I studied and even taught this material for many years before arriving at my present position. I’m confident that many readers will struggle to get comfortable with these ideas that are so far removed from what many of us have been taught.
If I we’re teaching in person, I’d look forward to a question and answer period to allow those with questions to clarify their thinking. In lieu of such a session, the following are the hardest questions that I could think of to ask myself:
Q. The argument for men to have dominion over women seems so simple and your position seems very complicated, with references to Greek and commentators and all. Isn’t the simplicity of the dominion position strong evidence that it is the right position?
A. Not at all. The simplest interpretations of scripture are sometimes right but sometimes very wrong. After all, it is very easy to point out that the New Testament frequently, plainly, and unambiguously commands us to greet one another with the Holy Kiss.
(Rom. 16:16) Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(1 Cor. 16:20) Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(2 Cor. 13:12) Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(1 Thess. 5:26) Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
(1 Pet. 5:14) Greet one another with a kiss of love.
These are all direct commands. The commands are plain. We don’t preach, teach, or practice them, even though the argument in support of adopting this practice is very simple indeed. What’s not to understand?
The only reason we don’t struggle with the Holy Kiss (or for that matter, prohibitions on braided hair and gold jewelry or the requirement to wear a veil) is that such commands run contrary to our culture today and would not serve their original purpose today.
We do struggle with the role of women because, until very recently, our culture has refused to allow women to have the same opportunities and recognition as men. Our older members grew up in that culture and many (including the women) came to approve and accept unequal rights for women. Therefore, they find the traditionalist arguments comfortable — and therefore “simple.”
Moreover, the argument that I’ve spent so posts on can be stated just as simply as any other argument dealing with the role of women:
The Bible says that in God is no respecter of persons and does not judge by external appearances. It means what it says. Passages that apparently limit women’s role are written for a temporary cultural situation that no longer exists (much like the command of the Holy Kiss). Genesis 3 is a curse not a command. Genesis 1 and 2 define how husbands and wives should relate in Christ, who came to undo the Fall of Man — they are both made in God’s image and husbands and wives should be one flesh, much as Jesus and God are one.
It’s not really complicated.
Q. I just can’t accept that men and women are equal.
A. Me neither. God made us different. While God did not set up a hierarchy of men over women, Genesis 2 plainly teaches that Adam without Eve was “not good.” God did not make another man — He made a woman, who was wondrously different.
The inherent, God-created differences between men and women mean that certain gifts and talents will be unequally distributed among them. It is hardly a shock to anyone that more women teach the cradle roll class than men. There is no deep theological reason that men shouldn’t do this. They just, on the whole, don’t care to and, on the whole, wouldn’t be as good at it. But many women have this talent. This obvious gender distinction does not mean that men cannot teach cradle roll.
Just so, it is conceivable that more men than women are gifted to teach adult Sunday School classes (although we really have no way of knowing this at this time). If this proves to be a fact, nonetheless, as J. W. McGarvey and David Lipscomb suggested nearly 100 years ago, capable women should be allowed to teach.
Finally, the differences between men and women relate foremost to marriage, not church organization. God gave Eve to Adam as a wife — not as a pre-school Sunday School class teacher and communion preparer. As we will discuss later, when the Bible speaks of any Christian’s role in the church, it speaks in terms of talents. And while a given talent may be unequally distributed, all the talents that God has given must be used to His glory, no matter to whom God has given them. It is, after all, God’s choice.
Q. Can’t a woman be required to be subordinate without being made inferior?
A. The paternalist and hierarchicalist positions are often justified by the argument that the leadership or “headship” of man makes woman subordinate — but not inferior. Indeed, hierarchicalists and many paternalists would insist that women have the same “value” as men, arguing that this is the true meaning of such passages as Galatians 3:28: “There is … neither male nor female.” See, for example, Black, ibid, page 212-213; Goebel Music, Behold the Pattern (Goebel Music Publications, Colleyville, Texas 1991) page 530; Ferguson (“A common mistake is to confuse equal worth with equal rank”).
And it is certainly true that in certain circumstances one may take a subordinate role to another and be in no wise inferior to that person. For example, I am an equal partner in my law practice with the other senior lawyers. I’m in no way inferior to them in terms of legal rights or ownership. And yet, I often work under another attorney in the firm on a case or project. A given project may require more than one experienced lawyer, and yet we recognize that a project should have only one boss. Thus, the other lawyers take a subordinate role — voluntarily.
Indeed, this is a word that pops up frequently in hierarchicalist literature. It is repeatedly stated that women should “voluntarily” subordinate themselves to men, and yet no effort is made to explain how one can voluntarily subordinate oneself if one has no choice!
The underlying problem here is that truly voluntary subordination is based on reasons other than a rule. For example, the choice of which lawyer will take the lead on a case is made based on talent, experience, relationship with client, or the like. In biblical terms, the choice is made based on gifts and talents.
Just so, on a basketball team some players are asked to be “role players.” They take subordinate roles as substitutes, rebounders, defenders, or the like. In fact, all players are role players in the sense that each has a distinct job and assignment. All five players cannot be the playmaker, and all five can’t stand behind the three-point line setting up for a long-range basket. And clearly being the playmaker versus being the center does not make one player inferior to the other. Magic Johnson was just as valuable as a point guard as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was as a center.
But if the coach chooses to designate roles arbitrarily, based on skin color, family status, or the car driven by the player, the players would quite properly protest the unfairness of the decision. There is nothing unfair in taking different roles or in being subordinate — or even in sitting on the bench — so long as the choice in made based on the abilities of each individual.
In the not-too-distant past, we required black men and women to take subordinate positions to whites. Today, we see that this was wrong — not because no black person should ever be subordinate to a white person — but because the practice evaluated the black men and women as a race and not as individuals. Indeed, the requirement of subordination plainly indicated inferiority, and for this reason it was immoral.
Accordingly, whether we mean to or not, we patronize women when we argue that requiring them to be subordinate to men regardless of their respective talents, experiences, or accomplishments and regardless of what is best for the work of the church has no implication of inferiority.
The paternalist and hierarchicalist respond to such arguments by reasoning in a circle. God plainly values women the same as men. God plainly requires women to be subordinate to men. Therefore, subordination does not imply inferiority. But such reasoning “solves” the problem by denying the problem. The reality is that limiting what women can do purely because of their gender indicates inferiority — which is exactly what the church argued for centuries, indeed, until just the last few decades.