August 25, 2015

Bad Shepherds and the Fatal Flaw of Headship

She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You may think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be.
(from 'A bird in a gilded cage' a hit in the 1900s)

Yesterday, I learned about the Shepherding Movement. A main part of it's theology is the idea that Shepherds are to spiritually cover their Sheep; the idea that everyone must be submitted under the authority of another human. Shepherds are to lovingly wield authority as they spiritually cover the sheep who humbly submit to them. The teaching was eventually discredited, but not before it did a lot of damage. Essentially, whoever was in the role of the sheep was little more than a perpetual child. He or she could not make any decisions without talking them over with their shepherd.

But it's similarities with Headship teachings are plain to see: Shepherds are the husbands and Sheep are the wives. The Husbands are the heads that are to lovingly wield authority as they spiritually cover their wives who humbly submit to them. It's the same style of relationship with the same roles and responsabilities. How can it not end up with the same results: reducing wives to a perpetual child who cannot make decisions without the approval of her husband?

But in the absence of husbands, single women get to submit to their father. And widows get to submit to the plurality of elders in their church. Which seems to me to be stretching the original boundaries of 1 Corinthians 11. In older translations, it's use of 'the man' and 'the woman' suggests none other than Adam and Eve. In my newer translation 'the' is omitted and that subtly alters the implication of the text as if to say "because women were made for men, then women are to submit to men". Yes, A&E were a man and a woman and they were also a husband and a wife. Eve was never a single woman under the headship of her father and neither could she have been under the authority of her church elders as a widow as they would not have existed.

When I was thinking about these teachings, it seemed odd to me that they weren't further elaborated in other passages of Scripture. That men weren't admonished for failing to spiritually cover their women or women weren't admonished for failing to submit sufficiently. Then again, examples in the Bible are hit or miss. Abigail didn't submit to Nabal and she was rewarded for it. Sapphira submitted to Ananias and she was punished for it. Queen Vashti didn't submit to King Ahaxerxes and she was punished for it. Queen Esther's story is sort of difficult to peg where it falls - but to use the vernacular; she presses into the presences of the King uninvited so it's not as if she's submissively waiting as long as it takes  for her to be summoned.

There were more verses dedicated to the temple, it's description, it's construction, it's practices - it must have been extremely important. Yet the headship teachings originate in 1 Corinthians 11; it feels like a late addition or an after-thought. It's also seemingly unimportant by comparison. Why doesn't it have the same treatment ... a section of verses more fully fleshing out who is to submit to who, under what circumstances that there is an exception, maybe a parable to give people a hint about what it looks like in action?

I started out by pointing to the shephering movement - it's fatal flaw exists in the headship teachings. So it may only be a matter of time before we see the same damage done. It's just that for the most part - it's not something a lot of people notice until it goes wrong. There were probably hundreds of decent Shepherds out there who cared for the Sheep who were under their authority. They thought that they were making the best spiritual decisions for them given all the Bible studies that told them that they were doing the right thing. But there were ones who really got it wrong, too. Same goes with complementarianism. The difference is that because abuses in a marriage relationship are closely held secret it's really difficult to get a clear picture of whats going on - the good and the bad.

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