Gender Hierarchy Makes No Sense

Left: sexist pastor Mark Driscoll. Right: unfailingly-gentle radio host Justin Brierley

I was going to write on Mark Driscoll’s recent tirade against British journalist/radio show host Justin Brierley (a host who I very much like). I didn’t because I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the whole thing. I’ve heard Driscoll’s views before, and even more true, I’ve heard his attitude toward women. They are pretty disgusting. I would personally argue that it is possible to hold to a complementarian view and still be somewhat respectful to women. I do think it is implicitly sexist, but I also know many complementarians who try very hard to treat their wives and other women as their equals in value even if they don’t think they’re equals in opportunity. I think it’s wrong, but I at least think their heart is in the right place. I can still mostly respect that, even though I will also argue against it and have done so many times. Driscoll goes far beyond that, though – he has no shame in being explicitly sexist, and he has no shame in telling you that you are a terrible Christian if you aren’t equally explicitly sexist. So ultimately this is the entirety of my rant on Driscoll because he annoys me too much and I genuinely tried but could not force myself to listen to the whole interview. Lots of blogs have shown up about this interview, and about Mark’s book in general, but since I refuse to intentionally make myself angry (unlike Driscoll, I try to remember that peace and gentleness are fruits of the Spirit that all Christians are to strive toward), it is also fair that I don’t try to comment on things I haven’t read/heard (again unlike Mark who has condemned the heresies of The Shack and Love Wins while refusing to read them or even debate the authors).

One thing that Driscoll’s recent written and spoken comments have done, though, is brought up the gender roles again. Maybe it needs to be brought up more by those of us in the egalitarian camp. What usually happens is that egalitarians don’t talk about it that much because it really should be common sense. We assume that anybody since the women’s right movement believes that there is no longer male or female in Christ. So we don’t talk about it. For many of us, it is as assumed as the divinity of Christ or authority of Scripture. We tend to forget that people like Driscoll and John Piper are still out there and arguably winning over more people. So I applaud the many pastors, authors, theologians, women’s rights activists, and lowly bloggers like myself who have been woken up and reminded that in many places within the church we still do not have equality. On that note, I turn over the remainder of this post to Morgan Guyton on the Mennonite Weekly Review with these amazing words (it was really hard not to just quote the whole thing):

 In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus gave his disciples the basic biblical paradigm for understanding servant leadership:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

A Christian leader is supposed to be the “slave of all.” The only thing that holds this in tension is that we are also “slaves to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1 and other places). I cannot do whatever other people tell me to do, because my master is Christ, but I exist to serve others. In my church, my goal is to empower every member to be a minister and do the work of the kingdom. The only distinction between me as a pastor and them as ministers is that my call is to empower and equip them to live out their calls. There is no reason for them to submit to me. They’re supposed to submit to Christ, just like I am, and they should listen to what I preach or ignore me altogether according to how well I help them do that. So if your pastors try to say that you’re supposed to submit to them, tell them that that they’re being just like a Gentile prince! They* should be submitting to Christ and to you….

So I’m really puzzled as to how true Christian servant leadership can exist in the kind of “complementarian” household Mark Driscoll and other reformed pastors teach their men to run (I hate the term “complementarian” by the way, because it’s such a dishonest euphemism; just say hierarchical). When my wife and I have to make decisions, we sometimes argue, but we always end up coming to some kind of consensus in the end, or else we don’t make a decision and come back to it later. There’s never been a point where it would occur to either of us to say, “I have made the decision for this family and that’s final!”

Is that what complementarians think a husband is supposed to say? What do you do if your wife disagrees? Slap her?

The power of the Gentile princes that Jesus talks about in Mark 10:42 is always ultimately derived in the threat or act of physical violence. Servant leaders who emulate Jesus can never impose their will on others by force. Jesus’ power is derived in his complete submission to those who disagreed with him to the point of letting them crucify him when he had all the resources of the Creator of the universe at his disposal. If Jesus is my model for how to love my wife like he loved the church, then I can’t see a reason why there would be any gender hierarchy in my household.

I don’t know when the last time was that I heard an egalitarian be so blunt as to the sin of sexism, but I wanted to cheer when I first read this. I’m not surprised that it was a Mennonite writing this, emphasizing the upside-power of Jesus, but it is something that all Christians should at least in theory accept. We are Christ followers. We say we follow the guy who submitted himself to the will of others – his enemies even – to the extent that he died for them. Like Jesus, Paul also taught us that true power is when we don’t fight evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Yet we prefer to rip verses out of context and hold onto our power. Usually this rant from me is about violence and political power, but it applies just as much to gender domination. Men have held power for almost all cultures for almost all of recorded history. Understandably, many don’t like seeing that go away. But if we really claim to follow Jesus and want to model him, we men must love our wives as Christ loved the church: submitting even to the point of sacrificing our lives (just as they are to do for us). Mutual submission: the Kingdom of God at work. Go and do likewise.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.