We were sitting in the balcony. Today we didn’t get our traditional back row, but the one just in front of it. The Preacher delivered a three-point sermon. He shows great mastery of his craft. As I sit there I wonder why my soul feels so unsettled at this church. It isn’t the old-bitty to the right who complains about my wearing of jeans to Sunday service. She, I have become accustomed to. But, what is it?
Today was communion day. A large table sits before the platform. It is stacked with shining, silver trays. The ushers take the trays and walk up and down the aisles, passing the bread and juice, ensuring everyone who wants to be served has had their opportunity. The beauty and the reverence of communion is not lost on me as I remember a torn and battered Savior who loved me enough to lay down his own life.
I sit there silently with my thoughts, my bread and juice in hand. The ushers gather back downstairs at the communion table. They take their portions and stand in a semi-circle. The ushers, in this instance, are the elders of the church. Those in leadership roles. The Pastor walks up to the group, and in a soft voice beaming with pride states; “Men, the head of the household.”
Those words fell on me like a ton of bricks. My eyes scanned the bottom floor again. I hadn’t really noticed this before. Those gathered in the semi-circle are all men. All white men. They ranged in age from mid-thirties to mid-sixties. The leaders of the church. The head of the family.
In that moment this question materialized, “Carol, is this what you are supporting?” My immediate response was; “No!” Well then; “Is this what you are intending to support?” This question took deeper thought. What is my intent?
My physical presence shows support. My financial contribution shows support. My silence, too, is acquiescence of support.
We function in a world made up of various systems. These systems have a hierarchy, a pecking order, if you will. You and I have learned to navigate these hierarchies. They exist at work. They exist within the family (core and extended). They exist in the church. Within the systems of justice and politics.
When the world doesn’t make sense, when it feels out of control, people often look to their religion for guidance. We seek a moral code to help guide our steps, to assist us in ascertaining our progress in this thing called life. Moral authority is defined as; “the capacity to convince others how the world should be.” It is a rejection of reality in favor of something else, the way the world should be. Moral codes offer a sense of stability. Authoritarian structures, however, hinder growth and development and encourage abuse.
Patriarchy in the church is considered normal. It’s as routine as turkey on Thanksgiving and hot dogs at a ballgame. It’s the way things are done. It is “the Lord’s program.” Don’t question it, Mrs. Rolke.
In short, Christian Patriarchy is the belief that God has ordained a specific family order. The established hierarchy usually looks like this: The husband leads, the wife submits, and the children obey. And, if everyone plays their role, the family unit is blessed. Any deviation from this pecking order is seen as an abomination upon God himself.
Christian Patriarchy stresses the importance of male leadership and authority. Some in the church may argue they view women and men as equals. It is a subterfuge. Those same individuals are also quick to believe that those “equals” must adhere to very defined and vastly different roles all based upon nothing more than their gender. Men work and sit in positions of power. Women cook, take care of the home, bear and care for the children.
In Christian Patriarchy, women are under the authority of men. Women are fully expected to accept and embrace this role. I once heard a preacher from the pulpit say; “You younger women need to learn how to start cooking.” This was the defined women’s role at this church. That same preacher told the males they needed to stop retiring because it was financially hurting the church. This preacher was quick to re-enforce the stereotypes, to maintain the hierarchies, and ultimately his position at the top of the pecking order.
The problem with patriarchal systems is they foster the desire for power and control, which is, ultimately what abusers are after as well… power and control.
Sure, a few women have roles in the church. They are allowed to run the nursery or children’s church. The women’s program. They might even be allowed to sit on the Board, but usually just as the secretary, and that’s only if they have proven themselves obedient enough to keep the Patriarch’s secrets.
Sadly enough, Christian pastors all too often use “biblical authority” as a weapon to suppress and control others. I attended a church where the pastor would verbally beat down members of the congregation on a weekly basis from the pulpit. He would have an inside track into a marital or family issue, or a behavior he wanted to “correct,” and he would design his sermons with this purpose (person) in mind (to instill guilt and fear). This is not just forced repentance, it is emotional abuse. It is as far from love and grace as you can get.
The Patriarchal Church protects the entity at all costs. They draw battle lines between themselves and “the world.” There is a fundamental double-standard at play in these cultures. The pastor is at the top of the hierarchy. He will preach about sin, demand loyalty, obedience, transparency… Yet, any “correction” or “accountability” of the Patriarch is seen as an attack on the church. You then become an “enemy of the church,” one who must leave the congregation. How dare YOU question the Patriarch? The Patriarch will circle the wagons, bear down the hatches, and all will fight to protect the church at all costs, which often includes lies and cover ups. The rules apply to everyone but the Patriarch. Hell hath no fury like the lead pastor scorned.
These types of church cultures often treat women’s bodies as inherently problematic and seductive, a woman’s worth linked to her sexual purity or procreative prowess. I once wrote a a post on Facebook where I referenced the curves and beauty of a Camaro to a human body. The post was intended for humor. The punchline being I was describing a car as opposed to a person. Cars are sexy, right? I attended church the following Sunday and to my shock, during the message, the pastor states; “I know we have seductresses in our church.” He goes on and tells the congregation that it is their (the seductresses) fault that his church is not prospering (because of their sin…the female’s sin). What?
I once asked to have a meeting with this Pastor to discuss child sexual abuse and ways to prevent it in the church. I e-mailed him requesting an appointment only to receive a reply from his wife. What? Apparently, I am WAY more seductive then I knew. I work in an industry with an ethical code. My profession requires privilege and confidentiality, and professionalism. And, so do pastors. Although, I genuinely liked this man’s wife, I wasn’t prepared to broadcast my childhood story of trauma in a group setting. I had thought asking for the meeting in a public venue was sufficient enough. I found the response extremely offensive. Still do. It conveys a distrust of me personally, one which I had not earned. The response was gender assigned. I being a female. It showed an extreme lack of professionalism. Not to mention, I would have expected this pastor’s lifestyle would have, at a bare minimum, afforded him the benefit of a mirror and a calendar (Because… Ewww!).
Not long after, the entire district of this denomination began touting the teachings of an author who wanted to make sure men of the church would never “become a victim of sexual temptation.” The cure to this, of course, was that all male-female interaction should be done in the presence of another. Shared social media accounts. A watchful “accountability partner” to emails, etc. (Big Brother is literally always watching). These types of teachings a very problematic. It creates and re-enforces cultures were women are nothing more than sexual beings, objects, individuals who cannot be trusted. Men can’t control their impulses. The are gender biases. It fails to teach self-awareness or personal responsibility, or professionalism. It reinforces the concept that it is the woman’s fault. SHE tempted ME. Power. Control. Domination. Blame. Guilt. Rinse. Repeat. Cycle again.
These cultures often blame victims of sexual abuse for inviting the abuse. She tempted the abuser. She was hanging with the wrong crowd (sinners). She was somewhere she shouldn’t have been. These cultures inflict guilt upon the abused, and all too often, even require reconciliation with their abusers. Forgive in order that you might be forgiven. And, if the abuser is the clergy, the pressure for silence from the victim becomes greater as exposure of the secret will RUIN the ministry, God’s ministry. Ouch!
I had a pastor once ask his secretary to check with me on his church’s insurance coverage. A teenager had been molested by the church’s youth pastor. During the conversation, I was told, more than once, how “advanced” this young girl was, “beyond her years.” This conveys, absolutely, no accountability by the church and blames and shames the innocent. The fact is, these cultures care more about “the ministry” then they care about the people in it. They will go to great lengths to protect what they’ve built, even at the expense of an innocent child.
When you can only develop meaningful relationships with like-minded individuals, you are not attending a church, you are part of a cult culture. When your children have to be home-schooled as to not be touched, exposed to, or tempted by “the world,” they fail to develop skills necessary to cope with vital situations. You cannot develop coping mechanisms for situations you are constantly avoiding. And, more importantly; “You can’t reach a world you refuse to touch.”
After #MeToo went viral I reviewed the social media pages of all the pastors I knew, as well as their spouses. I even reviewed the last publication produced for their district. This was their chance to be a voice of change. A chance to speak out against sexual assault. A chance to take a stand and stand up and “protect or cover” women as the patriarchal system claims they are “ordained” to do. What I found was, you guessed it… crickets. Not one, NOT ONE, took up this topic. I uncovered a lot of sports posts instead.
Unfortunately, we have learned to be comfortable with the status quo. It’s just the way it is, the way it has always been. These teachings have been passed down socially, culturally and religiously. We often participate not even realizing how we promote the culture to continue. Complacency is the enemy of progress.
You can’t look at the numbers for domestic violence in Oklahoma and not take it into consideration. You can’t look at the number of women killed by their domestic partner in Oklahoma and not take it into consideration. You can’t look at the number of children being abused in Oklahoma, and in the church, and not take it into consideration.
Patriarchal systems create environments more susceptible to abuse and exploration of women and children. Women and children are not subordinates. They are not “equals, but with defined and vastly different roles.” They are EQUALS. Partners within the same unit. Women did not destroy the family by going to work outside of the home. Women and children are human beings. They have a soul. They have intelligence and a conscience. Women and children do not need to be dominated and controlled. Women have the right to shared leadership, and women and children, both, have the right to mutual respect. This is not a women’s issue. Patriarchy hurts everyone.