Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gender Roles and Responsibility – Part 1

This question was recently asked in a comment on my blog:

Q:  I had a discussion with my pastor and his wife today about some of the issues I've been thinking on. They are strongly complementarian and are adamant that 'at the end of the day' - judgment - the males will be held accountable for decisions effecting both home and church.
Is it wishful thinking on the part of the woman to think that she isn't accountable to God, for the direction a family takes? I can't hear a specific answer from them, re what particular thing a husband will be responsible to for, that a wife won’t. What would you say to this-- what decisions does/will God hold each Christian responsible for?

I always like to start with definitions of terms:

Responsibility:  A duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone, or created by one's own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.  

Responsible: Able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore answerable for one's behavior.

Accountable:  subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; answerable.

Accountability is related to responsibility in that we are accountable to get done what we are responsible to do.   To have responsibility, one must be “responsible.”  This means we must be competent adults.  Children and persons who are mentally disabled are not considered legally responsible.  Their parents or guardians are held responsible for them.

The Spiderman comics and movies are famous for this quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There can be no responsibility where there is no power.  A child is considered to have no power to sign a legal document, and therefore incurs no responsibility if she does sign.  We have no duty or obligation to perform any task which is beyond our power. 

When God created humankind and gave them “dominion” over the creation in Genesis 1:26, God was giving humans power, and therefore responsibility, over their environment and over themselves.  Everyone has some measure of power.  Children can’t be held responsible under the law, but their parents and teachers hold them responsible to do the duties they are capable of doing.  When we have power over others’ actions, we are also held responsible for the things they do.  This is why bosses have the ultimate responsibility over their businesses—because they are the ones with the power to do (or cause to be done) what they are responsible to do. 

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the one who was given five talents was responsible for all five, while the one who had three talents was responsible only for those three.  We are responsible according to the amount of power we have and the use and influence of our power over others.

So the position taken by the pastor and wife described in the question above, is a logical outgrowth of the position called “complementarianism” --  that husbands have God-given authority over wives, and that church leaders have God-given authority over congregations and therefore must be male.  If husbands can tell wives what to do, then husbands have power over their wives, and consequently they are accountable for what they tell their wives to do and how they use their power.   I prefer to call this “male-hierarchalism,” since I think it describes the position better than the somewhat misleading term “complementarianism.” (Christian egalitarians also believe that men and women complement one another, but without hierarchy.)

Because male-hierarchalists believe husbands are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the home, and male church leaders are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the church, they believe God will hold males more accountable than females for these decisions.  However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that women, because they are women, are less responsible before God than men— it is, as I said, only a logical outgrowth of the position that God denies women decision-making powers in the church and home.  At the creation God gave the man and the woman both “dominion,’ and with it responsibility—and God never said He was giving the man more dominion (or more responsibility) than the woman.   If the proof-texts that are used to support male hierarchy in the church and home are being misread (which many of my posts on this blog attempt to prove), then there is no reason to conclude that God, purely on the basis of gender, holds males more accountable than females in this life or in the next.

Furthermore, even when Christian male-hierarchalists take responsibility away from women, our modern Western societies continue to consider them full adults and to hold them accountable as such.  If a woman goes along with her coercive church and husband in denying a child medical care, for example, both parents are still held responsible if that child is harmed.  The courts will not respond, “Oh, that’s ok, then,” when a woman explains that she believed she had to submit to her husband.    Courts might find a mitigating circumstance if a woman could prove she was being forced into child neglect by her husband, but if she claims she was submitting of her own free will, they will not understand!  Women have power in our world over their children, and therefore they are responsible for the well-being of those children.

I think women are also fully accountable to God as responsible adults.  But when they are coerced or shamed or otherwise convinced to give up adult power and abdicate adult responsibility, I think God is able to consider the woman’s heart in ways that courts of law cannot.  Therefore our merciful Father will hold more accountable, the ones who convinced her it was His will that she give up her self-determination. 

Ultimately, we are all responsible at least for ourselves and our own actions.  We also have responsibility for the way we use any additional power we may have.  But in male-hierarchical Christianity I have seen some worrying things happen regarding personal responsibility and who is held accountable for what.  The potential for crazy-making responsibility issues in Christian male-hierarchalism, will be the subject of next week’s post.  


The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

This is an excerpt of some of the thoughts I've been blogging on the heirarchical view the church (especially in the USA and Evangelical circles) seems to be taking:

"...though Christ takes responsibility to love the church, he does also expect her to take responsibility for herself.

I cannot agree with a teaching that subtly pushes me under a man-made umbrella of authority, when Christ came to set us free to submit to him out of love.

I don't believe my husband is responsible for my issues- I am.

A lack of personal responsibility leads to codependence, and Christ doesn't have that kind of relationship with the church."

As a military spouse, I don't see our family relationships as a chain of command, because when daddy is gone, I have to run the household, and even when he's here, I take care of a lot of things so he can be free to do his job and college.

Someday I may work full-time while he gets his Masters. We support each other, but we aren't codependent on each other, we are interdependent. This is something that grates on a lot of people who weren't brought up to think outside of the box.

We do what works for our family, and as an individual we answer to God for the way we respect each other and meet the needs of our family.

To pile all the responsibility on one or the other partner in a marriage or family unit breaks the unit, and also leads to this thinking that it's the parents' faults when a child reality, they choose to misbehave, we can only be responsible to behave as adults in lovingly guiding our children.

Parents aren't meant to live in huge guilt when someday their adult child rebels against God and leaves the faith either!

Maybe this is why some people I know are so scared of Cloud and Townsend's stuff because it tells them they need to take responsibility for themselves and set boundaries with people who demand submission... Sad.

By the way, your description of egalitarian sounds more like my view of what complementarian really should be...there can't be "lording it over" anybody in the family unit where God is in charge. My two cents!

Sorry this is so long, and thanks for the article. ;-)

Lynne said...

I think the Bible gives a very clear example of this in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). In that story the wife was clearly held just as responsible as the husband, and suffered the same judgement.