Priscilla – Bishop of Rome

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“Had the New Testament Christians used titles that were in practice by later Christians, Priscilla would have been recognized as the Bishop of Rome.” (paraphrased)

-Dr. David M. Scholer

A woman bishop?

Not just any bishop, but the Bishop of Rome.

The significance of Rome is that it became the headquarter of Christianity, after Jerusalem, when the church’s membership and overseers became increasingly Gentile due to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Today, Rome is still the religious center for the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) where the Pope resides and from where the Pope carries out his oversight of the RCC throughout the world as the primary overseer. The Bishop of Rome is a title given to the Pope as the primary overseer of the RCC.

Dr. David M. Scholer, former professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary who passed away in the year 2008, spoke the paraphrased quote above during his class at Fuller Seminary titled, “Women, the Bible and the Church.” Dr. Scholer wrote an essay which summarizes the content of his course. The essay may be downloaded from the Fuller Seminary website, “Women in Ministry: A Biblical Basis for Equal Partnership“.

Priscilla: Paul’s Co-Worker

New Testament Christians rarely used the term “leader” to refer to Christian leaders as we know today. The term “leader” in the New Testament was primarily used for teachers, priests, and other religious overseers of Judaism and for the Gentile government and military officials of the non-Christian Roman Empire. The New Testament Christians distinguished themselves by not typically using the term “leader”, instead they used the term “servant” on themselves. They did not use the term “servant leader”. That term would have been incongruous and incompatible—an oxymoron—since the Christians were using the term “servant” to distinguish and contrast their structure of relating to one another in mutuality based on calling, giftedness, and graces as “servants” of God and/or Christ from the authoritarian, hierarchical, and, to some extent, apartheid “leader”-ship and “ruler”-ship style of Judaism and the Roman Empire. See Mark 10: 35-45 for Jesus’ contrast between the authoritarian leadership style, or “ruler”-ship, of the Gentiles to the “servant”-hood of his followers. This scripture also contains a correlation between “ruler”-ship and positions of power and honor.

In addition to the term “servant”, Paul used the term “co-worker” to relate to fellow Christian “servant”s (or leaders as we would refer to them today). The term has a connotation of mutuality and partnership without hierarchy. Like the term “servant”, “worker” reflects the work, or service, offered to the lordship of God and/or Christ.

The term “co-worker” is used instead of titles. New Testament Christians did not use titles, for the exception of once or twice, because titles were used in the hierarchical systems of Judaism and Roman Empire to recognize, stratify, and elevate respective individuals in their positions of authority, rulership, power, and honor. Positions with titles were not necessarily sought or acquired for the purpose of servant-hood, but for the purpose of acquiring power and honor…. and to be served. Jesus rebuked such purposes and prohibited his “servant”s from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor and avoid usurping authority and honor that belong to God, see Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, Mark 10: 35-45. Jesus and the New Testament Christians observed and noted how the leaders of both Judaism and Roman Empire usurped God’s authority and honor in order to elevate themselves. Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how to avoid doing the same and the practical instruction Jesus gave was to avoid using titles.

Paul used the term “co-worker” several times in his letters to refer to prominent “servants” and church founders who helped shape and establish the New Testament church such as Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Paul, Apollos, Titus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement among others, including himself. These individuals were apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers; but Paul referred to them only as “co-workers”. Paul and Peter were both Apostles, and their service (or leadership as we would refer to it today) was so highly regarded that their teachings and writings are still regarded as scripture. The Christians at Corinth, specifically the self appointed pseudo-philosophers, elevated Apollos as an individual holding a high status similar to that of Paul and Peter, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Clement was recognized by post New Testament Christians as the second Pope after the martyrdom of Peter. Paul compared the service of Euodia and Syntyche, who had primary oversight over the church at Philippi, to the service of Clement—Pope #2, Philippians 4: 2-3. Titus and Timothy were both church planters, pastors, and teachers—church planter was a general description of an apostle; and, both served as primary overseers of their respective churches. For serving as primary overseers of their respective churches both Titus and Timothy were recognized by post New Testament Christians as bishops, Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus and Titus as Bishop of the Island of Crete.

Worthy of note, Onesimus, who was not recognized by Paul as “co-worker” but as “son”—also a description Paul used for Timothy—was the former slave of Philemon. Onesimus after receiving his freedom devotes himself to church service for which post New Testament Christians recognize him as Bishop of Ephesus following the martyrdom of Timothy.

Priscilla and her husband Aquila both were church planters, or apostles, pastors, and teachers, as well. Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth; Priscilla and Aquila were both already Christians when they met Paul. Together they planted the church in Corinth. Later, Timothy and Titus served in Corinth as pastors. A few years after planting the church in Corinth, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila left for Ephesus to plant a church. Later, Timothy served in Ephesus as pastor for which he was recognized by post New Testament Christians as Bishop of Ephesus, as previously noted. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Priscilla and Aquila had the primary oversight of the church in Rome, Romans 16: 3-5.

Priscilla and Aquila: 5x-Priscilla , 2x-Aquila

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned seven times in the New Testament and are always mentioned together. Two times Aquila’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:2, 1 Corinthians 16:19), five times Priscilla’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:18, 18:19, 18:26, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19). Cultural practice always names the husband first before the wife, in fact, this reversal in naming doesn’t happen anywhere else for a married couple in the Old Testament nor New Testament. The significance of Priscilla’s name mentioned before her husband’s reflects Priscilla’s prominence and primary oversight in ministry. Even though Priscilla and Aquila are ministry partners, for Paul to mention her name first he is recognizing her as the primary overseer of the church in Rome, therefore Priscilla was the one serving as Bishop of Rome. Additionally, Luke in Acts also mentions Priscilla’s name first which reflects that not only Paul, but also Luke, and the Christian church as a whole, would have recognized Priscilla’s prominence in the church.

Priscilla: The Baker

How did Priscilla, Bishop of Rome, become the baker and tea server of the Aquila and Priscilla partnership?

When I was in the Calvary Chapel, the couple was known as Aquila and Priscilla, not as Priscilla and Aquila. By mentioning the husband first, the Chapelites, as well as so many other gender-hierarchicalists, disregard the prominence that Paul, Luke and the New Testament church ascribed to Priscilla.

Chapelites explained that Aquila was the teacher, not Priscilla; Priscilla was the hospitable one responsible for the culinary and fellowship details of their meeting with Apollos. After pointing out to the Chapelites that Luke mentioned Priscilla before Aquila in Acts 18:26 where Luke recorded that “Priscilla and Aquila” invited Apollos to their home to “explain”, or teach, to him “the way of God more adequately”, the Chapelites updated their response and recognized that Aquila was the primary teacher, not the sole teacher to Apollos. This response is not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence as a servant, but certainly an improvement from not recognizing her as a teacher at all. However, her recognition as a teacher includes the following qualifier from the Chapelites, “but she taught Apollos under the authority of her husband”, which is also not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence.

Sex roles based on misinterpretations of a few scriptural passages lead gender-hierarchalists to misinterpret all scriptural passages about women and to revise biblical history in order to fit women into a subordinate role of authority between men and women and between husbands and wives. Case in point, gender-hierarchicalists, such as the Chapelites described above, degrade Priscilla’s prominence and position of responsibility, or leadership and authority, in order to “put her in her place”—sort of speak—as subordinate woman and wife.

I once attended a church, not a Calvary Chapel, that recognizes Priscilla’s prominence in the church compared to Aquila but instead of degrading her to a position under Aquila they make her into Aquila’s sister. This particular church is not able to recognize Priscilla as Aquila’s wife because as wife her prominence is contrary to their gender-hierarchical view of marriage as husband over wife in spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making matters.

The Distraction of Titles

Chapelites falsely accuse egalitarians, specifically women egalitarians, of raising awareness of lack of women in senior leadership positions, specifically in areas of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making oversight such as senior pastors, teachers, and elders, as selfishly ambitious and driven by the desire to hold positions of power and honor. That particular false accusation is actually an accidental and unwilling acknowledgement, a slip up, by patriarchalists that those positions which they reserve for men only are indeed positions of power and honor. It is a slip up because no effort to envelope those positions with benevolence the attributes of power and honor in those positions will always manifest themselves.

The highest calling for a follower of Christ is to bear witness to the Truth and to Jesus as Messiah, or as commonly known, preach the gospel of Jesus. All believers are called to this higher calling. With spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, a believer bears witness. The spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, are available to all believers according to the choosing of the Holy Spirit. No person is denied any particular gift, and its corresponding title or position, based on ethnicity, class, or sex, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12, 14.

The challenge egalitarians present to gender-hierarchicalists is that they point out how gender-hierarchicalists have turned the witnessing of the gospel, which is entrusted to all believers, into a system of subjugation with principles and practices that serve and keep in power an elite group by limiting certain positions of high responsibly, or authority, to only that particular elite group. In this case, the elite group is the men and the subjugated group is the women. This particular system of subjugation is based on sex, but a system of subjugation based on ethnicity and/or class are also created. Galatians 3:28, Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, and Mark 10: 35-45 point to the strict prohibition of creating systems of subjugation based on ethnicity, class, and/or sex among the follower of Christ.

The New Testament church realized what a distraction and danger “ruler”-ship and “leader”-ship titles and positions of power and honor posed to the life of the new community and to the witnessing of the gospel. The use of titles in systems of human subjugation prompted the New Testament believers to reject the use of titles within their community and instead used terms such as “servant” and “co-worker” in order to emphasize “servant”-hood and mutuality in the new community of Christ-followers. The New Testament church did have “servants” who had more authority and responsibility than others, but those individuals were recognized based on calling and gifting and graces given by God, not by sex nor ethnicity nor socio-economic status, Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 12, 14.

What now?

Some churches and Christian groups stay away from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor but also to avoid offending gender-hierarchicalists who regard certain positions and titles to be limited to men only. Not using titles may be impractical, especially for large churches. The benefit of using titles is that the congregation is made aware of who in the church has what responsibilities which make it convenient for church members to know who to seek for pertinent assistance. However, when a church limits certain positions of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making authority to certain groups based on sex, ethnicity, or socio-economic status then those positions turn to positions of power and honor and the church creates a system of subjugation. Chapelites and other gender-hierarchicalists who refer to themselves as ‘complementarians’ insist that men in authority are to be servants and benevolent, but a serving and benevolent system of subjugation is still a system of subjugation.

The New Testament has no more than two references to the use of titles and in both cases the title is acknowledged on a woman. For further study on women in senior or ordained ministry in the medieval and early church see works by Gary Macy such as The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West and also works by Dorothy Irvin; here Irvin is referenced in an article by Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Bitalia, the Ancient Woman Priest.”

 

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Steve Carter and Patriarchal Gender Essentialism at Willow Creek

As stated in previous articles in this website, I will be writing extensively on Steve Carter’s patriarchal teachings and modeling. Steve Carter is Willow Creek’s Teaching Pastor and appears to be first in line to take the Senior Pastor position after Bill Hybels retires.

In this article I will address gender essentialism as taught by Steve Carter during weekend messages on September 27 & 28, 2014 titled The God I Wish You Knew Guides Us. I have two reasons for choosing this weekend message for my first article that describes Steve’s patriarchal teachings.

First, Steve has been on staff at Willow Creek since Fall 2012. On numerous occasions he has taught and modeled patriarchalism and even though he has corrected many of his teachings in subsequent messages—under the instruction and correction of his supervisor(s)—he continues to teach and model patriarchalism. Either, he is subvert-ly and continually teaching patriarchalism, or he doesn’t know he is teaching patriarchalism which is why he continues to teach and model it and why he continues to be corrected.

Second, during this weekend’s message Steve taught a clear and obvious form of gender essentialism common among patriarchalists.

What is gender essentialism?

Gender essentialism ascribes differing aspects and traits of God to men and women. That is, men and women reflect the image and character of God differently. In patriarchal doctrine, the character and image traits ascribed respectively to men and women are generally exclusive. Meaning, men reflect certain aspects of God that women do not and women reflect certain aspects of God that men do not.

The aspects of God reflected differently and respectively or exclusively by men and women lead patriarchalists to assign gender roles appropriate for the respective image and character traits for men and women. As an example, patriarchalists ascribe traits of God’s righteousness to men, therefore men are better suited to be leaders since they are better fit to reflect God’s attributes of righteousness. Another example, women reflect the nurturing aspect of God, therefore they are more suitable to raise and nurture children and are the appropriate parent to stay at home and care for the children.

These two examples of patriarchal gender essentialism and gender roles are common among patriarchalists. Many other examples exist and the assigning of character traits and gender roles between men and women varies among patriarchal communities. What is common among all patriarchalists is that they use their own version of gender essentialism to place men in the leader and decision-making role and place women in the subordinate and inferior role. Gender essentialism becomes the tool patriarchalists use to subordinate women. The benevolent patriarchalists—or hierarchical-complementarians who prefer to call themselves ‘complementarians’—make great effort, and in good faith, to value their women in their subordinate and inferior roles. Unfortunately, that effort turns into insulting, degrading, and patronizing of their women—in the near future I plan to write on that subject and how that occurs at Willow Creek.

Other examples of gender essentialism at Willow Creek

Gender essentialism has been taught at Willow Creek before and continues to be promoted by Willow’s marriage ministry. Dan Allender, after speaking on marriage and intimacy at a weekend service on February 6, 2011, was invited to teach a one-day conference also on marriage and intimacy in January of 2012 titled Intimate Mystery Conference (the recording might still be available at Willow’s Seeds bookstore, a similar conference recording is available directly from Dan Allender). Currently, Willow’s marriage ministry promotes two of Allender’s books on marriage.

Allender’s psychology and theology of gender is based on patriarchal gender essentialism. Allender teaches in Intimate Mystery Conference that “men, more than women, reflect the heart of righteousness of God.” He also teaches (in Willow’s weekend message of February 2011 and in Intimate Mystery Conference of January 2012) that women, not men, suffer from the problem of control. Meaning, women—not men—seek to control other people. On several occasions in Intimate Mystery Conference Allender made reference to “controlling mothers” as a problem needing to be addressed. He never mentioned “controlling fathers”; that’s because “controlling fathers” don’t exist in his psychology and theology of patriarchal gender essentialism.

Allender teaches also that women reflect a “gentle strength”, a description of women commonly made among patriarchalists, a description of women I remember hearing often at the Calvary Chapel which is a gender-hierarchical church, a description of women I have heard from members and leaders at Willow Creek, and a description that has even been used in Willow email newsletter announcements to describe women speakers. Patriarchalists commonly use the word “gentle” as a description of women to remind women that they are to be sweet, nice, innocent, pure, soft-spoken, weak, quiet, non-threatening, submissive, subordinate, inferior, and non-authoritative in their demeanor, specifically when addressing men, and most importantly when exercising “strength” before and toward men—this is exactly how Allender made the illustration in his Intimate Mystery Conference. (see my previous article on women and emotiveness which includes links to pertinent research).

Steve’s teaching methodology of narrative

Before detailing Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism we must first look at his teaching methodology of narrative. Steve teaches via narrative. He tells stories and gives examples to illustrate points, so when he teaches he doesn’t always articulate specifically and explicitly what his teaching is. Preachers often employ the narrative when teaching. In fact, Jesus often taught via narrative with his use of parables. The narrative format has become a subtle and subvert way for patriarchalists to teach and model patriarchal principles without being explicit. When Steve taught and modeled patriarchal gender essentialism during the weekend message of September 27 & 28 of 2014 he did so without using the term “gender essentialism” and without specifically stating that men and women are essentially different in how they reflect God’s character. Yet, that is exactly what he taught and modeled using the teaching tool of narrative or story-telling.

Steve and gender essentialism

During the weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve spoke about his daughter and how he sees God thru her. The descriptions Steve verbalized in how his daughter reflects God are: “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”. All five words are typical associated to women in the patriarchal theology of gender essentialism.

“Dancing”, “playing” and “freedom” are associated with women’s care-free way of life for not being in a place of responsibility and decision-making. While the men are working, leading, and stressing over their responsibilities, the women are care-free and able to enjoy life whether it be at the spa or studio in joyful fellowship with their female friends. In another occasion, during the weekend message of May 26, 2013, Steve’s association of women and “dancing” led him to insult, degrade, and patronize the leadership of Miriam by reducing* Miriam’s leadership to no more than a “dancing” cheerleader type of “girl”—and he actually used the word “girl” to describe Miriam who at the time would have been over 80 years old.

“Purity” is a buzz word for the patriarchal sexual purity movement that emphasizes sexual abstinence for girls before marriage, an emphasis of sexual purity that is not always emphasized for boys in patriarchal circles. As for “innocence” coupled with “purity”, a common fantasy, desire, and/or expectation for patriarchal men is to be sexually involved with the hot and sexy women but then settle down and form a family with the “innocent” and “pure” “girl” who the man can bring home to meet the parents. “Purity” and “innocence” are requirements for women looking to be married in patriarchal circles. Egalitarians don’t oppose women associated with dancing, playing, exercising freedom, purity, and innocence. The degradation occurs when these descriptions are used with the purpose to subjugate and incarcerate women into patriarchal gender roles.

To contrast, in the same weekend message Steve mentioned his son and pointed to his athletic aspect of “running”—as opposed to “dancing” used for his daughter. The most grievous contrast Steve made is when he described his son as reflecting God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy. Steve did not mentioned any of these words specifically, except the word “love”, but he taught and modeled this association in narrative form by telling the story of his son expressing “love” for their dog, Bernie. “Love” is a prominent, if not the primary, attribute of God’s righteousness. Grace and mercy are also prominent aspects of God’s righteousness. As mentioned before, the attributes of God’s righteousness are commonly assigned to men in patriarchal gender essentialism and are used to qualify men for leadership while at the same time used to disqualify women for leadership since in their patriarchal understanding of gender essentialism women reflect little to no image of God’s righteousness.

What Steve taught and modeled using narratives about his daughter and son is a patriarchal gender essentialist association of

women with “dancing”, “playing”, “purity”, “freedom”, and “innocence”

and

men with God’s righteousness in the form of unconditional “love”, grace, and mercy

The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism

The attributes of God’s righteousness are considered the primary character traits of God, including but not limited to unconditional love, grace, mercy, compassion, and justice. The evil of patriarchal gender essentialism is to attribute God’s righteousness to primarily or only men and then use that association to acknowledge men as better image bearers of God and therefore elevate men as leaders and make women subordinate to men.

There is nothing inappropriate to associate women with dancing and purity and the like. Just like there is nothing inappropriate to associate men with God’s righteousness. The problem is gender association to the point of exclusivity and then use those associations to decide who is the leader and decision-maker and who is the subordinate. What about emphasizing purity and innocence to the men? Men as much as women need to practice purity and innocence. What about associating women with God’s righteousness and qualifying women for leadership and decision-making roles, inclusive of the area of church doctrine?

Steve mentioned a women’s prayer group, doesn’t that indicate his support of women in leadership?

Toward the end of the same weekend message of September 28, 2014, Steve mentioned the role a group of women part of a prayer ministry played in his decision to accept the invitation to be on staff at Willow Creek. At the time of that incident Steve was pastoring at Rock Harbor, a patriarchal church in Southern California. While considering a decision to move to Willow Creek he was challenged by a member in his small group at Rock Harbor to talk to the women in the prayer ministry. Steve spoke to a woman in the prayer group and received confirmation for him to accept Willow Creek’s invitation to be on staff to teach and oversee evangelism at Willow Creek.

In patriarchal churches prayer groups are primarily made up by women. It is not a ministry that carries authority; it is a ministry that serves primarily as support to the male leaders. Prayer ministry takes seriously the biblical mandate to pray for our leaders, and in patriarchal churches those leaders are men. When I was in the Calvary Chapel, a patriarchal church, I attended a prayer meeting led by a pastor’s wife and she spoke a prayer that went something like this, “Lord, we ask you to raise the men in our church to be leaders, to lead our ministries, and to lead our church with boldness and godly character.” There was no prayer for the women to be raised as leaders, the prayer for women went something like this, “…and help and guide us women and wives on how we can be of support to the men as they lead our church.” In patriarchal churches, women in prayer groups practice their patriarchal gender role of assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to the men who are the leaders.

The illustration made by Steve during the said weekend message regarding the women in the prayer group fits this patriarchal gender role for women. An illustration that would have reflected a more egalitarian and mutual view of women as advisors or as decision-makers would have been an illustration of him and his wife discussing the pending decision to move to Willow Creek and together made the decision to move or not. But he didn’t present that illustration, in fact he never spoke about his wife nor her role, if she had any, regarding his decision to accept Willow’s invitation to be on staff. The absence of a dialogue with his wife in the decision-making process, especially for such a significant event, is reflective of a patriarchal marriage. Maybe that dialogue did take place, if it did, he didn’t mention it. At that time during the message, the point Steve was illustrating was how God guides us thru other people, and he chose to mention the women’s prayer group as a confirmation for his staff position at Willow Creek. Steve’s self-promoting and self-validating illustrations during his weekend messages have been occurring since his arrival 2.5 years ago. That is a subject that requires its own space. I will address it in detail in a future article.

To be clear, I am not devaluating prayer ministry; I have high regard for it. I am simply describing how in patriarchal communities the prayer ministry has been reduced* to a place where women practice their gender roles as assistants, helpers, supporters, and cheerleaders to men in leadership.

What’s next?

In this article I have addressed only Steve Carter’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender essentialism as image bearers of God. In future articles I will address Steve’s teaching and modeling of patriarchal gender roles and his insulting, degrading and patronizing view of women in leadership.

The corrective

I am committed to noting any correctives Steve gives to his teachings. During weekend service of May 24, 2015 Steve gave a short corrective to his patriarchal gender essentialism as detailed above for his weekend message of September 28, 2014. In the May 24, 2015 message he described a woman practicing “forgiveness” toward the man who killed her son. Forgiveness is an attribute of God’s righteousness which Steve associated with a woman. This is not the first time Steve has corrected himself. His more obvious corrections are for his patriarchal and patronizing portrayal of Miriam’s leadership, for his patriarchal blaming of Eve for the Fall, and for his reductionist* teaching on the Holy Spirit (this Midweek message is no longer available on the Willow Creek website). In the near future I plan to write on each of these three problematic messages in detail and note the correctives Steve gave for each.

*Reductionism/Reductionist is defined as the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it. – per Dictionary.com

Edited: 6.18.15

Smart, Not Smarter

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After a movie, two single friends, Robert and Elsa, are having dinner at a restaurant (their names have been changed to protect their identity):

Robert: Women today are so dense! I would very much like to meet someone with half a brain.

Elsa: Would you like to meet a woman with more than half a brain?

Robert: [puzzled by Elsa’s question] But, of course. I meant to say AT LEAST half a brain.

Elsa: How about a woman with a full brain?

Robert: [even more puzzled and unsure where Elsa was going with her line of questioning] Uhm, sure. I would like her to be smart, if that’s what you mean.

Elsa: How smart?

Robert: [casually shrugging his shoulders] However smart she is will be fine by me.

Elsa: How do you see the two of you interacting when an important decision would need to be made?

Robert: We would talk about it and together we would make a decision.

Elsa: If during the discussion she would make a suggestion about the final decision and you found her suggestion to be wise, then you would go along with it?

Robert: Oh sure, absolutely!

Elsa: What if you two found yourselves making more decisions based on her suggestions than on your suggestions? Would you be ok with that?

Robert: [pensive and after a few seconds] No. I wouldn’t.

Elsa: Why not?

Robert: Because that would undermine my role as the leader and it would emasculate me. As the leader, I need to be the one doing more of the decision-making for us.

Elsa: So, you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?

Robert: [with a deeply pensive and sad and disappointed and shocked look on his face and facing downward toward the table] No. I guess not…

“So, [Robert] you would like to be with a smart woman, but she can’t be smarter than you?”

Elsa was able to get Robert to confess what so many people, men, pseudo-egalitarians, neo-egalitarians and even some egalitarians are not willing to acknowledge. A smart woman is preferred over a dense woman, just like a smart man is preferred over a dense man. The difference is that society places limits on women’s—but not on men’s—intellect in dating, marriage, and the church, both consciously and subconsciously. This limit is one that girls learn to “submit” to at an early age when they start to become interested in boys. A limit that women place on themselves as adults when they dumb themselves down in order to accommodate men like Robert. A limit in intelligence, wisdom, and giftedness advocated by gender-hierarchicalists who instruct women to “step-down” so the men can “step-up” both in the home and in the church.

A smart woman is preferred, but she cannot be smarter than the man.

In order for the woman to accomplish such a feat she must regularly monitor herself to not surpass the man who is the reference point of her limits. Sadly, far too many women find themselves in this predicament in dating, in marriage, and in the church. In fact, women carry this self-monitored debasement with them into the workforce and society at large. Not to mention, the media does a superb job in reminding women and setting expectations of their place as the inferior sex and serving as partner to the patriarchal church in debasing women so that men may rise and remain dominant.

At the time when Robert and Elsa had the above conversation they were attending a gender-hierarchical church, a Calvary Chapel in Los Angeles county, where the following event took place. A male member of the church, who was also an elder, just graduated from a well known university in Southern California where he received the honor of the top student in the school of engineering. The senior pastor dedicated a Sunday service to teach on the value of this man’s accomplishments and the significance of his witness and evangelism as Christians live out their faith before the world. The following year, the same honor of top engineering student from the same university was awarded to a member of their church. What are the odds of that?! Certainly, the senior pastor would have topped his sermon from the previous year now that two of their church members had received the top engineering student honor. However, there was no sermon. There was not even a mention from the senior pastor or from anyone on stage during the church service of the second student who had received the same scholastic honor. There was only a quiet celebration party for the second student at a nearby coffeehouse and the senior pastor and his wife showed up for a few minutes. Why the disparity?

The second award winner was a woman.

A double-standard of praise was clearly at work, and even research on the subject confirms that society’s patriarchal conditioning leads people to give praise to men and deny it to women even on identical accomplishments.

This gender-hierarchical church has a history of struggles with educated and intellectual members on many fronts. First, women could not be “smarter” than men because the men would feel “emasculated” and their authority would be at risk of being usurped by the women. Second, intellectual women could not be publicly praised because other women in the church, particularly stay at home wives and moms (many of whom had no education beyond high school—if that) would “feel bad about themselves”. Third, educated and intellectual men and women, were advised to not freely discuss their backgrounds when meeting new people because “people’s jobs do not define who they are”. This principle is a great point, but the underlying reason was to avoid making the non-educated members and visitors “feel bad about themselves.” Of course, this advice was selectively dismissed by the pastor when he publicly praised the male honor student, then chose to abide by it one year later when he kept silent about the female honor student.

Perhaps, the pastor did not intend to practice a double standard of praise and chose to not publicly praise the female honor student for numerous of valid reasons. Perhaps after his public praise of the male honor student he received negative feedback and was reminded of the principle to not make people “feel bad about themselves” on the subject of education and intellect. On the other hand, members in the church practiced various forms of double standards regarding education and intellect between men and women as already mentioned above, such as the requirement that the women could not be “smarter” than the men in order to avoid emasculating the men and avoid usurping the leadership of men, such were the concerns of Robert and he was not unique.

Consider this detail that indicates the senior pastor in most likelihood chose to practice a double standard of praise. In fact, this additional detail, to some extent, aligns the senior pastor with Robert. Both the senior pastor and his wife attended the quiet celebration party for the female honor student. The senior pastor’s wife showed up thrilled and her bright smile made it clear she was a proud ‘mama’ of the female honor student. She stayed for an extended amount of time in joyous fellowship with the party attendees. The senior pastor, on the other hand, did not have the same enthusiastic and proud smile. He greeted the attendees, congratulated the honor student, and remained in the party only a few minutes not interacting much—which was not his typical personality. Maybe he had other business to attend to? Maybe he felt guilty because he had not publicly praised the accomplishments of the female honor student as he did the prior year when he praised the accomplishments of the male honor student? Maybe, he felt awkward in comparison to such a brilliant woman? Actually, that is quite common among men particularly in gender-hierarchical churches, including male pastors in comparison to their female congregants. It is that awkwardness in men that drives women to debase themselves. It is that awkwardness in men that requires women to not be as ‘smart’ as men. By the way, the female honor student went on to perform even greater accomplishments in the field of science…and she no longer attends that church.

Now what?

People in marriages and churches frequently navigate educational and intellectual differences in a healthy way that does not create separation, division, or inferiority. Instead, they practice mutual praise, admiration, and support. Unfortunately, others do not navigate educational and intellectual differences well and as a result, division and even antagonism is fostered.

What are the key character traits that help us stay in loving community with people who are different from ourselves and allow us to foster an environment where everyone in the group is valued?

Edited: 6.15.2015