Saturday, 6 October 2012

Headship (Head what?)

In the 90s I spent some time in a fellowship group led by a Curate from a church which was against women leading and teaching in public worship. This conservative stance wasn't apparent to my naive self at the time: ordained women were a 'new thing', heard about but not seen. I'd never experienced Anglican church life with a woman leading, preaching or presiding. I had only just begun to unpack what the bible said about men and women. The Curate was nice; the coffee, company and discussion convivial...

Not that I remember anything we talked about...except the time we tackled the verse 'wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord' (Ephesians 5:22). Apparently the verse meant 'Husband has casting vote in arguments'. So in the heat of the right old ding dong you were having in the bedroom at 2am, the wife, seething but recalling the Epistle to the Ephesians, would say through gritted teeth, 'oh have it your own way then'.

It was only years later that I focussed properly on the previous verse: 'Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.' A good verse to begin a difficult passage, though it didn't offer much more help in arguments:

Wife: Have it your own way

Husband: Oh no, please, have it YOUR own way

Wife: No, I insist, you must have it YOUR own way

Husband: No, no, really, I insist, have it your own way, please...

The 'husbands love; wives submit' approach was part of a wider issue called 'Headship'. 

Blame 1 Corinthians 11:3: 'But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ; the head of woman is man and the head of Christ is God.'

From this word 'head', in a passage about head coverings and hair which, at the best of times is difficult to interpret decisively, comes the entire edifice of 'headship', a word not even in the text. 

The edifice is hierarchical because God is hierarchical apparently (the Father 'sends' the Son - the 'flow' is in one direction, they say). 

The edifice employs language of roles (we're 'equal' but different, therefore women have different roles to men per se).

The edifice matches the word 'love' to the man and the word 'submit' to the woman. Even though, clearly, women lay down their lives for men in numerous loving ways, and each submits to the other and both to Christ.

The edifice has love flowing from the man, the instigator, to the woman, the receiver. Active and passive.  A man is 'Wild at Heart'; a woman 'Captivating'*. Woman was created to help man (Genesis says 'help meet', see?) 

Before long you end up with the above diagram... 

The whole head/hat/covering/authority language is so open to interpretation it cannot be the best foundation for dogmatism. I decided a while ago that the use of 'head' from which the whole headship edifice derives, is a hermeneutically fluid attempt by Paul to redefine first century male dominion, in the light of the unsettling example of Jesus of Nazareth who, shock horror, argued with, taught, commissioned and even received anointing from those strange equal beings called... women.

*titles of books by John and Stasi Eldredge

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