And women rule over them...

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O My people! Their oppressors are children, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray And confuse the direction of your paths. -Isaiah 3:12

If we wanted to describe the repudiation of Biblical sexuality spreading across conservative churches and denominations today, we'd have a hard time finding a better text than this curse of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah. Women lead men, those who guide the People of God lead them astray, and pastors confuse the direction of their flocks' paths.

It's everywhere, from Campus Crusade for Christ to Operation Mobilization to Columbia International University to Wheaton College to the Presbyterian Church in America...

A while back, the New Yorker ran an article by Malcolm Gladwell profiling Cesar Millan, the man behind the National Geographic show, Dog Whisperer. Titled "What the Dog Saw," the piece gave readers a spellbinding glimpse into the life of a man expert at disciplining incorrigible dogs. The central thrust of the article was an explanation of Millan's "phrasing," his ability to bring his body movements, hand gestures, tone of voice, and eye contact into perfect harmony so that dogs understand Millan says what he means and means what he says. In an interview following the publication of his article, Gladwell described Millan's good phrasing:




What we're talking about, when it comes to phrasing, is simply the ability to communicate with clarity. We all think that those around us have the ability to read our minds--and we get frustrated when our intentions are misunderstood. But the truth is that accurate communication is really hard, and only a very small number of people can do it well.


Gladwell's profile contained a number of examples of dog owners who hired Millan to tame their dogs. Here's the story of a dog named Beauty:

"I have forty-seven dogs right now," Cesar...idly scratched a big German shepherd. "My girlfriend here, Beauty. If you were to see the relationship between her and her owner." He shook his head. "A very sick relationship. A 'Fatal Attraction' kind of thing. Beauty sees her (owner) and she starts scratching her and biting her, and the owner is, like, 'I love you, too.'"

Near the end of his article, Gladwell told the story of a Chihuahua named...



Bandit had a large, rapper-style diamond-encrusted necklace around his neck spelling "Stud." His owner was Lori, a voluptuous woman with an oval face and large, pleading eyes. Bandit was out of control, terrorizing guests and menacing other dogs. Three trainers had failed to get him under control.

Lori was on the couch in her living room as she spoke to Cesar. Bandit was sitting in her lap. Her teen-age son, Tyler, was sitting next to her.... Tyler reached over to touch the dog, and Bandit leaped out of Lori's arms and attacked him... Tyler, startled, jumped back. Lori, alarmed, reached out and ...put her hands around Bandit in a worried, caressing motion, and lifted him back into her lap. It happened in an instant.

...Cesar was about as angry as he ever gets.

"...If Tyler kicked the dog, you would correct him. The dog is biting your son, and you are not correcting hard enough."

...Bandit was nervous. He started to back up on the couch. He started to bark. Cesar gave him a look out of the corner of his eye. Bandit shrank. Cesar kept talking. Bandit came at Cesar. Cesar stood up. "I have to touch," he said, and he gave Bandit a sharp nudge with his elbow.

Lori looked horrifed.... "You don't like that, do you?" Cesar said, in his frustration speaking to the whole room now. "It's not going to work. This is a case that is not going to work, because the owner doesn't want to allow what you normally do with your kids... The hardest part for me is that the father or mother chooses the dog instead of the son. That's hard for me. I love dogs. I'm the dog whisperer. You follow what I'm saying? But I would never choose a dog over my son."

He stopped. He had had enough of talking. There was too much talking, anyhow. People saying, "I love you," with a touch that didn't mean "I love you." People saying, "There, there," with gestures that did not soothe. People saying, "I'm your mother," while reaching out to a Chihuahua instead of their own flesh and blood...

The dog is man's best friend partly because dogs are highly skilled at reading man's intentions and moods--his phrasing. So when a man's words say one thing and his phrasing something else, the dog will follow his owner's phrasing, disregarding his words.

There's much for us to learn from Millan concerning the church's repudiation of Biblical sexuality, today.

For most of the first ten years of pastoral ministry, I served in a denomination whose polity required each church to elect female elders in proportion to the number of females in the congregation. Every pastoral search committee was required to sign an EEO-type contract promising they would give equal consideration to women for their pastoral position. Thus I have significant experience working with women elders within the local congregation, as well as female pastors and elders at the presbytery and general assembly (national) levels.

Furthermore, the women who served as elders within our congregations (I had a yoked parish of two churches) were wise and godly, and to this day my wife and I maintain close relationships with several of these women.

It's my observation that even (and maybe especially) wise and godly females, when placed in the position of elder, are supremely gifted at being ...well, women. Godly women have been given the gift of femininity and all it most certainly entails.

So, for instance, women are tenaciously focused on the protection of relationships within the congregation. If there's a curmudgeon among the church members who has spent fifty years being the naysayer at congregational meetings, male elders are more willing to see him dealt with firmly, in love, while female elders want to let him have his say no matter how nasty that say nor how much of the congregational meeting it consumes. Women are intent on protecting the curmudgeon's place in the church family and they fear the repercussions to family unity of his being told to cease his schismatic behavior.

This is no surprise, is it? We've each experienced it within our own marriage. There's a natural tension between fathers and mothers concerning the discipline of their children. While mother is facing a rebellious child and hasn't yet admitted defeat in her wheedling and cajoling, father's patience is gone and he's ready to spank. Yes, this is a generalization. There are exceptions to this sex-specific rule. But they are exceptions. Some mothers are ready to spank long before father is, but it's an unusual situation. Generalizations are, after all, generally true.

So, does Scripture confirm this rule? Or is each generation of man left to discover it on our own?

God has decreed that, across time and place, women are prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men:

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:12,13).

Thus if women are reticent to exercise discipline, can we begin to think in a larger way about this connection between sex and leadership? It's not simply that the Word of God prohibits "a woman from exercising authority over a man," but that God has put inside woman a feminine nature that, in keeping with her sex, is gifted at some kinds of work--some "phrasing," if you will--and not so much other kinds of work.

Sure enough, one sort of work in which the feminine nature gives testimony to her Creator's purpose is that work of exercising authority over man. Conscript woman for that duty and her nature will out. Doesn't Scripture tells us it's contrary to nature? "It was Adam who was first created, and then Eve."

But of course, I suppose we could seek to eviscerate that feminine beauty, turning women into men so the men can sit home mothering the children, watching male rituals of aggression on television while the kids nap.

Some may argue with my observations about the particular ways women demonstrate an incapacity for exercising authority over men. I'm happy to grant them freedom to deny those observations as long as they come up with observations of their own. After all, Scripture reveals the universal principle God has written into His creation, that woman is not to exercise authority over man. To deny that there is any aspect of the feminine phrasing or nature that testifies to this principle is tantamount to the denial of the principle itself.

God made man and woman, and it was good.

There's another less obvious point that must be made, though, and that is the distinction between being a man and being manly. As it's a repudiation of God's loving creation to hide or remove woman's phrasing, it's also a repudiation of our Creator to make men into women.

There's a recurrent theme in the Old Testament concerning warriors who are not warriors at all, but "women" incapable of defending their wives and children. For instance, the prophet Nahum writes this concerning the destruction of Nineveh:

Behold, your people are women in your midst! The gates of your land are opened wide to your enemies; Fire consumes your gate bars. (Nahum 3:13)

Obviously, God is not saying the warriors of these nations are females masquerading as males, biological women under cover of a man's uniform. Rather, these soldiers lack the male principle. Biologically, they're men, but they aren't manly. Calvin gives the sense of it:

(T)he hearts of them all would become soft and effeminate... We now then perceive the Prophet's meaning, when he says, that the people would become women, or effeminate, in the midst of the city, in its very bowels; as though he had said, that they would not cease to tremble, even while they were dwelling in a safe place.

For several decades, the Western world has been undergoing a dramatic movement away from patriarchal, toward matriarchal leadership. We're in love with calling good "evil," black "white," and wrong "right." All God's distinctions are being denied--most particularly that foundational distinction between man and woman. We love to turn men into women and women into men. It's one of the chief ways we signal our friends and neighbors that Christians too are allowed to be progressive.

Look at us! We have women ushers and women Scripture readers and women lead our pastoral prayers. We've removed nasty military imagery from our liturgy and hymns--women don't like that, you know.

We have women serve the Lord's Supper and make the announcements. We have women deacons and women Bible teachers and women discipling men. We have a women serving as Director of our male and female deacons, together. We have women doctors with stay-at-home husbands who are better mothers than the children's own mother. We have women preachers and women elders...

Er, actually, not that. We're in a denomination that doesn't allow women elders. And we agree with that, you know? The Bible says women in elders meetings when formal discipline is being voted on should not vote on that discipline. See there, it says woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man. This means woman must not be seated on the elders board when formal discipline is voted on.

Hope you understand?

But hey, don't be fooled by that. Each of our elders meetings has women present to provide us counsel. After all, a third of our church's departments have women heads, over men, and we wouldn't think of making decisions without those (and other) women present. But of course, when votes are taken formallly, for discipline, those women don't vote.

They serve in a strictly advisory capacity, you understand.

But, you know--some of the best cooks in our church are men. And we man our nurseries with men.

So please, are we sufficiently progressive? Have we denied femininity and masculinity enough to avoid embarrassing you if you show up for Lord's Day worship? Do you have any ideas where we might improve? Where we might up our missional cred? Bone up on our ever-so-sophisticated contextualization?

We're for the city, you know. For it. Absolutely.

You know, we think the church has spent too many years--or is it decades or centuries or millenia?--denying women's gifts. But with us, a new day has dawned. We're in touch with our feelings.

We're ever so evolved.

Don't you agree?

It was many years back, now, that Margaret Thatcher (the woman the New York Times tellingly referred to as the "Iron Lady") served as Prime Minister under Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. And here in these United States, Nancy Pelosi sits as Speaker of our own House of Representatives while many consider Sarah Palin the candidate most likely to represent conservatives in the 2012 presidential campaign. Each of these leaders are members of what the Bible calls the "weaker" sex.

Too, women comprise around half the enrollment of training schools historically associated with the development of leaders--law schools, medical schools, and seminaries.

This sea-change has had a profound impact within the Church--not just in the most obvious way as the number of women serving as pastors and elders grows, but also in less obvious ways. The feminization of leadership has changed the affect, posture, and methods used by male pastors and elders. Congregations are now comprised of souls who have become acclimated to female leadership and want their male leaders to be more feminine, to be softer in the way they lead and preach. Knowing their market, seminaries, presbyteries, search committees, elders, and pastors have complied.

Other forces push in this direction. Lesbians, metrosexuals, and sodomites don't talk about sex, but something completely different called "gender"--a social construct rather than a biological bifurcation. The grand project is to move everyone toward the middle of what they claim is a continuum of "gender identity."

Neutered Bible translations are released by seminary professors eager to remove from Scripture the Hebrew and Greek terms feminists and those with feminist sensibilities find offensive. Future pastors are trained by theology professors who urge them not to focus on repentance or the law, but grace; homiletics professors who urge them never to speak in a way that could be misunderstood as arrogant or dogmatic. Rather, they are to make sure they doubt themselves and admit they may, in fact, be wrong.

"Thus says the Lord God Almighty" is out; "I wonder whether" is in.

"Follow me as I follow God" is out; "wounded healer" is in.

"Let him be anathema" is out; "although I differ with my good friend and colleague on this, I respect her opinion and accept her as a sincere Christian who happens to have a different perspective than I" is in.

Even deliberative bodies are yielding to these pressures. General assemblies receive two reports from a study committee whose chairman is unwilling to respond to the moderator's direct question asking which of the two is the majority report? "I'd prefer not to say," the chairman responds, and for two hours the assembly is hog-tied in a parliamentary quagmire that is the direct result of the chairman's desire to avoid having any winners or losers among his committee members.

Similar concerns lead presbyteries to adopt vision statements that call for their meetings to leave behind the either/or governed by parliamentary procedure for a new climate of both/and where mutuality and sharing are fostered and relationships are paramount.

Women become harder and more competitive while men become softer and more nuanced.

Truth is, if there were a way to vacuum the man out of Cesar Millan, replacing it with a woman, the SPCA would do it and the dogs would love it. And maybe, just maybe, in fifty years or so this born again woman we call Cesar Millan would become desperate enough to relearn how to jab the dog with an elbow, shaming the dog's owner for choosing her dog over her own flesh and blood son.

To our shame, today in churches across the country real women chafe under the leadership and authority of men who are ashamed of their sex and spend their lives and ministries repudiating its weight and responsibilities. But of course, they claim God made them do it, and that others as progressive as they are will recognize and honor their servant leadership.

O My people! Their oppressors are children, And women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray And confuse the direction of your paths. -Isaiah 3:12

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!