Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Patriarchy Keeps Women From Growing Up

My Daddy and Me

There have been many moments in my life when I thought or spoke these words out loud: I don't wanna grow up! I've said that even in my fifties.

It's human nature to want periodically to shed responsibilities and lean into others to tell us what to do, make our decisions or take care of us. When I'm really old and this becomes a possible reality, I wonder if I'll feel irritated or relieved.

Sometimes I want to return to being a little girl with her Daddy by her side, oblivious to the adult world.

But then I remember my Daddy. He worked hard as a parent to ensure I would fulfill my own adult responsibilities well. He did all he could to help me grow into a strong, self sufficient woman (maybe sooner than most kids if you want to read that story).

This meant he gave me increasing freedom to make my own decisions. This meant he kept loosening the boundaries around me and encouraging me to explore new territories on my own. This meant he understood his job as a parent was to nurture my inner strength so that I would step into the world without any sense of entitlement or inferiority.

My daddy wanted children badly but he didn't want children forever. He was committed to raising me to be a fully functioning adult, confident of my abilities to maneuver through life and confident of my standing as an equal member of the human race.

No one I know would suggest remaining in parent mode well past the normal formative years. No one would think this is healthy for anyone, whether the child, the family or the community at large.

But this is essentially what patriarchy does to women in the church.

When women are denied equal authority, equal responsibility and equal voice, they are being treated like children and are denied adulthood in its fullest sense.

When leaders have important conversations and make significant decisions without full representation from over half the church, then women haven't really grown up.

When women are barred from sitting at the table of leadership, they are being barred from the table of adults.

When men restrict a woman's sphere of influence or define the Spirit's calling in her life, they presume to be her "fathers" when she should have only one, her Heavenly Father. Never once have I heard a father dedicate his daughter to future male church leaders to spiritually guide her through life.

Patriarchy perpetuates a church culture in which girls never leave the watchful eye of a father and never really become adult women with full freedom and equal value or voice under Christ's reign.

Patriarchy is a problem for women. And it's a problem for the church because in reality without the full adulthood of women and full partnership with men, the church is crippled and adolescent. 

Voices are increasing in number as they expose problems with male-dominated church leadership. As a woman, I offer my voice, small as it may be, but determined:

I refuse to remain a child in the church or be treated like one. I am an adult!


  1. so happy to see you blogging on this again :) this is a great post - it also reminds us that Peter and Paul were concerned about the steep learning curve Christian women faced in the early Church, and that this probably influenced some of their caution about women's actions and behavior. I think they would be horrified to see how this patriarchal attitude has been continued in the Church, even though women today are educated and trained in theology!

    1. Thanks, Gail! Great observation on Paul and Peter not to mention all the mature women Paul considered as his co-workers. Like Junia. I love what you are doing with the Junia Project!

  2. Say it loud, say it strong!!

    Loved what you wrote :
    being treated like children and are denied adulthood in its fullest sense.

    Good to "hear" your voice in the blogosphere!

    1. Thanks, Pam! I've been trying to keep up on reading other blogs and articles but haven't had much energy or focus to write my own posts. But I'm finding some time now.

  3. Well said! Would you like to join the conversation at Equality Central Forum?

    1. Thanks, Kristen. I will take a look at the site and get back to you. Thanks for asking.

  4. Thanks, Harriet, for such a strong and clear statement. As a man I look forward to the day when it is not hard to find an evangelical church where mature, gifted, and trained women are expected and encouraged to be equal participants in the shepherding and leadership roles, at every level. Keep writing.

    1. Me too. My husband and I were surprised that it was so difficult to find an evangelical church in liberal Portland with women elders. But I believe change is happening in the right direction.

  5. @ Anonymous:
    I look forward to the day when it is (I striked your word "not" here) hard to find an evangelical church where mature, gifted, and trained women are not (I inserted "not" here) expected and encouraged to be equal participants in the shepherding and leadership roles.

  6. Adding my voice to those grateful voices above--glad you are back blogging and grateful for this post. Especially loved this: "When leaders have important conversations and make significant decisions without full representation from over half the church, then women haven't really grown up. When women are barred from sitting at the table of leadership, they are being barred from the table of adults."
    Thank you, Harriet!

  7. I have often thought this when I hear teaching or people talking about "proper" women's roles. The woman then becomes like a child waiting for the "daddy" to make the decisions, tell her what to do, etc.

  8. What about the following scripture, how does this tie into the conversation here? There should be a balance. I believe this is established so that order can be kept. Father God ---> Christ---> man ---> woman. Not to say women arent equally qualified or gifted, but I do think its a fine line and a touchy subject.

    And what about the head covering verses, how does that fit in to this modern day and age? I don't understand that.
    1 Corinthians 14:34-35
    English Standard Version (ESV)

    34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

  9. And btw, I am a woman. I just wrote the previous comment "anonymously"... =)

    1. From the two references you make, I suspect you are wrestling as a woman through passages that affirm the traditional teaching you have been given but still cause you to pause when literal interpretation is ignored. I won't be able to relieve your tension here but I encourage you to pursue asking questions and finding answers where they are offered better than I can offer here.

  10. Harriet, there are many of us like you blogging and telling the truth about patriarcy. The trouble is that we are not getting the word out to women who sit in churches where this is taught. Last week a preacher in my city said that women are EXALTED, and even compared them to the Holy Spirit. Yet women in that huge church cannot be deacons, teach men in SS classes, pray in public, or read scripture and cannot be ordained as deacons. Across the highway another Baptist church told his large congregation that women are equal in the sight of God, but have different "functions." In other words, they are equal-but.

    I am interested in getting the word out beyond blogs (which are necessary, don't get me wrong). Sometimes a person like Anonymous happens upon them in order to set us straight. I have those kind write to me, too.

    I have just published a book called Dethroning Male Headship. As you can guess, it is about female equality in church and in the home. My hope is that women will read this and see that even though they have been taught that the Bible says so, they will see from my book that the Bible does not make female submission a biblical commandment for the future.

    I encourage you to challenge your people to get up and do something. Because from what I see from most blogs for women's equality, no challenge is issued. I believe that we must issue a challenge and inspire our readers to action.

    God bless.

  11. Ms. Congdon,

    Thank you for your post. This is not an argument that I've heard before. Although ultimately, I think your argument that submission requires the retardation of maturity, is less than biblical. Could you please review my argument and tell me if I have not presented your case accurately? Thanks!

    In Christ,


  12. Zack,

    I've replied to your blog post at some length. I do hope you at least find it stimulating and provocative, if not persuasive.


  13. Found your blog article on another's blog. I'm So glad I did. I really appreciate what you had to say. I grew up(I'm around your age)in a very traditional "man led" church. After years of personal study, reading, listening to others on "women in the church" issue; my head now aligns with where my heart always was. We left my childhood church about 6 years ago and we are a part of a church that uses everyone by (of course) their giftedness. :) Yesterday I was blessed to see our communion meditation time be led by one of our High school graduating young women. What a great and emotional day. So thankful for women(and men) that write about this has definitely helped me in my journey.

  14. Great piece! My sentiments exactly.
    Thanks for this--and keep on writing!