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Asking questions about sticky issues: is the man more responsible for the family?

One task I want to (continue) do this year is help us grapple with some of these issues and questions surrounding women and the Bible. I know, technically, it’s what we believe about women and men, but practically, it turns into rules for women. The burdens these decisions place on men are more invisible.

One of the best ways to approach these topics is to ask a lot of questions. Often we repeat statements we’ve heard and the statements become so familiar we don’t how to analyze them. This won’t be me telling you what to believe (though that will probably be obvious; I’m not pretending to be a blank slate), but instead providing questions to help you evaluate the story of Scripture.

It may make some of you uncomfortable to even question these statements. Sit in the discomfort. Truth is not challenged by questions. Your faith and your ability to interact with people who don’t share your positions is strengthened when you don’t run from discomfort.

Today we are going to look at the idea that “the man is more responsible for the family.”

-What does this mean?

Don’t just say the sentence, explain it. Then make sure your explanation makes sense with everything else you believe.

-Where does the Bible say this?

If you end up with a round-about answer, such as “it’s because a man is the head of his wife” (please note it doesn’t say that the man is the head of the family), then how did you decide that was what ‘a man being the head of his wife’ meant?

-Does the Bible teach anything that indicates the opposite?

-Are there stories where God acts in ways that don’t reflect this design?

(We know that much of the Bible is descriptive, not prescriptive. That means it often says “here’s what happens” and not “here’s what should happen.” However, we also know that God does not change. He is not constricted by the failures of humanity and therefore always acts in ways that are consistent with who God is. When we see God act, even in descriptive stories, we learn something about God’s character.)

-How is man equipped for this role?

Does he have closer access to God? More of the Spirit? More Scripture? Are men just “more spiritual” or smarter than women?  We aren’t inadvertently teaching that God is putting a burden on men without also equipping them, right?

-What is the reason for this?

We can’t just shrug and act like it’s a mystery without casting aspersions on the character of God. God is mysterious (and yet we pretend we have Him figured out). The things God tells us to do are usually very straightforward, though often difficult.

-How do we teach this without saying men are responsible for their wives’ sin?

-How do we teach this without taking away women’s responsibility for their own lives and actions?

-How do we teach this honoring that women are also made in God’s image, tasked to the same work (both cultural mandate and great commission, called to follow Jesus) and filled in the same measure with the same Holy Spirit?

-What is it exactly that we are expecting men to do?

-What is our explanation of responsibility when a man is not present?

(A single mom, a disabled husband, single women: there are many scenarios) Surely that’s not the only time we believe that it is the power of the Spirit working in our lives that makes the difference?

-Does this ultimately come down to “the man makes the decision if they can’t agree?”

This is an interesting take for a religion grounded on laying down your own rights. Also, in this case, we are assuming that men are more likely to get it right and simultaneously ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit in the woman. Even if we don’t say these things out loud, those are the implications. (I am inserting my own belief here because it’s a place people get stuck. Marriage is not a business. It doesn’t have to be a hierarchy. Alternate option: both people should fall on their face in prayer until they get leading from God together because we believe that God is active and working in lives of both. It’s also totally acceptable to let one person make the decision based on a variety of factors: it affects that person more, they have more practice experience/knowledge surrounding the issue, etc.)

-How likely is it that the Christian position so neatly aligns with political and social expectations of men’s authority?

We aren’t just slapping “be nice” stickers on the world’s philosophies and moving on. This is a subversive, upside-down kingdom. Men first, no matter how nicely we want to phrase it or how narrowly we want to confine it, is the history of the world and most religions.

I do not believe that Scripture teaches that the man is more responsible for the family. I don’t think that is ever explicitly taught. I don’t think it is backed up with the stories of how God works in the world. I don’t think it is practical or consistent with the varied lives led by women around the world. I don’t think it is consistent with what we believe about the imago Dei or humanity (including women) reaching their culmination in becoming like Christ. I think this burdens men to do something besides or beyond following Jesus, which is the journey of a lifetime in itself. I think it teaches women not to take responsibility for their lives and they are going to stand before God accountable for their lives one day. But, even if you do believe that men are more responsible for their families, you need to be able to answer these questions well.

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