It was hard watching last night’s ABC 7:30 Report, with its focus on domestic violence and Christian faith. The women who had experienced such violence spoke honestly and expressed hope in the midst of their pain.
In any form; physical, verbal, emotional, financial and spiritual, domestic violence must never be tolerated. The church leaders interviewed spoke with genuine concern, including those leaders who support the idea of male headship. Yet it needs to be acknowledged that the concept of male headship has been used to excuse violence. It creates space for violence to occur and be rationalised. Ideas have consequences. We must not ignore the evidence nor the experience of those who have suffered.
Historically many Christians have been taught that the paradigm of male headship, when correctly understood, is good for both men and woman. It is also taught that it is the distorted practice of this headship paradigm that harms. In some discussions it seems people first have to agree to the goodness and correctness of male headship before a serious dialogue about domestic violence can take place.
How can we be so blind?
Balancing headship with the husband’s duty to express servant love can be easily reframed by the husband. As the head, the husband has the authority. He is the one who determines what shape servant love takes in the particular situation. Thus he is the one with the power to determine the nature of the relationship.
This argument that domestic violence results from the distortion of male headship reminds me of conservative Christians in the 1970’s arguing that apartheid in principle was good, it was its distorted practice that harmed. History has shown the principle itself was the problem, always there to rationalise and excuse cruel and unjust practice.
The essence of the paradigm of male headship is that God mandates that men should take the initiative and the responsibility to lead in the home, church and society. Today the third theatre of headship (society) is often ignored. Proponents focus on the home and the church rather than the society, revealing their own inconsistency.
Why? Why would God institute male headship? What is it about women that he places them under men? Is it related to intelligence, emotional stability, discernment, the ability to give birth? Those who advocate headship must give a reasoned answer?
In fact male headship is itself the distortion. The Genesis creation narratives establish the equality of men and women, both being God’s image bearers, both called to populate and both instructed to care for creation. Before God, in domestic relationships and in society men and women are equal in nature and responsibility.
The idea of male headship occurs in Genesis 3 after the fall. It is a result of the fall. The world becomes patriarchal and the biblical narratives describe this patriarchal world and God’s plan to save it. Within the New Testament, in anticipation of new creation made possible by Christ, a new trajectory is established characterised by mutual submission to one another and submission to Christ. The society and the church, as part of that society, are still patriarchal but the future is equal and mutual.
Enough is enough! Let us focus on the dignity and equality God gives to both men and women, allowing no space for abuse. We must realise ideas have consequences.
Rev Paul Perini
Vice President of CBE Sydney