Because Christianity is bigger than Biblical manhood or Biblical womanhood

Could you climb into a time machine for the sake of this story, and go back to the recent past? Think of an introverted bookworm who was sort of a late bloomer and, at 15, did not bloom yet. That is more or less Retha Faurie at age 15. As such, the pre-conversion 15-year old Retha have never dated, and it did not worry me either. I really was not interested yet.

When I gave my life to God at age 15, it was with enthusiasm, and He gave my life real sense and meaning… It is hard to talk of conversion without falling into Christianese clichés. Anyway, I appreciated the God I found, I proclaimed Him, I started to find life meaningful. I prayed, read my Bible, was a small group leader in a Christian organization for high school children, and did something called Service Year for Christ. I basically looked out for opportunities to serve Him. (The clichés stop here, I promise.) Not everything I did was equally successful or equally from God, but that is another topic.

Of course, as I got older, I started to have a desire for the opposite sex. I was a late bloomer, not a never bloomer.

But by that time I ingested the idea that the man should be the spiritual leader of the home, and I believed a Christian woman only belong with a man who can lead her spiritually. Any other kind of man cannot be the will of God for the life of a Christian woman. In practical terms, that would be a man who knows more of Christianity and love Jesus more than I do. Should a Christian man who wants to marry have a pastoral and teaching gift, as he should use this knowledge to lead his wife and children spiritually?

Lead spiritually? Well, I know the Bible do not speak of spiritual leadership specifically (it mention being the head as Jesus is, so it could not exclude the spiritual side), so I also believed he should be the leader in other ways. I looked for a man who is smarter than I am, whose decisions I could trust more than my own.

Needless to say, any man who started to give a slight indication that he likes me, I judged on whether he could lead me, spiritually and otherwise. The few men who did give spiritual leading in my life was already married, and gave spiritual leading to many. The men who showed an interest in me? I simply showed no interest in return. How could I, because I, as a dedicated believer, thought that if he cannot lead me spiritually, the relationship cannot be the will of God?

Laugh if you want. They say many people have an unrealistic view of marriage. “Spiritual leadership” is part of the unrealistic expectations of many Christian women.

Well, I don’t complain about my time of believing that. Knowing God is great- with or without a man. But on age 36, not only a virgin but someone who never had a boyfriend, I looked at the Bible again – and found I was cheated. I believed messages that did not come from God. The Bible does not say “look for a man who can lead as Jesus led.” The Bible does not say: “Man, lead as Jesus led.” Those verses say nothing of what he ought to do or ought to be. Here is what is in them:

Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church

If that text means what it sounds like on first hearing it, the words would be untrue. Husbands are not leaders like Jesus. Some do not lead at all. Others lead in ways Jesus do not. Then I heard that head is the literal Greek word for the head on shoulders, and it has other symbolic meanings in Greek. It don’t have to mean leadership, and perhaps it never does. And that made sense to my head, and to my heart.

And then I investigated this matter somewhat further, and looked what people mean when they say the man should be “the head.” I found a lot of things like this one:

I believe a male spiritual leader in the home is a man who loves his wife and family, expresses that love often, prays with and for his family on an individual basis and corporately.  He should be an active participant in his church and his family should see him in that role.  He should read scripture often, be seen by his family doing that, maybe listen to Christian media in the car.  He shouldn’t live a life of hypocrisy, he should admit when he is wrong, be strong – but gentle.

But then, a woman who loves her husband and children, expresses that love often, prays with and for her family, is an active participant in her church, etc. , who is strong , but gentle – is an equally good thing! For some reason they call it “spiritual leadership” when a man does it, but not when a woman does it. Why not??? The deeper I scratched, the more myths I found.

After I sworn off the ridiculously unbiblical “man should be the spiritual leader” idea at age 36, I had my first boyfriend last year – at age 37. This was also a man who could not be my spiritual leader, but it did not matter. Even though the relationship did not work out, it is still a beautiful memory.

Perhaps I will still have a husband some day. Perhaps it is too late. But dammit, I wish nobody ever told me the rubbish of “the man should be the spiritual leader!” I could have been married, with children. I always liked children a lot. And now that I don’t think men fall horribly short of a leadership standard God sets for them, I find I like men a lot more for what they are.

Comments on: "What “the man should be the spiritual leader” did to me" (18)

  1. This is very insightful about one of the possible consequences of trying to faithfully live gender hierarchy.

    P.S. I think you mean “swore off” not “swore of”

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Retha. The notion of male spiritual leadership is so prevalent in the church and is robbing women in many ways. And yet the biblical basis for male spiritual leadership is incredibly flimsy. :(

  3. Thank you…

  4. I agree with you. Fortunately sometime in my youth I read something–I think it was in one of George MacDonald’s novels–where a young woman of noteworthy spirituality–she was kind of an informal pastor to a group of slum-dwellers–was becoming seriously interested in a young fellow of more apparently nominal Christianity. Some of her friends were criticizing the relationship and a wiser friend said, “No, you can’t judge someone’s spiritual state from the outside, let alone guess where they will be going through the years.” Holding out for a fellow believer, yes. Holding out for someone who looks holier than you is not only going to leave most Christian women out, it’s not even necessarily a good call. Because you don’t know where people will wind up. Or what’s going on beneath the surface.

  5. [...] Favorite Complementarian Passages (32); The Rest of Scripture (30) … … Read more: What “the man should be the spiritual leader” did to me « Biblical … ← The Devil and Jerry Brown Quote Tax Scriptures for Own Purposes … The Bible as [...]

  6. Thank you for your clear and honest assessment, Retha. I can’t help thinking, too, what this idea did to the men you met in your earlier years, who were trying to find a mate but were considered to be failing a spiritual mark that God never designed them to achieve. How easy for a man to lose confidence in his manhood, when he is given this false idea of what manhood is! This doctrine hurts so many people. Only those who find their natural personalities fit the box they are stuffed into, will find it really works for them.

    • Perhaps that is part of why there are fewer men in church – the woman’s “gender role” is actually possible, for at least married women, by “simply” taking care of your own actions.

      To live the “male gender role”, you need to influence the actions of others too.

  7. Wow. Thank you for sharing this, Retha. I think it’s great (okay, not really, but you’ll see what I mean, I hope) that since you held the belief that you did, that you specifically sought someone who was qualified for leadership in some way in addition to being male.

    In the southern US, being male seems to be enough (male=leader!), though I’m not speaking from the perspective of someone who sought a mate while believing that whomever I married needed to be qualified to lead me.

    For instance, I knew one woman whose fiance was very new to Christianity, but I heard that the wedding vows indicated that she, a lifelong Christian, would be submitting to him. :( It’s not that I doubt that new christians have something to teach, you understand. I don’t think either one of them should have agreed to be the designated leader or the designated follower, so long as they both shall live.

  8. [...] at Biblical Personhood, the consequences of this teaching were also very negative.  In her post What “the man should be the spiritual leader” did to me, she [...]

  9. [...] at Biblical Personhood, the consequences of this teaching were also very negative.  In her post What “the man should be the spiritual leader” did to me, she [...]

  10. Helen Davis said:

    There is no age to get married at. That is another complementarian lie.

  11. […] Personhood, the consequences of this teaching were also very negative.  In her post What "the man should be the spiritual leader" did to me, she […]

  12. Thanks for linking to this on my recent post. I hope some of my readers will come over and read your insight.

    As I commented over on my post:

    I like your point here: “In practical terms, that would be a man who knows more of Christianity and loves Jesus more than I do. Should a Christian man who wants to marry have a pastoral and teaching gift, as he should use this knowledge to lead his wife and children spiritually?”

    Seems for a man to be the spiritual leader would indeed require a pastoral and/or teaching gift. But clearly all men do not have these gifts. Uh-oh, should this mean celibacy? Should all Christian men be tested at age 18 for spiritual gifting and marriage ruled out for those without the gifts to lead in their home? (haha but seriously!)

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