Friday, August 24, 2012

Twisting Leadership

My friend Alice and I were in New York one summer a long time ago. Both Alice and I were first-timers in the city, but I volunteered to carry the map and navigate. She agreed, saying she was horrible with directions, and I was happy because if there’s something called a mapophile, I am it.

At the end of all things it was Frodo who needed Sam's
leadership in many respects. More about Hobbits here.
Inevitably—as it’s one of the top five rules of traveling—we had some argument-inducing directional troubles. In the end, nothing really came of it because “in the end” implies a lot of things about a strong friendship and a lot of time to let that water flow under the bridge. At the time, however, the navigational difficulties elicited some seriously unpleasant moments arising from differing opinions about which way to go. Moreover, it erupted into a struggle hinging on responsibility and authority that I had never seen acted out between friends.

As mired as I am in the discussion of women’s roles in the church, I couldn’t help but be reminded of God’ intended patterns for leadership and submission when recalling this incident. On this topic, the complementarians are strong: God has created a world of order and even if that order doesn’t appeal to our 21st century sensibilities, it doesn’t mean it isn’t God’s mandate and thus the optimal pattern for living. Moreover, it’s clear that even in friendships like mine and Alice’s we act out this pattern instinctively.

Holmes is undeniably the leader of this duo, but in medical
cases, he's not always the more knowledgeable of the two.
But patterns of leadership-submission are flexible. As in the New York example, there were no men to which we ought to have submitted. Did one of us have to lead and the other follow? No, it came naturally. One of us (me) is a natural, forceful leader. Alice tends to accommodate strong personalities. In that same example, imagine that Alice was instead, my hypothetical boyfriend or husband or male friend who is equally directionally uncertain as Alice: should I submit to his “leadership?” Hardly—I was the one who was leading in the first place since it was my area of expertise. Would he “delegate” his leadership to me, then, since it’s my area of expertise? What happens if we disagree? Can he take it back? Even if he’s not more qualified? Leadership-submission is complex and flexible and maybe that’s one of the top things to remember in the debate.

Here’s a better example from a Godly marriage. My friends Ann and Andrew got married this past summer. Ann is a registered nurse and Andrew is a computer guy. Both excel in their separate fields and both are very intelligent people. Eventually they’ll have kids and eventually those children will get sick or crack their head open on the playground and then what happens? Ann will unequivocally be in charge, not Andrew. He will submit to her orders her talents and experiences make her superior to him in that field. If it’s a car problem, Andrew, who grew up fixing them, will be in charge. They both, however, are talented cooks: does that mean Andrew should always be in charge in the kitchen? (I’d like to see him try.)
Flynn, admittedly under duress, takes orders from Rapunzel.
She defers to him in many matters as well.

All that to say, in theory complementarianism is an intelligent, viable option. But in practice, holding to a strict hierarchy in gender roles is insanity bordering on stupidity. If a woman is a lawyer, you’ll submit to her leadership in the courtroom whether you’re male or female, because she knows much more about a complicated procedure than you do. Submission is a part of all relationships, not just for women but for men, too.

To confuse things further, during the time of the I Corinthians and I Timothy letters, men were almost always better educated and more knowledgeable about public matters than their female counterparts. Jewish women were excluded from much of the religious teaching that men were indoctrinated with. It would have been insanity to put an uneducated Jewish woman in charge of a Christian congregation. In marriages, women were usually much younger than their husbands, besides having less education than their husbands. Where they were qualified (Priscilla, teaching beside her husband and Phillip’s four prophet daughters), Paul supported the full exercise of female gifts, without mentioning or implying whether there was a clear male authority over her or not.But sometimes Paul told women to shut up and submit, even if they were passionate about their pursuit of Christ. The difference appears to be her competency, something women have aggressively achieved in recent years.
In situations concerning the magical powers of her hair
(including its ability to support both their weight flying
through the air), Flynn takes his cues from teenage Rapunzel.

Alice and I ran into other snags during the trip to New York. I was tired of leading when I knew Alice could plan a day of travel just as well as I could. Alice was frustrated when I showed little energy for figuring out the next step. I stepped aside and she took the leadership role for the day. She told me where to go and what time we had to be there and I checked what she’d done and made suggestions that were eventually rejected (for good reason; she had a better idea of the logistics at the time). It was difficult for both of us to act out the role the other was good at (leader, follower), but I know that I learned a lot about the frustrations of and talents it takes to be a good follower that day.
Admittedly, these examples are fictitious,
but fiction isn't created in a vacuum. As
someone smart once told me, some men
couldn't lead 2 friends out of a room
while some women effortlessly command
the attention of an auditorium. Kel, the
girl-hero-leader of the above series leads
with quiet, level-headed competence.

Hierarchy is a part of life. Submission is a part of life. Leadership is a part of life. The first shall be last and the last, first. Every one of us will be called to submit and to lead during our lives.

If you’re egalitarian that means exercising that with which God has endowed you (II Corinthians14:26).[1] God has given you gifts that ought to be used: they should not be hidden under a bushel for the less-qualified to ignore, but should be shining on a hill to lead all towards the one who gave you those gifts. Sometimes you lead (when qualified) and sometimes you follow.

If you’re complementarian,then a suitable helper is one that will help lead. A leader can’t lead all the time because at the very least he or she will not be qualified for a great many things, never mind the times when there are no authoritative men present.


Apologies, friends, for the extremely long post. I hope some of you at least skim your way through it. I enjoyed writing it, and I promise the next posts won’t be so long. I’m trying to  alternate between women in the church posts and normal posts, so if this isn’t your favorite topic, read up for the next one. I think it’s going to be about fingernails, if that’s a draw for you. J

[1] Both gender roles and English are complex and sometimes it’s just better to end the sentence with a preposition. Agreed?

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