Christians need to recover an “authentic biblical patriarchy” to save families from encroaching feminism, a Southern Baptist theologian argued before the Evangelical Theological Society in mid-November.
Russell Moore, theology dean and academic vice president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., laid out what he called a “disturbingly counter-cultural and yet strikingly biblical” claim: “Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy.”
That is important, Moore said, in countering the arguments of evangelicals who accept male headship in theory but in practice make decisions in the home through negotiation, mutual submission and consensus.
“That’s what our forefathers would have called ‘feminism’–and our foremothers, too,” he said.
Moore said the 1998 family statement in the Baptist Faith & Message establishing male headship and calling on wives to “submit graciously” to their husbands expresses a vast consensus of evangelicals, but the faith statement could just have easily affirmed “mutual submission” between marriage partners and still fit evangelical views.
That is due in part, he said, to a “thoroughly feminized grassroots” theology that is “bubbling up” in academic and denominational life.
Moore quoted “Baptist feminist theologian” Molly Marshall, who once taught at Southern Seminary but since has moved on to become president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., as observing that most Southern Baptists oppose women pastors not for biblical or theological reasons, but rather because they have never seen one.
Moore said the notion of women in the pulpit has become less foreign and strange as increasing numbers of Southern Baptists are exposed–via videotape–to author and speaker Beth Moore preaching at conferences and through their co-educational Bible studies on a weekly basis.
The word “patriarchy” has earned a bad name among evangelicals, Moore said, in part because feminists have co-opted the word and falsely equated it with physical abuse. He said patriarchy should not sound negative to people who “serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–the God and Father of Jesus Christ.”
“We must allow the patriarchs and apostles themselves, not the editors of Playboy or Ms. Magazine, to define the grammar of our faith,” he said.
“Patriarchy is good for women, good for children and good for families,” Moore said. He claimed that male headship, ironically, may “resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied, big-tent complementarianism never can.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics, who in 1998 blasted the Baptist Faith & Message family statement for making “June Cleaver the biblical model of motherhood,” said Tuesday that Moore’s “doctrine of male supremacy over the family makes Archie Bunker the biblical model for fatherhood.”
Parham said, “Jesus offered a different model for fatherhood” than the one described by Moore.
“He taught men that women have mutual value with them, that leaders wash feet and the first are last,” said Parham. “Moreover, Jesus defined family in terms of those ‘who hear … and do’ God’s word (Lk. 8:19-21), not in terms of an outdated American cultural model of who’s the boss.”
Jesus, Parham said, “told a parable about a loving, respectful father (Lk 15:11-32), pronounced salvation on a family for the repentance of a greedy, dishonest father (Lk 19:1-10) and cared earnestly about his mother’s family placement (Jn 19:26-27).
“It is Jesus’ way that renews the American family, instead of 21st century patriarchy,” Parham said.
Moore said even Galatians 3:28–a favorite verse for the evangelical feminist argument–is in reality “all about patriarchy–a Father who provides his firstborn son with a cosmic inheritance, an inheritance that is shared by all who find their identity in Christ, Jew or Greek, male of female, slave or free.”
This “archetypical patriarchy” is clearest in the summing up all things in Christ in Ephesians 1:10, he said. “It does not divide God’s purposes, his role as Father from his role of Creator from his role as Savior from his role as King,” he said. “To the contrary, the patriarchal structures that exist in the creation order point to his headship–a headship that is oriented toward redemption in Christ.”
That protects against both the “impersonal deity of Protestant liberalism,” he said, and the “most-moved mover” of open theism.
“Indeed, the evangelical response to open theism would have been far more effective had evangelicals not severed the issues of open theism and egalitarianism,” Moore said. “Open theism is not more dangerous than evangelical feminism, or even all that different. It is only the end result of a doctrine of God shorn of patriarchy.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.