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The opposite of feminism isn’t the patriarchy

Unsplash/ chloe s.
Unsplash/ chloe s.

What is the opposite of feminism? If you ask some people who call themselves “Biblical patriarchists,” they’ll tell you so-called biblical patriarchy is the opposite of feminism.

But that can’t be right. The opposite of an unbiblical view of women isn’t another unbiblical view of women.

Over the last few weeks, some biblical patriarchists have suggested Christian women who teach theology (to other women), especially podcasters like my friend Allie Beth Stuckey, are rebelling against God.

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Since then, many patriarchists on social media have called complementarians “repressed feminists” and maybe most asinine of all, one person called complementarianism “a ‘soft’ form of Androgyny.”

Some of these patriarchists are my friends, but I’m disappointed by their silly reasoning and divisive rhetoric. Patriarchists can strongly disagree with complementarians without resorting to silly insults and misrepresentations.

Nevertheless, though feminists have deceived many into associating the word “patriarchy” with oppression, we should know better. The word “patriarchy” comes from a Greek word that means “the rule of the father.” A patriarchy is therefore a system ruled or led by fathers or men.

Complementarians and patriarchists agree men are the leaders in homes and local churches. We disagree, however, on what that looks like in practice. There are disagreements over marital relationships, parenting, dating or courtship, corporate worship, and even the relationship between churches and families.

These disagreements are not strictly between complementarians and patriarchists. Some patriarchists disagree with each other on these issues. Just as there are differences between complementarians like me and so-called soft complementarians, there are different kinds of patriarchists.

Therefore, in some ways, I have more in common with some patriarchists than soft “complementarians.” One of my heroes in the faith is a man who calls himself a “gospel patriarchist.”

So since some patriarchists agree with complementarians that it’s not sinful for women to teach theology outside the local church, this article isn’t necessarily about patriarchy as a whole. I’m particularly addressing the patriarchists who believe women shouldn’t teach theology.

With that said, on a practical level, I think the biggest difference between complementarians and patriarchists is what we believe about a woman’s role in society. Patriarchists acknowledge that when God says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12) he is speaking in the context of the local church.

However, some patriarchists tend to misuse the basis for those words (1 Timothy:13-15) to suggest women shouldn’t teach the Bible or have authority over men in any circumstance outside the local church.

They say since women shouldn’t preach or have authority over men in local churches because of God’s created order, it means women shouldn’t have authority over men in any capacity in society. Therefore, according to them, women shouldn’t be in positions of authority at work and women like Allie Beth Stuckey shouldn’t be podcasters.

But 1 Timothy 2:12-15 isn’t saying women shouldn’t teach theology or have positions of authority at work because of God’s created order. Instead, it’s saying women shouldn’t teach or have authority over men in local churches because of God’s created order.

Ironically, these “biblical” patriarchists do not have a biblical basis for their view of patriarchy. And though they claim otherwise, their views on women teaching theology are not the historic position of the Church.

Before I get to that, however, I should briefly address one of the most common myths from patriarchists about complementarianism. They claim complementarianism is a relatively new theological position created by John Piper and Wayne Grudem in the late 1980s. This is seemingly one of the reasons they believe complementarianism is influenced by feminism.

But it’s not true. The term complementarianism is relatively new, but its theology isn’t new. Patriarchists who spread that myth are like Catholics who say Reformed Theology was created by the Reformers. As Calvin and Luther repeatedly said, Reformed Theology wasn’t a novel concept from the 16th century. The terms “Calvinism” and “Reformed” were new, but its theology wasn’t new. It’s the doctrine of the Bible and it’s the theology of church fathers like Augustine.

In the same way, complementarianism is just the latest term to describe the biblical and historical position of the Church. Also, though patriarchists attempt to say otherwise, Christians throughout history didn’t describe themselves as patriarchists.

As Kevin DeYoung says: “It’s not a term you’ll find in Christian confessional statements from the past. It’s not a term you’ll find employed frequently (or at all) in the tradition of the church as it defends biblical views of the family, the Church, and society.”

The term wasn’t even in use as recently as the late 80s when Piper, Grudem, and others coined “complementarianism.” The most common terms at the time to describe some people’s views on gender roles were egalitarianism, traditionalism, and hierarchicalism.

So, patriarchy is the most recent term to describe some Christians’ views on family, church, and society — not complementarianism.

With all that said, I’ll finally transition to what prompted this article: patriarchists who are complaining about women teaching theology and apologetics (to other women) on podcasts.

As I mentioned earlier, these types of patriarchists misuse 1 Timothy 2:12 and they suggest God commands that women should be quiet outside the local church. But that exposes their inconsistency.

Some of the loudest Christian women on social media are patriarchists. Some of these women are social media influencers, bloggers, authors and podcasters. However, these female patriarchists haven’t been publicly rebuked by their male counterparts for teaching theology (to other women).

So apparently, their complaints about women teaching theology are only reserved for complementarian women.

That doesn’t help their argument, especially since their argument is theologically and historically weak. Patriarchists say their views on women teaching theology or participating in apologetics and the culture war are historical, but that’s not entirely true.

For instance, near the beginning of the Reformation, a university in Bavaria arrested and imprisoned a student for teaching Luther’s Reformation theology. A woman named Argula von Grumbach immediately published a letter rebuking the (all-male) faculty. The letter was a theological defense of the Reformation with over 80 biblical references. That letter became one of the bestselling Reformation letters at the time. The only people who complained about her theological writings were Catholics, not the Reformers. They deeply respected her.

In a letter to a friend, Luther said: “The Duke of Bavaria rages above measure, killing, crushing and persecuting the Gospel with all his might. That most noble woman, Argula von Stauffer, is there making a valiant fight with great spirit boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ … She has attacked the University of Ingolstadt for forcing the recantation of a certain youth, Arascius Seehofer… She alone, among these monsters, carries on with firm faith, though, she admits, not without inner trembling.”

But she isn’t the only female Reformer. Another woman who taught theology during the Reformation was Katharina Schutz Zell. She wrote several books, including a defense of clerical marriages, and a commentary on the Psalms.

But the most prominent female Reformer was probably Marie Dentière. She was a theologian and an evangelist who worked with William Farel and John Calvin to bring Reformation to Geneva.

In one of her books, she said: “For what God has given you and revealed to us women, no more than men should we hide it and bury it in the earth. And even though we are not permitted to preach in public congregations and churches, we are not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all charity.”

John Calvin thought so highly of her, he asked her to write the foreword to his published sermon on 1 Timothy 2:12. She’s the only woman whose name is engraved on the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland.

There are also women like Hannah Moore, who worked alongside William Wilberforce and John Newton to abolish the slave trade in Britain. She also authored many tracts to address religious, cultural, and political issues in Britain.

According to some patriarchists, these women were rebelling against God — with the approval of Reformers like Calvin and Luther and Puritans like Wilberforce and Newton.

Since some of the patriarchists I’m referring to were complementarians until just five minutes ago, they should consider being slow to speak on this issue. Because they sometimes sound like they think they can improve our culture by improving on what the Bible says. When a person forbids what the Bible doesn’t forbid, it’s because they think they’re wiser than God.

And that says a lot. These patriarchists claim feminism has essentially corrupted everyone — except them. But in a sense, they’re influenced by feminism. Their brand of so-called biblical patriarchy is an overreaction to feminism.

If feminism makes you develop another unbiblical view of women, it means you’re corrupted by feminism. And interestingly, just as feminists see oppressive patriarchy everywhere, some patriarchists see “repressed feminism” everywhere — even in a godly, anti-feminist woman like Allie Beth Stuckey.

Because she has a podcast.

Originally published at Slow to Write. 

Samuel Sey is a Ghanaian-Canadian who lives in Brampton, a city just outside of Toronto. He is committed to addressing racial, cultural, and political issues with biblical theology, and always attempts to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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