Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Doctrine of Male Headship -- Why Everyone Should Have One

“Paul assumes, as do most cultures, that there are significant differences between men and women, differences that go far beyond mere biological and reproductive function. Their relations and roles must therefore be mutually complementary, rather than identical. [...] And within marriage, the guideline is clear. The husband is to take the lead – though he is to do so fully minded of the self-sacrificial model which the Messiah has provided. As soon as ‘taking the lead’ becomes bullying or arrogant, the whole thing collapses.”
So writes N T Wright in the section of Paul for Everyone dealing with the letter to the Ephesians.
The reason I quote this is because some of the comments on this blog recently seem to assume that the world divides into two sorts of Christian: those who believe in ‘male headship’ and who are opposed to the ordination of women, and those who support the ordination of women who do not believe in ‘male headship’. What Wright’s remarks about Ephesians show, however, is that this is too simplistic – that in fact there are Christians, like himself, who passionately believe in women’s ordination (and consecration) and who also have a doctrine of ‘male headship’ which has practical consequences in the ‘here and now’.
And this is surely as it should be. The language of ‘headship’, after all, is derived from the epistles — specifically from 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. Properly speaking, then, every Christian should have a ‘doctrine’ related to these passages — which is to say a ‘doctrine of male headship’.
The question is not, therefore, whether one believes in male headship, but what one’s doctrine of male headship actually entails.
Here, there is surely room for discussion. Some may see the doctrine as having specific implications about social roles. Even Wright seems to envisage a form of ‘complementarianism’. Others may wish to take an egalitarian approach.
Whatever option one adopts, however, the same principles should apply: the doctrine should fully engage with Scripture and not merely dismiss those parts we happen not to like.
And so, whilst it is risky, I am going to invite contributors here to offer (briefly, please!) their own doctrine of male headship, should they wish to do so.
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. Let me preface my comments by commending the ground breaking new work on the "gender" issue in a small book by Dr Jon Zens -
    What's With Paul & Women? Many conservative evangelical scholars in the USA and UK now acknowledge JZ's remarkable new insights into the subject. I do the same. I cannot emphasise too strongly the debt that the evangelical world owes to him for this seminal work.

    Secondly, I believe N.T. Wright is broadly right in your quote above.

    You then say: "some of the comments on this blog recently seem to assume that the world divides into two sorts of Christian: those who believe in ‘male headship’ and who are opposed to the ordination of women, and those who support the ordination of women who do not believe in ‘male headship"

    This is where I believe you miss an essential truth and confuse things that differ. The basic premise, assumed every where throughout the NT is that "male headship" and the concept of submission apply specifically and solely to the marital relationship (Eph.5:22-24).
    Once an attempt is made to apply a "headship" concept to ministry (leave aside ordination for the sake of this discussion), then you have already misapplied the word and taken it out of its context.

    Once this basic NT truth is grasped, then all misunderstanding about the role of women in ministry can and should be instantly removed.
    Thus the sheer weight and volume of Biblical evidence about the active and equal role of women in ministry can then be recognised and the needless controversy surrounding their role can be removed as being the distraction it is.

    1. "The basic premise, assumed every where throughout the NT is that "male headship" and the concept of submission apply specifically and solely to the marital relationship (Eph.5:22-24)."

      "Specifically", yes. But precisely because that is true, "solely", no.

    2. Graham, I'm wondering, does Zens see 1 Tim 2:11-15 as primarily a household prohibition? (Personally, that is the line I've argued for a long time - though I don't think it is the only possibility.)

      If it is, how would a woman being vicar of an Anglican parish integrate with her husband being one of her parishioners? I'm thinking of Heb 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority."

  2. Andrew Godsall, Exeter1 July 2013 at 10:29


    Patriarchy does not find its real source in what was determined by God, or promoted by any of the ancient religions, but rather in the economic conditions of pre-industrial, agriculturally dependent societies.
    Added to this, the ordering of society in ancient Rome, which almost exclusively influenced the structures in which Christianity emerged, helped cement the ideas of patriarchy on on to the ordering of the early church.

    But once that societal ordering has changed, so does the theological understanding that emerged with it. Believers are called to live lives that reflect Christ's call to be 'in him' - and in Christ we beleive that there is neitehr male nor female. Gender equality is meaningless unless it is also joined with equal submission — we need to abandon any exercise of power over each other.

    As one writer in this area puts it: "New Testament Christianity set out to create a world that relied upon the transformative capacity of living by the Spirit and, hence, one that material
    considerations alone can neither explain nor sustain."

    The ideas around male headship are a product of culture and we need to be alert to the dangers of being wedded to any culture. Our theology must reflect what it means to be 'in Christ'. We need to work at equal submission.

  3. I think Andrew's answer shows that Graham's answer is a bit out of touch. There are people who don't want any gender distinction/recognition at all, so he'd have as many problems with Graham's view as John's. Although it's also inconsistent, wedded to our culture and if followed through would mean ditching episcopacy, distinctive clergy clothing and titles. equal submission...

    To answer John's question about headship, my view, FWIW, ditch what you THINK is meant by headship. Any form of leadership is patterned on Christ, in a nutshell Mark 10:41-45, i.e. not wanting the best to be exalted (important clothes, titles seats, place in procession), but putting oneself last & serving, John 13 style. Serve to lead & die to self. It is servant leadership... but it is still leadership. But it is dying to self to lead for the other's good/flourishing.

    That should be the case in the family house hold and the house hold of faith (interesting that the controversial bit in 1 Tim 2, is followed by 1 Tim 3, how the family of an overseer is expected to behave/believe - they're connected). The other end is to respond in love/help.

    Which is another reason why I get a bit uneasy about talk of "glass ceilings" not being able to take senior positions. Are people really asking, "I want to die 1st"? - which is why African Bishops wear purple still - identify themselves as the front of the cue for martyrdom.

    Darren Moore

  4. I agree generally with both Andrew and Darren here. Mutual submission to one another is the very essence of NT practice, including gender relationships. "Gender equality is meaningless unless it is also joined with equal submission — we need to abandon any exercise of power over each other."
    Exactly, and the implications of this are profound for personal relations, but also in the wider context of church and ministry. If recognised and practised it should instantly dissolve all hierarchical distinctions within the church and within ministry as Darren suggests - "important clothes, titles seats, place in procession" & etc.

    In reply to John's point and headship:- ""Specifically", yes. But precisely because that is true, 'solely', no".

    I think the onus of proof must lie upon those who believe or teach otherwise to find NT evidence that concepts of headship apply outside of the marital relationship. If mutual submission is the norm then by definition "headship" is a contradiction in terms.

    Mark 10: 41-45 lays down a fundamental principle by our Lord. This must be the case for we know that the Lord Jesus himself is the sole authority and "head" over every aspect of his church and its doctrine and practice.

    I believe that Paul's' reference in Gal. 3:28 is also critical to this discussion. The covenant promise (subject of that chapter) is extended to ALL believers in Christ irrespective of gender, racial, or other cultural backgrounds. That is the essence of the point he makes, and to continuation of such distinctions fail to appreciate the radical change which the Gospel makes to all culture. (This is one reason why many converted Moslem women find Christianity liberating in the full sense of that word)

    Thus. because converted women are "in Christ", together with their converted Jewish brethren/sisters, they have equal participation in the promise given to the "seed", that is the descendant of Abraham which is Christ himself. That participation is without any other distinction.

    In answer to Darren. I am not suggesting of course that Gal. 3:28 or the rest of the NT abolishes marriage, much less the male/female distinctions (apart from biological differences) which Paul recognised. So must we.
    Paul is simply saying that the marriage relationship "in Adam" is now transcended in Christ which I suggest is the essence of Paul's further teaching in Eph. 5:21-33.

  5. Graham,

    You're slightly trying to have your cake and eat it, saying Gal 3:28 applies one way (re: headship in church), but not the other (marriage).

    I don't think anyone is going to disagree with you that it's about full participation in the covenant promises. But I'm not sure that you could say that only elders have FULL participation. This is where the role/status distinction stuff is quite important. Are Ministers/elders etc. more important? We all say no, yet act as if they are. Yes we need to have them & therefore some sort of office, & there is some NT stuff about how to relate to them (respect, obey, don't bring an accusation lightly) but the individual is no MORE important.

    If there is distinction between genders (as you seem to suggest) that goes beyond biology, then why does it apply to marriage and not the church, given that 1 Cor 11 & 1 Tim 2, seem to suggest it does? Caveat - how that works out is another issue altogether.

  6. Here is my contribution:

    1. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. Yes, his headship is a servant headship, but there is no doubt who is charge. He is the boss.

    2. The church is obeys Christ. The Church is Christ's bride. Yes, she has status & dignity, but she must submit to her husband's rule.

    Surely all Christians can & must agree with the above?
    What follows is in dispute: does the headship of Christ & the submission of the church imply that Christian husbands should be imitate Christ & Christian wives imitate the Church.

    Ro Mody, Bournemouth

  7. Steady Ro!
    From what I was saying - yes.
    From what Andrew was saying - no.
    From what Graham was say, marriage yes - but that's unrelated to Church stuff.

    1. I agree with you, Darren; I was merely pointing that a debate exists.
      Ro Mody, Bournemouth.

    2. Ro I know.
      I just meant that you put that comically clearly. Should the Church submit to Christ? urrrr. Ironically, it doesn't!

  8. Darren - you said: "You're slightly trying to have your cake and eat it, saying Gal 3:28 applies one way (re: headship in church), but not the other (marriage)." To be clear, and in response to John's initial comment, I am indeed saying that the Galatians reference does abolish gender distinctions in the area of relationships between believers, including elders, and in particular in ministry. I think Paul's statement needs to be taken at face value.

    But I suggest that the Galatians reference does not invalidate Paul's teaching about headship in Eph. 5:21-33. The two contexts are entirely different but not incompatible.

    One might ask: 'Why then "headship" in marriage? "In Christ", earthly marriage is an equal partnership, with both husbands and wives willingly submitting to one another as unto Christ.
    Paul's only reason for underscoring the wife's need for submission to her husband is because her role in marriage is to be an earthly reflection of Christ's Bride, the church.
    In the "oneness" of that relationship, there is neither male nor female, "for you are all one in Christ Jesus".
    Unfortunately, traditional church teaching has resulted in "headship" being read as "authority", by various clerical men in ministry, with associated concepts such as "obedience" and dominance etc; all of which is incorrect.
    Interestingly, the only NT reference where the word "authority" is used with reference to marriage is in 1 Cor. 7:1-5, but is not an authority of the husband over his wife, but where the reference is to to a MUTUAL submission over each other's body. Thus BOTH husband and wife have "authority" in that matter !

    I know this does not answer all the questions by any means!

    1. Graham, I must just point out the admonition of Peter: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master."

      The traditional language of the marriage service, "love, honour and obey", surely owes something to this passage.

  9. John. Yes, I take the point concerning the way in which both Peter and Paul agree about the submissive role of believing wives to husbands. Once again, the contexts of the Pauline passage (Eph.5) and that of 1 Pet.3. is all about the marital relationship, and nothing more.

    However, and once again, it is the contexts which differ.

    Can we not say that neither Paul or Peter wished to violate the cultural norms of Jewish societies of the day concerning the role of women under the New Covenant. Thus in the Petrine passage the emphasis is on submission by believers is within the context of persecution and suffering in front of a pagan world, and particularly in the case of believing women with pagan husbands.
    Thus "submission" is fitting before unbelieving Gentiles (1 Pet. 2:12, 13, 14). Likewise servants (v.18) towards their masters. In every case, even in suffering unjustly, Christ's example is held out as being a powerful motive for bearing such persecution (vs. 21-23). So 3:1-8 is set out for the Christian wife to win over a pagan husband by her quality of life and demeanour. However, IMO neither passage, directly or indirectly invalidates other NT teaching about the active role of women in ministry, with which incidentally, Paul was fully familiar, as set out in Rom.16

    Time forbids any treatment of 1 Cor 14.34,35 which on the surface is a difficult passage and which appears to proscribe women's participation in prophecy and teaching in the assemblies.
    However, Dr Zens and others do not accept the traditional interpretation of this passage, which if their view is correct, as I believe it is, it teaches the exact opposite! Suffice to say that this is not a "submission" passage either, . but that is for discussion in another post.

  10. Graham,
    re: authority/leadership etc. I don't think that John or I are saying something radically different. Elders (for e.g.) are equally members, but given a necessary role (leave what that is for another time), just as others are. Leadership is 1st and foremost sacrificial. Whether in family or Church.

    I think the culture stuff you refer to doesn't quite make sense. NT has a context, but is normally counter-cultural. This idea that Paul or Peter are writing to fit in, just doesn't square. Especially as they appeal either to creation or a doctrine. In the case of marriage, it's to do with mirroring church/christ (Eph 5), in the case of the church it's to do with a created order, following God's instructions (1 Tim 2 cf Gen 2-3). But in either case NOBODY that I know is disagreeing with you regarding it's not about bossing people about. It's about taking the worst seat, not drawing attention to self etc... but still leading.

    Also regardless of Dr Zens etc. we have the words in front of us. We can't make them say other. & surely those early readers may have had a better grasp of what they meant than us looking back over 2,000 years later in a radically different culture and a distant language?

  11. I've known many servant-hearted people. The thing about them is they tend to just get on with serving. They don't spend vast amounts of time establishing that they're the leader, they're the pre-eminent ones, they're the ones able and willing to determine what another's good actually is. They just serve. And here's my problem. I have NEVER met an advocate of male headship who puts the serving BEFORE establishing that they are the leader and insisting that everyone recognises them as such - it's always added as a footnote.

    A widowed, elderly women once described to me her life after her husband's death as"waking from a coma". Her marriage to a male headship wallah had crushed her. And this, gentlemen, is what the evidence tends to show. Studies throughout the last 50 years or so have shown that this type of marriage is actually not good for women. It tends to make them ill and it's not hard to understand why. No sentient adult wants to be infantilised and this is what being a permanent 'follower' tends to result in. Fern Winter, London

    1. What about Jesus and Paul, Fern? Advocates of male headship who put serving first.

      Actually, I know quite a few Christian men who sacrifice for the sake of their wives, and wives who can confirm it. I met a Christian wife today who said her husband was a serving head.
      I have also met Christian women who refuse to serve and insist of taking up headship, authority, titles etc.

      But, this type of argument proves little on either side. So, let's stick to the Bible,shall we?

      Ro Mody, Bournemouth.

  12. "and this, gentlemen,..."

    Fern, I've met a fair few advocates of male headship whose husbands didn't have as strong an opinion on the subject and they rub along fine. Not everyone who advocates male headship is themselves male.

  13. Fern,
    I think you're misunderstanding what people are saying.

    I remember a story from many years ago at Oak Hill when Morris Wood had left as principle to be Bishop of Norwich. Suddenly the loos weren't clean. Turns out he used to turn up early to clean them, nobody knew. If you don't know "male headship" leaders like that, you just need to meet some.

    The marriage illustration is deeply sad. But why not ask one of our wives about it? In the past 15 years or so I have come across a small number of cases of husbands bullying their wives. Sometimes even using violence. Here's the things, they were total whimps. One of the wives said to me, "I'd love him to be an Ephesians 5 husband".

    Last week I was chatting to a Pentecostal Minister who has had the same experience as me. If you preach at the guys, telling them to man up, the women love it! Most Church women I know want their men to take MORE of a lead. It's the men who are scared of it!

    Male headship, Bible style, doesn't crush a woman, it would make her flourish. I certainly know lots of examples of that. And to be honest a number of our wives (& some of us guys) do take some offence at the normal suggestion that our wives are some how less able, more easily pushed around etc. Spend a few minutes with Mrs Moore & you'll soon realise!!

  14. a smaller related thought to Fern's comment.

    Fern, like Andrew's comments earlier. Rather than promoting, say women bishops, shouldn't you be promoting the end of bishops and all forms of hierarchy, which must by extension be abusive (or at least potentially so), no matter who holds that position. Surely dropping "leadership", titles, special processions, distinctive dress is the way? & perhaps making the suggested move away from husband/wife to partner A/B (worked out by age or where their names come in the alphabet) - or the like?

    Unless you think women in leadership are less abusive and the problem is in fact men, full stop. But it did sound like you thought leadership par se is the problem.

  15. "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind... with a bucket..."

    Mrs. Lintott 'History Boys'
    Alan Bennett

    Revd Richardson demonstrates this noble truth once more... 'I have a penis and therefore because a dusty old book that I read selectively says those with penises (preferably a God sanctioned mutilated penis) are in charge, I'll push this view for all I'm worth.

    Revd Richardson a man who claims to preach the Gospel but seems to spend much of his time bashing this or that group or political view.

    I like to take a charitable view that he is just an insecure man liberally treating his readers to the ways and means whereby he justifies his insecurities and prejudices. But I suspect on the quiet he is just a nasty piece of work...

    1. The proper form of address for a member of the clergy here would be Mr Richardson: "Mr Richardson is a nasty piece of work."

      And he is a pedant, to boot.

    2. Anonymous (if that is your real name),

      I genuinely laugh when I read things like that. I can't believe the irony slips by. These so called women haters haven't actually said anything negative about women - have they? & do people really buy this idea that men are just broken women?

      Also how would one preach the gospel, without the aid, or in some way being informed by the "dusty old book written by those with God sanctioned mutilated penises"?

  16. WO and WB confirmed as penis envy! Nice.

  17. Since this post seems to have attracted a few people with the unusual name of 'Anonymous', I'll be specific about the one I'm addressing - this is to Anonymous' post on 2nd July at 14:51. Yes, I'm aware that not all advocates of male headship are male but as far as I know all the posters on this thread are guys and it was to them that my "gentlemen" comment was directed.

    Darren, I don't think I am misunderstanding what people are saying about male headship. Whenever folk on your side of the fence meet a woman who's been harmed by marriage to a male headship fan, your response is always that the guy's been doing it wrong. But, really, it's the model that's flawed. I'm an evidence-based kinda gal and what studies over a long period of time have shown is that egalitarian relationships in marriage are better for women than the complementarian/patriarchal model. I suspect that your own marriage and those of people from your socio-economic background who profess male headship is much more egalitarian than you'd be prepared to acknowledge. As a sidebar, I'd hazard a guess that the likely background of the most enthusiastic supporters of male headship are white and middle class.

    Unlike yourself, I don't profess to know what all women want but I suspect that those who appear to yearn for a male leader do so because they've never really met one. I could introduce them (and you) to an acquaintance of mine whose husband unilaterally decided that contraception was wrong for their marriage. He saw his role as supporting his wife to accept a decision he'd made in line with Biblical norms. So, fast forward several years when she was coping alone with 7 children under the age of 9 - he'd also moved the family to a rural outpost where she had very litle support and he was out at work all day - she had a breakdown and it took the intervention of her doctors warning that another pregnancy would be dangerous for her before he agreed to suspend the contraceptive ban. This is the reality for many women living under male headship. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We recognise this in all other areas of life - why so much difficulty in acknowledging it in marriage? Fern Winter, London

    1. OK, not misunderstand... misrepresent.

      What I emphatically said was not ANY headship, but a very specific kind, as described for ANY Christian leadership, modelled on Christ himself. Is Christ an abusive leader? So a husband leading like Christ should be OK, shouldn't he?

      I think this "evidence" is a bit selective. NOBODY is arguing for ANY kind of headship. But,you make some interesting assumptions about my class background. I actually find the whole class issue a repulsive idea to keep people down. My family background is from the poorest parts of Glasgow and London (large families sharing houses with other families, with 1 tap and an outside loo), from Irish immigrants, who worked hard to get out of poverty. I'm a comp & poly boy, engineering background & worked on building sites, I've spent 11 years before working here, in UPAs & worked briefly in Latvia with battered wives and children.

      Now to some evidence. In those deprived areas, the cultures are often Matriarchal. Result, men take no responsibility, get girls pregnant and take no responsibility, maybe don't even stick around.

      The example you gave is pretty serious. My wife met someone like that a while ago, I offered to meet with him. That is NOT what we're talking about, he isn't dying to self is he?

      White-middle-class, bearing in mind class is English bound (even Celts don't quite have the same notion), I've found these ideas in other people (1/4+ of our church isn't English). Not all cultural concepts of headship are Biblically acceptable, but that's not to say the ideas I've been talking about are limited to our shores among some posh blokes. That is a typically English way to argue.

      This isn't evidenced based. It's anecdotally based. That isn't wrong, in and of itself, you just have to be honest that's what it is. But then you have to be honest what you're observing. The cases you've sighted, in our church, would probably be a case for discipline (if the woman expressed that all this was purely her husband's will). To pull out a few repulsive cases and say "see!", isn't, frankly, being totally honest. We can all do that. But I don't think it would be productive if I did.

  18. Fern, was Paul wrong about headship or are we wrong about Paul? What's your doctrine? That's what I was interested to hear.

  19. Andrew Godsall, Exeter3 July 2013 at 12:48

    John: I'm sure you can discern what Fern's doctrine of male headship is can't you? Seriously?
    You seem stuck again with the binary thinking. So you have to ask - 'was Paul wrong about headship or are we wrong about Paul?'
    The answer is that Paul wrote out of a specific context and culture. Our context and culture, 2000 years later, demands a different response. Why is that so complicated to grasp? This is not to change any aspect of the Gospel - it is simply to address the externals. It's a bit like a conversation about vestments. Does it really matter if you wear a stole or a black scarf? (and aren't there more important issues to get steamed up about?)

    Darren: I agree - ultimately we want to do away with bishops - especially thsoe who think in terms of hierarchy. The way things are currently ordered, we can't. But whilst we work towards that goal, we would do much better having a gender equal approach.

    1. Andrew,
      That is double nonsense.

      1st, you keep trotting out this binary thing. Don't muddle binary with logical. x can't = `x. John was inviting a variety of responses, but you'd have to say at the very least Paul didn't foresee the future etc. But then deal with why does he make theological/creation justifications. Anyhow, you allow very little nuance/subtlety in what people say with whom you disagree. Dare I say it... you take them in more black & white/binary terms than they're offering.

      A while back you even said some stuff about Christianity isn't logical, e.g. Trinity - now that's binary thinking!

      2nd You want to do away with bishops and hierarchy... really? So have you asked at the cathedral for your title to be dropped and dropping distinctive clothing? And really, if these are your convictions, shouldn't you, to retain integrity join the Quakers, or at the very least open Brethren, rather than prop up this ancient hierarchical sexist institution? Unless you are a total exclusivist and believe only the C of E is THE Church.

      Also, I would sincerely like to hear what Fern thinks from Fern. It would be binary thinking to assume that her precise thoughts could be deduced, I'm guessing she disagrees with you on sexuality issues. Also, the irony of a man putting words in a woman's mouth here isn't lost on me.

    2. Andrew Godsall, Exeter3 July 2013 at 14:03

      Darren: Let me just address some of the misconceptions you seem to be attributing my comments(s)
      1. I'm not confusing binary thinking. John asked for an either/or response. I'm saying that doesn't work in this context, not leats becasue John invited a whole lot of responses rather than asking if we believed 'this' OR 'that'
      2. Do you really think Christianity is 'logical'?!
      3. Yes, ultimately, I'd like to do away with all the things you mention. Won't they all fade away, ultimately? Or will we have bishops and clerical robes in heaven? But whilst we still have some ordered system, there are better ways at working it.
      4. I'm not putting any words in Fern's mouth and can't see where I have done so. I simply expressed surprise that John could not work out what her doctrine of headship was from her several posts. I'm still surprised by that.
      5. What are you talking about with reference to sexuality issues? I didn't mention them, and neither did Fern. How do you know we'd agree or disagree? And what is the relevance?

  20. Thank you Andrew. I'll put you down as a "We've got Paul wrong."

    If I really understood Fern's position vis a vis my question, I wouldn't be asking.

    1. Andrew Godsall, Exeter3 July 2013 at 14:04

      John: please don't put me down as that. It's far more complicated than that. Put me down as what I actually said, please?

  21. Fern

    Just because one guy was in your opinion nasty to his wife does not make all male headship wrong.

    We have 9 children. Despite contraception - work that one out.

    Still families need to have a head.

    Am I the boss?

    Well in theory at least and that is what really matters.

    There have been very very few times that I have really needed to make a "headship" decision.

    Even then I tried to make the decision not for me but for my wife first then children.

    It is not something that a man does easily.

    What my wife points out many times is that real women want real men. That is the whole point of marriage. The two become one flesh. Not in some insipid partnership arrangement, but two become one in passion and desire, because of difference not sameness or even shared interests, although they help.

    My guess is that most women cannot submit to men because many men only look like men, they act and behave like women. My experience is that these sort of men are the ones that bully. Work that one out.

    What is remarkable is that Paul clearly understood all this. When men stop being men, families break up and society collapses.

    In case your wondering Fern. My wife is extremely fit and attractive, she has a wide social circle and I still marvel that she married me, she still loves me and I thank God and treasure every day that I am with her.

    Nevertheless, she insists that I am the "head" and that I conduct myself as a man and a father.


  22. Andrew Godsall, Exeter4 July 2013 at 12:09

    Phil: Why can't a woman make such a 'headship' type decision? What are the reasons? Even if I thought headship was an appropriate model, I'm at a loss to see why it is only open to men.

  23. Having been in "headship" churches, and having preached on tricky passages like 1 Peter 3 and Eph 5 one of the things that often struck me is in the many relationships I have known, men want to avoid decisions/work/emotions/responsibilities. Perhaps in that lies the anser to Andrew's question, why only men, because without men are useless?

  24. Andrew,
    It's because you're wedded to binary thinking. Headship does not equal better. That's not what it's about. Because you're thinking in black/white terms you keep hearing us say women's inability. Search back over people's posts, it's not there.

    Anonymous, that's right. Men naturally beat the path of lowest resistence. A feminist (sorry, can't remember who) recently wrote about getting much more from her husband by getting him to take control of certain areas of family life. She used to moan about him lots, getting home, slobbing in front of TV etc. Her feminist friends don't like, but she's happier.

    Phil, I'm sure! - but I think headship isn't merely equated with making final decisions. It's about dying to self.

    QUESTION for Fern, Andrew and others,
    Related to Male female headship. What do you think about parental headship? There is a clear difference (children don't have lots of experience of the world, women do). But a recent UN document wanted to move us away from the language of being "our" children. Is merely contextual too and ONLY about keeping them away from traffic. Or is it something about bringing them up in the fear of the Lord?

  25. Andrew Godsall, Exeter4 July 2013 at 14:09

    Darren: it's not binary thinking at all, and I'm not making ANY assumption that headship=better. I asked a question which you can't answer it seems except by resorting to false stereotypes. So let me ask it again.
    Why can't a woman exercise headship? What are the reasons?

    Parental headship is a different matter. Children/minors are not equal. Men and women are. (And it is off topic so I'm not going to engage with it on this thread)

  26. Sterotypes?
    The fact you even ask why can't a woman exercise authority, even now shows 1. binary thinking (headship means someone looses), you've got to be able to have 2 ideas in your head in tension, isn't failure to do that binary?

    2. that you've not taken the time to engage with complimentarians. Engage means (what I try to do with positions) is look at why someone thinks the way they do (try to give them a bit of credit), what it's got going for it, THEN have a go at it. You do think in very on/off kinds of ways and are projecting sterotypes/authoriterian structures on things

    Why can't a woman exercise headship... for a start there is only a very narrow area where we'd even say that! But in those occasions, from an ability point of view - no reason at all!! From a theology/creation point of view, the same reason as the Church can't exercise authority over Christ. That's what it's meant to be a visible representation of.

    I actually view my son as equal to me. But "Honour your parents", doesn't seem to have an age limit. It is related! As it would be to say, should we ignore the authority of our bosses? Government? Church leaders? It has nothing to do with value of equality, but order that expresses something far bigger.

    Think out the box Andrew. Don't be conformed, be renewed.

    Sorry if it went off thread Andrew, I no you're a stickler for sticking rigidly on topic.

  27. not sure irresponsible men is a false stereotype when you look at census figures, I guess for me the answer is they can. The answer to can single parent families raise healthy well balanced children is they can, to can women lead healthy growing churches they can. But there is a difference from what works in a majority of cases and what God might have set forth as "the" pattern for human relationships and church order. That is what me the conservative thinks, i'm not saying they can't because of some physical or pschycological inability, but that we should model church and family life on the pattern scripture shows. I don't want to belittle or berate those who can't or don't want to, just to acknowledge that headship is the norm. I don't feel that is binary thinking, but I wait to be corrected...

  28. Darren and Phil, you've both accused me of arguing anecdotally by taking a couple of bad examples of how headship has played out in individual marriages and claiming this is the norm. Actually, I've been saying something else which I'll repeat for the hard-of-reading. There has been a number of solid, proper academic studies done for over half a century that have found that the type of complementarian/patriarchal marriage advocated by headship adherents in NOT healthy for women and that they prosper far better in egalitarian relationships.

    I think this may be genuinely difficult for men to understand but the headship arrangements you advocate infantilise women.

    Phil, I think your choice of language is very interesting when you write disdainfully of "insipid partnerships". Both Micah and Proverbs, when condemning marital unfaithfulness, refer to a spouse as "the companion of one's youth". This idea of a comrade-in-arms, a partner, a buddy - to rewrite the splendid King James's language - seems to me to be a much more healthy picture of marriage than that of male headship. So I guess my answer to John's question ("did Paul get it wrong or have we got Paul wrong?) is that I'd like the theologians on the thread to have a go at reconciling what seems, to me at least, two very differnt pictures of marriage.

    Going back to anecdotes for a moment, not all of them are equal. Several posters have written of women's frustrations with guys who don't seem particularly engaged with their marriages. And I get that, I really do. But frustrations with lacksidaisical husbands don't really ruin lives whereas male headship can and does. The elderly women I wrote of felt she'd lost most of her life while the reluctant mother of seven ended up with serious physical and mental health issues. Fern Winter, London

  29. Fern

    "There has been a number of solid, proper academic studies done for over half a century that have found that the type of complementarian/patriarchal marriage advocated by headship adherents in NOT healthy for women and that they prosper far better in egalitarian relationships."

    I have seen some of these "studies" that you presumably are referring to. I do question the studies, even the "proper academic" ones because it is an area that is very difficult to test objectively and all that I have read fail miserably at the first hurdle. Even your statements how do you define “not healthy” and “prosper” and even “egalitarian relationships” I bet we would not agree even on the definition of these words rather less chance of putting together an impartial study. Take me for example. If I had not married I would probably be even richer than I am now financially at least. (A quick calculation and I think that my wife and kids have “cost” me about 1 to 2 million if you take everything into account, food, housing, holidays, school fees etc). So if someone did a study on me I would be “richer” without them?

    “I think this may be genuinely difficult for men to understand but the headship arrangements you advocate infantilise women”

    Er, I think you need to come around and repeat that statement in front of my wife and her friends. However, if I need step in to stop them tearing you to pieces,…… you might all of a sudden, be very glad of the headship thing!

    Women who decide to submit to male headship only do so after much prayer and study. My wife had sign on her desk when I first met her (age 18) which said “f…. off and make your own coffee”. She decided to submit to me and I was very surprise she said she would obey me in her vows when we married, (she was 19). I don't think that her vows of obdeience were a reality for several years, However, she says she made the decision after seeing what worked for other families and after studying the bible. I don’t think that this is unusual and I suspect that men have very little influence in the decisions of wives to submit to their husbands. They come to that decision themselves. If it did not work for women or they did not want to, they would not do it. To me it is not really an issue whether she submits or not, but it is to my wife.


  30. An aside on the 'Complementarian' line of thinking on male headship:

    This idea is projected in evangelical circles, most often without the meaning being properly thought through. Headship evangelicals use it to mean a relationship which includes both complementary difference and headship of one over the other. But if we are using the word 'complementary' accurately, it only denotes complementary difference, without the added layer of meaning of one as head over the other. In a complementary relationship there is actually no need for a dominant one and a passive one. Just two individuals whose qualities complement each other.

    So accepting differences between men and women does not mean that it follows that one has to dominate or control the other. You hear people say that on occasion 'someone has to decide'. But it has been shown that couples can in fact take turn on calling decisions, as they come along.

  31. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 10:06

    Darren and Phil: I have to say that I shudder - seriously, I shudder - to think that attitudes such as you display above have any place in society, let alone the Church. They strike me as sub-human. What a demeaning way to treat another human being.

    At least this thread has confirmed to me the rightness of option 1 of the House of Bishops proposals, and I shall be voting for that this weekend in York.

    1. Andrew, if that's what you think, how can people with those views rely on trust?

    2. Andrew

      (Your reading of the bible has no) "place in society, let alone the Church"

      How very "tolerant" of you.

      So it is off to the CofE or State Gulag for me and my family with your blessing?

      What else do you propose for us "Brothers in Christ" that have no place in Church or society?


    3. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 11:46

      The truth is that such views as these don't have any place in society - they are considered 'sexist' and have no place in any organisations that I am aware of - apart from the Church of England at present.
      Of course if you want to behave like that in private, that is up to you.
      John: trust? Why would I want to trust anyone who could not treat another human being as equal?

    4. Andrew, please, please, please make your views clear at Synod. You do not respect us, we can't trust you. You MUST speak up.

    5. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 12:18

      A number of things from this John.
      The two parts of your sentence "You do not respect us, we can't trust you" don't add up. It's the bishops and the monitoring group you need to be trusting. And if you don't trust bishops, what are you doing in an episcopal church?

      I respect you entirely - what I don't respect is sexism.

      Trust in this matter has to work both ways, as GS1886 makes clear. On what basis would I trust someone who did not treat other human beings as equal?

  32. The consensus of blog posts on this subject for the greater part discusses seems to recognise the place of headship within marriage, but no more than that.
    Thus John's original suggestion that :
    "Properly speaking, then, every Christian should have a ‘doctrine’ related to these passages — which is to say a ‘doctrine of male headship’, seems to confirm my assertion that the 'headship' issue is confined solely to the marital relationship. Much of the discussion relates as to how this is to be worked out in practice. Thus 1 Cor.11 and Ephesians 5 are certainlyrelevant as John suggested.

    However, the real issue in the current debate within the wider church about gender is not so much about the doctrine within marriage, you either accept it or you don't), but rather the more widely held assumption that such 'headship' applies to the issue of women and their place in various ministries in the church.
    That is a different issue entirely, and I therefore re-assert that the concepts of "head" and "submit" as coupled together apply specifically and solely to the marital relationship, and does not, and indeed, cannot, apply to our sisters engagement in ministry.
    There are two reasons for this. 1. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given and distributed equally without any discrimination to all, irrespective of gender - or racial or ethnic background. ( Acts.2:17; Gal.3:28)

    2. Secondly, if such "headship" did exist within the wider context of ministry as set out in the NT, then that would have severely restricted and inhibited the full ministry of women which Paul, the apostles and early church shared in and witnessed. (i.e. the many sisters referred to in active ministry, including Junia a fellow apostle - Romans 16).

    Paul expected godly and gifted women to be able to be good wives and submissive to a male 'headship', AND still use her gifts in ministry to the fullest extent within the church. These are not incompatible or opposites.
    "The husband's benediction should rest upon the blossoming expression and use of his wife's gifts"

  33. Andrew

    My wife wants me to add that "if women cannot submit to their husbands, what chance to they have of submitting to God"


    Also, apparently the sign on her desk was "Make your own damn coffee"


    1. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 11:49

      Phil: please reply to your wife: if men expect their wives to submit to them, what chance do these men have of understanding the good news that God offers them?

    2. Her reply was

      "silly man. He can argue with the Bible if he likes

      We won't condemn him for it"


    3. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 12:26

      But Phil you have simply referred to that above as 'your reading of the bible'. I'm not arguing with the bible. I'm arguing with your reading of it.
      Obviously your wife has to submit to 'your reading of the bible', but does that make 'your reading' infallible?
      I wonder what your wife makes of Galatians 3:28?

  34. Andrew, why on earth did you join a sexist church?

    1. Andrew Godsall, Exeter5 July 2013 at 12:44

      John: I joined a reformed and reforming church. And I'm a hopeful type :)

    2. Me too - not just with the bishops, but including them.