My point in that article [Do Men Owe Women a Special Kind of Care?] and in this podcast is that the egalitarian assumptions in our culture, and to a huge degree in the church, have muted — silenced, nullified — one of the means that God has designed for the protection and the flourishing of women. It has silenced the idea that men as men — by virtue of their created, God-given maleness, apart from any practical competencies that they have or don’t have — men have special responsibilities to care for and protect and honor women. This call is different from the care and protection and honor that women owe men. That’s my thesis. That’s my point.
Now, it seems to me that for decades Christian and non-Christian egalitarians have argued, have assumed, and have modeled that those peculiar roles and responsibilities among men and women in the home, in the church, and in the culture should emerge only from competencies rather than from a deeper reality rooted in who we are differently as male and female.
Let me put it another way. If your nine-year-old son asks you, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” — or if your daughter asks, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” — it won’t do to answer, “What it means is that when you grow up, you will have maturity and wisdom and courage and sacrifice and humility and patience and kindness and strength and self-control and purity and faith and hope and love, etc.” That doesn’t answer the question. Those traits are absolutely right, but they belong to both men and women.
The question was “What does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” And “What does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?” “Is there, Mommy and Daddy, a God-given, profound, beautiful meaning to manhood and womanhood?”
The kids don’t say it like that, but that’s what they want to know eventually: is there a difference beyond mere anatomy? Are there built-in responsibilities that I have simply because I’m a male or a female human being. There is a pervasive egalitarian disinclination to say yes to that question. The egalitarian inclination is to define all our relationships by competencies. And my suggestion or my contention is this is hurting us.
This refusal to answer that question or be burdened by it is hurting us. It confuses everyone, especially the children. This confusion is hurting people.
It has moved way beyond confusion. It’s a firm conviction of most of our egalitarian culture that men as men do not owe women a special kind of care and protection and honor that women do not owe men. I believe they do. I believe fifty years of denying it is one of the seeds bearing very bad fruit, including all those sexual abuses you talked about in your question. There are others seeds in our culture, but this is one of the seeds.
My point in this podcast is that this divine design for men as men to show a special care, protection, and honor to women is essential for good — for the good of families, churches, society, and for women in particular.
Millions of people in our day would rather sacrifice this peculiar biblical mandate given for the good of women. They would rather sacrifice it than betray any hint of compromise with egalitarian assumptions. What I’m arguing is that we have forfeited both a great, God-ordained restraint upon male vice and male power and a great, God-ordained incentive for male valor because we refuse to even think in terms of maleness and femaleness as they are created by God, carrying distinct and unique responsibilities and burdens.
We have put our hope in the myth that the summons to generic human virtue, with no attention to the peculiar virtues required of manhood and womanhood, would be sufficient to create a beautiful society of mutual respect. It isn’t working.
Men need to be taught from the time they are little boys that part of their manhood is to feel a special responsibility for the care and protection and honoring of women just because they are men.
Growing up in Evangelical Christianity, both in the Southern Baptist church and at a Christian school, I had a lot of things to learn about what it means to be a good, obedient Christian. We were taught that if we were saved and followed X, Y, and Z rules — God’s plan for our lives — then we would be living the best lives possible. Rebellion against God’s plan for our lives would lead to misery, suffering, and not living up to the potential for which God created us. Most of what I learned between church and school matched up, but what did not exactly match up was the concept of Biblical gender roles.
Looking back, I believe that the administration at the Christian school were careful not to dwell too much on gender roles because their role as a school was to provide students with a good education based on Biblical values and teachings. So other than gender-based dress code and the understanding that only men were called to preach the Word, we were not taught too much about differences between men and women or their approved roles. However, at church it was a different story.
During the 1980s, some of the leadership within our church started to teach Biblical manhood and womanhood seminars. Originally designed for married people to attend, there was a small class for us older teen girls that was taught by my friend’s mother who wanted her daughter to learn proper Biblical roles. My mom and grandma took the Biblical womanhood courses taught for married women. I do not recall if my stepfather and grandpa took the courses (most likely not as neither particularly liked sitting in classes or seminars). I do not even know how much my mom and grandma knew about the courses before they started taking them. Had she known, I’m fairly certain that my mom would have discouraged me from taking the course.
In any case, every Saturday morning, six teenage girls from my church and school sat in my friend’s living room while her mother taught us what it meant to be a Biblical woman. First, we learned that God designed men and women differently outside the obvious physical differences. Men were designed to be analytical thinkers, to rely on data, to desire to solve problems, and to be nearly devoid of emotion (or at least to be able to control emotion — which reminded me of the description of the Vulcans on Star Trek). Men were driven to arousal entirely by visual cues — if they saw an attractive woman, they would desire to touch her. Women, on the other hand, were highly emotionally driven and relied on feelings rather than data or intellect. Women were designed to be nurturers and to desire to bear and take care of children. Whereas men were visually aroused, women were only aroused by physical touch. Therefore, it was important for women not to do anything to draw undue or unnecessary attention to their physical appearances in order to prevent men from wanting to touch them.
From there, we moved into all the Bible verses that supported the notion that children are supposed to be submissive to all adults; that wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands; that husbands are supposed to be submissive to the church; and that the church is supposed to be submissive to Jesus. This hierarchy is God’s perfect and holy plan for humans, given to them so that they may live fulfilling and happy lives in service to him. We were taught that rebellion to God’s plan would lead to an unhappy home life, full of strife and displeasing to God. And husbands who did not live in perfect submission to the church would be putting their families in jeopardy by not providing the God-approved spiritual leadership that they were required to provide. While wives were required to submit their will to that of their husbands, it was only suggested to men that they could listen to their wives and love them if they so chose.
We young women were taught that feelings of rebellion against this perfect plan from God was a sign of sin in our lives, and that we should pray and read the Bible in order to purge these wicked thoughts from our lives. It was reiterated that the only way we could be happy in life was to submit our will to that of our husbands because we were not designed to be able to make big decisions for our families. Only our husbands were designed to make decisions because they thought logically and analytically and weren’t swayed by emotion or hysteria. (Our silly little women’s brains were flooded with pesky hormones and emotions, drowning out any analytical or logic-based skills we may have had, though it was doubtful that we had any).
I literally felt nauseous hearing all this. Rebellion rose up within me like bile, a sign that I was not right with God, a sign that Satan was drawing me away from God’s perfect plan. Obviously, there was something seriously wrong with me because I excelled at mathematics and science, I was drawn to maps and navigation, and I rarely exhibited emotions. I suppose it was possible that all the boys in my grade were underperforming and not living up to God’s standards, but facts showed that I was the top math and science student in my grade (the top student in every subject, in fact). Knowing that there was something wrong with me (it’s sad that my first thought was that there was something wrong with me, not that the religious concept was wrong), I swore at age 18 as a senior in high school that I would never marry. I knew I would never be able to submit my will to that of another, regardless of how intelligent or godly or anything else he was.
My grandma, always striving to follow her deity’s will to the best of her ability, implemented this complementarian doctrine into her marriage. My grandpa wanted nothing to do with it, and occasionally I would hear grandma say, “well, I have to submit to my husband” when we all knew she wanted to speak up but withheld her opinion. Grandpa had to start going to great lengths to encourage Grandma to give her honest opinion. He was drawn to her for her intellect and spirit, so I think it was difficult to see her suddenly struggling to turn off those traits about her that he loved. I don’t know how they eventually worked it out as I moved away to college soon after, but they seemed to find a way to manage so that she could still serve her deity and he could still have the woman he fell in love with. (I’ll write about my grandfather’s feminist tendencies another time).
My mom and stepdad never followed the complementarian roles. My mom was by far my stepdad’s intellectual superior, and they had determined that they would discuss big decisions, but in the end, my mom would make the decisions.
Science shows us gender and sexuality are on a spectrum, not strictly binary. While most people carry XX or XY chromosomes, there are people who are XO, XXX, XXY, or XYY. I can only surmise that Evangelical Christians would say that these people should adopt the gender shown by their external sex organs and that they must only practice married sex with someone with the opposite external sex organs. And if the union does not bless them with children, then that is due to the problem of sin in the world. Perhaps their sect allows adoption; in any case, they should pray and seek God’s will in the situation.
During college, I moved further from Evangelical Christianity and was able to expand my world view. In the end, I found a man who was looking for a partner, not a submissive wife, and we have a good relationship. We are both analytical and logical thinkers, and oddly enough, he is more emotional than I am. Whenever we watch a sad movie, the joke from our kids is “how many times did Dad cry?” I had put a lot of this complementarian drivel out of my mind for many years, but it started coming up again with Josh Duggar scandal, Roy Moore, and people from my past posting complementarian ideas on social media. Recently, I told my husband about my experience learning these Biblical manhood and womanhood roles. He was uncharacteristically silent for a moment and looked at me like I had two heads, then in his true sarcastic fashion, he said, “Well, then, woman, submit and go make me a sandwich and bring me a beer!” I told him where he could shove the sandwich and beer.
Many Evangelical churches are hierarchical in nature: male God, male pastor, male church leaders, married men, and then women and children. God, of course, comes first. God, of course — because it says so in the Bible — is a HE, not a she. God, of course, determines the order of all things, including the church and home.
God created man first, and then woman. He commanded that men are to be the head of their homes, and women are to submit to their husbands in all things, as unto the Lord. God commanded that women were to be keepers of the home, submitting cheerfully and without complaint to their husbands. Children are commanded by God to joyfully obey their parents in all things.
God commanded that men, as pastors, elders, and deacons, are to rule the church. Only men are permitted to preach and teach during public worship services. Women are permitted to teach other women and children, but they must never, ever usurp authority over men. In some Evangelical churches, women are expected to be quiet during worship services. I knew of one church (Mennonite) where women were not permitted to sing the first note or two of any song lest they are guilty of “leading” men. I attended a number of their services, and the men would start the singing and then the women would join them a note or two later. I knew of another church (Sovereign Grace Baptist) where women were not permitted to speak during the services. If a woman had a prayer request, she was expected to whisper the request to her husband or another man, and he would make the request known. This same church would not allow women to ask questions during business meetings. If a woman had a question, she was to, again, whisper the question to her husband or another man, and he could then ask the question.
In many Evangelical churches, women working outside of the home is frowned upon, if not outright prohibited. In such churches, married women are expected to bear children, cook meals, do laundry, clean the house, teach the children, and submit to their husband’s sexual advances — all without complaint or question. Unmarried girls and women are expected to learn domestic duties from their mothers, preparing them for marriage. In some churches, girls are discouraged from having college or career ambitions. Their future was sealed the moment they were born — a life devoted to husband, children, and domestic duties. Some churches do permit young women to attend church-approved Bible colleges, but only for the express purpose of getting an MRS degree.
I can safely say that Evangelicalism, in general, is anti-woman. While it is encouraging to see some churches abandoning complementarianism for egalitarianism, millions of Evangelical women and girls are members of churches that treat them as subservient, inferior, second-class people. Their lives are dominated by the male species, first as daughters, and then as wives. Attempts to break free from male dominance is viewed as rebellion against God and rebellion against the men He has set as rulers over them. In some instances, rebellious women are brought under church discipline, which leads to shunning until they confess their sin and bow in submission to male authority.
People not raised in Evangelical churches will likely read this post and say, Bruce, surely this is satire. It’s 2017 and women are free to be whatever they want to be. It may be 2017 where you live, but for many Evangelical women and girls, it is the 1940s, or the 1840s for that matter. The driving belief behind the anti-abortion, anti-birth control movement is that God has commanded women to marry, spread their legs when asked by their husbands, and bear lots of children. Women who chase dreams of higher education, athletics, or careers are living lives contrary to God’s plan and his divine order for families and societies. According to more than a few Evangelical preachers, much of what is wrong with the world can be traced back to women not accepting their God-given role as mothers and keepers of the home.
Imagine, for a moment, being raised in churches where women are treated as I mentioned above. Week after week, month after month, year after year, you are reminded of your second-class status before God and man. Sunday after Sunday, your preacher reminds you of your place in the home and church, and your duty to submit to your husband and male church authority. Imagine being a bright, inquisitive girl who has great ambition, only to have these things stomped into the ground by men who say they know God’s plan for your life, and that plan does not include college, athletics, or a career. Even worse, imagine when one of these “godly men” sexually harasses, molests, or rapes you, and if you dare report it, you are blamed for the man’s perverse behavior.
Outsiders rightly ask, why would any woman willingly submit herself to such psychological abuse? Why don’t they stand up against patriarchal thinking and demand equality? Surely, these women want more for their lives than babies, casseroles, and watching the church nursery? Unfortunately, for many women, they were raised in churches that devalued women and it is the only thing they know. Imagine being repeatedly threatened with judgment and chastisement from God if you dare to demand the same opportunities in life as men. Being told over and over that God wants you to live a certain way and living otherwise could lead to pain, loss, and even death, is sure to result in obedience and conformity.
Preachers are God-ordained keepers of divine order. Through their preaching and modeling, women are shown how God wants them to live. Using a plethora of Biblical proof texts, women and girls are frequently reminded of their place, and that not accepting that place means they are being sinful and disobedient to God. These preachers literally demean and harass female congregants with their sermons and Bible quotations. Girls come into this world rebellious against God’s constituted order, and it is up to preachers to use the Bible to beat the rebellion out of them. Countless effervescent girls have been turned into dowdy, rarely-smiling, obedient women who no longer have dreams of life beyond the bed, cradle, or kitchen. Such preaching can and does suck the life out of women, turning them into servants of the male God, their husbands, and male-controlled churches.
The good news is that many Evangelical women are tired of being treated as doormats. They are tired of having their ambitions drowned out by their husbands’ wants, needs, and desires. Evangelical teen girls are increasingly rebelling against their fathers and pastors, demanding that they be treated with decency and respect and afforded the same opportunities as boys. I know of a number of women who demanded the right to take college classes. Many of these women, once they graduated from college and figured out they could live on their own, left their churches and divorced their husbands — proving to Evangelical troglodytes that women must be tethered to the home lest they overthrow God’s order.
My wife and I grew up in churches where complementarianism was frequently preached from the pulpit; churches where women were expected to be married, barefoot, and pregnant; churches where women were expected to do menial labor while the men sat in the gates and did the “real” work of ruling nations, churches, and homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Polly and I married, we had what was commonly called a “traditional” marriage, with me being the patriarchal head of the home, and Polly devoting herself to domestic chores and children. Fortunately, both of us saw the light, resulting in fundamental change to our marriage and home. Some of this change was driven by my health problems. I worked for much of our marriage and Polly quietly and happily maintained the home. When fibromyalgia, pain, and neurological problems forced a change of roles, our marriage changed too — for the better, I might add.
The girl I married in 1978 was quiet, soft-spoken, and content to let me be the boss. The bad-ass woman I am now married to is still quiet and soft-spoken, but that boss thing? That ain’t happening. Both of us will admit that we have struggled with our changing marital dynamic. It wasn’t easy at first. It has taken years for the bad thinking from our patriarchal past to be transformed into egalitarian thinking that values and respects people regardless of their sex. Even now, both of us can, on occasion, fall back into our former way of life. I still, at times, want to be the boss, and Polly is content to let me make decisions, especially those that could have negative outcomes. Our new, ever-evolving relationship has taken a lot of conversation, arguing, and forgiving. I can honestly say that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. I love and respect Polly more than ever, even when she still refuses to know what she wants to order when we pull up at a fast-food order window. Each of us recognizes the other’s strengths and weaknesses and our divisions of labor are determined by expertise and not some verses from an outdated, ancient religious text. It’s unlikely that we will ever have the “perfect” marriage, but I can safely say that what was begun almost forty years ago continues to blossom and grow.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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