Posted by: sailingspirit | August 6, 2012

Gender Equality: Headship Is For Protection, Not A Power Trip

Paul’s comment about headship in 1 Corinthians 11:3 stirs some hot emotions, causes division, and even results in violent discrimination against women.  Many misogynistic Bible-thumpers use this quote to justify their behavior as “holy” and “the way God wants it.”  But it only takes one instance of disagreement to prove a theory false, so even if we agree to the inerrancy of Scripture we’re faced with Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  If I’m not mistaken the same man wrote both letters, so the fact that the two verses disagree signals clearly we need to either agree that Paul changed his mind or seek additional information to settle the matter.  Following the rule of letting scripture clarify scripture, the majority of related scriptures favor Galatians 3:28.  So then, how can both be true at the same time?  I think I have a way of explaining this equality/headship rub that makes sense of it all AND is not offensive to anyone.  Really!  For sake of clarity, though, there’s some concepts that need to be understood as a baseline.  Like prepping each of the ingredients of a recipe before starting to cook, let’s first look at each of the components individually.

What “Headship” Really Means, Part 1: Discussing Authority

Many translate the original Greek to “authority,” which isn’t wrong but it’s not entirely accurate either.  Many words have very similar meanings but their implications vary widely, and that’s where it becomes crucial to get just the right idea across.  Throughout the New Covenant “headship” refers to a position of office, said another way a role of responsibility, or a job description.  When viewed this way, the 1Cor. verse begins to become much clearer, and, much more rich in depth and breadth of informative meaning.  Which is consistent with how God is; everything He does is multi-purpose.

Note the verse points out that God is the head of Christ; since we see elsewhere in the scripture (such as the Gospel of John) that Christ is one and the same with the Godhead, it would make no sense to assert that Christ is by nature less than God, inferior to God, less powerful than God or more stupid than God.  What scripture does say is that Christ agreed to fulfill the role of the Great Teacher, Messiah, High Priest, etc. and by accepting that role, was willing to occupy a position that was subjective in authority for the duration of His term in that role.  It’s like having a President and Vice President; both are well qualified to be President at the nation’s need but during a specified term, such as 4 years, where people occupy those roles concurrently, there is an agreement that the V.P. role will defer to the President role.  Conditions apply, and everyone understands that it is the nature of the roles, and a system that is agreed upon for efficient and effective service, NOT a reflection of the inherent qualities or deservingness of the individuals occupying those roles.  (If that were the case, we’d pick the best person for President and keep her or him there indefinitely.)  Christ agreed to serve in a role that would, by design, defer to another role when and where appropriate to achieve a specified goal for a specified time.  Teamwork.  Jamal Jivanjee writes a great post on the Bible’s true meaning of leadership, which is not compelled obedience to authority but rather willing submission to persuasion of respected equals, here.

Likewise, the man and woman occupy roles on this team, for the same purpose and specified length of time.  Their job descriptions are not based on what their worthiness or personal qualities are, but on what is needed to get the job done.  Whoever occupies that role would be expected to do the same.  Since they are mentioned in the same breath as Christ and God, we cannot separate any of these from each other because their grouping IS the crux of the idea being communicated: the purpose of Christ, the purpose of man, the purpose of woman is all part of the purpose of God and all must function together to achieve the intended goal.  Once that goal is achieved, it is entirely likely such role descriptions will change (a good place to revisit the Galatians quote, where we see that the first coming of Christ changed the nature of man and relationships on Earth; see also prophetic scriptures about the post-judgement and -renovation eternal future).  Furthermore, the nature and purpose of the relationship between God and Christ is being used as direct analogy to explain the nature and purpose of the relationship between man and woman.  What does the entire Bible teach us about the nature of God and His purpose for Christ?  That God is Loving, that He is our source for everything, that He is our protector and comforter, that we can count on Him to fix even the biggest messes for us, and that we should turn to Him for everything like a child to a parent.  That God loves so greatly, so unselfishly, and holds us in such high esteem as to be willing to subject Himself to personal pain and sacrifice in order to do what is best for us.  God suffered the humility of begging His whoring people to return to Him, as well as the torture and humiliation of His own self-in-flesh; Jesus voluntarily suffered for our sakes, because He loved us so greatly; and men are instructed to esteem their women so highly as to suffer as readily.  So for the entire quartet of roles given in 1 Cor. 11:3, the point is giving advantage, not taking advantage.

[Note 1: Paul didn’t think it necessary to tell women to be willing to sacrificially suffer on behalf of those they love.  But what he does tell them, about respect, reveals God’s counter-intuitive “user manual” secret for male and female hearts placed strategically within this same passage.  Take a moment to consider what Paul’s perspective and line of thinking must have been in order for this concept to be the natural next thought to write in his letter.  Once again this proves God’s purpose is about love, not power trips.  A superbly clear and applicable discussion of effective love per gender can be found here:

Note 2: For more on how men’s and women’s purposes are for the same goal and equal yet differ in job description, see an earlier post titled  Gender Roles: Two Faces of the Same Coin.

Note 3: God did NOT make woman FOR man, like some kind of eternal servant or secretary.  Adam could’ve used a chimp for that.  Go back and read it again: God made Adam and for the first time did NOT say “it is good” but rather said “it is not good.” Man wasn’t perfect, man needed help.  This is because what God wanted was a reflection of Himself in the Earth; God is Love but in order to BE love you have to DO love, and in order to give unconditional, unselfish love there has to be someone to give it TO.  Thus, by himself Adam could never fully represent God because his only option would be to become increasingly selfish over time.  God made woman from the very same living flesh and spirit as man so it could never be said one was inferior to the other, and so that Adam could be helped out of his self-aggrandizing destiny by having someone with whom to exchange selfless, unconditional love.  And then God said it was good.  Hence, after God helps clean up their messy saga, the Bible story comes full circle back to unity and we read Galatians 3:28, reflecting His original intent and unchanged purpose.  So if anybody tries to give you the male superiority via Genesis line, dismiss it because asserting so only serves to further prove they are not superior–clearly their reading comprehension isn’t so hot.]

What “Headship” Really Means, Part 2: Discussing Orientation

So we’ve covered that gender equality under Christ is a foundation, and that authority does not mean power over but power of persuasion.  Given these, it cannot make sense to say men have headship “over” women.  The word “over” is inherently hierarchical, and therefore contradictory.  Furthermore, “headship” doesn’t really need the qualifier because it is understandable by itself.  “Head” has multiple meanings and applications, not just one; rather than orienting your understanding as “over v. under,” read “headship” as in “head of the line.”  When someone goes to the head of a line, they do not stand above everyone else, they stand IN FRONT OF the line.  This meaning is perfectly in keeping with man’s command to be sacrificially loving of women, because going in front of another usually entails cutting a path, breaking the wind, taking the brunt, smoothing the way, holding the door, etc.  And, as Jamal wrote, giving soothing encouragement to others that the way has been made safe, therefore beckoning them to follow, not ordering them to do as you do or as you say because you’re smarter or better than they are.  As stated above, the clear nature and focus of God-the-Father and God-the-Savior are giving, advantage granting, sacrificial, providing and protective.  Not just in physical or spiritual only, but in all facets.  Thus, as described in even more detail in the post “Gender Roles: Two Faces of the Same Coin,” the quartet of God, Christ, Man, Woman is meant to establish the PROTECTIVE arrangement instituted to ensure that everyone gets what they need and no one is left unprotected from evil, whether evil people or evil spirits.  God’s purpose is to save us not only from ourselves but Satan, as well, so we cannot ignore that critical context when reading about submission.  In this arrangement, everyone is protected by one who is stronger and offers protection to one who is weaker.  This is unifying teamwork, this is unselfish, this is love, therefore this is Godly.

What “Headship” Really Means, Part 3: Discussing Access

Now let’s look at “head” another way.  Why is your head the most critical portion of your physical body?  Because all of your necessary sensory organs are located there.  Your sight, hearing, smell, taste, and sense of feel–whether it be temperature, humidity, pressure, texture, moisture, etc.–are all systems by which you take in information about the world around you and your situation within it.  When synthesized by the brain, information relating to what to do can be communicated efficiently to the other body parts.  Your feet and legs don’t know what’s going on, but they have the role of getting you around.  Your brain knows what’s going on, but does not have the ability to get you around.  Thus, we see how two different jobs are equally important, but unless they are done in agreement to a singular goal won’t accomplish anything.  Note, too, that the head is located at the top of the body not because it’s more deserving than the other body parts, or because it’s smarter (ask any veteran amputee about ghost limb syndrome and you’ll realize quickly the shoulder or knee could be said to be smarter than the brain), but by being located at the top it has the best vantage point for collecting the most information.  Thus, while equally important, the other body parts agree to defer to the brain for direction because it has the greatest access to goal-relevant information.

Returning to our Scriptures, 1 Cor. 11:3 tells us that Christ submits to God and Man submits to Christ and Woman submits to Man.  From the viewpoint of access to information, does it not seem amply clear that humans submitting to Christ is wise, since He has access to more information than we do?  Afterall, He sits on the Throne in Heaven, able to see all the world, for the entire expanse of time all at once, informed by angels coming and going with reports, having experienced life, death, and resurrection.  Did He not also tell us in New Covenant Scripture how He willingly submitted to God-as-Father during His time on Earth for the same reason?

Let’s look at some present-day examples.  A crime-in-progress is reported and police rush to the scene.  Since they all share the same goal of catching the criminal and protecting the people, it is to their advantage to work together as a team.  If the criminal is on the move, whether by foot or bike or car, the helicopter has the greatest vantage point from which to collect information about the criminal’s location and activity, and relay that to the other officers.  At this point, it would be wisest for all officers to submit to the helicopter observers.  However, if the criminal goes inside a house or building, the helicopter is no longer the best vantage point–now the officers on the ground have the advantage.  They might be able to see him through the windows.  In this case, it’s best for the helicopter observers to submit to what the cops on the ground say.  It’s not about how smart any one is or how deserving any one is, it’s about who has the best access to the necessary information.

A tennis match has a referee at the net as well as several line judges.  The players are not able to be the best determinants of “in” or “out” because their perspective does not allow them to see very well.  The net referee often sits up high, on an elevated chair, in order to make the call from overhead, where the lines lay out flat in his or her view.  Line judges are positioned perpendicular to the lines as well as each other, so that each can best see whether the ball landed on one side or the other.  Line judges give their report to the referee, who collects all the reports, and then gives the final call.  These people do not have authority because they are better athletes than the players, or because they are smarter, but because their position affords them better information.  Thus, for smooth tournament play, everyone agrees to defer to the referee’s decision and the referee judges fairly for the benefit of the players.

A senior manager at a big company helps make and communicate important policies and directives to the workers there, not because he has a higher IQ or more dazzling personality than everyone else, but because he has access to information those workers don’t.  He is at the board meetings where the future direction of the company is discussed, reads all of the status reports from the various departments, and has a mental database of accumulated experience with which to make strategic decisions on how to delegate talent and resources to get the goals accomplished.  The system works best when everyone agrees to defer to the positions of greatest access to information.  Whomever would be hired into that position of responsibility would be expected to accomplish the same company goals, not his or her own goals.  The manager could not be expected to complete the job if denied access to the necessary information, and no one would respect the manager if it was clear he or she didn’t have any idea what he or she was doing.

Put it all together: Assemble and Enjoy

And this, dear people, is how we will come full circle to connect back to where we began with headship and submission peacefully co-existing with equality.  To understand how two seemingly contrasting scriptures can both be true at the same time, we must view them from the appropriate angles: headship is not about God controlling humans or men controlling women, which would be taking advantage.  It is about God giving us the greatest advantage possible in this life, and providing everything we need amply and in a timely manner, by teaching us to rely on Him as source (not each other) and how to utilize the safest line-up position we have.  Each has a dual role of being protected and offering protection, which is equality even in the presence of differing strengths or weaknesses.  When everyone is protected from un-necessary threats, and unified around common goals, it becomes easy to aim our willing cooperation with persuasive guidance to ensure the helpful information gets acquired and applied effectively.  We are happy to submit to the one who has the greatest access to and unselfishly uses information, because we directly benefit from it.  Together, we get victory and we get to enjoy it.  It’s win-win!

It is disadvantageous for any person in the chain to abuse this system, neglecting to fill his or her role appropriately.  Whether by seeking to take advantage instead of give it, refusing to protect others who need it, acting like the boss with little or no appropriate information, asserting hierarchical position by unsubstantiated personal superiority, or acting in a manner that is not sacrificially loving and uplifting of others, that person is causing more division and harm than good and representing God very poorly.  Going around them to prayerfully approach God about the matter is best, asking whether God can adjust their performance in-situ or whether that person should be taken out of position until sufficiently trained and competent to do it right.  If removed, God may recommend someone else to temporarily fill that position instead.  (And it may not be you.)  Choosing not to follow the lead of a corrupted leader is NOT bad, but trying to be a corrupted leader misrepresenting God or His generosity by contradicting His scriptural directives is.  Get educated about how this system is supposed to work, practice competency, and always remember that part of our equality in Christ is through our mutual discovery of our need for His help.  God’s policy is to give people room to grow, improve, and try again, thus we ought keep the same policy.

Goooooooooooo, Team!



  1. Once again, it appears you missed the target of my post. The focus of this post is mainly on the individual and family level of understanding God’s provision, authority, and standards. Changes here will likely ripple outward, but that is beyond the scope of this post. I am not discriminatory in any way about gender or race or nationality, and I choose to post in this public-access forum so everything I post can be read by anyone who wishes to read it (and people from all over the world do). But I do, and will continue to, write what I am told to write and direct it at whomever/whatever I’m told to, regardless of what anyone else advises, because the authority I work for is greater and wiser than these. Furthermore, I’m not looking to be a star. There would be no profit in that. (And I don’t just mean money.) Christ is the only star we need. Hence, as is stated on the appropriate tab, this blog is not about me.

    From reading several of your replies, I’m starting to get the impression perhaps you’ve been cheated sufficient teaching to know how to get results in life via your faith. That maybe you haven’t met Christ personally yet? It sounds like, perhaps, you have more faith in government and politics than in God Himself. Would you say that’s an accurate statement?

    • I would not. I would say there is a much work to do and government is my work. Region I am still searching and very stubborn. I am one of those that must find it for myself. I expressed this on my post on personal support systems.

      My government work is to bring it down from huge. With religions morals and dedicated people this is possible. Humanity doesn’t need both. I thing humanity is better then that. Humanity needs more of religious, morals teaching then government.

      We have it in us we all have to find it. When you explain, your writing is better for me to understand. As far as faith I was raised by a baptist, almost left the states missionary mother. I am very familiar with scriptures. I prefer to not lock myself up in one view.

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