Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part III: Thinking it Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives)
Chapter 18 (Part 2) – “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role”: Exploring the Logic of Woman’s Subordination. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.
(Due to both the length and importance of this chapter, I have split the summary into two parts. Today is the second installment.)
Part 2 of Groothuis’ turns to concerns raised by her critics. Some would say:
…authority is not essential to manhood, nor is subordination essential to womanhood. Rather, women have a subordinate “role” and men have an authoritative “role” (or “office,” the term of choice for some). And women and men are assigned permanently to their “roles” not because of their gender but simply because God, for reasons of his own, has commanded that women “function” in a “role” of subordination to men. (322)
In footnote 56, Groothuis notes that Sarah Sumner in here book “Men and Women in the Church,” calls this view the Scotist view. (278-279) Sumner claims this view is shared by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. As Groothuis notes (and I agree) this just is not the case. Grudem and Piper very much believe that subordination is deeply grounded in the intrinsic differences of manhood and womanhood. It is not a mysterious unjustified command of God.
…the idea that woman’s subordination is not in any sense determined by or grounded in what a woman is or what God designed her to be is contrary to the ways of God in that it separates God’s will for creation from his design for creation. Ontology and teleology become detached, irrelevant to one another. In what other area of theology would this be asserted? … Surely if God has banned women from leadership in key areas and consigned women to be subordinate to male leadership, this tells us something about the created nature of womanhood and manhood. (323)
We are back to Groothuis' observations about contingent or necessary. Submission to the man’s leadership is necessary to her existence as a woman not contingent on achieving some end.
Groothuis goes on to question the sincerity of this Scotist view noting that it is common in a congregational behavior in patriarchal settings not to include women in things like decision-making, spiritual discernment, biblical exegesis and theological relection. They are not consulted because the are not seen to be on a par with men in such matters. They are inferior, not just subordinate.
Next Groothuis turns to false analogies she often presented as supporting women’ subordination. She writes:
Many of these arguments attempt to justify woman’s subordination (which is incompatible with personal equality) by likening it to a role that is compatible with personal equality. … Subordination is necessarily personal and not merely functional when (as in female subordination) its scope is comprehensive, its duration is permanent, and the criterion for its determination is one’s unalterable ontology. (325)
The first false analogy she raises is that subordination of children to parents. This is a false analogy because childhood is temporary situation and “…the child’s parental governance follows justifiably from the child’s lack of experience and inferior skills in decision making.” (326) The subordination ends when the need for bringing the child to maturity not longer requires the child to function as a subordinate.
The second false analogy she raises is the Levitical priesthood.
Although the Levitical priesthood is roughly analogous to male authority in terms of its lifelong duration and its basis in unalterable physical being, the scope of female subordination to male authority is comprehensive. A married woman is subject to her husband’s authority in every area of her life. (327)
Groothuis points out that while the male is consistently advantaged concerning the female in gender hierarchy, Levites were denied the right to inherit land in a culture where land was key mark of social status. Furthermore, “The Levites’ role, by contrast, was not permanent but provisional, in that it pertained only to a temporary religious system at a particular time and for a particular purpose in history.” (327) Everything that was prefigured in the Levitical priesthood has been fulfilled in Christ.
Groothuis also reminds us that the Levites did not have the kind of spiritual authority over others that patriarchalism gives men over women. Prophets, which included men and women, were the primary actors through which God made his will known.
The final analogy is the claim of eternal subordination of the Son to the Father as a pattern for the eternal subordination of women to men. The analogy fails both theologically and analogically. (As subordinationism is the topic of the next chapter, we will leave the veracity of the theology question for then.)
Assuming that there is subordination, still, “…God and Christ are of the same substance and nature; they are not just equal in being but one in being.” (329) Human unions do not comport with divine nature. The members of the Trinity are always acting out of one will.
Because of these realities, Groothuis notes that if the analogy were accurate then:
First, the authority of the man and the submission of the woman would not be decided or demanded by their different male and female natures. Second, there would never be an occasion in which the man’s will would or should overrule the woman’s will; the man therefore would “send” the woman to do only what was in accordance with her own will. Third every husband would willingly and consistently share all authority with his wife, acknowledging her full authority to make judgments and decisions on behalf of both of them. (330-331)
Groothuis concludes the essay:
Woman’s inferior “role” cannot be defended by the claim that it is ontologically distinct from woman’s equal being. In female subordination, being determines role and role defines being; thus there can be no real distinction between the two. If the one is inferior, so must the other. If, on the other hand, woman is not less than man in her personal being, then neither can there be any biblical or theological warrant for woman’s permanent, comprehensive and ontologically grounded subordination to man’s authority. (333)
Rebecca Merrill Groothuis is a freelance writer and editor. Here publications include the award-winning Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism and Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality, as well as articles and reviews in Christian Scholar’s Review, Christianity Today, ReGeneration Quarterly, Perspectives, Priscilla Papers, Christian Counseling Today, Christian Ethics Today, Eternity and the Denver Post. She maintains a website with online articles <RebeccaMerrillGroothuis.com> and lives in the Denver area with her husband, Doug, who is a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary.
Before commenting please read Prefatory Comments.