Monday, November 5, 2012

This Boss Idea Is Kind Of A Load Of Crap

This post follows on two previous musings on gender, one more on the ladies the other more on the dudes. Here I get more onto my deeper views on the discussion and kind of what underlies my approach in the other two posts.

In Christian circles there are two main camps in the understanding of gender relations.

Complementarian: equal but different
Egalitarian: equal but equal

COMP holds that men and women are equal in human value but that men are the ones who are designed and suited to be the boss. EG holds that women are suited to be the boss just as much as men. With both positions "boss" means the person who gets to tell the other people what to do.

Both positions assume a hierarchical power structure: someone needs to be the boss of someone.

A COMP defense of a hierarchical power structure is just as problematic as an EG addendum to a hierarchical power structure and the problem does not lie in the COMP or EG position. Rather the problem lies in the accepted hierarchical power structure.

What is the problem with hierarchy? On the plus side, it is an effective system for accomplishing our goals. How could we run businesses or churches without a well specified chain of command? How could we get people to give money and time and energy to our goals unless there was someone in charge telling them to do it?

Another benefit of hierarchy is for the people who are not at the top. It enables well structured organizations where each person knows their place and can relatively easily know what they are supposed to do: it allows an efficient way to cover your own ass. Without a well structured hierarchy people would have to take full responsibility for themselves rather that do what they are told.

The major problem with hierarchy is that it has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.

When I was at seminary I attended a theological conference in which one of the presenters defended hierarchical structures based on analogy with the Trinity: the Father is the boss and the Son and Spirit do what the Father says, therefore there is a distinct chain of command within the godhead. Your humble servant then asked an impertinent question, "If we are going to establish a hierarchy within the Trinity would it not have to be flowing in a different direction? Jesus clearly teaches that the greatest is the servant. Therefore, the Spirit would be the greatest since he serves the Son and the Father and Jesus would be the #2 because he serves the Father. So by Jesus teaching, if the Trinity is a hierarchy then the Father is the least of the three." That presenter did a good job of quickly changing the subject and returning to the floor for another question. (Incidentally, other presenters came up to me afterward to shake my hand and thank me for the question.)
Byzantine mosaic of Christ washing the disciples' feet at the Monreale Cathedral. Public Domain.
Essentially, if we are to defend hierarchy from the trinity then we need to destroy the unity of the trinity and claim that the analogy comes before the ethics proclaimed by the Son (in obedience to the Father.) Moreover that those proclaimed ethics do not have their origin from within God and so are inconsistent with the ethical commands to imitate God. To my mind it makes much more sense to lose a defense of hierarchy.

The consistent teaching of Jesus links authority and greatness to service. And it runs in the direction of service yields the other two rather than the other two imply service. By this model the one in charge is the one who serves most and best rather than the one who gives the orders.

But hey, that is the way that the world works, there are bosses, someone needs to tell the other people what to do.


First, is that supposed to be a defense of the system? If our systems are inconsistent with the Kingdom of God, what does that say about the system? Moreover, what does that say about our relationship to that system? Should our response be to capitulate or to transform? Even implicit acceptance of a problematic system ratifies that system. At the very least our responsibility is to be entirely clear that the system is inconsistent with the Kingdom. ENTIRELY CLEAR.

Second, that may be the way the world works. You may even find yourself in a "boss" position within a hierarchical system. It is now your responsibility to earn that position by truly serving, at least to the level that would make that position legitimate. That is, it is upon you to serve those that the system has placed under you. It is your responsibility to place them above you by your service to them.

Third, if the Church needs the hierarchy to get the people to do what needs to be done to maintain the Church then what does that say about the Church? Does the Church so constituted deserve to be called the Body of Christ?

So, ought we to debate whether women should be allowed to be "bosses"? Or could our time be better spent devising and implementing strategies of redemption that change the structure?

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