Man as King, Woman as Prophet

A few days ago a friend posted this on his Google+ and Facebook pages. I’ll reserve my comments for after the break:

If you’ve read my stuff before, particularly my stuff on gender roles, you’ll know that my reaction is generally not very positive. It is a very different take than I’ve heard other times before, though. The central idea is that yes, the man is the head of the house. Mark alternately uses other phrases like “in charge” and “responsible for” – affirming that this is indeed the man’s God-given role. He is clearly sticking with pre-1950’s gender roles.

The Central Idea: King and Prophet

Mark then goes on to say what he thinks will offend a lot of his viewers, though. He goes on by saying that being the head of house and being in charge is not the same as doing everything, then goes into the idea of alternate roles of king and prophet. Generally speaking I do like this distinction: some people are more administrative types and some are more in tune with God speaking through them. But then he throws massive gender generalizations into the mix. Men are always the king, because the Bible says so. Women are often, but not always, the prophet. Men are occasionally allowed to be the prophet as long as they maintain being the king, which means his wife (no room for same-sex relationships of course) is either left with no role or with being a secondary prophet. He also throws in some terribly inaccurate generalizations about men, like that most men only read one book their entire lives. Are you kidding me?! Now is it fair to say that on average men read less than women? Yes, but that’s a pretty big difference from saying that most men read one book their entire lives which is simply factually wrong. Ok, that one’s a minor point which does demonstrate the problem, but let’s back to the main point.

Yes, he offended me, for the exact opposite reason that he says he will. I’m with him in saying that the man shouldn’t be doing everything, which is the part that he thinks will offend his presumably-conservative audience. I’m just opposed to his statement that the man is still “the head,” “in charge,” and “responsible for entire house.” The last one I wouldn’t mind if he said the wife is equally responsible, but it is pretty clear that he means that only the man is responsible. Man’s in charge, woman is second-class. Got it. Welcome back to the 1950’s.

A lot of people will still be disagreeing with me here. And I typically wouldn’t bother too much with arguing against the general principle above. I do think that you can have a complementarian relationship that is mutually loving, if that is what was chosen freely by both parties and where both roles are at least treated as equally important. Decisions can still be generally made together, and when he takes the whole text about loving his wife as Christ loved the church seriously, that results in him respecting and loving her different opinions anyway. A lot of complementarians say they have a lead-submit structure but then end up paying attention to Ephesians 5:21 anyway which calls for mutual submission. I generally ignore them because whether they might say something else but they’re often living as egalitarians. But Mark makes it clear that wasn’t him as he gets into the main point of how this structure works itself out for him.

No Corrections Allowed

This is where Mark really got me fuming: if the woman is the prophet and the man is the king, then the prophet shouldn’t ever correct the king. Sometimes the woman isn’t even the prophet, which would logically give her even less of a voice, but I’ll stick with the most generous of his options. Her god-given role as a prophet, Mark says, is to shut up and let other men correct him. In typical conservative fashion, he throws a few out-of-context verses in to back himself up. So essentially, she’s the prophet in theory, but she’s a mute prophet, because she’s not actually allowed to say anything she’s getting from God, unless her husband asks for it first I assume.

There was another little off-hand comment related to this discussion that is seriously problematic. After saying that women shouldn’t correct their husbands (even though they’re the prophet) and that men should instead, he says that after all, women aren’t the Holy Spirit. But men are allowed, so men are the Holy Spirit? Think about it. The argument is obvious: if women can’t and the reason is that they aren’t the Holy Spirit, but men can, it must be because they are the Holy Spirit or else have some extra dose of the Holy Spirit which gives them the right to speak. We seem to be back to the idea that having a penis makes you more like God. Before you accuse me of reading too much into an off-hand joke-like comment, I really think this is an example of an embedded theology (one that isn’t explicitly formed even in his mind but is there nonetheless). I doubt if we asked Mark if he meant women don’t have the Holy Spirit, he’d reject the idea, but everything he says seems to be in line with it. Therefore I still challenge it so that others can be cautious of it whether it is directly said or not.

It is actually appropriate to call women prophets then, in a completely different way than he meant. The message of the prophets was and is primarily one against oppressive authority – authority that usually claims God is on their side. These prophets are usually told to shut up because they’re disturbing the social order too much. If they push the boundaries too much, they’re told they’re not being faithful Christians. In Mark’s framework this is clearly the case: women are prophets but they’re prophets who aren’t allowed to actually speak their prophecy because that would disturb the patriarchal system. The thing is: prophets keep doing it anyway, despite persecution, because it takes some disruption to bring the Kingdom of God.

The Challenge

Patriarchy is not just harmful to women. It is at least as harmful to men. When we men insist that we are “in charge” because God said so, we are sinning. I rarely directly call something sin because I’m not the ultimate judge, but I don’t think there is any doubt on this one. We commit idolatry when we put anybody as king other than Jesus. We commit cruelty to those we oppress. We commit lust for power any time we want to make sure we have a system where others are required to obey us. We break one of the great commandments – loving others as ourselves – when we treat them as secondary to us. We ignore the influence of the Holy Spirit when we say that only half of the image of God is allowed to express it (even if we grudgingly admit that the other half has it). And so on and so on.

And if as Christians we are supposed to be saved from sin, why are so many actually encouraging these sins inherent in patriarchy?

Ladies, I challenge you to be a real prophet. Not a muted prophet, but a real prophet who isn’t afraid to challenge oppression around you (oppression of yourself and of others). As the video says, sometimes men just need to grow up, spiritually and otherwise, but we won’t ever do that if the women in our lives are not pushing us to do so. Don’t let other men rob you of your prophetic voice. For many of you, your challenge will be overcoming the shame that has been ingrained in you with the lie that you are a second-class member of the household.

Men, I challenge you to do the same, but to do so you’ll need to get over that fear of losing control which keeps so many men clinging to patriarchy. We need to grow up and get over these ideas that just because our gender has been in charge most of history means we have a divine right to forever be the oppressors, or that we are closer to God because we have a penis, and we need to get over the idea that God says so because the Bible says so because some preacher told us so by quoting things devoid of context.

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.