The Persistence of Patriarchy

Today I’m attending a megachurch—Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California—where God is male, all the pastors, deacons, and elders are male, and women are taught to live in submission to men. My husband, visiting Phoenix for a week, texts me that a woman is preaching in the Episcopal church he found near his motel.

These two different worlds exist side by side: congregations where men and women are equal partners in service of Jesus Christ, and others where gender hierarchy is taught as God’s will and the only truly biblical option. On Sunday morning we all drive past one flavor of gender teaching to worship in another. And those in egalitarian churches often have no idea of the wide reach of “complementarianism”—the term, so much nicer-sounding than “hierarchy,” used these days by neo-patriarchalists to describe their view of men’s and women’s different roles.

In Sun Valley, the sermon by Pastor John MacArthur, comparing the accounts of walking on water in different gospels, is excellent; I guess that’s how megachurches get started. After church, in the crowded visitors’ room, I’m welcomed by a friendly woman about my age, a physical therapist with a degree from the college where I teach religion.

I ask her, “Is women’s submission to their husbands stressed in this church?”

“Yes, it is,” she says. “A ship can have only one captain. But it’s not enslavement.” She tells me she’s fortunate that her husband is “not the domineering type. We take a difficult issue to God in prayer. I rarely have to let him decide.”

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Sojourners Magazine July 2010
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