Against Patriarchy, Part One: Patriarchy is Heresy

I have been growing more concerned about patriarchy for a few years, having escaped a patriarchal situation of abuse and manipulation myself, but needed to take some time to heal and recover, and repair my relationship with God. That process is nowhere near complete, but it has reached a point where I feel comfortable speaking out against patriarchy in any kind of systematic way. Over the next few weeks, I hope to expand this series of blog posts in various directions.

Many people today throw terms like “heresy” around as a synonym for “people I don’t agree with.” Pretty much any time some scholar challenges a conventional reading of a passage, some traditionalist starts the conversation by throwing out the “heresy” word. I have seen Reformed theologians adhering to what is known as the “Old Perspective on Paul” have complete meltdowns over the teachings of the “New Perspective on Paul” and pronounce it heresy in public, in print, and from the pulpit, despite there being no reason to declare it such.

That’s not what I want to do in this post, and the posts to come.

When I say that patriarchy is “heresy,” I don’t mean that I disagree with it and therefore I am going to angrily pronounce it heresy because I don’t like it. When I call it a heresy, I mean that it meets the criteria of classical heresy, in that 1) it distorts the Trinity, 2) it preaches another gospel that is almost identical to the Judaizers, 3) it erects mediators between women and God beyond Christ, and 4) it oppresses the poor and weak and vulnerable under its care.

For now, let me point in the direction I will take the next few posts, expanding upon each of these points.

Patriarchy Distorts the Trinity. The patriarchal system rests upon the foundation of a heretical Trinitarianism rejected by the universal Church. It finds the source for its mediated gender role distinctions in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in the Trinitarian life of the Godhead in both power and authority, a view which, as argued by St. Athanasius, results in Arianism when extended to its logical conclusion. Patriarchalists who hold to the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in both power and authority do not qualify as orthodox Trinitarians or as faithful evangelicals, and therefore ought to be rejected out-of-hand.

Patriarchy Distorts the Gospel through Judaizing Teachings. In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul is at great pains to refute the poisonous teachings of the Judiazing Christians, who argued that one could only be saved by faith in Christ in addition to adherence to the Mosaic rites. The contrast here is not between belief and action, but between what constitutes a boundary marker for the covenant community. The Judaizers believed that the Christian would only be saved by keeping themselves unstained from the sinful world by adherence to the purity laws of the Old Covenant, but Paul and the true Christians argued that salvation and justification would come by lifelong faithfulness to the “way of Yahweh,” which was the way of justice-doing and wrong-righting, the way of Jubilee and liberation for the oppressed, poor, widow, and fatherless (Matt. 25). By grounding our faithfulness in adherence to purity laws and boundaries which keep out the lost, weak, and sinner, the patriarchal system for the “victorious family” is little more than a revival of the Pharisaical and Judaizing teaching which Jesus, Paul, and the entire New Testament rejected, the first heresy which the early Church combated.

Patriarchy Denies the Exclusive Mediation of Christ. By teaching that husbands and fathers mediate for their wives and children, patriarchy turns the family into the Church and the father into Jesus. Patriarchy thus offers people a false church for salvation, turning the family into an idol and demanding worship of that idol by all involved. Faithless Israel also claimed that the covenant was theirs by bloodline descent, and they were destroyed for their troubles. Fathers who claim to mediate for their wives and children by serving as “family priests” are committing the sin of Korah, who insisted upon making sacrifice for his clan even after God had appointed Aaron to do this for the whole congregation. Korah and his entire clan was swallowed up by the earth for this blasphemy.

Patriarchy Sides with the Powerful, not the Weak. By favoring men and requiring women to surrender everything to their husbands, patriarchy makes women vulnerable, and creates a system by which they are repeatedly abused, manipulated, and their consciences afflicted for no purpose or reason, and to no Biblical end. In this way, patriarchy manufactures vulnerable people and then abuses them. Patriarchy also lies about the nature and character of God by arguing that He sides with the powerful and oppressor, rather than a God who favors the weak and vulnerable and defends the oppressed from those who would seek to do them harm (Psa. 103:3).

From these four pillars I will argue that patriarchy represents something so far outside the pale of acceptable Christian teaching that it qualifies for the technical moniker heresy. For this reason, I believe the Church must stand up against this Judaizing tendency in formal and informal ways, working to put it out of our churches once and for all. I do not say that they are beyond the mercy of God, especially those who have been led astray by these teachings, merely that patriarchy is a belief which should find itself on the other side of the orthodoxy fence.

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