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Does male headship apply everywhere?

Last week, responding to my previous post on women holding public office, Michael asked, "do you think gender would play a role in your choice of a candidate, all other qualities being equal? Just curious."

Wow, that's a loaded question, and it's one I've been meaning to follow up on. I had to wrestle with a similar issue on a personal level before I was pastoring. When I was in seminary and employed at a secular company, my manager was a woman. I always did my best to treat her with submission and respect, but sometimes wondered if it was unbiblical for a woman to have authority over a man. I knew there wasn't much I could do about it, so I just did my best to be gracious and a good testimony in that environment. Now, with Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket, this whole issue of female headship has surfaced again.

Wayne Grudem, a board member on the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, deals with this very issue of women teaching and leading men. First, he quotes from Sarah Sumner, who accuses complementarians of being inconsistent:
"If it's wrong for a woman to teach a man on the basis of the order of creation, then it has to be wrong for a woman to teach a man piano lessons. If her teaching him per se upsets the order of creation, then her teaching him anything must also be regarded as wrong...If the order of creation is a general principle, then it ought to be applied across the board. Instead, it's applied inconsistently and selectively."
This argument by Sumner sounds convincing at first, and would seem to undermine the whole complementarian position. And by the same token, one would assume complementarians are obligated to oppose Sarah Palin's bid for VP, right? But Grudem reveals a critical weakness in this line of reasoning...
Sumner's argument is based on a classic mistake in biblical interpretation, a mistake that takes one principle found in the Bible and attempts to maximize it above other things the Bible teaches, with the result that those other things are ultimately denied. The problem is that the principle of male headship is not the only principle in the Bible. There is another principle, and that is the principle of male-female equality in the image of God...

[I]t is not up to us to decide in what ways these major principles in Scripture should be combined and applied in various situations. It is up to God, who has His own purposes and whose wisdom is infinitely greater than ours.

So how do we know which principles to apply? We are simply to obey the Bible in the specific application of these principles. What we find in the Bible is that God has given commands that establish male leadership in the home and in the church, but that other teachings in His Word give considerable freedom in other areas of life. We should not try to require either more or less than Scripture itself requires. (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 392-93)
So, to finally answer Michael's question: All qualities being equal, I see no biblical reason to prefer a man over a woman in public office simply because of gender.


  1. Stephen,

    Thanks for the response.

  2. I have a question for you.

    Do you think it is wrong for a woman to be in charge of male Sunday school teachers even though they have a male pastor overseeing them? FYI... I do, just curious what you say about that.

  3. Monique, great question. The key is, how do we apply 1 Tim. 2:12 in specific situations? What constitutes a woman "teaching or exercising authority over a man" in the church? The Bible does not give a specific verse for many situations, and so biblical wisdom must come into play.

    Wayne Grudem notes that many roles fall somewhere on a 'spectrum' between being prohibited and being permissible. I think that a woman could potentially be a Sunday school superintendent without exercising "spiritual authority" over the body of the church. So also with a female choir director, deaconess, etc. Grudem also believes this stays within biblical parameters.

    But this is a "gray area" that must be prayerfully decided by the local church leadership and supported by the congregation.


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