After seeing and hearing about patriarchy in the church (broadly speaking) and how it can be an occasion for pain, tears, and abuse, I decided to look into it a bit. One resource I recently read is No Will of My Own by Jon Zens. Although I was not overly impressed with it, and don’t really recommend it (it’s very short and I disagree with some of the author’s positions and generalizations), No Will of My Own does expose some of the dangers to which patriarchy has led.
What is patriarchy? Zens answers that question listing some beliefs of the patriarchy movement, including these: “A daughter should stay at home and serve her father until he chooses a husband for her.” “The daughter is a ‘helpmeet’ for her father.” “Parents should never let their daughter out of their sight.” “…Women are inferior to men, and …should therefore obey men.” “The worth of a wife… is judged by how many babies she brings forth.” “The words of fathers and older brothers… carry more weight than the words of girls.” “In patriarchy, a man is permitted to overstep a woman’s boundaries; a woman is forbidden to overstep a man’s.” And the list goes on.
These kinds of attitudes can lead to a less than ideal setting for women/girls and can be the occasion for men to sin in heinous ways. Overbearing and abusive patriarchy, Zens writes, can deeply wound women in these ways: 1) Girls are taught to believe that they provoked their own abuse, 2) Girls are taught to take the blame for their own abuse, 3) If girls speak about the abuse, they are not taken seriously, 4) Abused girls cannot pursue and reflect on life for themselves, and 5) The offenders are excused.
I’m not at all saying that every male in the patriarchy movement is rough and abusive; cruelty and abuse can and does exist in non-patriarchal families and churches as well. I do, however, want to put up red flags when it comes to the patriarchy movement. And, more than that, if you are a pastor or elder, please watch carefully for signs of abuse in whatever context you serve. If a girl or woman comes to you or someone else in the church hinting or saying she’s been abused, please take it seriously. A girl or woman stuck in the hell of abuse (as listed in the 5 points above) desperately needs your help. It’s unbiblical – and evil! – for a man to degrade, hurt, and abuse a woman, period. There is no context and there are no words that make male cruelty, belittling, and abuse towards women acceptable.
Again, even though I don’t “highly recommend” or agree with every part of this book, No Will of My Own, it did open my eyes a bit to some dangers that can be found in the patriarchy movement. FYI, it does rely heavily on an older study called Christianity and Incest by Annie Fransen Imbens and Ineke De Putter Jonker (Fortress Press: 1992). Feel free to let me know if you have other recommended reading on this topic.