An example of what I mean by "patriarchal" might be how I believed (though not all patriarchalists agree) that women's headcoverings were literal and "for today," a sign of female subjection and "covering" (protection through her male authority). Another example might be how I felt that my purpose for being created as a woman was 100% "to help," which I believed meant to further the vision of men, a husband if one was married, or godly-men-at-large if one was not.
I felt that God created me as an extension of my husband, as it were. I was the vehicle that made his thoughts take shape and form, his field that he could plant with whatever he wanted. Whatever was in my husband's heart needed to be in mine, and whatever my husband wanted accomplished was my task to help make a reality. I was a body to a head---interpreted by my Western mind to mean the (non-thinking) apparatus that makes the brain's decisions happen.
From my reading of Scripture, I believed that Adam was made first, perfect. Eve was made out of Adam, a copy of a copy, as it were. Adam was like the sun, shining pure glory, whereas Eve was the moon, shining the glory of God as it reflected off of Adam.
I didn't exactly like this at first, probably in part due to a personality that tends to lead without even trying to, but I loved God, so the desire for His glory caused me grow into accepting my newfound place of subjection without complaint--and even with pleasure. Knowing I was following God's wishes helped me to put aside my own personal feelings and thoughts, helped me to embrace my role as a subjected woman joyfully. (If a frog is a frog, it is ridiculous for him to bemoan his frogness and try to aspire to sparrowhood, right? Much better for the frog to accept his nature and glorify God by being what he was made to be).
I didn't just embrace my subjected womanhood on a personal level, but also helped spread the "gospel" of gender order in public ways, through Bible studies I taught, articles I wrote and websites I ran. The way I read Scripture, I felt that female rebellion was no different than the rebellion Lucifer formented in heaven (it was all spawned from the same thing, a desire to *not* be what God said one should be and to grasp after something else), therefore it stood to reason that female submission was the primary way women were to glorify God on earth, especially since that was our created purpose.
I based my conclusions on the Bible, the content of which I knew well (through a fundamentalist childhood, three years in Bible College, much personal study and through being in a variety of ministries that required Bible familiarity). But the funny thing was, it ended up being that very same Book that began to cause me to question my patriarchal assumptions.
I was an avowed literalist, when it came to Scripture. If Scripture said it, then to "culturalize" it was to water it down. God's Word was for all time and for all people, right? So what it says, it says---and to throw "culture" into the mix simply means a person is trying to escape obeying the plain words.
But, eventually, I began to stumble over my own policy. Clear-cut literal commands like the one in Acts 15 ended up tripping me up. Here was a passage that said one thing (in a very commanding tone), a rule given by both the apostles AND the Holy Spirit about NOT eating food sacrificed to idols, which Paul gladly agrees to obey and teach, and yet Paul says something completely opposite later on (look at 1 Corinthians 8, for example).
How to make sense of that? It seems to me that the "rule" given in Acts 15 was a command, yes, but was also clearly for a specific TIME, given due to cultural conditions, NOT because abstaining from idol-meat was a "for all time" law of God. 1 Corinthians 8 helps to explain the heart behind the rules--that if a lawful actions means causing a weaker brother to stumble, we will give up our "rights" until such a time as they are able to see through more mature eyes. Love is the rule, in other words, not eating or not eating.
Could the same thing apply to passages I'd formerly used to "prove" patriarchy? Could the fact that the Roman and Jewish cultures of the time were highly patriarchal have anything to do with some of the "women" passages in Scripture, and could ignoring that cultural backdrop be a little presumptous of me when it came to interpreting those same passages? After all, isn't a major point of the Incarnation that God actually comes and lives WITH us, in our culture, in our world?
I began to really study, to re-look at a lot of passages (that I'd quickly literalized before and then rarely gave a second thought to). What I read was astounding. The creation of woman, for example. I'd decided what helpmate meant based on my own 21st century reading--I'd never actually studied the word ezer (help), I'd merely assumed. Imagine my shock when I realized I'd assumed terribly wrong.
For a while, I could barely breath, so afraid that I was walking in the rebellion I'd so carefully avoided. I did not want to be like the kings in Psalm 2, who angrily shook their shackles at the Lord of Hosts, chafing at the restraints He put on them, rebels whom the Lord held in derision. I still do not want to be like them.
If God put shackles on me as a woman by subjecting me to the authority of men or the authority of a husband, saying, "This is your place, go no further," then I want to kiss His shackles and be at peace with where He has placed me. His yoke is easy and His burden is light--if the shackles are His, then they will be the very thing that I find freedom in. Yet, if I am shackled and passively acceptancing bonds that are OUTSIDE of His will, held captive by deception and miscomprehension, then that is equally problematic. So I studied in earnest, determined to get to the bottom of my many questions.
And, admittedly, my gender-ordered clearly-divided world began to implode. I found more and more things in the Scriptures that seemed to be in direct contradiction to the "godly" patriarchy I'd embraced. It was like a snowball rolling downhill. I would study and study some more, pray and pray some more, and in so doing, I watched most of my assumptions about patriarchy burn up like so much smoke (specific details of which I hope to share in future posts).
Today, I tend to lean towards egalitarianism, a viewpoint I once thought birthed by Satan himself. I do want to stress that I am not entirely convinced-- just "mostly." Scripture still has me asking some questions and so I'm yet unwilling to settle on a firm position of egalitarianism, though I'm certainly far from my former position of patriarchy.
I do believe there are things in the Bible that most certainly are for all people and all time. When Yahweh says, "I am the LORD and there is no other," He's not just saying it to Israel 3,000 years ago but also to you and I today (and we can hang on His promise of sovereignty today just as much as they could then). But I also believe that the Bible was written to particular people in a particular culture, and it helps us better understand God's breathed words when we see the backdrop against which He spoke.
God is a real live God who supercedes (for He created) space and time, and yet has chosen to work within the contraints of space and time. The incarnation took place in a very real space in a very real time, markedly different from the culture within which we find ourselves today. I only stand to gain by learning about the culture Jesus walked in. Otherwise, when I read about Him healing a leper, I only faintly understand. Reading about the disease of leprosy and the cultural treatment of lepers during the time of Christ helps me comprehend the absolute shockingness of His hand touching the lepers body.
I think it is no less important to understand the cultural backdrop of patriarchy within which the Bible was written. To to so can only cause us to gain in our comprehension of this God of ours who so often breaks all the rules of human convention.
For those interested in learning more about the expanding patriarchy movement, Recently, (through the vision of ThatMom) there's been a series of podcasts done focusing on this growing theological outlook. That Mom is a complementarian, as is Karen Braun (Spunky), one of the women she interviews, but is disturbed about the sharply increase trend of the more severe versions of female subjection (ala groups like Vision Forum, the Pearls, Douglas Wilson, Ladies Against Feminism, etc, all former favorites of mine), a theological outlook that appears to be growing leaps and bounds in the homeschooling movement and in ultra-conservative camps. (An aside, an interesting conversation about this trend is found here over at True Womanhood, with a discussion worth wading through, as many participants were former patriarchalists).
I was an avid defender of those groups, both online and in my real world. Sheesh. Talk about a 180 degree turn. I admit (a little shamefacedly, er, given my former zeal) that I now wholeheartedly agree with ThatMom's concerns. Like her, I feel that such teachings are putting heavy burdens on the backs of God's people instead of setting them free.
Within patriarchy, I was taught that all who question or argue do so because they are "feminists," a word signifying evil and rebellion or because they are simply not Christians at all. Because of that, I want to emphasize one more time: it was not been a desire to rebel that caused my questions about the nature of female subjection, but the Scriptures themselves and, I believe, the Spirit who breathed them.
"If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed."