(Some) Christians’ Phallic Fallacy on Authority and Leadership

I have known good, Christian women who, in an effort to shape their lives by the scriptures of our Faith, have deferred to the authority of their husbands in every matter, even despite very obvious cognitive deficiencies and spiritual-psychological inadequacies that lead to sometimes horrendous difficulties. Example after example comes to mind, which is not to say that men in general have such gross deficiencies and inadequacies, yet the solution to many difficulties in marriage might be more authentic co-operation stemming from a right understanding and application of biblical principles not at first blush having anything to do with leadership (or headship) within the sacramental covenant of Holy Matrimony.

I can only think that men and women, down through the ages and in our own day and time, have committed what I’d like to refer to as the phallic fallacy of leadership; that is, that the possession of a penis alone qualifies one for authority. I don’t know if this sounds too Freudian. I’m certainly not deriving my thought from Freud, but rather from observation as well as inductive reasoning. After all, the holy Scriptures of Judeo-Christianity really do not, on the whole, preclude female leadership. Even the Apostle St. Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men in the Church,[1] rightly understood, does not preclude any and all forms of female leadership, however conservatively one wants to interpret his directive.

Deborah, prophetess and judge of Israel, led her people into battle at the behest Barak ibn Abinoam.[2] Jael, which means “wild gazelle” or “mountain goat,”[3] slaughtered Sisera, captain of Jabin’s army and became instantly a celebrated hero among her people.[4] The prophetess Huldah was consulted as the only one in or around the Jerusalem area who could interpret the Law of God during the reign of Josiah, when no one else (presumably) could truly and insightfully understand the Book of the Law[5] – an outstanding example of spiritual-religious (and, to an extent really, socio-political) leadership. Dr. Joseph Priestly invidiously commented on Huldah, noting:

It pleased God to distinguish several women with the spirit of prophecy, as well as other great attainments, to show that in his sight, and especially in things of a spiritual nature, there is no essential pre-eminence in the male sex, though in some things the female be subject to the male.[6]

Junia (or Junias) was “prominent (outstanding, notable) among the Apostles.”[7] Phoebe was an ordained deaconess commended by the Apostle Paul to the Church at Rome, to be received and assisted in whatever matter she might require.[8] Sheerah, daughter of Ephraim, founded and built three towns.[9] Of course, one might justly say these (and others that could be mentioned) are exceptions to the rule, but here is the point: There are exceptions to the rule, and this is notable as it comes from patriarchal ages and cultures that were sometimes even quite misogynistic. Of course, there are examples in Scripture of wicked women who exerted authoritative influence upon their husbands, such as Jezebel. Yes, it cuts both ways; however, the thought of someone – anyone – following a raving idiot over the side of a cliff due merely to age or biological relationship, or because that person wears an insignia of high rank, possesses a penis, or whatever is completely intolerable, yet this is precisely what many conservative Christians still believe, teach, and live.

Perhaps we can begin a reevaluation of the relationship of male to female with the observation of St. Paul that “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[10] By the love and unity of the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus, such divisions and distinctions have not been entirely removed but superseded. Yes, the female is still female and the male is still male, but the consequence of this distinction fades into the background when the couple stands before God, who is above and beyond such disparities, filled with the Spirit of Life, in and through Christ Jesus. In the context of this relationship, love and wisdom will certainly be (or should be) the two most important operating principles. To turn away from all sense and sensibility (to borrow from Jane Austin) and endanger the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, for example, all to obediently appease the phallus-bearing “head of the household” is shameful and irresponsible … not pleasing to God. The almighty Creator gave each of us, women as well as men, an organ called the brain… He expects us to use it!

Interestingly enough, it is from Lady Wisdom – Sophia – we most aptly learn to think rightly and righteously, “for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”[11] Indeed, “wisdom is a fountain of life to the wise…”[12] And so we are enjoined to “learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that we may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace.”[13] Some are wiser than others; some women very obviously have more insight, understanding, and perception than men; some men are keener than women. Who should make the decisions, then? The one who is wiser. It may be that the man has many, many gifts and talents, works hard and honestly, and lives his life with complete integrity, yet this man may not be adept in financial matters or real-estate or household management; he may be an electrical engineer or college professor or agriculturalist of the highest caliber, though. Albert Einstein was one of the greatest scientist of the 20th century – perhaps the greatest – yet he had difficulty navigating through ordinary, everyday life. Is it really unrealistic to believe that someone like Einstein might actually need a loving partner to take charge of practical matters and daily affairs?

I vividly remember watching a somewhat dark-comic movie titled Pumpkin,[14] which was about a beautiful, uptown college girl who falls in love with a cognitively challenged young man affectionately called “Pumpkin” (at first by his mother and then others, of course.) He fell in love with her, too, but his mother and her parents and friends all thought the whole arrangement was utterly foolish, totally impractical … but they genuinely loved each other. By the end of the movie, everyone recognized this, appreciated and even supported it; however, there were no illusions concerning who would necessarily provide overall guidance and direction – wise and loving leadership – in the relationship. There could be no question as to who was capable of managing, of presiding over their household. She would have to assume the responsibility of headship (and, to a great extent, really, guardianship), phallus-deprived though she was, and Pumpkin would have to accept this necessary marital structure. This could be, and probably is – surely somewhere – true-to-life, and is this wrong? Is it sinful for the mentally-challenged to fall in love with someone who thoroughly loves him? In other words, is what we might now call the “Pumpkin Relationship” untenable just because the phallus-bearing mate is incapable of leading? Should he be consigned to a life of loneliness, deprived of Eros bathed and wrapped in Agape love?

If not, then, could you imagine a woman in a Pumpkin Relationship saying something like, “He gave me some money to spend today, so I can treat myself to lunch.” Or worse still, “Pumpkin gave me permission to pay off the bills this month, so we won’t incur any penalties.” Or even more egregious, “Pumpkin said it’s not black mold in the bathroom, and he won’t let me treat it or get rid of it; in fact, Pumpkin won’t allow me to open the windows to let in fresh air, despite the good weather, because he says it bothers his allergies.” Insane? Yes, of course it is, but I tell you I know of such situations. I’ve heard such statements almost verbatim, except for the “Pumpkin” part, of course. And the rationale behind this? The woman claims she wants to be obedient and honor God. Harrumph! Would someone tell me how endangering the well-being of oneself and, if it’s the case, the health and welfare of one’s children is honoring God? I do not question a woman’s right to marry a buffoon, but she ought to realize she’s marrying a buffoon and act accordingly. If the pompous, idiotic ass feels slighted because he’s the one with the penis but hasn’t carte blanche authority, then she should pack his bags and send him back to mamma. As Sophocles said in his Antigone:

The kind of man who always thinks that he is right, that his opinions, his pronouncements, are the final word, when once exposed shows nothing there. But a wise man has much to learn without a loss of dignity.[15]

Of course, we are talking about wisdom bathed in love or, better yet, enveloped and kept in love, specifically the love of God. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”[16] Marriage and family are all but nothing when devoid of love. I don’t know if there is any personal relationship worth having in which love is absent. But why bring up this subject at all? We’re living in the 21st century, after all, and in a progressive society, right? Well, there are at least three reasons:

  1. There still exists a substantial minority of people who adhere to the grossly misconstrued “biblical” principle of pater familia.
  2. There remains vestiges of this principle in at least the subconscious thinking of (probably) the majority of people in our society, men and women.
  3. Because of points one and two, the result is the continuing inexcusable degradation of women.
    1. This includes the forming and shaping of the disposition of young females toward lives of practical inferiority to the male.

I certainly do not want my daughter to grow up with the absurd idea that she needs the male counterpart in her life because she is incapable of actually living life apart from some man; although the man, whoever he is, would be completely capable of doing just that precisely because he is a man. (Not that I have any influence in the matter anymore, but…) I don’t want her to grow up believing that her “place” in life is abject subservience to her husband, when her husband may very well be wrong many times over. Not that I want my daughter to be lonely – no! certainly not – but like any single man, the single woman can surround herself with good, wholesome friends, and integrate herself into a healthy faith community, engage in productive and fulfilling employment, and so forth. And, no, I’m not holding this up as being ideal, though some individuals are called to this sort of life; I am merely saying I want my daughter to know that her life, and the rounding out and wholeness of her life, does not depend upon any man rescuing her like some damsel in distress, and holding her hand as if she were infantile. I want her to realize, as the case may very well be, that the success of her marriage depends as much upon her wisdom and love and, yes, guidance and direction as much as it does upon her husband; that, in other words, the relationship is better fit to succeed and be what God intends through genuine co-operation … not abject subservience. And I don’t want her ever to feel as if she’s caught in a trap of grave stupidity and dangerous folly with no way out, which does not mean that I want her to divorce at the first sign of trouble. Again, to borrow from Jane Austin, it’s a matter of exercising sense and sensibility.

I have addressed this subject before from different angles, but now I want to end this particular essay on a personal note: I’ve never felt comfortable as a male, who is quite comfortable in his own skin, so to speak, trying to fit myself into some predesigned mold, which is all-too-often a kind of John Wayne seasoned with a little Jimmy Stewart kind of model of what it means to be and live like a “real man.” What if my gifts and talents lie in areas outside the traditional purview of household management, or headship? Is it impossible for me to still be very much a man, who nevertheless listens to and generally follows the leadership of his wife? Is this radical, or can I not fulfill my own destiny in life without dirty boots, shotgun shells, pick-em-up trucks, and cans of cheap beer? Is it not possible that I might actually be “stronger” in some areas of life and my wife “stronger” in others? Could we not genuinely co-operate with me, as the husband, generally deferring to the wisdom and love of my wife? Really, just how unbiblical does this look and sound? On another personal note, I’ve always wondered how some women, so evidently intelligent and talented and otherwise strong, could continue to degrade themselves in bending the knee and bowing the head to foolish, self-serving, adult-sized boys when there are more than a few truly decent, mature men in the world, who would genuinely love and respect them? This is not the time or place to attempt to answer this question, though. Enough for now to say, “Enough is enough! Time for Christians – more specifically of the fundamentalist ilk – to stop committing the phallic fallacy on authority and leadership!” Amen and Amen.

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[1] Cf. I Timothy 2. 12

[2] Cf. Judges 4. 8

[3] Cf. Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions H3278

[4] Cf. Judges 4. 7 – 5. 24

[5] Cf. II Kings 22. 8-20

[6] As quoted by Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, on II Kings 22. 14

[7] Romans 16.7 (NRSV, ISV, EMTV, RV)

[8] Cf. Romans 16. 1-2; also Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible for same verses; The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on the same, as well.

[9] Cf. I Chronicles 7. 24

[10] Galatians 3. 28b NRSV

[11] Proverbs 8. 11 NRSV

[12] Proverbs 16. 22 GNT

[13] Baruch 3. 14 NRSV (Note: “you” changed to “we” to flow with sentence structure)

[14] Pumpkin, 2002 drama directed by Adam Larson Broder and Anthony Abrams, released by Indie Films

[15] As quoted at http://www.notable-quotes.com, accessed on May 5, 2015

[16] I Corinthians 13. 4 RSV

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