Choice and Freedom or Male Headship

It really is simple and yet so often misunderstood. Some things are compatible and some things are alternatives. If things are alternatives you cannot have them both. For example:

Driving and talking are compatible: You can do either or you can do both at the same time.

Driving and being a passenger are incompatible: You can do either but you cannot do both at the same time.

So it is with Male Headship and Freedom of Choice for Women: they are alternatives, you cannot have both at the same time.

So it is with Male Headship and equality for Women: they are alternatives, you cannot have both at the same time.

As a Church you can believe in Male Headship and you can claim that it is compatible with the historic Christian tradition (at least for the last 1600 years or so).

But as a Church you cannot say that you believe in Male Headship and say that women have a choice about whether they submit.

As a Church you cannot say that you believe in Male Headship (and be specific qas New Frontiers are in their core values that this means 1. they should submit to their husbands & 2. you not permit women to be elders) and say that women are equal.

See the comments on Quite a bit: Newfrontiers: Borderlands Conference for claims that:

  • Male Headship still allows Women a choice and freedom
  • Male Headship still means Women are equal

If your Church teaches Male Headship and enforces it in it's structures (as New Frontiers makes clear in it's core values see 42: Lessons in rubbing salt in wounds from New Frontiers) then it is ok to claim that this is compatible with historic Christianity but it is not ok to claim that within these values women have freedom and choice and are treated as equals.

This is not theological, it is basic logic.

Within New Frontiers a woman cannot exercise her freedom and choose to apply for the role of Elder. Therefore she is not equal and she is does not have freedom of choice.

Within New Frontiers the Church does not support a couple who wish to say "we choose to treat each other as equals believing in mutual submission and servant hood but not in male headship and female submission" (as taught in New Frontiers core value 7). Hence, they are not free to choose and they are not treated as equals by the Church.

I keep coming across this abandonment of logic.

If you wish to be a Church that has Male Headship as a core value (as New Frontiers does) then please do so. I don't agree with you, I think it goes against scripture but you can choose to do this.

BUT there are consequences:

If you choose Male Headship you cannot claim that you give women freedom on choice and treat them as equals. These things are incompatible. Equality it a simple absolute, one area in which equality is not permitted means there is not equality.

If you choose Male Headship and enshrine in a core value that some roles are for men only then you can't say women are equal because you allow them to do these other things.

If you choose Male Headship and enshrine in a core value that women should submit to their husbands then you cannot claim "the Biblical idea is about making a choice to submit willingly, whereby we maintain equality". With that core value there is no choice, no freedom to decide not to submit.

All I am asking for is honesty from men in positions of power that they do not believe should be shared with women.

By all means say your Church believes in Male Headship. But do not try to claim that this allows equality. Do not try to claim this gives women choice and freedom.

Note that it goes one step further, you also cannot say "Women are happy with the roles and status within New Frontiers" if there are women who are not happy with this situation. Given that a number of women have said publicly that they are not happy in New Frontiers please stop the claims that they are mistaken and stop claiming that all women in New Frontiers are happy with Male Headship.

If you stop claiming that 1+1 does not equal 2 then we can have a much more coherent discussion on issues such as the Biblical challenges to Male Headship.

12 thoughts on “Choice and Freedom or Male Headship

  1. PamBG

    By all means say your Church believes in Male Headship. But do not try to claim that this allows equality. Do not try to claim this gives women choice and freedom.
    All I am asking for is honesty from men in positions of power that they do not believe should be shared with women.
    I suspect that honesty is not possible. And it’s kind of funny since egalitarians are the ones being accused of “following secular culture”. Back in the bad old days when “secular culture” also thought women were inferior to men, churches proudly proclaimed this view with no hesitation. As you say, at least it was honest.

  2. AdmiralCreedu

    Here is the twitter-promised comment!
    Firstly – I am a theology student at Nottingham (uni), from a Grade Baptist background and am currently part of Trent Vineyard in notts. I am involved with a number of parachurch organisations. I am conservative in most things – and on this issue I have actually been most influenced by my mother – a Cambridge law grad, local councillor, mother, school governor and wife of an elder at a church that practices male headship.
    I think in the way you are taking the word ‘equality’ to mean, then we would never claim that. At least, I wouldnt. The complementation ‘equal but different’ is acceptable to me – the emphasis being on equality as human beings, but with different roles. I am sure the arguments have been thrashed out here before!
    My current position (and being a reformed-leaning theology student in a secular university heavily involved with a Vineyard church this could well change), is that I see male headship as important, and that it does by definition exclude women from some positions.
    On that note, I long ago gave up trying to impose this view on those from other denominations/traditions, as (for instance) I am not a Methodist/Anglican, and don’t feel I can thus pontificate about such matters.
    That’s my two cents!

  3. Rachel

    Hmmm – the “equal but different” argument always sounds reasonable but – just accepting it as a hypothesis for a moment – then who’s judging the “equality”? My children are different. I don’t treat them identically. I try to treat them equally. If I want to know if I’m being successful then it’s their opinion that counts. Do they feel equal in my eyes?
    Women in male headship situations may be told they’re of equal value. But do they feel that that’s the case? Are they being asked? And is anyone really listening to what they’re feeding back?

  4. Dave

    Thanks Pam.
    I apologise but “Grade Baptist background” does not mean anything to me. Can you expand on that a bit for me?
    I do not understand the phrase “equal but different” when used about Male Headship.
    First, it implies that egalitarians think everyone is the same which is complete rubbish. For example both Pam and I are ordained Methodist Ministers but we have quite different gifts, skills and personalities. That means Pam is currently doing work as a Hospital Chaplain that I would be terrible at. On the other hand Pam would be hopeless at drinking as much coffee as me – maybe I should become a Starbucks Chaplain.
    “Equal but separate” was the slogan for a racially segregated America, it clearly failed on the grounds of equality and justice. “Equal but different” seems very similar.
    If the difference is not due to people’s gifts, skills and preferences but instead due to their gender, or sexuality, or skin colour, or ethnicity or … then they are not equal.
    So live with your Male Headship (and yes I am willing to have the debate on what Scripture says) but please don’t tell women that they are “equal but different” as it is not true.
    If a woman cannot be your priest, your elder, your Bishop despite being called and gifted by God then she is not your equal.

  5. Admiralcreedy

    Hi, sorry, I’m on an iPad. Grace Baptist – formerly the strict baptists. Quite conservative, reformed types.
    Ok, thanks for clarifying where you are coming from.
    I see your point – but I personally am satisfied with the ‘equal but different’ thing. I think the equal refers to status, spiritually, rights-wise, and generally, but that there is a difference in roles.
    I agree with your final point/paragraph – but would not personally see it as an equality issue. My mother has been instrumental in showing me how this works.
    This will probably be frustrating (not my aim, but a common side effect of me speaking/engaging) but I think that women can have a speaking role in church – different from newfrontiers I understand eldership/leadership as potentially being different from speaking/preaching.

  6. AdmiralCreedy

    Sorry, I am writing this on an iPad. It means my upbringing was one based in exegetical preaching, conservative reformed churchmanship and so on. It’s actually Grace Baptists – formerly strict baptists. Reformed conservative types.
    Ok, so in that case, I would not claim equality in the sense your are putting forward. I don’t mean to define words differently, but I think in this equal/different pair of words, equal refers to spiritual/rights/humanity equality – not equality in roles.
    I think the phrase is used as an oversimplification – I can entirely see why you would disagree with it.

  7. Rachel

    AdmiralCreek – but if equality, in your definition, includes rights (lets just leave the spirituality and humanity to one side) then surely the denial of certain roles to women by men infringes their rights, and therefore their equality? I suppose your view might be that it is God, not men, who are limiting the roles acceptable to women. All I can say is that I experienced a very profound call to full-time ministry – tested and accepted by my church. I was reluctant enough of the idea in theory to be thoroughly convinced that I was and am not delusional in my experience of God’s call to leadership.
    I can understand that having a very competent and influential woman in your life who accepts the male headship situation will make it difficult for you to step out of that paradigm, but believe me, your Mum cannot claim to be speaking on behalf of most women!
    And Dave – that was seriously annoying!!!

  8. Rachel

    Should read “God…who is limiting” – just in case I’m thought to be heretical as well as delusional :o)

  9. Dave

    “And Dave – that was seriously annoying!!!”
    I apologiseI was trying to use humour to make the point that for a wide variety of cultural and historical reasons it is very easy for men to appear dismissive of women or to not appear to treat them as equals.
    That is even when men claim to be attempting equality.
    Therefore, my point to AdmiralCreek is that given all these cultural and historical factors you are going to find very few women who will agree they can be “equal but different” if there are roles that they are not permitted to have.
    Thus, if women do not feel that “equal but different” gives them equality then it does not give them equality. As in Rachel’s example it is only the person on the receiving end who can know if they feel that are been treated as an equal.
    AdmiralCreek, Nottingham is not so far away from Syston. If you feel like getting on the train I would be happy to meet and could introduce you to some women in positions of leadership. You could talk to the members of their Churches and see just how blessed by God they feel because of the gifts and calling of their minister, who just happens to be a woman.

  10. AdmiralCreedy

    All – thanks for bearing with me as I attempt to articulate my views, and continue to work out what I think (I’m reformed, but I could be wrong…).
    Dave – when I’m back up in Nottingham, I may well take you up on that!

  11. Rachel

    Dave – no need to apologise. Though in the 30 secs it took me to “get” it I had a tiny glimpse of what it might be like to have your views dismissed – horrible!!


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