Why is the Theory of Headship Like ISIS?

Marriage is a sacred trust, not a bovine transactionIs there a difference between ISIS selling young girls and Christian men claiming ‘headship’ to demand sex from their wives?

I’ve ruminated (pun intended) a lot on the crazy post I read yesterday written by a man who alleges to be a God follower—yet he compares women to cows and sex to milk (he does point out that he’s only using cows and milk as an analogy and doesn’t believe that women are actual bovines). His whole argument—which he puts considerable effort into—posits that according to the Bible, women are like property and thus they need to come under the ‘headship’ of men.

From this belief, he encourages husbands and engaged men to make sure that they come to an understanding with their wives (or future wives) that the woman should never withhold sex from a man because accepting his requests for sex is her duty to him as his property. She should never expect anything in return for making herself available (no romance, sweet talking, etc.) because he has ‘paid’ for his ‘cow’ and should get his ‘milk’ for ‘free’. If a woman doesn’t want to have sex, her husband’s duty as her ‘head’ is to lovingly admonish her and call her attention to her ‘sin.’

I’m not kidding. There’s actually a man who believes this (and from the comment section, a fair amount of men agree with him). Furthermore, he insinuates that the Bible says it is the woman’s responsibility to make sure that she doesn’t give away any ‘milk’ before marriage and that it’s fine for a man to not be a virgin on his wedding night.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’re all reading the same Bible. It saddens me when people use the word of God out of context to toot their own horns and prop up their own soapboxes. Lest you think I’m doing the same thing, I’m not going to quote chapter and verse here.  Suffice it to say, I’ve read the Bible and it’s the most beautiful love story every written.  Parts of it I may not understand until I meet God face to face, but I understand the plot and story structure.  God loves me enough to send his Son to die for me because I’m a sinner living in a sinful world.

Don't use the Bible out of context to toot your horn and prop up your soapboxes. #headship Click To Tweet

The problem with the whole ‘headship’ issue is this: When God claims headship over his creation, he does so in the loving context of knowing what is best for us because he created us and knows us intimately. He never forces the relationship nor berates us until we accept his headship in our lives. Our relationship with God is through free will and our choosing him as our head. At any time, we can step away from God and he will let us go (which doesn’t mean that he won’t pursue us with his love)—he will never force us back into a relationship with him.

Man on the other hand, did not create woman. He did not ‘buy’ her. She is not his property. God created men and women to be a gift to each other–to compliment each other’s strengths and to help each other with weaknesses. Marriage is a sacred trust--not a bovine transaction. Click To Tweet

Human relationships differ fundamentally from the relationship between God and humans or God and the church. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God needs us to help him with his weaknesses or compliment his strengths. We should praise him, glorify him, acknowledge him as our Lord and master and spend time getting to know him so that he can guide us in each step of our life. But God doesn’t need us to complement his strengths or weaknesses.

Another problem with the headship theory is that it if one believes it, one must also buy into the doctrine that only women are inherently sinful and buy into the erroneous idea that men are moral weaklings. To say that it is the woman’s responsibility to remain a virgin (but a man doesn’t have to) is to say that women are inherently evil and men are no more than animals without control over their urges (and who wants to be under the ‘headship’ of someone who can’t control themselves?).

If one believes that men were destined to be the ‘head’ of women, than it’s easy to treat a woman as personal property–an unpaid servant, for example–someone to fetch and clean and manage the home (often while bringing home at least half of the bacon as well).  And if a woman is no more than an unpaid servant, doesn’t that make her a slave?

A man who believes it is his God-given right to exercise ‘headship’ over women in a society that already exploits women (that would be what advertisers do in the United States) sounds like a scary fundamentalist to me. How is a Christian man who believes in his ‘headship authority’ to have sex on demand with his wife any different from a member of ISIS who thinks it’s his right to sell young girls as slaves (see Ann Voskamp’s excellent article on the kidnapping and sale of young girls by ISIS and Jennifer Dukes Lee’s call to action)?

I get that the secular world exploits women and uses sex (mostly the exploitation of women, but also of men) to sell everything from pie to cars. But as Christians, we’re called to something better.

Jesus didn’t treat women this way at all. If you don’t believe me, read the gospels. Jesus treated women like people who mattered. Yes, he worked within the cultural context of where and when he lived—but his purpose was to call ALL people unto him—not just the men.

Jesus actually treated women in a revolutionary way for the societal context in which he lived. He doesn’t condemn or blame the woman caught in adultery. He doesn’t condemn or blame the woman at the well. He doesn’t condemn or blame the woman who touched the hem of his garment. He doesn’t condemn or blame the woman who washes his feet with her tears and anoints him with expensive perfume.

Christian men who believe in the ‘headship’ of man and believe that it gives them the right to sex whenever they want it don’t understand the transformative message of salvation.

Christian men who believe in the ‘headship’ of man and believe that it gives them the right to deny women leadership positions in the church also deny the headship of God. If God wants to call women to minister and lead, who is man to say that she can’t fulfill her God-given call to do his work?

ALL people sin and fall short of the glory of God—but God can use any of us, both men and women, to spread his love and message of salvation.

Women aren’t cows and men aren’t horny bulls. God created us equal and after his image (and many of the names of God used in the original language of the Bible have feminine attributes). Believing in the ‘headship’ of the male (as opposed to the headship of Christ) doesn’t turn a person into an ISIS acolyte—but believing that half the world’s population needs the other half of the population to guide them is the same as believing that half the world’s population is of less value than the other half. And if you believe that women have less value, than you don’t really understand love.

Jesus came to realign our vision and show us that love is the answer. Claiming ‘headship’ is not love. Selling little girls is not love. Showing disrespect for men is not love. Blaming women for man’s lust is not love.

Jesus calls all of us to love better. To love more. To love everyone just like he loves everyone. The question shouldn’t be, “Have I exercised my rights today?” it should be, “How have I showed love for others today?”

Jesus calls all of us to love better and to love more. Forget #headship. Chose love. Click To Tweet

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I can see smoke coming out of your ears! I totally agree with you. [no smoke] This is why we are having so much trouble with the definition of marriage. Don’t get me started. I just wonder when men think this way how are they to find a women that is a virgin if it is ok for them to have sex before marriage and where does it say this in the Bible. He has misread so many things.
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  • I’ve read the same post and I was floored. I consider myself a complimentarian but that post was promoting something not of God. Nothing be pure evil. I agree with you and your frustration. I’m feeling it too.
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  • Wow! You really took the bull by the horns… pun intended. 🙂
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  • Donne

    Preach it, sister! I’m glad I didn’t read the article in question if it got you so riled up. 😉

    Men are told to love their wives as Christ loves the church, then assume that gives them the right to do anything they like, forgetting that Christ DIED for the church. How many of those same men would willingly die for the woman they claim as their property? Or do they simply see her as easily replaceable?

  • “Sometimes, I wonder if we’re all reading the same Bible. It saddens me when people use the word of God out of context to toot their own horns and prop up their own soapboxes.”

    I wonder the same thing, the things I see, read and hear make me shutter inside. I just wonder where the fear of God has gone. I am saddened and heartbroken at the amount of people who have been pushed away from real love, grace, truth, and salvation because of selfish ambitions, and misguided and interpretations of the scriptures!

    Thank you for sharing!
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  • There is SO much I could say about this post…seriously! You BOLDLY said what so many others won’t (and that’s why we all love reading your posts!). Hmmm…passing this along to a few friends…. 🙂 Hoping they don’t have a “cow”!
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  • THIS SHOULD GO VIRAL. The Bovine Theory – and they say Sharia Law has not found its way into our culture? God help us all.
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  • Just your description of that article makes me writhe–I haven’t read it. Ugh, ugh, ugh. This is a powerful counter-post, and one that I hope many read–Christians and non. It’s sad that Christian culture has people who disrespect and degrade women as much as popular culture does (in shows such as Game of Thrones, the Fifty Shades series, etc.) even if in supposedly ‘better’ ways.
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  • I am glad I haven’t read this article you are referring to…..I get ticked off enough at society! You are so right!
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  • in terms of sex, this man is totally wrong and unbiblical when it comes to headship. biblical headship involves considerably more than sex however…and therein lies the problem with the discussion of headship. people who teach headship like this man does…tied to sex on demand confuse all the issues of headship as it is tough in scripture!

    many of the places that talk about women submitting to their husbands as to the lord also talk to the husbands about love their wives as christ loved the church and gave himself for her. that his hardly sex on demand or slavery of any kinds for the woman!

    it seems we need to help our daughters see a man like this for what he is…a false teacher who misuses scriptural terms! she needs to run, not walk from a man like that! ugh!

    headship is not a dirty word but it needs to be used in a biblical way! that man is misusing it terribly:(
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