Mark Driscoll (Re)Invents Patriarchy

You know what is interesting? Essentially every time conservative evangelical leaders wax on about patriarchy, they act like what they’re preaching is new and shiny and totally different from that bad woman-hating patriarchy thing we had in the past. As an example of this, I give you Mark Driscoll’s January sermon, “Real Men: Men and Marriage,” which Ahab of the Republic of Gilead has transcribed for us. In it, Driscoll preaches the same-old age-old patriarchy but appears to think that what he’s preaching is something new and sweetly beneficial. In fact, he’s very careful to use some form of straw-patriarchy as a backdrop for promoting the nice-patriarchy he’s preaching.

What this doesn’t mean, Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 11What it doesn’t mean when it says that the husband is the head of the wife, it doesn’t mean that men are over women. God forbid that would happen. I have two daughters. The scariest thing I can think of is that men in general were in authority over them. This does not mean that men are over women. This means one man, one woman, husband and wife in the covenant of marriage, that the man is the head. He takes responsibility and burden before God to lovingly, humbly lead her.

Here’s the thing. Patriarchy has never been about all women being somehow in bondage to all men—it has always been the individual level Driscoll is talking about. Think of the law of coverture—upon marriage a woman legally ceased to exist, subsumed into her husband. Patriarchy was always about individual women being under individual men. A wealthy noblewoman was not “under” the footmen who waited on her—she was under her wealthy nobleman husband. Under patriarchy, individual women obey and are subject to individual men, obeying and submitting to them in return for protection from other men.

And on that note, back to Driscoll:

This is to protect women from other relationships. Let’s say for example there’s a daughter, and she’s got a close relationship with her covenant-head, Christian dad. That headship protects her from other boys who want to come along and be here head, tell her what to do, set an identity for her, abuse her, endanger her. It protects her from other young men who would come to take that place of headship in her life. Similarly with a wife, if the husband loves her like Christ loves the church, and he takes responsibility for her, that protects her from bad men, bosses, men who have ill intent or those who are perverted. It protects her. It puts her in the context where she is lovingly cared for and protected.

Again, this is classic patriarchy. And do you know the problem here? The problem is that when a woman trusts to a given man to protect her from other man, she is only as safe as that man can make her—or as safe as he chooses to make her.

Note for a moment that for Driscoll, this isn’t just about wives. It’s about daughters too. The idea is that every woman has a male authority that she is to submit to, first her father, then her husband. Every woman is under the protection and authority of—i.e., she must submit to and be led by—a man. Driscoll thinks he can make this situation sound appealing by comparing it to an imaginary straw-patriarchy that never existed where all women must submit to all men, but the very real alternative is the world we live in now, a world in which women not only don’t have to submit to all men but rather a world where women don’t have to submit to any men.

Driscoll wants to see girls protected from boyfriends who might tell them what to do or abuse them, and wants to see women protected from bosses and men with ill intentions towards them. But what he seems utterly incapable of grasping is that by arguing that the solution is that girls should be protected by their fathers and women should be protected by their husbands he is arguing that women should be protected from men by men.

And in our day when one in three women is sexually abused, and women are mistreated and maligned and taken advantage of, it’s good to know that God’s intent is that men would be the head.

I’m sorry, what? Does Driscoll not see the huge contradiction and irony in what he is saying? If Driscoll is relieved that, in a world where one in three women faces sexual abuse, God intended for men to be “the head,” who in the in the world does he think is out there sexually abusing and mistreating women? Other women? Driscoll’s inability to grasp that sometimes it is fathers and husbands who are the abusers blows my mind. I can only wonder what he would tell women in these situations.

The picture Driscoll paints here of men in general—from teenage boyfriends to male bosses—is incredibly negative, and yet he somehow exempts himself and whatever future husbands he may find for his daughters from this category and argues that women should protect themselves by placing themselves under male authority and headship. Men are violent and dangerous, he says, so trust your future to them. I’m sorry, what? Driscoll manages this by creating a dichotomy of “nice, protective Christian men” and “dangerous, violent non-Christian men.” Except that in the real world, it doesn’t work like this.

In the real world, there are good, kind men and there are abusive, violent men, and these two categories transcend religion or the lack thereof. There are abusive Christian fathers, and there are awesome atheist husbands (like mine!). (And also abusive atheist fathers and awesome Christian husbands, just to be perfectly clear here.) Fortunately, unlike Driscoll, my experience tells me that far more men fit in that first category than in the second. It seems I don’t just take a better view of men than Debi Pearl does, but also a better view of men than Mark Driscoll. In the end, Driscoll’s Christian man good/non-Christian man bad dichotomy, when combined with his call for women to be under the authority of their male heads, creates a situation ripe for abuse.

And honestly? The fact that Driscoll can’t even see that we might be able to work towards a society where there are fewer abusive boyfriends and sexually harassing bosses, or work to empower women to value and protect themselves and refuse to put up with any such shit from the men in their lives, makes me want to strangle something. Mark Driscoll may think he has has some new improved attractive version of patriarchy to sell to his flock, but the stuff he’s peddling has been around for millenia, and it hasn’t gotten better with age.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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