the problem of patriarchy & living the solution.

theologycamp-logo* thank you, dear friends, for the love & support & encouragement for the refuge in all kinds of different ways. i struggled with writing that post & of course as soon as i hit publish i had blogger’s remorse. but i knew i needed to and i’m glad i did.  i am always reminded of how much i have to learn. i guess this is how we learn it–by practicing. so while i have felt raw & weird, i also feel grateful for God’s faithfulness to me, to the refuge & for lovely relationships near and far, in real life and on computer screens.  i’m so in a fog and had hoped to get some interviews up, but these thoughts below came tumbling out after our theology camp so i wanted to share it while it’s fresh.  i will get those “what it’s like’s” up soon, i promise! 

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this past friday night the refuge hosted our first “theology camp”, 3 hours of bible & head & heart & how to put into action some of what was stirred up. for this first one we decided to just jump right into the deep end with the topic “the problem of patriarchy.”  it was inspired by pam hogeweide and was a great follow up to her visit in may where she shared from her book “unladylike: resisting the injustice of inequality in the church”  it was so pretty, with powerful reflective stations, and  the women who spoke were brilliant seminarians & theologians who helped us look at the old & new testament and some of the problematic passages through new eyes.

we need to remember that patriarchy is not about women in leadership in churches.  it is about a deeply grooved pattern of male-dominated leadership that damages women (and men, too, although sometimes that’s not as easy to see).  it is strongly embedded into our culture whether we acknowledge it or not.  in christian culture, it is even stronger.  in some other cultures around the world, it is not just strong, it is life-threatening.

the reason why i’m a nut case to break down systems of patriarchy is not so that women can be pastors or leaders in churches. that  is such a small sliver in all of this.  it is because as Christ-followers we should be paving the way for liberation and freedom for all people.

what we embody and reflect matters.

a lot of us have been blinded to the ravages of patriarchy and accepted them as “the way things are” because we haven’t had any other good models for something different. others of us have been under teachings that have embedded in our souls (maybe more from culture than anything) the idea that God set things up so that men would be over women.  and for others of us we are hoping to make it through the day and conversations about changing deeply grooved systems of injustice just feel plain overwhelming right now and you wonder why you’re reading this.

no matter where we are each at, i think we can participate in becoming solutions to the problem, but a big part of the solution is becoming more honest about the problem itself.

rachel held evans does the best job i can think of in terms of really breaking down some of these issues on her blog, so i’d just say go there if you want more in-depth biblical exploration of this topic.  in practical terms, here are some simple reasons why patriarchy is wrong, just plain wrong, in the kingdom of God:

1. it is based on power.  the root of all evil is not money, it’s power.  patriarchy misuses power to control people.  in the kingdom of God, we are taught that power is meant to be given away, to be shared with the least & the last, to be used to liberate and love others.

2. it is based on fear.  it is crazy, really, the lengths that many will go to hold on to power and control. when it comes to the church,i always wonder what would happen if all of the male leaders who were so scared their followers would “slip down the slope” if they let women lead suspended that for a decade and let the holy spirit loose.  it’s guaranteed the world would be a different place!

3. it’s based on injustice.  we have got to be honest that we have built so much of this mess on cultural, limited & damaging biblical interpretation.  this lens of patriarchal exegesis is so strong because for generations our scholars, leaders, pastors, teachers, translators, you-name-it-in-shaping-history-and-culture have only been men.  this tilt matters and skews more than we even realize.

4. it’s so subtle that we often dismiss its damage.  this part makes me the most sad.  we’re so used to it that we often don’t even think anything’s wrong with it so we settle for crumbs, shut down parts of us, and perpetuate the status quo without even thinking about it.  and because we’re blinded, it’s hard to fully grasp the reality of ravaging injustices other places and how they are all rooted in patriarchy!  men are damaged, too, missing out on the beauty & value of strong equal free partners, friends, and co-laborers and stuck in a system that dishonors the image of God in them in a different way.

5. it blatantly dismisses the work of Jesus.  if Jesus came to set people free, why in the world would half of the population still be underneath the other? didn’t he proclaim the kingdom of heaven was possible here on earth? that through him, all things would be made new, and our original identity before the fall could be restored & renewed over and over again?

#5 changed the course of everything for me.

i know there are many others, but those are a few off the top of my head today.  at the event one of my awesome friends from denver asked how he could confess the ways he had contributed to patriarchy in his family of origin. i told him i thought the best confession was a life lived differently.

as i said it, i realized that’s for all of us, men & women alike.

the best way i can confess the ways i have let patriarchy rob me is to continue to live from a new place.

i wonder if that’s the greatest gift we as men & women can give to the world to pave a better road for the next generation–a confessional life that says “no more, i am sorry for the ways i have followed the rules of patriarchy instead of the ways of Jesus.  God, i repent, and choose to turn away from the old and turn (again & again & again) toward a new life of Christ’s liberation, hope, justice, mercy, and equality.”

yeah, the solution starts with us and not only acknowledging patriarchy’s curse built on power, fear, injustice, apathy, and a hijacked version of the gospel–but also becoming willing-and-brave participants in living the solution.




Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy, absolutely awesome!!! I’m on board! I did pause a bit with the part about money and evil 1) the passage says “the love of money” and I would be interested to hear how you justify overriding this passage for patriarchy 2) Since I don’t know your stance on GLBTQ I’m not sure if you meant to imply that men’s sexual(?) partners are only women???? Here’s the line that my question comes from: “men are damaged, too, missing out on the beauty & value of strong equal free partners, friends, and co-laborers” Thanks for your time and energy on this issue…it is so important and I’m going to check out the book too! Have a good day, Judi in St Paul

    • oh i was just saying that we sometimes say “the root of all evil is money” and so i was clarifying that i believe underneath money is power. and that at the root of patriarchy is power. oh thank you for clarifying #2, to me, i’m not talking about men & women only in sexual relationships. i am just talking about the damage that patriarchy does to men,too, and that not only women are harmed. i am pro-equality for straight & gay & black & white & rich & poor & every other thing that divides us.

  • Here’s to paving the way! May you continue to be given courage and wisdom to pursue the call of God. As one out here in the midst of it too I pray, “Bless you!” Maggie

  • this is a breath of fresh air. i think when we talk of patriarchy some will always hear “men are bad!” when that was never the message. tiny boxes are bad. chains are bad. obscuring the image of God is bad. set us free from our prisons, LORD, that we may praise your name.

  • I hear the pain that women have expereinced with opression from men in positions of power and damage that women have expereinced because of this. One example is of a collegue at college who was under great pressure from the church to return to an abusive husband. The only way she could escape was to leave both the church and her husband hence having the grief of the loss of relationship and stress of change on top of what was already a very difficult and damaging situation for her.

    However this it one post where I would have strong disagreement in the appoach suggested form Kathy who otherwise I have for the most part found agreement with and much great appreciation for her sharing and expression of views in the light of us being together in all of this. Hence it is dissapointing to read.

    Yes there is no man, no woman, all are one in Christ. And Christ does se us free from sin. But it is not freedom to do anything we want. Should freedom about so grace abounds abslutelty not. But freedom yes to live live to the fullest that Christ came for.

    The problem with this kind of approach is that in common with other idealistic approaches it uses rhetoric against the opressor without any checks an balances about ones own conduct. The sub text is men in power, power currupts, men bad boooo. Women opressed, women need empowered soe men can’t opress hurrah. This boo hurrah approach risks alienating men and the kind fo men who are equally abhorrant as concerned brothers in Christ who are in positions to do somethign about women who are being damaged.

    It also fails to ackowledge the reverse i.e that women damage men. I recenly have had to leave a church after events following me sharing something personal in which the actions of a woman had been deeply hurtful and damaging to me were treated by a female leader as having been my responsibility for difficulty. The support being given for her forceful approach with that was that she was being “prophetic” and that “God deals with men first because men are the ones in positions of power”. She supported these assertions by saying that “men have demeaned and not listened to women and caused them to have low self esteem”.

    If my energy is taken up with this, I am not in a position to be of service to women who are in difficulty. If women’s energy is taken up with similar difficulty, they are not in a position to be of service to men.

    It is time we stopped making this about placing men in a bad light. Power over someone is ugly wherever it comes from. If men are in positions of authority it doesn’t necessaritly mean that is a bad thing. (Aren’t men as husbands insturcted to he head of the houshold?). The imperitive for a man to love as Christ loves the church does imply an element of patriarchy at least. But it also implies sacrifice, love, service and ultimatly being willing to die for his wife. In this I see equality and differing roles with the equally mutually submissive and edifying relationship of the wife submitting completely and in everything.

    I think there needs to a better understanding of the kind of patriarchy we are talkign about if it is to be condemned and what aspects of patriarcy ar consistent with Chirstian living rathern than a black and white approach be taken if appropriate steps are to be taken. I also think there needs to be equivalent accountablity for women as that which is expected of men. Failure to do so will surely lead, as history teaches us, to those who have been opressed becoming opressors.

    Only then will we be there for each other in a mutually submitting and edifying existance that is core to the purposes in Chirst and what he came for.



    • What you just described Adam was an issue of power and misuse of power. Anyone using the “prophetic” in an abusive way is yielding spiritual power against another. I

      Paul’s words have been so misunderstood. Read the whole passage and you will see that the idea of Mutual Submission is being offered. For an excellent read on this John Bristow’s book, What Paul Really Meant does a great job unraveling texts like this one.

      Patriarchy is not birthed from the spirit of God. It is rooted in human beings dominating one another. Paul said in Christ there is no dominance…there is no Greek or slave or Jew or Gentile or male or female. Can we truly live out a kingdom free of a group becoming dominant—whether man or woman or clergy or laity or whatever else — herein lies the imagination of those of us who dream for it. I know we likely won’t see such a society of true equality until we leave this world, yet I guess it’s in my spiritual dna to strive to emulate a just and equal church culture for all.

      Christians for Biblical Equality has great resources about these issues. I highly recommend them for scholarly articles. Blessings to you Adam!!!!

      • thanks, pam. i read what paul really meant a few years ago! i am glad you mentioned christians for biblical equality here because any time we can point people to their awesome resources it’s so worth it. when i first stumbled up on them i remember what a gift it was. thank you for all you do to keep breaking down these walls and setting people free!

    • Adam, you ask: “Aren’t men as husbands insturcted to he head of the houshold?” If you mean, are they asked that in the Bible, the answer is no.

      There are no verses which instructs men to be heads of households.

      First point, instruct: An instruction verse say someone should do something. Something like “he will rule over you” to Eve is not an instruction, it is a prediction.

      Second point, household: Two texts say men are (not should be, no instruction) heads of their wives, but a household includes more people than just a wife. A young man, for example, may live with his parents and is not the head of a household. In Bible times, it was common for aging parents and several siblings and spouses to have one large household, with male and female slaves too. It would have been ridiculous to instruct each man to be the head of a household, and the Bible does not do it.

      God never instructs men to be heads of their households. Or wives, for that matter. The only Bible character ever to instruct it is King Xerxes, a heathen.

      • thanks for taking time to share. it’s always so important to share what’s behind these scriptures. our oversimplification and misrepresentation of them has really done a lot of harm.

    • kind of a bummer because i wrote a comment and then somehow it didn’t post and i didn’t copy it. thanks for sharing, adam. it’s really hard to cover all the ground that sets the stage in one blog post but i will clarify something very important-i don’t believe in matriarchy as much as i don’t believe in patriarchy. i don’t believe in woman power over man power. i believe in equality. i believe in men and women as equals, friends, partner, mutually submitting, one to another. i think that’s what Jesus embodied. that is tricky stuff, it’s much easier to do over or under one another than beside and is why we desperately need God’s help & spirit-at-work in our life to pull it off.

  • It is #5 for me. I am tired of having my life defined by sin when it should be defined by grace. The old, sin in this world identity, washed away by Jesus.

  • Love your voice kathy for the equality of women. Yes, patriarchy is about power and it saturates the air we breathe within and outside the confines of the church. the followers of jesus are meant to follow in our lord’s ways who lived counter culture and did not seem to breathe the patriarchal air of the communities he lived in. he breathed in the free air of the spirit and then exhaled it where ever he went.

    i strive to be like that too. i’m not always successful, but i am dedicated.

    thanks you for being a champion for justice and equality. you are one of my all time fave HERetics!!! 🙂

    • thanks my sister and friend and partner-in-advocating-for-change. i love this line: “he breathed in the free air of the spirit and then exhaled it wherever he went…” lovely.

  • Amen! What we are fighting is not a flesh-and-blood enemy, like men, or even male-dominated society; we are fighting the spiritual war against the powers and dominion that oppress all of humanity. This issue is coming up a lot in the Christian blogging community lately (probably has something to do with Rachel Held Evans’ book release; I blogged on this today, as well) and I think we are in a unique place to pose this very point for the world to see: With God’s help, Christians who are feminists opt out of the fallen power-game. Our fight is against the urge to control and dominate others–both men and women struggle with these fallen tendencies–and we need to pray that neither sex would fall into the trap of power.

    • yep! i agree with you, there’s a fierce and freaky battle going on right now that is pretty awesome on one level because it means that many have been awakened. at the same time, it means it’s going to be bumpy and hard and we are so going to need God’s help to strengthen, guide, encourage, and empower. i so agree with you about our tendencies and need for God’s help. i think it’s why i love the beatitudes so much as a guiding text.

  • Adam wrote: “I recenly have had to leave a church after events following me sharing something personal in which the actions of a woman had been deeply hurtful and damaging to me were treated by a female leader as having been my responsibility for difficulty. The support being given for her forceful approach with that was that she was being “prophetic” and that “God deals with men first because men are the ones in positions of power”. She supported these assertions by saying that ‘men have demeaned and not listened to women and caused them to have low self esteem.'”
    You bring up an excellent point. I resonate with what Kathy has written, as well as your response. Bottom line, when there is a New Covenant, Christian view of our identity in Christ, then the issue is NEVER male or female, but rather, one of service. In the Kingdom, no person ever assumes authority or power over another individual as “teacher, leader, father, or propeht” (Jesus words in Matthew 25), but rather, “the person who is first in my kingdom is servant of all.” Sometimes reaction to patriarchy is nothing more than matriarchy. I don’t sense that in Kathy, but I believe you experienced it at your church.
    I long for the day when God’s people serve based upon their giftings, put the welfare of others first, yield their rights willingly–all the while understanding that we are co-heirs with Christ, children of the King, and need neither the approval of men or accolades of the world. One of these days that will happen, but till then, “Thy Kingdom come, They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

    • thank you wade. yes, that is my hope, too, that God’s kingdom could be reflected here on earth in as many wild and crazy and beautiful ways as possible.

  • Something is very wrong when on the one hand someone claims to follow Jesus (he who said he came not be be served, but to serve), but on the other hand thinks they are somehow over another for whatever reason, including gender. I try to never be guilty of either tyranny (attempting to rule one’s equals) or servility (allowing myself to be ruled by my equals). My dad said some people are capable of finding whatever they want to find in the Bible. I’ve seen that many times, and see it in those who use the Bible to support the idea referred to by the (odd) label “patriarchy”.

    • thanks, sam. i think your dad is right. when i was at denver seminary i remember writing some papers where i would laugh out loud at how the people would use the same scriptures to prove totally different points. i think “over” and “under” don’t require God’s help much. “beside” is a whole different story…

  • I agree, Wade and Adam. Likewise I know that Kathy is not looking for unbalanced matriarchy either. It is hard to frame the problem well using the word “patriarchy”. A whimsical alternative might be “piratriarchy”. Pirates are aggressive in taking power and using force. And that is what this is about- and not limited to men.

    • piratriarchy, ha ha, that made me laugh, but it is a good twist to consider–aggressive in taking power and using force. and that could go either way on gender. i’ll be thinking about that one for a while. thank you.

  • I agree that men are fallen creations, and they abuse often the leadership roles in which theyhave been placed. Not so sure about whether we (women), in our freedom in Christ, are to demand our entitlements. In fact, as followers of Christ, we should be deeply and lovingly concerned about others and our responsibilities to others, not our personal rights. Nicholas Wolterstorff speaks about our moral culture of rights in his book “Justice, Rights and Wrongs,” and coins the term “possessive individualism.” In exercising “our rights”, we should be first of all concerned are we in some way stepping on the rights of someone else. This is a thought that should be applied by men and women equally. As Christ so clearly states in Mark 10:43-45: “….Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.” Key word is serve and should be applied to all areas of life, and to all of us who profess to be followers of Christ.

    My personal observation is that men are not encouraged to lead in a Godly fashion, and subsequently fail to lead in any fashion. Call me a traditionalist, but I have to believe the story of the fall, or I wouldn’t be able to believe in Christ’s redeeming work. In fact, I believe that Adam’s original sin was a “failure to lead and protect his wife.” He had the direct command from God to “not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and he did it anyway….with a woman’s encouragement by the way. So I won’t go light on men here, but women need a better understanding of their roles that are just as blessed and powerful as men’s in God’s eyes. We are all sinful, and we all have gifts, and we (men and women) all ought to operate that the other is as good as, if not better than oneself.

    The minute I promote myself over others, that is the minute I have fallen into sin. And if we are created in the image of God, (all of us), and if we are to model our lives on Christ’s behavior, then we treat each other with the dignity inherent of one who is loved by God. We do nothing to demean another; we clamor not for our rights to certain privileges; we lift each other in prayer; we submit ourselves to our Lord and Savior which leads to mutual submission to each other and seeking the other’s best welfare. That is Christian community…not worrying over patriarchy or matriarchy. Bud do I believe that the husband is to lead his household in submission to Christ? Yes, I do. Do I think women can be leaders in all other areas? Well, that depends on her giftedness, and she still would need to follow the concept of a servant/leader exhibited by Christ.

    And right before I posted, I did scan down and read some of the other comments, so I guess there are others with the same line of reasoning. Sorry to be repetitious.

    • thanks, marilyn, for your thoughtful response. they are never repetitious because it’s each person’s perspectives. it is a very interesting conversation, always, because it stirs things up. i do not agree with women overpowering men, either. because we are flawed human beings we will always need to be sensitive to issues of power. we are to submit one to another, mutually. that means both, one to another, in different ways and at different times. i wish you could have been at theology camp, it was really interesting, too, looking at some of these passages through a new lens that often is never considered. i don’t know if you’ve ever seen christians for biblical equality’s stuff, but it is really worth looking into! hope to see you soon!


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