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Evangelical Theologizing: Russell Moore on Christian Patriarchy

November 20th, 2006 | 4 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I recently returned from the general convention of the Evangelical Theological Society, and while I did not attend many papers, I had an extraordinarily enjoyable time. Here is an explication of one of the papers I attended.

Russell Moore. Why Larry Flint is Not a a Complementarian: Gender, Abuse and Social Justice.

Yes, I think it is that Russell Moore of Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments. Speaking of Touchstone, the good folks there are in a financial bind this year and are asking for money. Keep the paper going, as it is one of the most important popular level journals in Christendom. Another great group, the Amercian Chesterton Society, is also in need of funds. Dig deep. That said, to the paper.

Biblical patriarchy is the answer to, rather than the source of abuse.

Self-sacrifical patriarchy has not been linked with abuse. However, "Hyper-masculinity," which is a bastardization (my word) of patriarchy, has been. Moore cites the study by W.Bradford Wilcox that concluded traditional patriarchal homes were 'softer' than egalitarian homes (see here). Hyper-masculinity is the problem, not patriarchy. The answer to the problem of hyper-masculinity is not vague egalitarian equality, but men who will protect women and churches who will hold men accountable.

Women's worth is determined by sexual availability to men. This is for both evangelicals and the broader culture. "The supermodels shall inherit the church." Why are women still degraded? Partly because culture presents women as aggressors. Women should not appear feminine in order to move up the corporate ladder. Moore grants that all of this is driven by patriarchy, but a pagan patriarchy driven by the Father of lies. It is a patriarchy that makes women in man's image.

Both egalitarians and complementarians tend to think of headship and authority badly.

How egalitarians think of headship: "Wife, get me my chips."

How complementarians think of headship: "Esteemed wife, please get me my chips, then let's pray." Heh.

Biblical patriarchy is self-sacrificial. A man provides for a family (see Paul's claim that an individual who does not is worse than an infidel). Abuses of headship are not headship at all. The Father's glory is found in the exaltation of Jesus. The Patriarchy of God is Christo-centric. The headship of a man over a woman is an authority seen in washing the feet of the wife. When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he is washing the foundation stones of His Church. He is always servant, always head. See also Joseph of Nazareth, who cares for his wife and child.

The self-sacrifice of patriarchy depends upon the notion the weaker vessel can be hurt, and it is the responsibility of the man to protect and serve her. Protecting women begins with acknowledging this claim in the church. Social justice begins with ecclesiastical justice. Evangelical feminism cannot protect women because it cannot show how women need protection. My note: Moore seems to presume as factual that women do need protection. That's not necessarily a problem, since if it is a fact, then egalitarianism is necessarily deficient in the way he suggests. However, Moore does not elaborate on this point (unfortunately).

An abusive man in a congregation is a heretic and a blasphemer--he presents to the outside world the image that Christ hates his Church. Men who hit their wives have surrendered their headship. It is the responsibility of the Church to take an active role in correcting the problems of paganized patriarchy.

Okay, I was going to summarize Moore's talk by revising Chesterton's famous quote about Christianity, but Moore beat me to it. "It is not that patriarchy has been tried and found wanting: it is that it has not been tried at all."

Q&A: #1: What resources do patriarchalists have to empower women so that they are less likely to be abused? Answer: Churches that address what it means to be a man or woman. Secondly, we must have an understanding of the dignity of women that is not borrowed from the secular world. In other words, women should be viewed as dignified not only for the ways in which they act like men.

#2: Didn't hear the question, but the answer is great. With respect to sociological studies, the best judge of patriarchy is not how men use the Biblical statements, but whether they are in fact ecclesiastically grounded and accountable.

Someone else: Sociology and psychology are being neglected by Moore. "You're not willing to take into account any facts." Answer: Sociology and psychology look around at men who identify themselves as evangelicals and patriarchalists, not at men who are ecclesiastically centered. In other words, they examine men who claim to be Christians but may in fact not be living a Christian life at all. Theologizing should not be done according to sociology, but Scripture.

This exchange highlights the fundamental disagreement between patriarchalists and egalitarians: egalitarians tend to submit their theologizing to the statistical norms of psychology and sociology, while patriarchalists tend to make arguments from Scripture. Moore is arguing that many men who identify themselves as patriarchalists, they are in fact not patriarchalists.

Moore should have made more of Chesterton's line: patriarchy has not been tried and failed (like those who would appeal to sociological studies that contend patriarchy leads to abuse might suggest), but that it has not been tried at all.

One final thought: evangelical egalitarians seem to want to redeem patriarchy by rejecting it. Evangelical patriarchalists, however, actually want to redeem patriarchy. Moore's distinction between pagan and Christian patriarchy is a crucial one, and participants on both sides of the discussion would do well to keep it in mind.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.