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Saying No to Patriarchy in the Evangelical Church

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SPU chapter.

Quarantine was a time for me to delve deep into questions I had been keeping buried in regards to the treatment of women in the Evangelical church. I started my research with a few books, one of which was A year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I wrote a review on it so go check that out. I also listened to an assortment of podcasts. My mom introduced me to one called Reclaiming my Theology, which is hosted by Brandi Miller. She has multiple seasons each touching on topics like patriarchy, racism, and politics. Her opening line describes the podcast as a place to “take back our theology from systems that oppress”. The episode I will be talking about today is season 5, episode 3 titled “From Patriarchy to Purity Culture: Christian Patriarchy 101 with Erna Kim Hackett.”

This podcast is based on liberation and womanist theology. In brief, liberation theology started in Latin America and focuses on liberation from social, political, and economic oppression. Womanist theology is centered around Black or African American female voices. 

I think this podcast is so important for anyone interested in learning about different perspectives of the treatment of women in the church because it is simply a conversation between two women. While male perspectives on patriarchy are valid, too often they dominate these conversations. Hackett and Miller create space for women and specifically women of color to feel heard. 

One of my favorite points from the podcast is that oftentimes it’s easier to discuss racism in the church than patriarchy because racism is easier to see. Christain patriarchy is so deeply embedded and so widely accepted that we engage with it unknowingly. Furthermore, the church has reduced the conversation down to do you support female leadership or not rather than opening it up to the umbrella of how women are treated in the church. It’s also more dangerous to be in a space that supports women in leadership but doesn’t continue conversations about patriarchy, than in a church that openly denies women leadership roles. Why? Because doing nothing to undo patriarchy past women’s leadership is the same as the latter church. It’s just more hidden. Hackett makes it clear that it’s a system and a culture rather than a congregational decision about who can and cannot lead or teach.

 Hackett defines Christian patriarchy as focusing on the family, in particular regarding male “headship” as holding the power. She also pointed out that patriarchy is about two things. The first is the elevation of men and the second is the denigration of anything feminine or associated with femininity. 

The second main point brought up by Miller is that many times this issue is referred to as a secondary issue. She argues that if you are going to say that men and women have different roles given by God you should also grant them equal power. Patriarchy grants men power over women and therefore dismantles the idea of “equality in different roles.”How is there equality if there is not equal power? Hackett points out that many people are uncomfortable discussing this issue because they truly believe that this is how God wanted it to be and disrupting it would be disrupting God’s plan for gender relations. This is so harmful to women. Let’s not forget that women make up half of every congregation. So when a woman feels uncomfortable in her own church she is left with two options, leaving her community or staying in an environment that does not value her unique God-given talents and abilities. 

As the podcast goes on, Miller points out that Christian patriarchy is harmful to men as well. All it does is create these rigid definitions of masculinity and femininity that no one person really ever can fit into. It ignores and shames parts of people that are more “feminine” and gives gender so much more power over people than I think God ever intended it to have. It has created the idea that men have to lead and women have to submit or play assistant roles instead of seeing people for their talents and abilities. There is an unnecessary and harmful pressure on men to lead and there is an unnecessary and harmful pressure on women to stay silent. 

I hope you check out this podcast because it has much more to say on these issues and is a great outlet to be exposed to people you might not necessarily hear from in your average Evangelical church. I hope this leaves you with the courage to examine how patriarchy might be manifesting itself in your life and what you can do to stop it. In the end, it harms everyone.

Haley Blain is the President of Her Campus SPU! She joined Her Campus as a freshman and has thoroughly enjoyed the community. She is in charge of overseeing the direction of the club’s content and is responsible for being a correspondent to the HCHQ. She is currently a junior at SPU double majoring in Global Development and Economics. She lived in Shanghai, China for six and a half years. This influenced her decision to major in Global Development. Her writing experience includes writing for Her Campus since her freshman year, writing for the Falcon (SPU’s campus newspaper), and Bethany Community Church. At BCC, she created and wrote her own handbook for their missions department evaluating partnerships between the church and non-profits. It’s pretty obvious that Haley loves writing. She also enjoys reading, hiking, CrossFit, and dance. She is an avid music listener and likes to stream on KSPU (SPU’s radio station) with custom playlists that have new themes each week. This bio would not be complete without addressing her deep love for Taylor Swift’s music. Concerts are some of her favorite events to attend. Some highlights include Taylor Swift (Rep & Eras), Greta Van Fleet, and Alicia Keys.