Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Brief Reflection on Male Headship

If then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:1-2). 

I commend you because you remember me in everything, and you maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:2-3).

Male headship: “The head of a woman is her husband.” I suppose there’s nothing as infuriating to modern feminists as this concept. But I wonder if this ordering would be at least a little less infuriating if it were understood in all its sublime glory as another of the multitudinous patterns that the Creator God has wondrously and wonderfully woven into His glorious Creation, and which even reflects the very being and life of God Himself, as He exists forever in Holy Trinity. 

As we all are well aware, patterns of order exist everywhere in our Lord’s glorious Creation, from the paths of electrons and other subatomic particles, to the paths of planets, stars, and galaxies; from the ordering of the seasons to the planting, growing, and harvesting of crops; and in the growth and adulthood of all animate beings, from the insects and fish to the birds and mammals, from the moment of conception to their last breath on this earth. For the Church fathers, all these countless patterns of order all point to the existence of God, the Creator of all this order that is so essential to the peaceful ongoing existence of all things. 

Since human beings are also part of the created realm, we can scarcely be surprised that our own existence would also partake of patterns of order—which, when abided by, greatly contribute to our ongoing, peaceful existence while we live on this earth. This is self-evident, even with no reference to the Lord our Creator. Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if there were no patterns of order—no directional signposts—for cars and trains and airplanes to be governed by. Or if one day every driver and train conductor and airplane pilot decided to disregard all the rules and regulations, and drive and direct the train and fly wherever he or she happened to want to! 

One such pattern of order in nature is male headship, whereby in marriage, the husband has the duty to be ultimately responsible for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well being of his family, along with having the ultimate responsibility for guiding the ongoing mutual decision-making processes that are necessary for this purpose. The man, generally being the physically stronger, taller, heavier, and deeper-voiced of the two, very naturally has been given this role. The Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 2:13) and the Church Fathers also see a certain preeminence in the authority and responsibility of the husband due to the fact that Adam was created first, and then the woman from his side. 

Of course, every husband, as the servant-head, should always be seeking the input of his wife in the decision-making processes, which should always be decidedly mutual, with decisions being reached virtually always by consensus. Similarly, the husband should also be steadily encouraging his wife to contribute greatly to the marital enterprise as a whole, with all her particular strengths and gifts as well. 

Read the rest here.


unreconstructed rebel said...

But, what if the priestess/bishopess is unmarried? To be complete, you need to address that.

Dana said...

Hi John.

I can't help but wonder if Dr. Ford is a convert from Protestantism (as am I), as he seems to be writing exactly the same things I used to hear as a Protestant Evangelical. I'm not sure I've ever found the term "servant-head" in all I've read of the Fathers on marriage, but it's quite common in conservative Evangelical teaching on marriage. However, the Greek word for "head" in most cases is not used to mean "boss", but rather denotes "source"; surely Dr Ford should know this. This makes sense in light of the Creation narratives in Genesis, and the general tenor of the description of marital relations in the New Testament. And what about women who are not married, or have been widowed or divorced? And how is each person not ultimately responsible to God, especially if one party in the marriage is in grievous sin? The answer in some corners of Protestantism is that every woman has to have a "head", so if you're an unmarried adult woman you're under the "headship" of your father, or some other (presumably) older male in your family. How is this not like how women are viewed and treated in Islam?

One of the things I appreciated most about Orthodoxy was that its teaching WASN'T the same old party line I heard as a conservative Evangelical - which ends up logically at the idea that women are somehow less human than men (and uses heretical Trinitarian doctrine to attempt to prove that). I love the Orthodox marriage ceremony, where the Eph 5 Epistle is read, but there's virtually NO commentary on how that is to be worked out within each marriage. In addition, I have not read anything in the Fathers, nor have I encountered anything in the Liturgy and services of the Church, that would lead me to believe that Orthodoxy teaches that women are less than fully human. The full humanity of women means something - especially in light of who Mary the Theotokos is and what was entrusted to her.

continued below

Dana said...

part 2

I'm not a "feminist". I believe there are differences between men and women, and also that the differences that are not physical are also not to be reduced to generalities, as each person is unique. I've been married for more than 40 years and have made every effort to respect my husband, and for the first 20 years I prayed fervently and sincerely that God would make me more submissive. My husband has admitted to me that he used to believe that the conservative Protestant teaching on marriage - despite all the words about serving and sacrifice - meant that he was always to get his way. This, frankly, is dangerous for any person's soul. It inflames more than one passion, and makes living with such a person extremely difficult.

St Maximos describes, among other divisions, the division between men and women as one that in Christ will one day be fully overcome. I trust he doesn't mean than there will only be one sex, but rather that in the Kingdom of God, the ultimate relationship between men and women is about something higher than our less than redeemed ideas about it. I believe that being In Christ and living in Grace enables us to make a small start toward living that way now. Finally, here are some more words from St John Chrysostom (which our very traditional priest included in the parish bulletin a few months ago):

"When we speak of the wife obeying the husband, we normally think of obedience in military or political terms: the husband giving orders and the wife obeying them. But while this type of obedience may be appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage. The obedient wife does not wait for orders. Rather she tries to discern her husband's needs and feelings, and responds in love. When she sees her husband is weary, she encourages him to rest; when she sees him agitated, she soothes him; when he is ill, she nurses and comforts him; when he is happy and elated, she shares his joy. Yet such obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way. When she is weary, he should relieve her of her work; when she is sad, he should cherish her, holding her gently in his arms; when she is filled with good cheer, he should also share her good cheer. Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other."

Thanks for listening.