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FOR BROWN GIRLS WHO CONSIDERED LEAVING THE CHURCH WHEN THE SEXISM WAS TOO MUCH

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African American Woman 2

BY

Since dismantling patriarchy is one of my approaches to reading the Scriptures, I want to talk first about what it is and why I position myself against it.

Patriarchy, in its simplest terms, is the privileging of maleness.

Patriarchy is also a system that functions much like racism in that there are institutional and embedded structures that oppress women through social, political, and economic practices.

The United States reflects a culture that values maleness.

A recent study in The Washington Post reports that white men make up about 31% of the entire population of the United States, yet are 65% of all elected officials. In other words, white men occupy more than half of the seats of power in this country. That breaks down to white men having eight times the political power nonwhite women do. Another study reports that 83% of this country’s elected prosecutors are white males. Only 1% of U.S. prosecutors are women of color. The lawmakers and law enforcers of this country are primarily white males.

Like the country we live in, the Bible reflects a culture that privileges maleness.

An example of this is the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11:

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (NRSV)

The act of adultery requires at least two persons, right? But whomever it was that she was committing adultery with was apparently let off with a warning since it was only she who was brought before Jesus. Maleness is also privileged in many of the genealogy references in the Bible, such as Genesis 6:10 that tells us Noah had three sons, again, presumably, all by himself, since their mother(s) is not mentioned.

A lot of Black women occupy pews in churches that privilege maleness.

Some even teach and uphold certain cultural norms from an ancient culture that some argue relegate women to “second class” status. Like the decision makers in American law and order are primarily white males, many churches have men in the positions of power despite the fact that women are the overwhelming majority group of many congregations.

Let’s break that down even further: single Black women are a large percentage of black church membership. But I have not encountered many single Black female Christians who were happy and content with the so-called “singles’ ministries” of the churches they attend. The lack of attention to this large segment of the church renders them invisible. Add to that the erasing effect stereotypes have upon Black female humanity and I think it becomes clear why some brown girls have considered leaving the church when the sexism got to be too much.

I do not believe God is sexist.

I do not believe that men have something in common with God that women do not. I believe Jesus practiced a discipleship of equals. And we can choose to read the Bible in ways that recover the oft-silenced voice of the Feminine Divine. Here is an example of that.

The fifteenth chapter of Luke begins with Jesus at odds with religious leaders and he uses a trilogy of parables to show them and us that God values everybody. All three of these teachings focus on various states of lostness: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. In all three parables, the person who lost something is a representation of God’s diligence: God as the shepherd who will drop all to find the one lost sheep, God as the father filled with compassion who rushes to greet his lost son upon his return home, and…

God as the woman who lit a lamp and swept her home until she found her lost coin.

Clearly, religion, the Bible, and culture mutually influence each other, because we often skip right over this image of God as female. Resisting patriarchy and making a different choice about the lens through which we view the Scriptures empowers us to reshape how we think about ourselves.

God is a brown girl too, after all.

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In God’s Image

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Aside from being a Volunteer with GEMA & a Rhema Member, Wilma is the author of the book ‘Love that Counts’ A Journey of Healing through the Heartache of Destructive Relationships.  She holds a Masters Degree in Media and Journalism and an Honours degree in Psychology.  Wilma works primarily in the Social Development field with a focus on Strategic Social Development, Relational Wellness, Communications and Change.

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By Wilma Luimes

In the name of fighting injustice we often forget to fight the issue and start fighting a perceived enemy.  The battle is not against a person, it is a fight against the perception of superiority and the subsequent imbalance of power it creates; an internalised ‘perception of truth and entitlement’ that justifies human rights violations.

The battle for gender equality is not a fight that is intended to create a face-off between women and men.  It is a struggle against the imbalance of power that the ideology of patriarchy has created.  An active dispute against the assumptions that form the foundation of sexism and an affirmation of women’s value not a defamation of men’s worth.

The imbalance of value has caused both men and women to lose their humanity.  To perpetuate violence is to root oneself in the ideology of hatred.  And once hatred is entrenched, it tarnishes all that is good and valuable in one’s life.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’  Matthew 5:8.  The ideology of sexism (or any ‘ism) blocks one’s ability to see God clearly.  For God created male and female in his image, Genesis 1:27 and failing to see the image of God in another person is an inability to see God.

My father was instrumental in teaching me that women are valuable.  He never spoke about women with disrespect.  That was not ok at our house.  That is the foundation that informs my perspective on gender equity.  Women are valuable and deserve to be respected.  That was also the basis for my divorce and the reason that I would not allow my daughter’s father to teach her otherwise; for she too is worthy of respect.

So I do not advocate for gender equity as a fight of women against men.  I have a healthy appreciation for men. Men who value women that is, those who mirror the character of God in their relationships and honour the most high God in their lives.  So while respect is given because we recognise the image of God in people, trust is earned.

FOLLOW THE LEADER

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Aside from being a Volunteer with GEMA & a Rhema Member, Wilma is the author of the book ‘Love that Counts’ A Journey of Healing through the Heartache of Destructive Relationships.  She holds a Masters Degree in Media and Journalism and an Honours degree in Psychology.  Wilma works primarily in the Social Development field with a focus on Strategic Social Development, Relational Wellness, Communications and Change.

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By Wilma Luimes

 

“No.  You can’t play.  I am the boss of this game.”  Johnny shouts.

Sarah turns away dejected.

It’s standard ‘modus operandi’ on playgrounds around the world.

The struggle for power, status and prestige.

Johnny declares a new game.  “Follow the leader,” he announces.

Those who are ‘not allowed’ to play watch from a distance.

And all the other boys and girls line up behind Johnny in their full stature of Velcro shoes, pigtails, ribbons, cartoon crested t-shirts and begin their march around the playground, over the monkey bars, through the tunnel…  And for a while, all the children are enjoying the new game.

Eventually, Tommy is brave enough to ask, isn’t it time for someone else to be the leader?  Tommy kicks his new sneaker against the ground impatiently.

“No!” Johnny shouts.  “I am the leader.”

Tommy looks around disgruntled and continues playing for a few minutes but eventually goes off with a ball to go and play soccer instead.  A few of the other ‘followers’ join him; leaving the line much shorter than when the game began.

A short while later, Christine takes a few of her friends out of the line to go and play with a skipping rope.

Soon ‘the boss’ mentality leaves Johnny all alone on the playground.

Ironically often organisations don’t behave much different.

The predominant male belief that ‘we are the boss of this church’… is an echo that has and still reverberates from many a church building through the ages with a blatant disregard for the fruit that spirit produces.

And while the male-dominated spirit is still prevalent in many a church today, somehow, I seriously doubt that God agrees on the outcomes… because when it’s about power, status and prestige; God is not in it! 

The love has disappeared. 

And often the difference between good leadership and great leadership is the ability to know when to step forward and when to step back! 

 

END

I DIDN’T CHOOSE TO BECOME AN EGALITARIAN

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Carrie Fernandez

Carrie Fernandez

is a National Board Certified teacher of English/Literature in Cary, North Carolina.When she’s not playing PIG with her son, practicing cartwheels with her daughter, or going on long runs with her husband, she enjoys perusing antique stores, thrift shops, and flea markets for treasure.She also searches for God’s treasures on life’s journeys through her writings, which can be found on her blog (click Carrie’s name to access her website).
father daughter

BY

I’m a southern girl, the middle child, one of three daughters in my family of five.

My daddy gloried in raising up three, strong-willed women.  He taught us early on to assert ourselves, with frequent reminders to never let anyone walk all over us, to stand up for ourselves because we mattered.  He believed we could do anything we set our minds to, challenging us and giving his all as he raced us around the go-cart track, pushing us to play our best during family basketball games, never taking it easy because we were girls.

I admired my dad and longed for his approval, and there was never a moment from my childhood, adolescence, or adulthood when I didn’t receive it. When meeting others, he introduced my sisters and me with the pride of an Olympian, placing his arm around our shoulders and smiling down on us, his three gold medals

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did my dad’s ability to see beyond my gender to my soul shape my views on my place in the world?  Did I subconsciously apply the complete, direct access I enjoyed to my dad’s love as his daughter to my Father God’s love, as well?  (Ephesians 2:18)

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Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, I was surrounded daily by the beauty of God’s creation. Long hikes up steep trails to the top of Grandfather Mountain left me panting and sweating, breathless from the exertion of the climb.  Standing triumphant at the peak, I tried to catch my breath again as the bigness of God’s creation left me in state of speechless awe.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did observing the beauty of God’s creation remind me of my own beauty?  Did standing among the peaks of towering mountains help me realize my prominence in the eyes of God? (Matthew 10:31)

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As a literature major in college, I read about strong, heroic, female protagonists. Through Jane Eyre’s self-assertion and independence during the Victorian era in Jane Eyre and Scout Finch’s rebellion against gender stereotypes of the 1930’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, I found myself relating on a deep level to each character’s trials and frustrationsI identified with their desires to simply be who they were born to be during time periods when societal expectations limited women and stifled their natural desires to participate fully in a patriarchal world.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did the ever-present struggle for equality which permeates many classical and modern works of literature help me better understand my own internal desire to assert myself in every arena of my life?  Did the tenacious spirits of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women remind me so much of myself that I began to feel less alone and marginalized in my desires for liberty?

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After a failed marriage, I recommitted my life to a man who loves and accepts me for me. Standing together on a scorching day in July, I vowed to love him, to cherish him, and to remain faithful and true forever; I did not, however, vow to obey him.  He didn’t want me to make a promise of obedience any more than I did.  From the beginning of our relationship, we have assumed equal roles as partners, never bartering out expectations on things like submission or assigning man-made roles and titles like spiritual leader and headship.

My husband doesn’t expect me to shrink smaller, quiet my voice, or climb down a few notches on a patriarchal spiritual ladder to prove to others we are engaging in a Biblical marriage.

We have naturally partnered in every facet of our parenting and marriage, each of us submitting to Christ’s will, losing ourselves, not for each other, but for Christ only and always.  Our marriage reflects the true beauty of partnership in that we recognize the value of sometimes allowing the other person to lead.  It’s an ebb and flow; it’s fluid, organic, and free.

When I’m down, I relinquish the reigns for a while, trusting in where my husband will lead. I fall back for a bit and take refuge in his shadow; when I’m well and my strength has returned, I step out of his shelter and back into the void by his side.  When life becomes too much and he needs a respite from the demands of his life roles, he knows he can do the same.  After those breaks, those rests, we resume our walk together, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, partners until the end.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did falling in love with someone who values and respects the very character traits which fuel others’ perceptions of me as a failed example of Biblical womanhood reaffirm my equal value as a daughter of God?  Did marrying a man who fosters my freedom within our marriage further verify my complete freedom in Christ? (2 Corinthians 3:17)

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In April of 2007, I had my son. I never knew love like the love I felt when I held his squirming, slippery body against my own, his tiny wails piercing my heart, causing an ache so deep I thought it might explode.  During the three years when my son was the only child, I learned a lot about love, particularly the love of a parent.  Parental love is fierce, incessant, and all consuming.

Having my daughter taught me it’s also without bias and without hierarchy. When I stared through my tears at my daughter’s blurry, beautiful face in March of 2010, the love I experienced was equal to that of her brother.  An identical space opened in my heart where my love for her grows with the same fervor as my love for my son; it’s just as fierce, just as incessant, just as consuming.

I have a son and a daughter, but like my dad, I see past their genders to their souls.  I see each as a part of my husband and me, a creation purposed from the same union of love.  Each is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).  Each is gifted with talents capable of changing the world (1 Corinthians 12: 4-6).  Each is a child of God, created in the same image and with the same love (Genesis 5: 1-2).

Is this how I became an Egalitarian?

Does my inability to imagine and expect less of my daughter further my understanding of a fair and just God? Does observing the equality of my own love for my son and daughter affirm the equitable love of our Creator for all of His children? Galatians 3:28

I’m an egalitarian.

Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the specific moment in time when I assumed the title.  Perhaps that moment doesn’t even exist.  I think for me, the evolution of my spiritual journey has resulted in a faith which denotes all aspects of egalitarianism. For as long as I can remember, that still small voice has spoken softly affirmations of my worth.

Through the unconditional, unbiased love of my dad, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are loved” (John 3:16).

Standing breathless at the top of Grandfather Mountain, the Holy Spirit murmured, “I have purposed you in my heart” (Isaiah 64:8).

Partnering with my husband as a spiritual leader in our home, God assures, “Bring me my son and my daughter.  The fruit of your labor is good” (Isaiah 43:6).

Seeing each of my children as God’s image bearers, equally powerful and important and free, I hear the sigh of the Holy Spirit, “Yes, yes, this is right.  This is truth.  Carry on child of mine, carry on” (Matthew 28: 18-20).

So I do. So I will.

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Go For the Gold

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BY STACEY MOYO

The Young Adults iConnect camp held last year was a huge success! The Young Adults Ministry is led by Ps Wayne Chafunya at Rhema Bible Church. In the course of the weekend, the campers were split into four huge teams, to scramble for victory in a series of games. It was however the tug-of-war that caused the most stirring.

The Young Adults iConnect camp held last year was a huge success! The Young Adults Ministry is led by Ps Wayne Chafunya at Rhema Bible Church. In the course of the weekend, the campers were split into four huge teams, to scramble for victory in a series of games. It was however the tug-of-war that caused the most stirring. Read the rest of this entry »

Woman, Thou Art More Than Curves

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Tega SwannRev. Tega Swann is a church planter and the senior pastor of Refreshing Springs Ministry, Aliquippa & Ambridge, Pennsylvania. She holds a BS in human anatomy and a MA of religion in church ministry and missiology. She is also mother to one gorgeous child, Jacqueline-Pearl.

By Tega Swann

Until I was thirty-three and conceived my child, my body was slender and straight—no curves (a relative once jokingly called me “figure eleven,” which was her way of saying that I had no curves).

For twenty-six of those thirty-three years, I lived in Nigeria, where thin meant “sickly” or “emaciated.” My mother was always frustrated with my figure, because she feared that people might think she didn’t take care of me! For years, one of my naturally thin sisters tried to “fatten” herself. She would often pad her clothing so that she looked like she had a fat stomach, hips, and butt!

My people would joke that a Nigerian man could date a slender/thin girl, but he would marry a plump or “fat” one. They were more comfortable with and wanted women with curves, and lots of them! This is the country where one tribe, the Calabars, actually sends its brides to the “fattening” room before the wedding!

Then I moved to the US, which has been my home for the last seventeen years, and encountered a very different cultural ideal for women’s bodies. In the US, curvy/plump women are treated the way slender/thin women are treated in Nigeria—with denigration. Here, the perfect woman has little or no curves or any form of fat on her body. This standard is much like the kind of woman I was until I conceived and had my child. No wonder my American ex-husband was crazy about (my body) me!

It’s been over twelve years since I had my daughter and my “curves” have developed and steadily increased! I have undulating curves everywhere—belly, hips, arms. As my body changed over the years, a part of me was delighted. I could now gleefully tell mom, “I’m fat!!” Then, I’d remember that I could only share that joy with Nigerians. Here in the US, my curves are not considered a success story.

American culture made me miss my former self—until I started questioning why my looks should dictate my value in either context. I began to ask what my curves (or lack of them) had to do with fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.

What we do with our bodies is more relevant and impactful for God’s kingdom than what our bodies look like.

I started paying attention to what women did with their bodies. Soon, I realized that what we do with our bodies is more relevant and impactful for God’s kingdom than what our bodies look like.

In American culture, describing a woman as a person of integrity, character, or in possession of any other non-physical virtue is often another way of saying she is unattractive. (Think about the cultural subtext of phrases like: “She has a great personality”). In other words, she is probably “fat,” and not appealing to the American male eye.

Yet, it is those non-physical virtues that God delights to see in us!

Samuel the prophet also judged people according to the world’s standard before God changed his perspective. When Samuel went looking for the next king of Israel among Jesse’s sons, Eliab caught his eye, because he was handsome and tall. But God wasn’t impressed with Eliab’s appearance. He cared far more for what was in his heart:

Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NIV).

God found and chose a man who would not have been considered attractive in that culture. But, he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

Men are rarely judged by their looks, but rather by their personalities, characters, achievements, and qualifications.

When God looks at humans, both male and female, he is more concerned with our ways than with our looks. So why do we make war on women’s bodies?

Judging people by their appearances is often a gender-prejudiced practice. Men are rarely judged by their looks, but rather by their personalities, characters, achievements, and qualifications. So much so that, in our culture, it is common to see a woman who fits the beauty ideal married to a man who would be judged unacceptable if he were female.

Yet, a woman is so much more than her curves (or lack of them)! So why don’t we affirm the same qualities in women that we validate in men?

I am a fat/curvaceous woman. I also know many curvy women who I greatly admire and respect, because of who they are and what they do with their hands, with their time, with their abilities, talents, and resources. These women faithfully raise children and partner their husbands, and somehow, they still find time to serve in church ministry.

I also know delightful, curvaceous, unmarried women who love the Lord and love others. Curves or no curves, these women love deeply, give generously, and serve faithfully.

The women who are considered unworthy because of their bodies are often the ones who volunteer to do the hardest work in the church. These are the women who, rejected by society’s standards, still cheerfully give both their money and time.

With that in mind, I asked myself, “What do I have to be ashamed of in this body?”

I honor and take care of my body as the temple of the living God. No harmful substance has ever found its way into my system. Sin is not allowed to live in my body. No, my curvy body is kept ready for the daily presence of the Holy Spirit.

The women who are considered unworthy because of their bodies are often the ones who volunteer to do the hardest work in the church. These are the women who, rejected by society’s standards, still cheerfully give both their money and time.

My hands, although short and ungroomed, are the hands with which I’ve cooked and cleaned for the members of God’s household for years, served as custodian for church property, managed my own property, and single-handedly raised a wonderful twelve year-old. So, my hands don’t look “sexy,” but they sure have been ministering through the years.

My curvaceous body is the same body with which I serve God’s people and my child, in sickness and in health. The physical labor I’ve put into serving the Lord led to a bad back that sometimes requires me to be in a brace for months at a time. I don’t have a thin waist that fits the American standard, and maybe it’s too crooked from years of Christian service to meet the African ideal, but God loves my curvaceous waist.

My eyes are not hued with “sexy” shades of makeup, but they are the eyes that I’ve intentionally shielded from anything unwholesome.

Many women, including myself, have little or no personal time to spend on meeting this cultural beauty standard. We work from dawn to dusk each day, fulfilling our quota to our families, the church, and the marketplace. Our efforts hold home, workplace, church, and community together, but when people see us, they don’t think about what we do or how we contribute to the world. Rather, they think about how much or how little we fit the worldly standard of attractive female.

This is not to say that life is always better for the woman who meets the beauty standard, because she is still subjected to the male gaze. And often, under the gaze of the “overly-spiritual,” she is penalized for having an attractive form. These attractive women may be subjected to the same denigration that the “unattractive” women suffer under the intense cultural pressure to be thin.

The serpent in the garden told the woman, “You’re not enough until you eat (do) this.” And today, the serpent’s voice has found its way into our world. The devil constantly tells women that they are “never enough.”

Our efforts hold home, workplace, church, and community together, but when people see us, they don’t think about what we do or how we contribute to the world. Rather, they think about how much or how little we fit the worldly standard of attractive female.

These voices keep the focus on women’s physical selves rather than on their personhood and humanity. Satan is determined to reroute women from their God-ordained path. Instead of thinking about God’s will, women are often distracted by the pursuit of that elusive standard by which they will finally be found “enough.”

Satan is sending women off on a wild goose chase. Make no mistake, if women allow him to do so, they will find themselves ruled by the ever-changing demands of men’s desires rather than by the clear and stable directives of God.

The Apostle Peter counseled godly women to resist the emphasis on “outward” value and focus on their real value, their “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pet.3:3-4).

This is not an assignment for women who are not considered “beautiful.” Rather, it is a universal assignment for all women who want to please God!

God said it to Samuel, Peter seconded it. Women are more than their bodies or outward appearances. A woman is significant in ways that mere physical appearance can never capture.

From my rising to my laying down, the desire of my heart is not to be physically stunning. Truly, I only want to please my God. And somehow, I don’t think that includes how curvaceous or how thin he wants me to look on any given day. Rather, he is concerned with how kind, generous, selfless, prayerful, and Christ-centered I can be each day.

Being fat or thin has nothing to do with human worth. Had Jesus been in our culture today, people might have asked him “Which is better for a woman to be? Fat or thin?”

And I’m certain Jesus would give a response similar to Matthew 15:11 and Mark 7:15, making it clear that body fat or lack of it has nothing to do with our desirability before God.

There are many valid arguments for certain body sizes, but the negative attention focused on women’s sizes is ridiculous. Many factors contribute to the shapes and sizes of women’s bodies: ethnicity, genetics, reproduction, nutrition, hormones, age, illness, etc.

Satan is sending women off on a wild goose chase. Make no mistake, if women allow him to do so, they will find themselves ruled by the ever-changing demands of men’s desires rather than by the clear and stable directives of God.

The abandonment of what is in the body—a living soul created in God’s image—for the body itself indicates that we have misplaced our priorities. We must take care of our bodies, certainly, but our bodies are not to be shrines at which we direct our praise.

My ex-husband loved my then “thin” body, but I would have preferred that he’d noticed my mind, my love for those around me, my love for God, my selflessness, commitment, and devotion.

And even outside of intimate relationships, I am certain that many women are crying out to be affirmed for who they are rather than what they look like.

Despite our fascination with the physical, we must remember that the human body is a temporal state. It is subject to limitations and decay. The unstoppable nature of aging and physical degeneration makes it unrealistic and unloving to judge women exclusively by their looks.

Therefore, we would do well to focus on what matters by remembering Apostle Paul’s words,

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Just as women must fix their gazes on the souls of men rather than on their bodies, men must learn to fix their gazes on the souls of women. Seek to see that which is not readily visible to the naked eye, that which can only be seen when we look with our hearts rather than with our tainted, carnal vision.

We must affirm women of all sizes and shapes as we do for men, because we recognize that there’s a person, a soul, in each body. A wonderful, beautiful person who is deeply loved and valued by God.

So the next time you see a woman, remember that her value should not be decided by her body.

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5 MYTHS OF MALE HEADSHIP

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Kate WallaceKate Wallace

 is a co-founder of The Junia Project, Operations Manager for the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium, and an adjunct professor in political science. She is a committed Christian and millennial feminist who enjoys studying the intersection of politics, religion, & gender. She holds a Master of Science from London School of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts from Azusa Pacific University.
Headship

I sat down across the table from her. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and I was excited to catch up. She was a youth pastor, one of those with an obvious call on her life for ministry.

But as I looked into her eyes, I could see she was worn out. She explained to me that she had been having some problems with her boss. She told me that every time she had a disagreement with him, he would tell her that she had a problem with “male headship in the Church”.

I sat there, shocked that a pastor would know so little about headship in the Church, that he would use it to get his way with his employees. I think I blurted out my response before she had finished her sentence:

“Yes! You should have a problem with male headship in the Church!” We took the rest of our lunch to talk through the theological error this man had fallen into.

I have to admit, since that conversation I have been on high alert for every mention of “male headship” in Evangelical churches. I have heard it in many different contexts, and every single time it was used to elevate men over women – in the family, in marriage, in the Church.

It occurred to me that although Evangelicals are known for diving into scripture and analyzing it word for word, we have failed to do this with “headship” in scripture. Someone tells us it is synonymous with “authority” and we leave it at that – no word study, no look at context, no observing original language.

This has led to 5 myths about “male headship” that have weeded their way into our theology. Although I am far from being the first to write about this, my hope is that this post will help bring false thinking to light and challenge us to dig a little deeper.

Myth #1 – Male Headship in the Church

 

The Bible never teaches that there is “male headship” in the Church. Yup, you heard me right. Now, the Bible does talk about headship in the Church. But do you know who takes that position? That’s right – Christ.

According to the Bible, Christ and Christ alone is the head of the Church. Men are never given that spot. In fact, to insist on male headship in the Church would be to place men in the spot of Christ, and that verges on heresy.

Sometimes people use the language of “headship” when they are actually talking about leadership in the Church. This usually stems from a specific interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, a verse that never mentions headship. This is actually a different theological topic all together. The confusion of the two topics can lead to significant false teaching.

Myth #2 – Man as the Head of the Household

Did you know that the Bible never says that the man is the head of the household? That phrase is so common in our culture, and even though some of us assume it is taken out of scripture, it’s just not in there. So what does the Bible say?

There are two places in scripture that refer to a husband’s headship: Ephesians 5.23 & 1 Corinthians 11.3. When you read them, you see that these verses are specifically speaking to the marriage relationship between a husband and a wife. They do not say that all men are the heads of all women. They also do not say that men are the heads of Christian communities.

You will also notice that neither one says that the husband is the “head of the house”. In fact, the only thing the husband is called the “head of” is the wife.

So what does it mean for a husband to be the head of the wife? Some believe it has to do with leadership, but…

Myth #3 Headship as Leadership

Did you know that the Bible never says that the husband is to “lead” the wife? People who teach this are actually giving their own interpretation of scriptures that talk about the “headship” of the husband. They are assuming that the Greek word for “head” means “leader”. This is a common assumption because in the English language, “head” can be synonymous with “leader”. But not all languages equate “head” with “leadership”.

French, for example, is one language in which their word for “head” has no connotation whatsoever with “leadership”. Interestingly, Greek is another language that does not commonly equate leadership with headship. In Greek, headship can mean “source”, as in the “headwaters of a river” (1 Corinthians 11.3 seems to be an example of this, considering verses 11 & 12 of that chapter). The meaning of “head” in Greek is usually a metaphorical one, which can be understood through context of the specific passage.

If we read these passages without bringing our Western, English understanding of the word “head” into them, they look pretty different. But then how can we figure out what “husband headship” means in scripture? The second part of that verse holds a huge clue.

“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church…”

If we want to understand “husband headship,” then we must understand Christ’s headship of the Church. So, how is Christ the head of the Church?

Christ’s “headship” in relation to the Church is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament:

  1. Colossians 1:18 – Christ is metaphorical head of the Church, source of life after death
  2. Colossians 2. 18-19 – Christ as metaphorical head of the Church, to help her flourish
  3. Ephesians 5.23 & 25 – Christ as metaphorical head of the Church, saving her, loving her, giving himself up for her
  4. Ephesians 1:20-23 – Church is metaphorical body of Christ, Christ provides for Church’s growth
  5. Ephesians 4:15-16 – Church is metaphorical body of Christ, Christ equips the Church for growth through love

How is Christ’s headship of the Church described?

  • Giving abundant life
  • Helping her flourish
  • Saving her
  • Loving her
  • Giving himself for her/dying for her

What don’t we see in these passages?

  • authority over
  • leadership
  • decision making
  • rulership

Many other times when Christ is called the “head” of something, Scripture adds language to explain that he is also in authority over that thing. This “authority over” language is missing in every single instance of Christ being the head of the Church. 

Christ’s headship of the Church has nothing to do with leadership or authority, but with love, sacrifice, death, and giving of life. Likewise, a husband’s “headship” of his wife would refer only to giving himself up for her, sacrificing for her, to give her a flourishing life.

For clarity’s sake…
Was Christ a leader? – Yes.
Is Christ the ruling Son of God seated on the throne? – Yes.
Are those the traits of Christ that husbands are called to mimic as “heads” of their wives? – No.

This is a servant role, not a leadership one.

Myth #4 Headship as Decision Making

Fun fact: scripture does not give husbands any sort of decision-making authority over their wives. In fact, the only scripture that addresses decision making in the husband-wife relationship instructs them to make that decision together equally (1 Corinthians 7.1-6).

Let me say this one more time, because I think it’s important – The only spot in scripture that explicitly addresses decision making in a marriage calls the husband and wife to make that decision together equally.

Scripture doesn’t give the husband a “trump card” in decision making. He doesn’t get the final say, according to the Bible. If we follow the example scripture sets, husbands and wives would make decisions together, through prayer.

Myth #5 Headship as Being in the Driver’s Seat

Too many times have I heard people equate a husband’s “headship” to authority because “someone has to drive the car”. Guess what? Marriage is not a car. Marriage is a covenant relationship. Plus, you can always pull over and switch drivers.

While there were no cars at the time the Bible was written, interestingly there is a vehicular example in the Bible of what two people coming together in this covenant relationship should look like – two oxen, equally yoked, pulling a cart or a plow. They must be equal, or the cart will be pulled off course.

In the scriptural example, we are not the drivers of the marriage at all. We are the oxen. The oxen do not decide where the cart goes – the farmer does. We put in the effort to make it work, and God decides where He will take it, and what He will use it for.

Men don’t belong in the drivers seat. Neither do women. God does. Remember, we are called to live differently.

Busted

The Evangelical myths of “male headship” teach that men have some sort of authority over women in the Church, community, and home. I believe the prominence of these myths stems from a failure to study the topic thoroughly. The Bible itself does not give men an over arching authority over women. In fact, it tells us that a husband is to show his wife the life-giving sacrifice Christ showed to the Church.

The world favors men. The Bible tells Christ followers to favor others – husbands to their wives, wives to their husbands, believers to one another. In this way, everyone is sacrificially loving and being loved. Egalitarians speak to this in their theology of mutual submission.

My youth pastor friend made a great observation during our lunch together. “If Christ followers are generally called to self-sacrifice, servanthood, and humility, this grasping for male authority doesn’t seem to fit.”

As Christians, we are not called to exert authority over people. We are instructed to love, serve, and lay down our authority as Christ did.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phil.2:5-8

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