsibilities of leadership - indeed must, if the family is to run smoothly. A wife can't sit around just waiting to be told what to do all day. She has to think for herself and take some initiative. But this can be done in a way that still respects her husband, and his role as the ultimate leader of the home, just as on a team, one member may be in charge of reading the map, and directing everyone's footsteps, even though they are not the official leader. The leader delegates the responsibility of map-reading to one he knows is capable of doing that well, and the map-reader does not try to convince the whole team that the leader is unfit, simply because he isn't the best map-reader.

It is not supportive to a team leader to allow him to continue, without ever sharing your concern, on a road that will lead to destruction. But you can do that in ways that are respectful of his position of authority. Too many women treat their husbands like rather stupid extra appendages. That condescending attitude is rampant in the culture; one sees it everywhere. Beyond not respecting a husband's role of authority, it is essentially disrespectful to him as a human being. No one suggests that women should tolerate being patted on the head and treated like dimwits. (I have never read any patriarchal material that, as far as I understood it, implied this in any way). But the culture does this to men all the time.

Is it asking too much that women could treat their husbands with respect, and not sabotage them in the difficult role of leader? This doesn't mean being a doormat. It doesn't mean catering to every tyrannical whim. It just means building up, rather than tearing down. Offering support and encouragement, rather than belittling. Sometimes going out of your way to offer some type of recognition (in the same way that you might appreciate flowers, or the chance to have an evening out with friends), that the role of leader is often difficult and tiring. Teaching your children to appreciate the effort their father puts into supporting the family, rather than encouraging them to see him as an impediment or a bumbling fool. My understanding of patriarchy, recognizing the man as head of the household, is that both husband and wife respect each other in the roles to which they are called. One has been assigned as team leader. One has been assigned an equally vital role. (How do you label the team member who is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes? Is there an official title for that?)

I'd love to hear others' thoughts, but please, keep it polite. I will not publish comments that are simple rants, rather than making a thoughtful, politely stated point.


  1. I came over from Amy's. I completely agree with you. I've never heard the "women are doormats" teaching either. It always amazes me to read those accusations.

  2. Ditto from Australia.

    I think that we all need to do a bit of investigating into our future mates BEFORE we get romantically involved. And - speaking to myself as much as anyone here - we need to remember that although God is perfect, He is no perfectionist.

    In Him

    Meredith in Aus

  3. I believe that the idea of patriarchy is fundamentally flawed, however you define it. If the two become one, then they are co-captains of the team. Biology does not dictate one's ability to turn to God for guidance and lead one's family along the path of a life committed to the principles of Christianity.

  4. Meredith, I agree that it is important to have knowledge of someone's character and other such important things before getting romantically involved. That would save a lot of heartache. However, I disagree with your other statement. It is precisely because God IS a perfectionist, that we need the saving work of Jesus Christ. And we are told in Scripture "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

    Tina, the idea of co-leaders is indeed appealing, and I would agree that a marriage in which both partners treat each other with respect as co-heirs of Christ, while viewing themselves as co-leaders, could be much more biblical and honoring to Christ than a marriage in which the husband is seen as the head, and is a tyrant and bully. However, I don't believe the Bible teaches the concept of co-leaders. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

  5. Maybe God had to specify that men as "in charge" of the family because He knew that women would be doing most of the day-to-day stuff, and it would be easy for Dad to be seen as "just another kid to take care of" (which is, I think, the pervasive cultural attitude you spoke of - see also: Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, and just about every other family-based sitcom that's been on TV for a good 10 - 15 years. What happened to Father Knows Best??).

    I don't know if I'd agree that my husband is the Patriarchal Head of the Household. I think we do most things by committee, and that works for us, but we are ALWAYS respectful of each other. We each have pretty clearly defined roles, and we lean toward that typical male/female gender split (he takes out the trash, I cook, he earns more money and puts in more hours, I do the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping), but it's just kind of worked out that way (I'm a better cook, he has higher earning potential, I had the necessary plumbing to breastfeed so I stayed home, etc.). Since we work together, I joke that he's the boss at work and I'm the boss at home.

    I'm not sure how our marriage would look different if we did make some pact that he's the boss. I think each couple needs to work these things out for themselves, based on their own individual strengths and weaknesses and comfort levels, and one's physiology shouldn't dictate who gets to be "in charge."

    I also think there's a middle ground between defaulting to the Dad's in charge model and the Everybody Loves Raymond bumbling dad schtick. Honestly, we don't have enough conflict around here to NEED a boss that often. We've been married 8.5 years, together for 12.5 years, and we've known each other since we were 11. We've kind of got this down to a fine science.

    Clearly you and I should discuss this further over chocolate martinis. Interesting subject!

  6. Marry an abusive man who believes in patriarchy and see what happens.

    As for wives being doormats, it all depends on the man who is the leader. If he tells you you're not allowed to give your opinion, then you're not. If he tells you to jump, you jump. The way the man leads you is dependant on the man. Patriarchy provides very few caveats. No oversight. No accountability for the man, really, of any sort.

    If you married a nice man, great. Good for you. Those of us who married abusers didn't know it until we were married. Most abusers don't show their true colors until they feel like they've "got" you. For most of us, that wasn't till the honeymoon.

    As for the women being taught to be doormats, well, it's in the books. Martha Peace, a favorite of most patriarchal teachers and lauded for her "balanced" approach, teaches that wives are only allowed to have "one appeal." Don't like that your husband just told you that you're not allowed to go to bed until you've cleaned the kitchen spotlessly? You get one appeal. After that, you must submit cheerfully, trusting God. Other patriarchal teachers do much the same. It's in there.

    Again, if you have a kind and loving husband, you most likely just don't see it. But for women married to abusive men, we see it. We see it because we scour those books, looking for help, and all they do is tell us that as long as he's not commanding us to sin (murder someone, etc), we have to do exactly as he says or we are in rebellion to God.

    So, we did...it was never enough for him, of course, but we did it all anyway (the more humiliated he made us, the better he felt about himself).

    The result wans't anything that glorified God though, even though we gave it our very best. The result was destruction. Because you can't submit to an abuser without creating an even worse abuser. Patriarchy taught us that by submitting, we would win our husbands. Patriarchy was a lie.

    One who was there


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