Men As Spiritual Leaders: Part One

29 Nov

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore: I’m a straight-up feminist. (And when I use that term, I mean that I care about women being treated equally to men and not that we should take over the world…although I don’t think it would hurt things too much if we did. Just sayin’.) As a Christian, this sometimes puts me in a tough place because whether I like it or not, there’s a lot of scripture and religious culture that doesn’t shine too positively on my gender. I mean, every time someone says the words “curse of Eve” around me, I have a seizure in my soul. So the one thing I want to talk about today are the ideas surrounding men being, by divine appointment, the spiritual leaders, particularly in the family.

I think you’ve probably all been taught these ideas or have picked up on cultural clues about them, even if you’re not Christian. They’re the images of the man praying over family dinners, the man leading major decisions that will affect the family, the man teaching things and making plans. Personally, though, when I hear the phrase, “men are the spiritual leaders,” I have a guttural “ewwww” reaction and before I get into why, let’s look at where the idea comes from.

There’s a few main scriptures that pertain to this but let me just clarify before I start my opinion on this. I do not intend to de-value any scripture by saying that I don’t agree with an interpretation of it. In fact, I sometimes go further than disagreeing with interpretation to say that I don’t like a certain passage (and sometimes authors) at all and there are a lot of people who take issue with that kind of thinking. For some people, the Bible is unquestionable and beyond reproach. It is absolutely the word of the God and that’s all there is to it. For some, even contextualizing scripture borders on heresy. I’m a fairly liberal thinker, though, and I tend to think nothing is beyond questioning. What I never do, though, is stop asking God to help me understand the things I don’t like. Sometimes my opinions on a passage change and sometimes they don’t but for me, there’s nothing more valuable than my integrity and very often that means that I just cannot pretend to believe in something that I don’t. My honesty in my relationship with God gives me so much more love for Him than when I used to accept everything that was said in His name because I’ve developed a tenderness for the things that are most important to Him. So enough with that and on with my opinions which, actually, I’ve just decided I’m going to separate into parts because there’s a lot of material to cover.

The first scripture I want to deal with is from Genesis:

“To the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Isn’t that fun, ladies? Heh, heh. Yeeeeah, it’s not fun. It’s kind of a knife. So, if I can, let me just talk a little about where this passage is coming from. The first thing you need to know is that this book was most likely written by Moses during the time that the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness for all those years. In Egypt, the Hebrews were denied a culture. They forgot their history, they forgot the beauty of their faith and their heritage. The very last thing they clung to was this promise from God that one day they would be delivered. So after Moses dragged the Hebrews out of Israel kicking and screaming (insert wink) he found that they were a troublesome gang who didn’t seem to understand how great their God was and how huge His love was for them. Moses would have been an educated man and probably would have known a great deal about Hebrew history despite not having grown up in it. Thus, theologians speculate that Genesis was written to explain things that the Israelites didn’t know about their history and also to preserve the oral history that had survived Egypt.

So is all of it literal (translation: how seriously should we take this)? Well, although there are lots of true events in Genesis that are backed up by archaeology, parts of it are clearly in poetic form and the creation story is one of those parts. In my opinion, this part of the book is largely metaphor and was meant to answer questions that every human asks himself. Things like how the world began, how the genders formed, how people exist separately from animals and also about how gender roles were formed which is what this passage addresses. People (and probably especially women) wanted to know why women went through so much pain but questions that for us are answered by science were still very unknown to them. No one knew in those times about the entire process of childbirth and conception so if you can imagine it, being a woman back then must have seemed like a punishment. You were physically weaker and thus less capable of providing for yourself (because remember that work would have been significantly more physical in those times) and when a man came along to help you out with things like making money and putting food on the table, he expected you to do the only things you could do after that which were taking care of the home and birthing and parenting kids. If you were a woman, you didn’t have a lot of choices. You’d have a routine of pain and work and if you were very lucky, you’d be loved by your family. This passage in Genesis just gave people an answer to why that was. It wasn’t a very delicate answer, but it was one that seemed right because women were the cultural “losers” and men were “winners.” So the thinking was that for women to have such a bad lot in life, they must have done something to deserve it. Enter creation story.

You follow?

So, to me, this particular passage isn’t a very good justification for men being the divinely appointed spiritual (or otherwise) leaders. My next post on this subject will take us to the New Testament for more analytical fun. In the mean time, feel free to tell me what you think, even if you don’t agree.

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