It’s Thursday, time for a little theology.
Recently Sheryl Sandberg, the Girl Scouts, and Beyonce teamed up with a few other high profile women to launch a campaign against the word “bossy.” Their idea is that the word is only really used in reference to girls and women who assert themselves, and thus it is a pejorative sexist term that should be eliminated from our language. After all, in their view of the world, women should be encouraged to assert themselves and rise up as leaders among their peers.
There are social and political implications in all of this that I’m not necessarily interested in addressing right now. But I would like to address one of the big, troublesome notions that comes along with this kind of progressive feminism, which is how it impacts the family and the church.
I could be mistaken, but I’m guessing that if you asked these women what they think about male headship in the family, they might just sneer a little. Or even freak out a little, like they did a few months ago when Candace Cameron-Bure came out saying that she is happy to let her husband be the leader of her family.
And if you asked them what they think about male headship in the church, you might hear terms like “chauvinist patriarchy,” “repression,” and “misogyny,” terms that were applied to Mark Driscoll a couple years ago when his book on marriage came out and he dared to suggest that God calls men to be the leaders in the family and the church.
See, progressive feminism isn’t only interested in the worlds of business and politics, content to leave the family and the church alone. Whatever good feminism may have once done to correct wrongs, like most humanistic philosophies it has strayed into territory where it does not belong. The last few decades have seen an increase in “egalitarian marriage,” where the husband is not considered the head of the home, and there are even many in Christian circles who defend and promote this approach. Likewise, the church has seen an increase in congregations and denominations with female clergy and the like.
But what’s the big deal? Is it really that bad to let women take the reins once in a while? What are we really risking if we let women lead in the name of equality?
It’s about the Gospel
Well, for one thing, we are risking the Gospel, the very heart of Christianity. And at that point, what more do we have to lose?
The relationship between a husband and wife as loving head and loving helper is a picture of the relationship between Christ and his Church. “For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23). When we try to make marriage all about equal say in all decisions and completely equal division of authority, we actually undermine that picture, obscuring the reflection of the Gospel it was meant to be. I don’t want Christ to be less of a leader to me. I don’t want to have an “equal say” in the plan of salvation. So if God says that marriage is to be a picture of my relationship to Christ, I want to make sure that the picture clearly shows what my relationship to Christ is like.
Additionally, when we set aside something that Scripture clearly states – and this goes for headship both in the home and the church – we are opening the door to all kinds of theological problems. If this thing God says about headship isn’t true, then maybe what he says about specific sins isn’t true. Ever notice how some of the same churches that are big on female clergy are also big on same sex marriage and cohabitation? If this thing God says about headship isn’t true, then maybe what he says about his saving work isn’t true. Ever notice how some of the same churches with women pastors don’t really preach sin and grace very much either?
We question one part of Scripture and the ball doesn’t stop rolling. Eventually we lose every part of it that doesn’t jive with popular culture. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Gospel has never really been popular. Because it says I can’t do anything for myself. It tells me I’m broken and that I can’t fix myself. And it tells me I don’t have “equal say” in the plan of my salvation.
Voddie Baucham, Jr. stated the issue very succinctly in his book Family Shepherds: “It is Christ’s headship that is ultimately being questioned, since the headship of the man in marriage is merely an expression of the heavenly reality (Eph. 5:22-24). Therefore, encouraging men to reject their rightful role is about much more than changing the way we view ‘gender roles’; it goes to the heart of what we believe about the gospel.”
Male headship is about men taking the responsibility of representing Christ to their families and their churches. It is about men not giving into their lazy, selfish sinful nature, and instead stepping forward and lovingly leading their families and churches. When they do so, they both model and teach the Gospel that is the very heart of Scripture.
Headship is not domineering
Let me clear about something, though. Male headship is not the same as male domineering. Domineering is where a guy ignores his wife or his sisters in Christ and just does what he wants and what serves him best. Domineering is selfish and sinful and sometimes abusive. Headship is when a man takes into account the needs and input of his wife or his Christian sisters, and seeks to do what is best for them. Headship sees women as equals in terms of salvation, and as people to be served in terms of leadership. Just as Christ saw our need for salvation and served the best way possible, and listens to our wants and meets them according to what is best for us. When men follow that example and practice loving headship, it is a powerful object lesson of what the Gospel is all about.
So men, don’t feel guilty for taking your role as leader in your home and church seriously. You are reflecting your Savior, and upholding God’s direction to you. Don’t let societal pressure stop you from promoting the Gospel and being the leader you are called to be.