Monday, March 26, 2012


My guest post today is authored by a woman who identifies herself this way...

"I'm a 40-something Christian, paralegal, mother of two, wife of 23 years, with a BA in English from the U of Oregon Honors College. My thoughts on life, theology, and the universe are shared here for whatever they might be worth." 

Her name is Kristen and her blog is here...

With permission I'm posting her blog post entitled...

"I'm in Charge Here: Don't Disrespect Me with the Facts"

I’d like to continue looking into this issue of authority and hierarchy in Christianity. Roger E. Olson wrote a blog post last month on “Truth, Authority and Roles.” In it he raised the very valid point that the problem with human hierarchical authority structures is that they are so prone to the misuse of power—because deference to power becomes an end in itself, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of the issue at hand. As he puts it:

Hierarchy. . . emphasizes roles and “authority over” and “submission to” based on them. In other words, to put it bluntly, hierarchy is the manner of organization of a social unit (especially the family) so that assigned (or assumed) roles matter more than truth. When I was growing up. . . [p]eople who dared to criticize or question those “in authority” were labeled “negative” and ostracized. It wasn’t just a matter of how one did it; simply doing it was considered unspiritual. This mentality led to all kinds of abuses in our church and denomination and movement.

Olson uses Galileo and Luther as examples in church history. The issue the church leaders had with both was not so much about whether or not they were right, but whether or not they were in sin by not submitting to the ecclesiastical authorities. The rightness or wrongness of the actual issues at stake (the fact that the earth actually revolved around the sun, or the sale of “indulgences” so that forgiveness of sins was based on who could pay) took a back seat to whether or not Luther or Galileo had the right to confront their superiors. This was the moral problem in the eyes of the authorities: speaking in contradiction to an authority was rebellion, and rebellion was sin. Whether or not the underling was speaking the truth ultimately didn’t matter.

This is also what often happens when a woman in a hierarchical church tries to get help with her oppressive marriage. Her legitimate concerns are often left by the wayside, while the church focuses on whether she is being properly submissive. It’s not that they don’t care about her—if asked, the church would strongly deny that they didn’t care about the woman. It’s not so much that “is she making a legitimate point?” is intentionally ignored—but it’s subordinated to “who’s in charge?” Because the issue of proper submission is nearly always the first issue raised, it trumps the lesser point of “who’s in the right?” And the underling is effectively silenced.

So when husbands are given unilateral authority over wives, this is the situation. If the man is gentle and humble, as Christ commanded– then he’ll listen to his wife and concede when he perceives truth. If he doesn’t perceive truth, though– even if she’s still in the right, her voice is often hard to for him to truly hear. He is aware, deep down, that his opinion is the one that ultimately matters.

And if he’s not humble and gentle-- not inclined to listen to his wife— eventually she will get weary and discouraged from not being heard, from having her personhood overridden by his in the name of “submission,” from the injustice of having her truth not seriously considered as to whether or not it may be truth, and she may leave him. And then, of course, she will be the one who gets blamed.

Similarly, when a person or a couple with low status in a church hierarchy leave a church, they may have a legitimate complaint which ought to be listened to by the church authorities. The authorities ought to be able to say, “Hey, they’re right and we’re wrong. We need to make some changes.” But often the very existence of the hierarchy renders this impossible. They can’t hear, “Your leadership practices, or the policies you’ve implemented, are hurting the congregation.” All they can see is a church member “in rebellion.” So when the member leaves, who gets blamed? The member— who may even be disfellowshipped for causing strife. Even if he or she was actually in the right.

I saw it too many times when I was in the hierarchical church I attended in college. How much better it would have been if the church authorities could have practiced the wisdom set forth in James 3:17: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy.” (Emphasis added.) But instead their leadership was full of “jealousy and selfish ambition,”(verse 16) as they held onto power and insisted on deference as their God-given right.

None of these are intended results of hierarchy. But when you have a system that is inequitable by its very nature, and then you set it up as the divine plan of God– this is what can happen. And no one stops to ask, “are we sure this inequitable system was really being endorsed by God in the Bible, or is it just that the Spirit was helping people already living under an inequitable system in the first-century Roman Empire, to work around it?”

So having said all that, I’ll say this. Many churches today blame "worldly feminist culture" for the increase of divorces in evangelical marriages. But here’s what I think is really going on in many cases. Women once believed they really were inferior to men. When their legitimate concerns were ignored or silenced, they accepted it. What else could they do? They had no power, and it was their lot in life. 

But the evangelical church as a whole is putting forth a new doctrine, even while claiming it is what Christianity as a whole has taught through the ages. The traditional doctrine, taught by Jerome, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and many others, said point-blank that women were by nature inferior. Today the evangelical church generally teaches that men and women are equal in nature, but have different “roles,” with women meant for the subordinate roles and men meant for the roles of authority.

Today, then, an evangelical woman may say to herself, if she is in an oppressive marriage, "I have chosen to be submissive, but I’m not inferior. I deserve to be listened to and heard. And if I am speaking the truth, it is not less true because I am the one who has it. If my husband’s perceived ‘truth' is weightier and more important than mine, that isn’t right."

This feeling of injustice, of not being heard, will eventually affect her feelings about the marriage, and if things get bad enough, she may in self-preservation seek divorce. But is this truly “worldly feminism”? Or is it a correct understanding of her worth and value to God, and her responsibility of self-stewardship as a temple of the Holy Spirit?

So what is the answer? Go back to the easier time when women knew they were inferior, and so did not expect to be heard and listened to? When it didn't bother them as much when they were overridden by their husbands, because they accepted it as a matter of course? 

But in that case what do we do with the truth the church has now embraced, because it is, manifestly, the truth, spoken by God in Gen. 1:26-28 and proven by the blood, sweat and tears of women over the last hundred years-- that women really are equal?

If we want to lessen the divorce rate in evangelicalism, we need to address the problem of deference towards authority trumping legitimate truth. And the best way to do that is to finally implement the policy Jesus set forth: “not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” Matt. 20:26-27.

The purpose of human hierarchy ends up being to uphold human hierarchy. In the kingdom of God, it is of no ultimate help to those it purports to serve.


Thanks for a good word Kristen.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

As I read scripture in reference to male "authority" and female "submission", I'm struck by a couple of facts.

Number One: Jesus is the ultimate Head of the Church.

Number Two: the shepherds of the local flock are to lead their flock in Jesus "name". In His name, authority and character (that's what Strong's said in my interlinear Bible, anyway).

Number Three: Jesus headship was one of sacrifice. His nature was sacrificial and you can easily see that in His immediate and constant availability to the needs of others.

Number Four: We're to be imitators of Christ .. we are His body .. and when we do not operate as He would have, we are lying about Jesus.

Number Five. Show me where Jesus disciplined Judas Iscariot, the Apostles who couldn't cast out a demon, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, or perhaps Thomas.

Number Six: Would a sovereign God, via His Holy Spirit, err in giving a woman a Spiritual gift she couldn't use? A message she couldn't deliver?

I get the feeling we'd have a lot fewer problems of the sort we're seeing now, if we operated according to those thoughts. Not because they'd "cause" anything, but because we'd find favor with God, and be blessed in the doing.

Bob Cleveland said...

Oh yeah .. I forgot one of my couple of points: The passage that says wives are to be submissive also says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. I personally believe the husband still has the responsibility for the marriage and the family, but I don't see where it's humanly possible for a wife to submit and a husband to sacrifice, and make it work.

Yeah. Right. It takes a movement of God. Which He seems most willing (and able) to do.

Paul Burleson said...


The way I see Ephesians 5 is a little bit different than I used to. [Whatever one thinks 'head' means.]

The word Paul used in 5:21 for "be subject to" was "Hupotassomai" in the middle voice form. It's used in verse 21 for all members toward each other. This form is asking for a "voluntary form of serving by meeting the other's needs. All members are to do this to one another and the wife to the husband.

But when Paul described the husband's responsibility he used the word "agapao." It is the word used for Christians loving neighbor, stranger, even enemies. It is focusing on the attitude of the Christian to others and their needs. [Love is giving a person what they need with no expectations. If anything, this is a serving that's a little deeper than hupotassomai.]

So...Agapao is almost identical with hupotassomai in it's meaning. Both involve giv­ing up one's self-interest to serve and care for another's. Both mean being responsive to the needs of the other. And BOTH are commended to all Christians, as well as to husbands and wives.

M.J. Austin said...

I liked this post but I still disliked how the author stated, "But is this truly “worldly feminism”?"

Like worldly feminism is bad and the issue I am talking about isn't that but this.

What is negative about worldly feminism? If there was more of it across the globe maybe mistreatment of women wouldn't be as high.

I think the churches around the world and especially American churches should listen to all civil issues not just women and men marital injustices.

For example: A gay Christian or any gay person for that matter that wants to be joined together in a union of marriage or simply be gay without the judgement that they are less than any other person or that they need to be fixed or they would be destroying a sacred institution.

It was less than sixty years ago when churches thought a black person and a white person shouldn't be able to marry.

Bigotry in any form should be addressed with any church or foundation.

So to conclude my post, to one of my favorite bloggers, bring on worldly feminism, and gay rights, and all the "liberal" mantras that are deemed negative. And may America have a little less hate in it's heart! :)

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate your willingness to comment but especially in light of the fact that, knowing you would find disagreement from many here having shared your personal beliefs before, you were able to state your personal views on this issue with respect.

I trust that those who may have a different perspective of what should constitute marriage will also be willing to state their view here with the same respect.

Remember one and all, that is the only way any comment remains. That whether I agree with or disagree with the conclusion of any comment.

Aussie John said...


I certainly appreciate your willingness to give Kirsten a voice on your blog.

To Kirsten: Excellent article. Thank you!

M.J.Austin: I would suggest that your understanding of Kirsten's use of “worldly feminism” is quite different from what I think the writer is expressing.

“Worldly feminism”, I suggest has the distinguishing qualities of the unredeemed temporal world, whereas the feminism of Christian women has the quality of the spiritual world of those who are the redeemed in Christ.

If I'm right in my assumption, I agree wholeheartedly with Kirsten's words.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I think your assumption of Kristin's meaning of "worldly feminism" is spot on. She will have to verify that of course.

Thanks for commenting and doing so respectfully as always.

Kristen said...

I am honored that you have reposted my essay here. With regards to "worldly," Aussie John is quite right about how I meant it, which is how most Christians use the term. To put it in plain speech, then-- "worldly" means "of the world's system rather than Christ's" -- that is, characterized by or based on motives Christ preached against, such as selfishness, pride, power-grabbing or hatred. I used the term "worldly feminism" in order to specifically make it clear that I didn't believe ALL feminism is so motivated.

Also let me clarify that one need not be a Christian to eschew such motives, and if any Christian claims to be completely free of them, he/she is exhibiting the very pride which is included in "worldliness." In other words, I'm not claiming, "Christians good/non-Christians bad" or anything like that.

In short, when someone claims someone is acting out of "worldly feminism," they are claiming impure motives on the part of the person so acting. I hope that clarifies.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for confirming what Aussie J suggested you meant from his reading of what you've written.

I say again as I've told you before, this is one of the clearest and best explanations of the problematic "Patriarchal" issue I've read. It cuts to the heart of WHY it is so dangerous IMHO. Thanks again.

Kate Johnson said...

Excellent post. I could not have articulated it better than Kristen. Thanks.

I would also affirm Kristen's take on the divorce rate. It is well known that patriarchy is a contributor to high rates of domestic abuse, and the rate of domestic abuse is just as high in "Christian" homes as non-Christian homes. Research shows the divorce rate for non-abused women (those respected as equal) is 15%. The divorce rate for abused women (those not treated as equal) is 75%. Want to lower the divoorce rate? Treat women with equality, dignity and respect.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I love this statement at your site..."Abuse in any form is NEVER God's design for relationships." How true this is.

As I've counseled across the years with those whose marriage is dissolved because of abuse and have seen how they face guilt as believers for that failed marriage, [knowing God "hates" divorce] I remind them of two things.

#1--God is not MORE pleased with a bad marriage kept secret BECAUSE of fear of what people will think than He is with a bad marriage made public by divorce.

#2--God "hates" divorce yet it is said in the scriptures that He "divorced" Israel.

One thing a Christian can be sure of is that abuse is NEVER His best.

Off The Cuff said...

I did not realize how blessed I am until I began reading about all of these authority issues between men and women, especially in marriage. I was raised in a Christian home and I cannot recall a single time when there was an argument over who was in charge or control. My parents modeled before me a relationship where they were partners in life, marriage and leadership. Whenever there was not quite enough food for a meal it was my Mother who was suddenly not very hungry. Whenever there were unexpected bills it was my Father who worked longer hours on the farm. Whenever we would go shopping for new Easter outfits it was usually my Mother who thought that her old dress looked just fine. Submission and sacrifice were part of their daily routine.

Forty years ago I was blessed to meet and marry a girl whose home life mirrored my own. During our forty years we have never had a discussion, much less an argument, about who is in charge or who is in control. Superiority is not something to which either of us aspires. I dearly love honoring and serving her and she loves to respond in kind.

Paul Burleson said...

O the C,

Thanks for a great comment. You and yours are most fortunate.

Unfortunately, I was raised in the home of an alcoholic who was drunk on drink and control. I grew up rejecting the drink but embracing the control and was just as drunk on it as he was.

Upon becoming a believer and reading and embracing the passages in the KJV that were improperly interpreted by men I followed which, they said, told me I was to maintain control because I was a man, my whole family suffered, including Wade and his siblings.

But Grace won out and I began to see what servanthood was all about biblically. Which, by the way, you've wonderfully described in your comment. WOW. Wouldn't have it any other way but the grace way.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

Thanks for letting a woman speak from her heart. As a woman, I have felt oppressed in family and church situations, and only recently have learned the truth of the Bible that we are all one in Christ Jesus- equal, though beautifully different.

I've been very hurt by the kinds of things I am hearing floating around as "good church viewpoints" both as a single woman and now as a married woman.

My husband thankfully did not grow up with church thinking, so I am blessed to be loved by someone who reads Scripture for what it says and simply loves me and is willing to respect me.

Lately it seems we are being told that women need love and men need respect. Humanly speaking, I can only accept that we all need BOTH.

Thanks for being willing to say it as it is, guys- means the world to me, as a woman and as a child of God.

Paul Burleson said...


This..."Lately it seems we are being told that women need love and men need respect. Humanly speaking, I can only accept that we all need BOTH." another example of trying to make a separate list of needs that winds up damaging the ability to properly relate as couples in a marriage.

Of course both need love AND respect and your statement..." I can only accept that we all need BOTH." spot on.