Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Authority and Power Part 1

What is AUTHORITY? Daniel Webster says
“power or right to command or act; dominion, control; a person or persons exercising power or command; generally in the plural (the civil authorities); government or governmental agency; a reference source or expert in a field to support a fact, opinion, action, etc; a ruling; proof; justification; credit or credibility; (a work of no authority); assurance (to speak with authority).”
So according to Webster, a person with authority exercises power or command and also has the RIGHT to command and have dominion and control over.

If Webster is correct, a person who has the “right to command,” also has the right to TAKE authority over another person. If this is so, we cannot accuse a person with authority of being “controlling,” since authority carries with it the right to control and exercise power or command. This is likely why complementarians both deny that domestic abuse/violence is present among their families and at the same time blame the wives for the abuse and violence they receive from their husbands. After all, if the husband has the RIGHT to control his wife, when there is any discord it must be the wife's fault because the husband has all the rights and the wife has none—except when there is danger the state may step in and charge the husband with criminal behavior, or when he is demanding his wife perform some act that is CLEARLY taught against in the Bible. This is per John Piper's statement, with which many other complementarians agree.

Isn't it ironic that for years, centuries even, husbands have had rights automatically granted to them just because they are male and just because they are married and male. It is also very telling that they hate the word RIGHTS when it is applied to women. Although the men have had rights via authority all these centuries, both the right of self direction and the right of ruling their wives, they say rights are evil when women want the right to choose the direction of their own lives. Never mind that women are not asking for the right to rule their husbands, only for the right to stop their husbands from ruling over them, so that God can be their leader and authority. As Shirley Taylor has pointed out, when the Israelites wanted a king, God told them they didn't need a king, they had GOD to lead them. In the same way, wives don't need a "king" either. They, too, have GOD as their king. Yet, according to the anti-feminists, women should have no rights. Not the right to live according to their conscience, not the right to follow God's leading, and not even the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" they should be ruled by or led by their husbands. And if their husband chooses death for them, that is fine--tragic, but fine. She must have done something to provoke him--like not submitting to/obeying her husband. Ironic. Rights have now become evil—unless men have them and they are called authority.

So what is POWER? Since a part of authority is power, "power or right to command or act;"it makes sense to know what power is. Webster says
“Ability to do or act; capability of doing or effecting something...Great or marked ability to do or act; strength, might, or force...the possession of control or command over others; dominion, authority, ascendancy, or influence; legal ability, capacity, or delegated authority; one who or that which possesses or exercises authority or influence...”
According to Webster, in the context of authority, power means FORCE, strength, might—someone who is capable of making things happen via control over others.

Notice the word “force” that is associated with power. It suggests that the person with authority also has the right to force and enforce. If this is so, the word authority carries no restriction on enforcing the will of the one with authority. In other words, by commanding husbands to take authority over their wives, complementarians also command them to force and enforce their will upon their wives. In Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, page 79, Dr. Tony Evans advises husbands to
"...say something like this:"Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role."

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back."(Italics by Dr. Tony Evans.)
Although Tony speaks of a husband LEADING the family, it is clear from the context, in spite of his attempt to "nice it down," that he is teaching husbands to take authority over their wives, families, and communities. He tells husbands
"...there can be no compromise here. If you're going to lead, you must lead. Be sensitive. Listen. Treat the lady gently and lovingly. But lead!...Stop making your wives set the spiritual tone for your household. Assume the task of getting your family to church, and behave like a leader when you get there."
Now we are all commanded to be servants, to provoke one another to love and good works, but where are males commanded to be leaders or to take authority over others? Leadership is well and good, as long as it is not TAKEN or coerced and as long as people follow because they want to, instead of because they are brainwashed or bullied into following. But the complementarian teaching is for men to TAKE authority/leadership over, for women to follow and give up their own leadership capabilities and even the knowledge and wisdom that God has given them. This appeals to the baser drive of many men; the drive to dominate, to be king. If Evans does not mean it as a dominating "role," he should have chosen the word "serve," which does not carry the idea of domination or the raising up of oneself, but rather the laying down of oneself for the benefit of others.

The complementarian teaching that husbands are to take authority over their wives, puts them in tension with the governmental authorities, whose authority is superior to that of individuals. Governmental authorities categorize rape, physical control, beating, and physical harm as a crime, punishable by jail time, fines, etc. Governmental authorities, via domestic violence shelter workers, also categorize non-physical control tactics as a crime, however, these are only chargeable in court if there are witnesses or other evidence to verify that serious harm was inflicted by the use of dominating/nasty behavior. Otherwise, non-physical controlling behavior is seen as a red flag, alerting the person thus used to the presence of danger.

Notice also that one of the definitions of power is
“the possession of control or command over others; dominion, authority, ascendancy, or influence.”
Ascendancy? According to Webster ascendancy includes dominance, superiority and predominance. But complementarians claim their authority teaching does NOT include superiority, that husbands and wives are equal with different roles. That sounds like smoke and mirrors to me. Ok, complementarian husbands have the role of dominance, superiority, power, controller, and commanding ruler. That IS what authority means. If that is not what complementarians mean, they need to choose a different word. But even “leader” and “head” as they use those words include superiority.

And if dominance, superiority, power, controller, and commanding ruler, ie authority over, is the husband's role, what does that leave for the wife? Dominated, inferior, controlled by another, obedient subject. That falls far short of equality, and it includes far more than “roles.” In fact, male superiority and female inferiority have been touted by males for centuries and used to keep women “in their place.” So why are complementarians denying that their husband-authority teaching has anything to do with an underlying (and not so underlying) belief in male superiority and female inferiority?

The site Gods Word to Women @
includes quotes from Gene Edwards' book The Christian Woman set Free. The quotes are telling and show that the male attitudes of male superiority and female inferiority have been with us for centuries and are still governing Christian men today.

From Part One of The Christian Woman Set Free by Gene Edwards
Who Started the Mistreatment of Women
Praise be to God that he has not created me a Gentile, a woman, or a hog. —Hebrew Prayer

The courage of a man is shown in his ability to command. The courage of a woman is found in obeying.

By all means get married. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad wife, you will become a philosopher.

Women are those who fell prey to their irrational, emotional side, and are therefore incapable of reason and making rational choices . . . moreover as irrational beings, women may not always know what they really want, and so it is the man’s domain to decide for them.

We have courtesans for our sex and pleasure. We have young slave prostitutes for our physical use and we have wives to bring up legitimate children.

Do not admire your wife’s beauty . . . from the time women are fourteen years old they think of nothing and aim at nothing except going to bed with men.

Even the most virtuous of women is a witch.
—Oral Jewish Law

Woman is a temple built over a sewer. It is contrary to the order of nature and of the law for women to speak in a gathering.
—Saint Jerome

Because of you we are punished by death . . . because of you, women, the Son of God had to die.

Men should not listen to a woman even if she says admirable things or if she says saintly things. They are of little consequence since they come from the mouth of a woman.

A man may marry again if he has divorced his sinful wife because he is not restricted in his right as is the woman, because he is her head.

By herself woman is not of the image of God. The man, on the other hand, alone, is the image of God.

For a man to go to a woman for advice is like going to the lowest kind of animal to seek advice.

Woman is defective and misbegotten.

The wickedness of women is greater than all other wickedness. A dragon is more curable than the familiarity of a woman. Avoid them like poisonous animals.
—Pope Innocence III

There is no gown or garment that worse becomes a woman than when she would be wise.
—Martin Luther

All women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior to the male.

To make women learned and to make a fox tame work out to the same end. Educating a woman or a fox simply makes them more cunning.
—King James

The quotes which you have just read may cause a reaction in you; nevertheless, these words did not move me to write this book. But the quote on the next page did! In fact, having heard the next statement, I went home and started this book!
—Gene Edwards

You would not let an eleven-year-old child stand up in a meeting and talk. Then why should you allow a woman to speak in a meeting?
—A statement made in a Christian conference in the twenty-first century

These quotes speak for themselves, and there are many more that we hear in current church life and in complementarian writing, although a greater effort is made to hide the male superior/female inferior beliefs. And so far we've only addressed the dictionary definitions which include , “power or right to command or act; dominion, control; a person or persons exercising power or command.”

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.