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Patriarchy in Protestantism
The church I attend (non-denominational) is considering a discussion of patriarchy and the church (at my suggestion). I would probably lead it if we go there. I would very much like to hear others' thoughts on this subject. Here's what I have so far: 
Of course, there's the male domination of the church itself and the relegation of women to secondary roles, of which there is still an abundance in our churches. 

Then there's the almost universal assumption of God's maleness and all that such entails--judgment, punishment, obedience, and even righteous cruelty, as well as the feudal power structure evoked by "Lord," obeisance to the deity's superiority, locating one's self at the bottom of the ladder of worthiness. The language of the church ritual and hymns, as well of course as the Bible itself, is rife with such imagery.

There's also the hierarchical structure of the church as an institution. Do we, for example, need a minister? Wouldn't a discussion group be more interesting as a service than listening to a single person, usually male, pontificate for a half-an-hour every Sunday morning?  

Instead of the male God of vengeance and judgment, wouldn't it be nice to envision a female deity who loves, nurtures, and respects--a loving mother who embraces us in a spiritual oneness, who supports, encourages, and forgives us as we struggle. I know the male God is supposed to do all that, but every lesson of love seems overshadowed by the reminders of our sinfulness and need to "measure up" less we suffer the pains of damnation. 

Well, that's a start. Any comments?
For me, the root of the problem is a belief in the Bible as absolute truth. It is too soft to declare that the Bible is full of such 'imagery'; It is full of direct commands! Take a swing through Leviticus and see what you think!

For me, this was a blessing, because my own mathematical view of things soon broke me of too deep a reliance on this 'truth'. I study the Bible, but I will *never* credit it with absolute correctness. It contradicts itself!

If we lay aside the Old Testament on the grounds that Jesus said so, we are freed of a lot of trouble. I don't want the responsibility of throwing rocks at people who wear blended cloth or eat shellfish. But even this is unsatisfying to a modern conception of spirituality and how people should treat one another. There are more commands than 'love one another' in the New Testament, I don't care what anybody says.

If you are free to even *consider* a maternal God(ess), then you are free to look at non-canonical texts, or even other traditions; this opens many doors in personal spirituality, but it removes the unity that traditionally has made churches strong.

I have wished for a long time to find a church I could call home. I am a Deist, by virtue of having been raised in a church and losing my faith in all doctrine. Without a strong enough center to maintain unity, a church cannot stand long. It is surprising how small the points of contention can be that effect such schisms.

Your particular questioning brings in train the issue of patriarchy in families, also. Looking back at church after all this time, the safe harbour for men and women to relate as families is one of the most important wisdoms that the church still carries. It may be that the world would still turn if every family deferred to Mom, but houses with two masters fall at any disagreement. Moreover, I have found it unusual for women to think in such terms; not seeing the importance of unity, many will allow it to fall away. Men think more often in warlike terms, and church has more to do with war than most of us realize until we are in one.

I hope these comments are not too unsettling. I see that you have walked enough miles to have gathered wisdom. I am not defending Patriarchy per se, but I am saying why I think it makes sense in a Christian church, and in turn why that may be important for living. But I am not one to pattern a full life off of; I am an outsider of sorts, and more of a detached philosopher than anything else.

Also, I have a dear family friend, a female, who is pastor of a church. There must be some way to bridge this divide if she can do it! But she is not the stickler for details that I am...

In response to matt ireland
Interesting comments, Matt. I followed you--and agreed--except for parts at the end.

I don't know what you mean by, "the safe harbour for men and women to relate as families." Maybe you could elucidate.


Also--"It may be that the world would still turn if every family deferred to Mom, but houses with two masters fall at any disagreement." Say what? My husband and I have been making decisions by agreement since 1977. It works far better than the model of my first marriage--husband decides all. I think your reasoning here is exactly the sort of hierarchical thing I'm talking about. It assumes that someone has to be "in charge." If men aren't the deciders, then women will be. Not so. After all, democracy is based on the belief that we can make decisions by majority vote, and consensual agreements are worked out in all sorts of contexts. A hierarchical power structure is not necessary to run any entity.


Then there's: "Moreover, I have found it unusual for women to think in such terms; not seeing the importance of unity, many will allow it to fall away." I simply don't follow. Women don't see the importance of unity?


Finally, "Men think more often in warlike terms, and church has more to do with war than most of us realize until we are in one." Amen!

In response to Paula James
I really like the way we do families in our day a lot better than the old fashioned way... there is a lot more happiness for all parties, in the end. But there is a level of trial and error in sorting out who belongs with who that is, speaking New Testamentwise, plainly sinful. This is why I am not a proper Christian, and can never be... I read the words as literal. I hear people say in church that they are supposed to be so taken, and I know that it falls short of wisdom, let alone right and wrong.

These things said, I would almost certainly put my head down and return if I had kids to raise in our burning house of a society. By 'safe harbour' I meant many things, from the social network to the education of kids, all the way through to the expectations placed on people in their places in a family. I never would have believed it had I not seen a lot of kids raised without those supports. It is a frightful shame what is happening to our society. Absent all of those subtle and soft barriers, normal people fall apart all the time in ways that churchgoing folks find a way to fight through. I see children as the most important members of a family, and watching parents compromise their temporal happiness for kids does not make me sad at all. Most are happy to do so, ultimately, but they need guidance, and decent churches provide that.

You are right, my 'husband(or wife, not both) decides all' reasoning *is* exactly the sort of hierarchical thinking that you are talking about! Normally, functioning relationships shake out in a way where this is not an issue; we each defer to the other in whatever way suits our personalities. This is where the modern 'trial and error' of serial marriage has come to be sensible. Were this not possible, were we held to the sort of marriage that Jesus describes so plainly, it would be necessary to have a more old-fashioned 'chain of command', to borrow from military lingo. Someone has to 'wear the pants' in a family, to quote a comical phrase from the days of the transition from old fashioned to new. History is just awakening from those times, and it is a dream we cannot be lulled back to.

I misspoke about women 'not seeing the importance of unity'. Were I not already sleeping on the couch, this is the sort of slip that would land me there! But it is not far off of the mark; it was an error of communication more than of concept. I'd have been better saying something like 'men have a fixation on such things, tending to think militarily about the cohesiveness of a place like a church'. In my experience, women are not often as warlike about the beliefs of outsiders, for instance, unless they are under the influence of other warlike persons in their families. Your assertion that a non-hierarchical structure can prevail in our times may be seen as emblematic of this. You may be correct, but I have seen such things fall apart in our day. The appeal of church, such as it is, is stability.

I am in dangerous waters, and I know it, when I use church and family as metaphors for one another and attempt to speak of them in the same breaths. I do not take you to be a person who will be totally hostile to all I am saying, because of where you are coming from and the manner of your questioning. As I say, I am far from an expert! Younger women tend to hate me for ideas such as these, and would wither every word I've said with criticism. It is long solitude that lets me offer such unpopular observations, and a bit of trust in you!

As to my assertion about the relation of church and war, I was not sure you agreed with that or not by your reply. In my life I had taken the whole 'Prince of Peace' idea to mean that Christians generally would be anti-war. A turn through military service put the lie to that idea forever, for me. It is a strange miracle that we can maintain our forces while tolerating so much difference in religion. When I learned what ash-Wednesday really meant, it was by looking at a good fraction of my shipmates with crosses smudged onto their foreheads! Not being Catholic, I had been blissfully ignorant of not only their traditions, but of their numbers... Jews were similarly omnipresent and underseen, though they are much less numerous in the military of America. As a Deist I am able to accept any such faith, and so it did not shock me too badly, but it was something I did not expect. And when I am rebuffed as I try to explain the absolutely critical nature of military chaplains to my armchair warrior friends, I know that they have not a clue or a prayer of success in leadership. Those with partisanship in faith tend to want to discount the others, those with secular leanings tend to want to jettison the whole business. I have looked and I have seen; Church is a part of war.

That is where the deferring of one's self to a partner becomes very important: in times of great trial. In our day, military members marry for the benefits and lack the social support. They fall apart at the drop of a hat, and it is the saddest thing. True faith, and true commitment still prevail where they are found, but these things are rare in our time. And what does it matter? Without kids, who cares?

I don't want you to take my arguments as hostile. I do not mean them to be. But I am sure of this: your discussion group will have trouble being so forthright! it is a consequence of our expectations of each other that in a group setting we all have less to say!

Keep me talking. I am enjoying this a lot, and you are influencing my thinking whether I am making it apparent or not.
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Latest Post: December 4, 2010 at 3:37 PM
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