Do Men Really Need to “Govern” Women?

Bob Edwards

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Metal whistle on a black grained surface

Whistle

The following statement is a quote from the Danvers Statement:

This document serves as a kind of complementarian manifesto—a summary of deeply held core beliefs about how men and women should relate to one another. “In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.”¹

Governing, according to this document, is exclusively a man’s role.

The role of women, allegedly, is to “be subject” to male authority. The Danvers statement appears on the website for a group calling itself The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. One of their founding members, John Piper, explains that a man’s role in the church and in the home is that of a “servant-leader.”

He explains male authority in the following terms: “Authority” (in 1 Timothy 2:12) refers to the divine calling of spiritual, gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christlike, servant-leadership and teaching in the church.”² He also writes “Nor should any Christian husband shirk his responsibility under God to provide moral vision and spiritual leadership as the humble servant of his wife and family.”

Taken together, it seems as though complementarians believe that men serve women by “humbly” governing them.

This begs the question, if you are a complementarian man, why do you believe women need you to govern them? How is this a service?

If we were to ask one of the forerunners of complementarian theology³ these questions, he would have a very straightforward answer for us. St. Augustine would simply say that women are “weaker in the mind” than men. Without the guidance of the male intellect, they would be led astray by their emotional natures and perish. After all, Eve was deceived by the serpent, because she was a woman, and therefore weaker in the mind. All women, who are descendants of Eve, share this weakness, and require male leadership, according to St. Augustine.

Most complementarians today say that they do not agree with St. Augustine’s reasoning.

To suggest that they do is often met with accusations of creating a “straw man” argument—that is arguing against a position that someone doesn’t actually support. In many cases I’m sure that’s true. The complementarians I know best, do not actually think women are weaker in the mind than men, thank God.

If this is true, however, why do women require the “service” of male governance? Sometimes the simple answer is actually the best: they don’t.

Perhaps it’s time to lay aside more than just St. Augustine’s sexist view of a woman’s intellect. Perhaps it’s also long past time we laid aside the gender inequality that sprang from his prejudice.

Surprisingly, some leaders continue to insist that women have hereditary weaknesses that make them unfit for leadership responsibilities.

For example, John Piper writes in the book Desiring God that “God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths” (p. 184). What he fails to realize is that one person’s strengths and weaknesses are influenced by a great many factors other than his or her sex at birth.

Saying that someone’s sex (or race or ethnicity) is the explanation for his or her attitudes, behaviours, strengths or deficits is the root of all prejudice. It is an overly simplistic view of humanity that is also deeply hurtful and wrong (as this post illustrates). Perhaps someday even these leaders will learn not to make sweeping generalizations about either men or women.

We can pray and hope for change…

…and meanwhile continue to share a more accurate and loving view of God’s plan for human relationships: that we each serve one another in love, according to our gifts and strengths.

 

References:

¹http://cbmw.org/core-beliefs/

²http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/affirming-the-goodness-of-manhood-and-womanhood-in-all-of-life

³In the late 20th century, patriarchal theology was re-branded as ‘complementarian.’ One of the main texts used to support a complementarian worldview is “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. In this text, various authors draw heavily upon the commentary work of John Calvin to support their conclusions.  John Calvin admittedly drew his theological ideas largely from the work of St. Augustine. This is why I refer to Augustine as one of the founders of complementarian theology.  The doctrine of male authority did not originate in the 20th century.  It has been handed down from one generation to the next since it was originally introduced in ancient Rome. More on Augustine here.

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28 Comments

  • I wonder if some of our male aspiring governors have forgotten that THEY are governed absolutely by God? It seems a section of our Christian brethren rather think they need to tell God how things work. I am governed absolutely by God, and share an equal marriage with mt husband. I allow him to be equal and donrt resent it when he disagrees with me, I allow him to teach without my approval, and to speak in church as he chooses…..now there’s an equal marriage! I couldn’t be saved in childbirth either, as I had c-sections, amd form10 years of my life has no make to be lead and saved by…I was all grown up, and not married, but somehow God accepted my inferior status,,,I dont think anyone had told Him about it! So much silliness and so much pain for so many women….Heaven will be a wonderful place!

  • Thankyou for picking up on the comparison of women to animals, falsely achieved via the word ‘helper’. I was totally speechless for about half an hour when I first read this, and I can still remember where I was at the time. The whole point of the fruitless (and I believe, comic!) search for a spouse among the animals is to teach Adam & patriarchal hearers of the text that women are NOT a separate species from men (a different flesh) and NEVER to be treated as such.

    Re Eve’s deception, Piper and Grudem write : ‘Historically, this has usually been taken to mean that women are more gullible and deceivable than men and therefore less fit for the doctrinal oversight of the church. This may be true (see question 29). However we are attracted to another understanding of Paul’s argument…”

    (i.e.. male ‘ordained’ headship)

    Then the quote you picked out appears in that question 29 : “God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths” (p. 184).

    So, I’m afraid they are definitely suggesting that it is a real possibility that women may be more gullible than men. They kind of say it without quite saying it. Their way of writing about it leads one to believe that it is their gut feeling.

    This is in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p.72-73.

    • According to these men, due to women’s “characteristic weaknesses,” they are incapable of holding positions of organizational authority in the church. What then should women do? These men suggest we look at “helpful animals” for an example.

      They then deny believing that women are, by nature, inferior to men. “Characterstic weaknesses?” “Helpful animals?” It’s incredible how those who hold such hurtful prejudices are often the last to see them.

  • I often find myself wanting to ask complimentarians how they reconcile with Jesus’ promise that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16) Does this mean that women will govern men in heaven?

    • That’s a brilliant thought. Unfortunately, you would probably get an earful of “eternal son submission theology.” That’s the theological system that requires Jesus to be eternally submissive to God-the-Father, so that men can justify the ongoing submission of women to men. It amazes me that some people are actually willing to redefine God in order to lay claim to a position of authority on the basis of their sex.

      • I had not heard of that “theology” until reading about it in some CBE literature. Even if it were valid, the leap from Father/Son to man/woman is huge. It amazes me the things we humans will make up to justify our point of view.

  • Regarding Grudem and Piper’s “Question 45” as cited by raswhiting, here is the passage that Piper claims is the context we should refer to in understanding Eve’s role as “helper”:

    “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Genesis 2:20, NIV).

    Piper’s comment again is here: “Yet in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”

    My first question for John would be, “Which of these groups of animals are you referring to when you assume that they help us understand a woman’s role in relation to a man: livestock, birds or wild animals?”

    My second question would be, “Why do you think Adam’s relationship to livestock (or birds or wild animals) has any bearing on his relationship to his wife?”

    Once again, it seems that rather than deriving his worldview from what is explicitly stated in the Bible, John bases his theology on inference. Nowhere in my Bible, thank God, are we told to make sense of “a woman’s role” by observing how Adam relates to livestock (or birds or wild animals; I’m not sure which group Piper thinks is “helpful”).

    • Islamic beliefs In a cover erroneously labelled Bible! Said my husband, wise man! What a good laugh this article has given me, silly and anti creation. Every generation has their comics, I think I have found mine.

    • Bob, that is a good observation about Piper’s inference superseding the Bible. He and we should rely upon the basic meaning of the words and the context to understand what Genesis 2 means by ezer/helper. And the relevant context is Genesis 1: “27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [NIV]
      They have equal value, equal ability, equal responsibility, equal opportunity, equal blessing, and a mutual calling.

      • raswhiting, I think that is a fantastic summary. Well said!

  • This complimentarian belief is so unbelievably hurtful and has given so many women the wrong view of God.
    I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I was off because I couldn’t submit to my husband, or sit quietly so he’d feel respected. (Please note my husband has always believed in equality and hated the pressure church life put on me to be “submissive”.) Or all the times I’d want to start up something in church, but held back because I could never go all the way with something that told me I was less than.
    I’ve prayed to God with tears in my eyes asking why He made me me…and then made me woman. I think the love I felt during those prayers are why I kept hanging on.
    And then I moved to a new church and the pastor told me to read Blue Parakeet and it changed my life. I’m excited for this feminist movement sweeping through churches! So excited…I’m taking my first official job with a church. God only know where that might lead, now that only He controls my limits.

    • Congratulations on your new job Heather! I’m glad to hear that despite an oppressive, traditional environment, you were able to sense the love of God. There is indeed a wave of liberty, love and equality sweeping through the church today. I’m thankful that I get to see it. Many prayers are being answered.

  • I love this part: “Saying that someone’s sex (or race or ethnicity) is the explanation for his or her attitudes, behaviours, strengths or deficits is the root of all prejudice. It is an overly simplistic view of humanity that is also deeply hurtful and wrong.”

    When will people learn that sweeping generalizations like this do far more harm than good?

    • “When will people learn that sweeping generalizations like this do far more harm than good?”

      That’s a good question Katie. I hope it’s soon.

      I just finished reading a blog article quoting another complementarian leader, Mark Driscoll as saying that women–all women–are more gullible and more easily deceived than men. To support this conclusion, he pointed to magazines that can commonly be found in check-outs at the grocery store. Apparently, he believes that these magazines are an accurate representation of the way “all women” think. That is pure sexism, and he probably doesn’t realize it.

      • Bob, if those magazines are evidence that all women are gullible, then Maxim is evidence that all men think only with their hormones. Sheesh!

        • Exactly. Apparently Mr. Driscoll does not understand the concept of a “representative sample.”

      • I am a woman, and no, a lot of us don’t check our brain at the door concerning magazines at the magazine racks. We do use critical thinking skills when it comes to things such as magazines, even when we are teens.

        I wonder sometimes if Mark Driscoll lives in a world of female stereotypes and doesn’t know many real life women. He seems to plug women into a narrow set of types. He seems to view most women as the ditzy cheerleader air head type, the sleazy party girl type, etc.

        Yes, those types of females do exist – especially in the high school and college years – but even at those times a lot of girls (such as myself) did not fit in with those groups.

        I was shy, quiet, a bookworm, did well in my school work, I did not chase boys, cut class, or care a lot about my looks (until my late teens) and was pretty serious as a teen and college student. I was not the ditzy air head, nor was I the bimbo type. The female friends I had were similar to me in those regards.

        There used to be a cartoon on MTV that was popular with teens and women of all ages with a female character called Daria. It wasn’t a show I watched often, but what I recall, Daria was sort of non-girly girl, didn’t buy into trends, was a realist. A lot of females related to that character.

        If you visit some secular feminist sites today, you will see a lot of women ridicule and mock secular magazines aimed at women.

        The advice in such magazines is mocked, the unrealistic beauty standards and rampant photoshopping of the models is slammed for putting too great a burden on females to measure up to the air brushed models, the dating and romantic relationship advice to women on how to get or keep a man is sneered at and rejected, etc. Again, these are women putting these magazines down.

        Sometimes we women wonder why magazines try to pander to us the way we do. There might be some women who buy into what the magazines say, but most of us know it’s marketing, trying to make us feel guilty and ashamed so that we will buy more beauty products and so forth.

        If Mark Driscoll honestly thinks all, or even most, women are naive enough to fall for all the headlines and stuff in the magazines, he is very ignorant about women.

        • Having just finished with his book entitled “Real Marriage” and reviewing some of his sermons on women’s roles, I’m inclined to agree with you that Mark Driscoll has a very stereotypical, uninformed and degrading view of women. I won’t mention the content I reviewed. I think even quoting it could be damaging. Some things should simply never have been said.

  • Bob, the ancestry of complementarian though is very telling. Thanks for bringing it out so clearly here. Augustine was by no means worthless in his theology, but much of what he wrote was culturally based rather than having its origins in Scripture. Many early church theologians had the same ideas he did about the supposed inherent failings of women.

    Not only do men not need to govern women by any biblical measure, but attempting to do so is harmful not only to women but to men as well. It’s outside God’s revealed will in the Bible and should be rejected by everyone in his kingdom.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • Thank you for your thoughts Tim. I really appreciate the way you are able to value some of the helpful contributions made by early Christian writers, and at the same time acknowledge their humanity, which sometimes includes a cultural bias. In this case, it is a very long-standing bias against women.

  • This is fantastic, Bob!!

    You have raised some excellent questions and exposed important beliefs that the complementarians have failed to defend biblically. I think we need to spend much more time dissecting documents such as the Danvers statement. The lies it contains have served to establish a very real “stronghold” within the collective complementarian mind.

    The quote you included from Piper’s book (about men’s strength being required to balance out women’s weaknesses) is a shocking reminder of how far from the biblical text they have strayed. Men are NEVER called to be a woman’s strength!!! Only God serves that role for both men and women. Interestingly, though, if Piper wants biblical evidence of where the strengthening, support role is given to anyone, other than God himself, it appears that the ezer/warrior role was actually entrusted to the very first woman, Eve.

    • Thank you for your response Anne. I believe you are right in saying that a patriarchal worldview cannot be defended biblically. Recently I read one of John Piper’s latest attempts to justify the rule of men in the church and in the home. He acknowledged that the word “ezer” (help) is used of both Eve and God. He agreed that the word itself does not imply that Eve was to take a subordinate role. I thought perhaps he was having an epiphany. Sadly, though, his next comments indicated that he is still set in his ways. He said that Eve’s role as a helper is defined for us by the “helpful animals” that Adam named. I have no idea which allegedly “helpful” animals he pictures in his mind when he says such things. In any case, the Bible nowhere tells us that Eve’s relationship to Adam was designed by God to follow the pattern of a helpful animal. I find it shocking that he doesn’t seem to recognize how incredibly degrading that is to all women.

      • So he thinks Eve is like the created beasts while Adam is like Creator God. And then when Paul said there is no male or female in Christ, how would that square with Piper’s reading of Genesis? (Answer: it can’t.)

      • Bob, can you link to that Piper statement about the helpful animals?

        • “Yet in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”

          http://www.wacmm.org/Piper-Grudem-50-Questions.html

          That’s not where I first read the quote, but it can be found at the link above.

          • Thank you. Here is the entire Question and the Response
            “Question 45: Isn’t it true that God is called our “helper” numerous times in the Bible with the same word used to describe Eve when she was called a “helper” suitable for man? Doesn’t that rule out any notion of a uniquely submissive role for her, or even make her more authoritative than the man?
            [answer]
            It is true that God is often called our “helper,” but the word itself does not imply anything about rank or authority. The context must decide whether Eve is to “help” as a strong person who aids a weaker one, or as one who assists a loving leader. The context makes it very unlikely that helper should be read on the analogy of God’s help, because in Genesis 2:19-20 Adam is caused to seek his “helper” first among the animals. But the animals will not do, because they are not “fit for him.” So God makes woman “from man.” Now there is a being who is “fit for him,” sharing his human nature, equal to him in Godlike personhood. She is infinitely different from an animal, and God highlights her value to man by showing how no animal can fill her role. Yet in passing through “helpful” animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s “helper” in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.”

          • raswhiting quoting Piper: “but the word itself does not imply anything about rank or authority.”

            Why is Piper (and most other gender complementarians) so consumed with “rank and authority?”

            Jesus taught his followers that they were not to lord authority over one another. Jesus actually said if you want to be first, you must put yourself last, and serve all (as in washing dirty feet, which is not easy, pretty, or glamorous).

            But many gender complementarians are concerned about males being, and remaining in, authority over females, not in how they, the males, can serve females and meet the needs of the females. They want and demand that females serve males.

            I’m not sure how to explain it, but there is a problem in their position, that gender complementarians have to keep trying to argue, demand, or convince women everywhere to submit to men (as in their understanding of it, which is to take on a secondary position to males) .

            If you’re constantly telling me (a female) I must submit to you (because you are male), it’s rather like the tacky custom these days of couples asking you, the guest, up front for cold, hard cash on their wedding day.

            You should not ask your guests to bring you money as a wedding gift. Their presence at your wedding should be gift enough, and if they bring you a gift of a toaster instead of money, you should be grateful for that.

            Also, doesn’t the Bible say to wives, “Wives submit to your husbands” -? Isn’t that request directed towards females by the writer of the text?

            Not that I agree with the gender complementarian understanding of that verse, but even if I were to grant it to them, the Bible is not saying, “Men in the church, you must constantly smash your index finger under this verse, demanding and screaming at Christian ladies they are to submit to you or their husbands.”

            I am single myself. But what if I were married and I chose of my own free will not to submit to my spouse, what do gender complementarians suggest, does my husband get to kick me in the shins until I start submitting?

            How are they going to enforce this? Or, do they think the constant blog pages, books, etc, are supposed to convince me?

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