Kelly Ladd Bishop

Exploring issues of faith, culture, and spirituality with a focus on women in the church and world

The Foolishness of So-Called Biblical Gender Roles

Taking an unjust system and making it nicer is foolishness.

However, this is exactly what many evangelical groups are doing with patriarchy.

Patriarchy, at its core, is a system of injustice, where women are not fully autonomous, but are under the authority of men.

The Acts 29 church planting movement holds the authority of men over women as one of their core values.

The Gospel Coalition states in their foundational documents that men and women “assume distinctive roles,” that the husband is head over the wife, with the wife “submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord.” The Gospel Coalition also states that the leadership roles in the church are to be held only by “qualified men.”

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood exists solely to teach the authority of men, and the proper gender roles they believe men and women should fulfill in the Christian church and home, with man as leader and woman submitting.

The argument from these groups, and many others, is that the form of patriarchy they are teaching, which is commonly called complementarian theology, is unlike the patriarchy of other times and cultures. They argue that it is a patriarchy ordained by God, one where the man is to be the “servant leader,” which makes it different from other forms of patriarchy. They call it “complementarian” because they argue that men and women have complementary roles, equal in value, but different in function. These roles, however, are not equal in authority. Men have authority over women. Men are leaders in the church, and husbands have authority over their wives and families. But because they teach that a husband should honor his wife and not abuse her, it’s a nicer, kinder patriarchy. A wife may have value, but she does not have equality in authority. There is a hierarchy, with men at the top.

There are many women who teach and support this view. They have been taught that this is God’s ordering of things, that men are placed in authority over women, and Bible believing Christian women will accept and follow this teaching. They will do it with grace because it is right, and because it is powerful to follow God, even when he is asking us to be submissive.

This is partially correct. It is powerful to follow God, even when he is asking us to be submissive. However, God doesn’t ask us to be submissive to each other based solely on our gender. We lead and submit to each other based on our gifts and callings.

Besides the exegetical problems with teaching a gender hierarchy, which are plentiful, the basic idea that God ordains a gender hierarchy is completely counter to God’s character, and the entire message of redemption in scripture.

Christ didn’t die to make our garbage nicer garbage. He died to overcome it, to take it away. There are many broken and imperfect systems in scripture and throughout the world, and patriarchy is one of them. God isn’t in the process of making broken systems nicer. Christ didn’t die so that we can ultimately have kinder injustices. God is tearing down broken systems. Christ died to free us from sin, and all of its brokenness, including broken gender relations. Ultimately God’s redemption will do away with the unjust systems, not make them nicer. And in the mean time, the church should be living into redemption, not into the brokenness of sinful structures.

The church should be leading the charge to tear down broken systems, rather than watering them down, painting them with theological terms, and calling them Godly.

Taking an unjust system and making it nicer is foolishness.

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