Male Headship is a Romance Killer

Male Headship is a Romance Killer August 10, 2023

 

In the church of my youth, the Biblical principle of male headship was widely accepted. The Bible verses around it are quite clear, albeit written within a cultural context that is difficult for a modern reader to understand. 1 Corinthians 11: 3

 

But I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

 

As a married man, I find this problematic. Is it really saying that the head of a woman is a man whereas the head of a man is Christ? Does this mean a woman has a less direct connection to God than a man? Does she have to go through her ‘head’ to get God’s attention?

 

Paul intertwines this confusing relational assertion with cultural hair taboos (verses 4-7):

 

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

 

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

 

A man is the image and glory of God but a woman is the glory of man? How can this be right, when the creation account declares that both men and women were made in God’s image? Genesis 1:27

 

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

 

If both men and women were made in God’s image, why does Paul assert that man is the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man? It gets stranger in verse 10:

 

It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

 

When did the angels get involved?

 

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians isn’t the only place such teaching is found. Ephesians 5:22-24

 

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

 

The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head and saviour of the church? Are women saved by men? Are women to submit to men as unconditionally as men should surrender to Christ? Based on the following verses, this seems to be what the writer had in mind (verses 25-27):

 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

 

Why are men to cleanse their wives with the word? Are women spiritually sullied in a way that doesn’t apply to men? Does Christ need the intervention of men to save women?

 

The Bible also teaches that men and women are equal in Christ, which for me is a direct (but welcome) contradiction. Galatians 3:26-28

 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

The Implications of Male Headship

 

The notion of headship is archaic, perhaps reflecting thousands of years of patriarchy rather than the equality of being in Christ. When I read these passages, I see a society struggling with itself and its biases rather than one with all the answers. For me, the questions headship raises must be answered:

 

  • Is complementarianism (differing male and female roles), as laid out in these passages, a reflection of the culture at the time these epistles were written rather than eternal truth?
  • Surely we should reframe and refine these ideas using the knowledge gained in the past 2000+ years (and especially the last few hundred years)?
  • Shouldn’t we draw from the principles of psychology to understand what a belief in headship might do to a woman?
  • If a woman utterly submits to a man, hasn’t she given away her autonomy?
  • How does female submission apply in marriages where the man doesn’t perfectly yield to Christ? Isn’t that every marriage?
  • These passages are written about married men and women. What do they mean for a woman who is single? Does she have no chance of being saved? Can she not ‘wash her[self] with the word’, and if she can, why do married women need their husbands to do it?
  • Is it possible that thousands of years of patriarchy led to a male-centric framing of certain Biblical ideas? Now that we live in a more equal and fair society, isn’t this an imbalance to redress?

 

Headship Limits Romance

 

From my point of view, complementarianism doesn’t work. My wife and I would have to bend ourselves out of all natural shape to attempt it, and honestly, doing so would ruin a beautiful partnership. Within every relationship, a form of complementarianism (division of roles according to each partner’s natural strengths) is an entirely healthy thing – a form of teamwork in the family setting. In this sense, my wife and I have our own complementarian dance, its shape and movement our very own, but a universal structure that works for every couple, in which the bloke is always in charge?

 

Equality is the only environment in which intimacy can thrive – equal importance, equal respect, equal service – but if the husband is fundamentally the boss, equality is at best an illusion. If a man is the glory of Christ but a woman is only the glory of man, there’s no level space for a rendezvous. If a women is so fundamentally unsanctified she needs her husband to wash her with the word, how can that relationship be healthy for either partner?

 

The Problem is Inerrancy

 

I’ve argued in recent articles that the false doctrine of inerrancy (that the Bible is perfect in every way and can’t be questioned/reframed) exists to stop people from thinking for themselves. It is an idol, set up in place of a living relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit, who interprets scripture to us. The first article in this series was on how Jesus interpreted scripture. The second was on the dangers and idolatry of inerrancy, and the third on how inerrancy is used to oppress women.

 

We need to look to the theological umbrella statement that there is no male or female in Christ rather than a specific set of instructions sent to a local church, bound as it was in its cultural biases.

 

Headship (enabled by the false doctrine of inerrancy) can be a fortress for frightened men who want to hold onto their power. It enables them to stay in charge whether they’re good leaders or not, but the Church needs better men than this. We need men who reverence and adore women, celebrating their individual qualities and strengths rather than clipping their wings at the door.

 

Truth be told, I suspect most Christians don’t really believe in male headship in any tangible or practical sense. I don’t see it in the marriages around me, but we play dumb and pretend we still believe it in order to preserve the ridiculous, man-made doctrine of inerrancy. Husbands, do you insist your wives cover their heads in church? Do you ban them from speaking in the congregation? Do you insist they save their questions for the privacy of your home rather than ask in the public setting of a church gathering? Do you insist they keep their hair long? I strongly suspect that for the vast majority of readers, the answer is no. Equally, I find it hard to believe that many Christian husbands truly believe they’re the boss at home. It simply isn’t the case for most of us, so why continue to pretend?

 

 

 

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