Yesterday I did a post called "The Oppression of Women???" where I argued, contra Rhett Smith, that the prohibition of women from teaching offices in the church does not constitute oppression. My point was that this kind of ecclesiastical structure, in and of itself, is not necessarily an oppressive structure.
On the other hand, I want to agree with something that underlies Rhett's post, and that is to acknowledge that in many cases, today and throughout history, women have been oppressed. I just don't believe that this oppression results from a certain ecclesiastical structure. It comes from our innate sinfulness and can manifest itself in the presence or absence of any ecclesiastical structure.
More to the point, the problem here is something akin to Nietzsche's "will to power." I am not an expert on Nietzche so I won't try to interact with him, yet I believe that one of the main results of the fall is an ungodly desire to wield power over others.
In an earlier post I quoted an excerpt from Henry Van Till's Calvinistic Concept of Culture where he argued, persuasively in my mind, that Lord Acton was not exactly right in saying that power inevitably corrupts:
But culture, as such, is a gift of God to man as well as an obligation. The Germans have a word for it Gabe und Aufgabe. Thus man was at once servant and child. Man stood in that relationship to his Maker, wherein he knew God as his friend, and loved him as his Father. At the same time he had received dominion over all God's created world, to be lord and master in the name of his God. Unto this end he was to populate the earth with his kind and to cultivate it. This was not a matter of choice but of divine precept and it entered into the very constitution of man, so that man is essentially a cultural being. The cultural urge, the will to rule and have power is increated. This is not demonic, or satanic, but divine in origin. True, men may misues and abuse power after the entrance of sin into the world, but to say with Lord Acton that all power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutlely, which is quoted promiscuously by men who ought to know the Scriptures, is not wisdom but folly and confusion. For power belongs to man by virtue of his creation as a cultural creature. He was made to function in the realm of power and to develop his power to its highest potency - for God, of course! There's the rub! Men continually forget the divine original in paradise and take the condition of Paradise lost for granted as being normative.
His words are persuasive to me yet, since we live "after the entrance of sin into the world," I do believe that the temptation to misuse and abuse power is nearly overwhelming for most of us.
Because of Paul's words in I Timothy 2:15 I do believe that, in creation, God ordained male headship. In that verse Paul is basing male headship on the created order. In that pre-fallen state I believe that Adam and Eve were able to relate in such a way that headship and submission had none of the onerous connotations that are so often associated with them today. In a way I don't understand, Adam was able to exercise headship and Eve deference in a way that did not involve a poower struggle and in a way that brought joy to them and glory to God. But after the fall, relationships became characterized by a power struggle. In the curse on the woman in Genesis 3:16 it says:
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you."
I know there is a good deal of debate about what this "desire" is on the part of the woman. I take it to be a desire to control the husband. The word here is the same one used in Genesis 4:7 where sin desires to "have" Cain, but Cain must master it. In other words, sin wanted to control Cain. Similarly here, the woman's loving submission to the man is turned into a desire to control him.
Yet, I also believe there is something sinister in the words "he will rule over you." As this is a result of the fall it seems to me most reasonable to interpret this as a desire on the part of the man for a kind of despotic or tyrannical rule where he keeps the little woman under his thumb.
And I believe that this becomes a paradigm for relationships in general - people are always looking for ways to get an advantage over one another.
So this seems to me to be the main problem in discussions of the oppression of women. It's not the ecclesiastical structure that causes women to be oppressed, or other cultural things. It is that our innate sinfulness causes us all to desire to gain an advantage over others. This desire can corrupt any ecclesiastical structure, and it corrupts all social relationships.
The answer to this then, is not for women to seek greater power, rather it is for all of us, men and women, to repent of the power paradigm in relationships.
In a comment on yesterday's post, Peter Epps did a bit of exegesis on Ephesians 5 and said this:
husbands, already commanded to submit to all other believers, which would include their wives, are also commanded to love them in a very particular way: that of Christ; and the mode of Christ's love Paul intends is particularly described, not in terms of *power over* but in terms of *sacrifice for* the beloved. The particular, special duty of Christian husbands is to be the first to sacrifice their interests in favor of those of others. Lead? Yes. Lead in submission, not by demanding it, but by *DOING* it.
Getting back to Rhett's post I will again say that I believe the Bible authorizes male headship in the family, and that women are prohibited from serving as teaching elders. These familial and ecclesiastical structures, in and of themselves are not oppressive structures, but they can become they, like anything else, can become the staging grounds for oppression and all kinds of evil.
Not that any of this resolves anything in particular but I think it helps zero in on the real issues at stake so they can be better addressed.
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