I’ve been seeing a lot of talk around the interwebs lately about what it means to be the head of a family, specifically, the male head of a Christian family. Some of it’s interesting. A lot of it gives me pause, especially when I see leadership equated with control and domination. In my view, that’s exactly backward. Any kind of leadership, whether secular or spiritual, implies selfless service. Wholehearted and selfless dedication to the welfare and well-being of those you lead is what inspires followership. Consent is something earned, not demanded or blindly given. Hearts yield to love, not force.
So leadership isn’t something that anyone is simply entitled to as a birthright. It’s a privilege you have to wholeheartedly strive to be worthy of, every moment of every day. In the absence of that commitment, authority gives rise to oppression. I think that’s true in any context, whether familial, social, political, or spiritual.
For my own part, I strive to be a leader in my family, but not within a rigid male leader/female follower paradigm. I lead when needed, and I follow when necessary (well, at least I honestly try). Still, I think there’s a distinctively masculine character to my leadership, in terms of the role I play in the household and the way I lead, and that’s something that I embrace proudly and unapologetically. But masculinity doesn’t imply superiority, not in terms of leadership ability and most especially not in terms of spiritual status. In fact, I think the notion that masculinity does in fact imply political and spiritual superiority has led many people to stigmatize masculinity as something inherently oppressive, or even to reject the very concepts of masculinity and femininity altogether, with deeply troubling consequences for family and social cohesion.
The circumstances that have led to this reaction are certainly deeply disturbing in themselves. Women in societies the world over are expected to do the primary tasks that hold households and communities together without remuneration, recognition or practical assistance from their male partners, while men idle their time away or absorb themselves in their individual pursuits. In extreme instances, women are treated as mere chattel, as economic resources–or burdens as the case may be–to be exchanged and disposed of at men’s pleasure. Meanwhile, men who don’t have the vaguest idea of what’s required to preserve and manage their own households, much less entire nations, reserve the right of political leadership exclusively for themselves. It’s not hard to understand why governmental policies so often result in misallocated resources and misaligned priorities.
The ideological rationales used to justify this state of affairs frequently rely on scriptural authority for support of their claim that men are inherently superior in capacity and social status. Often, the interpretations of those scriptures are acontextual and ahistorical. However, whether they’re deliberately distorted or conscientiously interpreted, it’s clear that laws that were intended to address social circumstances that existed millennia ago are unsuited for an infinitely more advanced and complex world. Part of the challenge then is to apply moral principles in a way that is consistent with the physical and social reality in which we presently live, while remaining in harmony with the enduring basic spiritual truths that underlie all the world’s great faiths.
The common ideological counter-reactions to sexist dogmas in no way meet that challenge. Indeed, they are in their own way equally destructive and dehumanizing. In the place of religious dogmas that permanently assign women an inferior status, we are given political dogmas that permanently cast the human characteristics of gender and sexuality in fixed roles of politically dominant and politically subordinate, of oppressed and oppressor, and strip them of any meaning or significance outside of those roles. The elements of human identity are reduced to mere signifiers of relative political status, and the objective of movements for social justice is reduced to the achievement of equivalent political status for arbitrarily designated political groups. Human relationships and human needs are obviated, and humans themselves are treated as mere vessels for an ideological struggle.
The result is a blindly insurgent and morally anarchic social and political environment that ignores the glaring real-world needs of women, men and children of every background and social stratum in favor of theatrical ideological contests and fatuous navel-gazing.
My own view is that the only viable way to address the challenge is to treat men and women as what they are: complementary equals, who are plainly designed, physically and spiritually, to live in intimate and enduring partnership with one another. It’s the way that my wife and I have tried to live in our own marriage: working and leading collaboratively in our mutually agreed upon roles, as co-heads of a family born of our own flesh and spirit. Thankfully for us I can honestly say that the results have only confirmed us in our commitment.
Theme: I Want A Love – Ashley DuBose