Gender Roles and Responsibility: Part 1

This question was recently asked in a comment on my blog:

Q:  I had a discussion with my pastor and his wife today about some of the issues I’ve been thinking on. They are strongly complementarian and are adamant that ‘at the end of the day’ – judgment – the males will be held accountable for decisions effecting both home and church.

Is it wishful thinking on the part of the woman to think that she isn’t accountable to God, for the direction a family takes? I can’t hear a specific answer from them, re what particular thing a husband will be responsible to for, that a wife won’t. What would you say to this– what decisions does/will God hold each Christian responsible for?

I always like to start with definitions of terms:

Responsibility:  A duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone, or created by one’s own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.

Responsible: Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own and therefore answerable for one’s behavior.

Accountable:  subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; answerable.

Accountability is related to responsibility in that we are accountable to get done what we are responsible to do.   To have responsibility, one must be “responsible.”  This means we must be competent adults.  Children and persons who are mentally disabled are not considered legally responsible.  Their parents or guardians are held responsible for them.

The Spiderman comics and movies are famous for this quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There can be no responsibility where there is no power.  A child is considered to have no power to sign a legal document, and therefore incurs no responsibility if she does sign.  We have no duty or obligation to perform any task which is beyond our power.

When God created humankind and gave them “dominion” over the creation in Genesis 1:26, God was giving humans power, and therefore responsibility, over their environment and over themselves.  Everyone has some measure of power.  Children can’t be held responsible under the law, but their parents and teachers hold them responsible to do the duties they are capable of doing.  When we have power over others’ actions, we are also held responsible for the things they do.  This is why bosses have the ultimate responsibility over their businesses—because they are the ones with the power to do (or cause to be done) what they are responsible to do.

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the one who was given five talents was responsible for all five, while the one who had three talents was responsible only for those three.  We are responsible according to the amount of power we have and the use and influence of our power over others.

So the position taken by the pastor and wife described in the question above, is a logical outgrowth of the position called “complementarianism” —  that husbands have God-given authority over wives, and that church leaders have God-given authority over congregations and therefore must be male.  If husbands can tell wives what to do, then husbands have power over their wives, and consequently they are accountable for what they tell their wives to do and how they use their power.   I prefer to call this “male-hierarchalism,” since I think it describes the position better than the somewhat misleading term “complementarianism.” (Christian egalitarians also believe that men and women complement one another, but without hierarchy.)

Because male-hierarchalists believe husbands are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the home, and male church leaders are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the church, they believe God will hold males more accountable than females for these decisions.  However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that women, because they are women, are less responsible before God than men— it is, as I said, only a logical outgrowth of the position that God denies women decision-making powers in the church and home.  At the creation God gave the man and the woman both “dominion,’ and with it responsibility—and God never said He was giving the man more dominion (or more responsibility) than the woman.   If the proof-texts that are used to support male hierarchy in the church and home are being misread (which many of my posts on this blog attempt to prove), then there is no reason to conclude that God, purely on the basis of gender, holds males more accountable than females in this life or in the next.

Furthermore, even when Christian male-hierarchalists take responsibility away from women, our modern Western societies continue to consider them full adults and to hold them accountable as such.  If a woman goes along with her coercive church and husband in denying a child medical care, for example, both parents are still held responsible if that child is harmed.  The courts will not respond, “Oh, that’s ok, then,” when a woman explains that she believed she had to submit to her husband.    Courts might find a mitigating circumstance if a woman could prove she was being forced into child neglect by her husband, but if she claims she was submitting of her own free will, they will not understand!  Women have power in our world over their children, and therefore they are responsible for the well-being of those children.

I think women are also fully accountable to God as responsible adults.  But when they are coerced or shamed or otherwise convinced to give up adult power and abdicate adult responsibility, I think God is able to consider the woman’s heart in ways that courts of law cannot.  Therefore our merciful Father will hold more accountable, the ones who convinced her it was His will that she give up her self-determination.

Ultimately, we are all responsible at least for ourselves and our own actions.  We also have responsibility for the way we use any additional power we may have.  But in male-hierarchical Christianity I have seen some worrying things happen regarding personal responsibility and who is held accountable for what.  The potential for crazy-making responsibility issues in Christian male-hierarchalism, will be the subject of my next post.

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About krwordgazer

I'm a 40-something Christian from the Pacific Northwest: paralegal, mother of two, wife of 24 years, with a BA in English from the University of Oregon Honors College.
This entry was posted in Kristen Rosser, Leading the Home and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Gender Roles and Responsibility: Part 1

  1. Charis says:

    I very much identify with your observations here. The Lord led my OUT of the “learned helplessness” by convicting me that I was failing to protect my children which- as you observe- is my adult responsibility legally, morally, AND biblically! One Biblical account which shows equality of responsibility and consequences is Ananaias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

    The lowest point in my marriage was just after my husband’s father had died and he had lost another job. He was the decision maker “the head of the household, absolutely NOT, you will NOT call someone to fix it!” – so I was deprived of basic necessities like adequate heat and hot water (with 8 children to care for, and at the time of the heat deprivation, my youngest was 18 months and was very sickly- he had to have 6 rounds of antibiotics and had “failure to thrive”) It FELT like I was living in a concentration camp. Around the same time, my husband took 4K out of our meager savings account to add a third tractor to his antique tractor collection (unilaterally of course, as “the head of the household” he did whatever he wanted when he wanted). No, he wasn’t a farmer, but his daddy was and collecting farm equipment was a form of self-medication for my husband at times.

    At the time, my husband also wanted to be a missionary and they REQUIRED counseling. By now, the heat had been fixed, but I remember recounting to the counselor how we didn’t have heat, the baby was sick, and the doctor had threatened to call social services. How powerless I felt to PROTECT our baby!

    She asked me to think about how I could handle a situation like that differently? I have always been on the joint account. Why can’t I unilaterally get what we need without my husband’s permission? Since then, I have done so on several occasions. Bought a used car when the frame rotted out, paid for braces for two of our children who needed them. I can also make decisions for myself and my future without his “permission”: Returned to school to add some marketable skills and landed a good paying job.

    Though my husband remains a patriarch wannabe who grouses about how “women should stay in their place”, in many ways, I think it is an unspoken relief to him to have a grown up wife free and fully vested in providing for and protecting our household.

  2. Pingback: Gender Roles and Responsibility – Part 2 | Christian Egalitarian Marriage

  3. TL says:

    “I think women are also fully accountable to God as responsible adults. But when they are coerced or shamed or otherwise convinced to give up adult power and abdicate adult responsibility, I think God is able to consider the woman’s heart in ways that courts of law cannot. Therefore our merciful Father will hold more accountable, the ones who convinced her it was His will that she give up her self-determination.”

    I agree that our merciful God indeed does consider the heart because God can see the heart where we generally don’t have that perfect eyesight. But the heart is deceitfully wicked, thus we need to keep informing women of their responsibilities before God. Sometimes the excuses we use, such as fear of reprisal, are not good enough excuses when it comes to protecting our children and abdicating our responsibilities with God.

    Remember Ananias and Sapphira. Both were held equally accountable before God, although in that era only the man was held accountable and the woman was expected to obey. How do we digest that? Perhaps, God knew that she knew better and did so anyway. Thus her crime before God was more important than her crime before her husband if she disobeyed her husband.

  4. krwordgazer says:

    TL, I agree that sometimes the excuses we use are not good enough when it comes to protecting our children. However, I don’t believe that the regenerated heart, saved by grace, remains “deceitfully wicked.” I don’t think one verse in Jeremiah, speaking of the human heart before the Resurrection of Christ and before the possibility of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, trumps the change of heart in salvation promised in the Old Testament (including elsewhere in Jeremiah) and fulfilled in the New. I think the reason we need to keep informing women of their responsibilities before God has to do with unrenewed minds than with deceitful hearts.

  5. TL says:

    This deserves a thoughtful response, although I don’t want to divert from the topic too much. I view the ‘human heart’ as the human sinful nature that Paul says (Romans 6) we all struggle with daily. Yes, I agree that we have a regenerated heart in Christ; that is to say we are in the process of being changed into the likeness of the maturity and purity of Christ. We die daily and are saved daily. This is why we should check ourselves to see if we are indeed walking as we should.
    Human sinful nature, partially renewed minds, deceitful hearts are all part of the same ‘ball of wax’ in my thinking. I recognize that deceitful is a harsh word and sorry if I somehow offended you in using it. But I do believe that people (male and female) can deceive themselves for a variety of reasons and that is why it is so important to read the Word of God for ourselves and be sure that we are following the truths therein as we should.

    When I was a young woman I allowed myself to be deceived and in turn continued to deceive myself that pleasing a man was the only way to live a happy life and find a good husband. This deception led me to obey my first husband when he said that he was not ready to raise a child and told me I had to give her up for adoption. (I did refuse to have an abortion) After God healed the monstrous pain in my heart and soul, God showed me that I was also to blame for that situation because I had followed my husband, even though I had believed a lie that I had to do what he said.

    After I became a Christian, I at first argued with God about all that “stuff”. I thought it was more beneficial to stay obedient than rock the boat. I had already divorced my husband over it and had laid all the blame on him. But God showed me that the path to real happiness was not going to be to leave everything important up to a fallible man. But rather to be careful of the decisions that I made, because I was also accountable. This eventually led me to peace on the subject. Perhaps, not everyone can view it from that angle.

  6. krwordgazer says:

    TL– No, of course you didn’t offend me, and I’m sorry if I came across that way. For me the objectionable word is not “deceitful” but “wicked.” I believe our unrenewed minds are deceitful, and that our hearts can be led astray through the deceit of others as well. But I have seen too much use of that verse in Jeremiah saying the heart is “wicked” as well as “deceitful” to justify the teaching, “We, your leaders, know better than you, and we are anointed and sanctified while you are not, so because your heart is wicked and deceitful, you don’t know whether you’re doing right or not, and we do.”

    I don’t believe for a minute that you believe this form of the teaching. But I feel that because of the abuses I have seen (and suffered!) I cannot do otherwise than stand up and voice my disagreement strongly every time I hear that “the heart is deceitfully wicked” verse used about regenerated Christians. I strongly believe that our hearts are not wicked, and that though we may become deceived., we are capable of knowing and believing the truth without help from self-proclaimed authorities. Hope that clarifies.

  7. krwordgazer says:

    PS. I am so sorry that that happened with your child. I hope that the Holy Spirit has healed you (as far as such a thing can be healed in this life) and helped you to forgive yourself.

  8. TL says:

    OK, that makes sense. Thankfully, I don’t recollect anyone using that verse in that manner in my experience. That is not to say they didn’t; it just didn’t stick for me. I’ll do my best to remember that, though. 🙂

    And yes, the Lord has healed me greatly in being coerced in giving up of my child and I have forgiven myself as well. Sometimes, though, I wonder how I could have been so foolish. But that is the nature of accepting deception. It clings so tenaciously, that it is ever so difficult to extricate ourselves from. Otherwise, I could not have shared that at all. Initially, I would just weep unexplainably.

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