Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Women in Government - An Affront to God?

In my post In Defense of Deborah I pointed out that adherents to “Biblical Patriarchy” claim that God commands that all positions of authority whether in the home, the church, or any form of civil government, be held by men at all times regardless of the circumstances. In his article Should Christians Support a Woman for the Office of Civil Magistrate?, posted on Vision Forum, William Einwechter writes:

“…as creation establishes the headship of man in the civil sphere by means of man being created first and the woman being created for man, so the law of God sets the headship of man in the civil sphere by means of the stated qualifications for civil rulers.”

Einwechter makes this claim by appealing to several Old Testament (OT) passages for support:

1) The creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:18-24; I have already answered Mr. Einwechter’s arguments from the creation story in my last post, “Biblical Patriarchy from Creation?

2) Jethro’s council to Moses to set up judges under him to handle common problems and disagreements:

“Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens." – Exodus 18:21 (NASB)

3) Moses’ restatement of Jethro’s advice in Deuteronomy 1:

'Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.' – Deuteronomy 1:13 (NASB)

4) The laws given for the kings of Israel (whenever they should happen to come along):

"When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,'…He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. – Deuteronomy 17:14,17 (NASB)

In looking at these passages, Mr. Einwechter notes that the pronoun in each of them is masculine. He correctly points out that these words are gender specific, unlike the word ‘man’ from the creation story which is the gender neutral ‘mankind.’ That the pronoun is gender-specific is particularly meaningful to Patriarchists as they believe that it communicates a God-given requirement of male-ness for all positions of authority.

Mr. Einwechter writes:
“God set for the essential qualifications for civil magistrates for all people and for all time when He spoke through Jethro to Moses…The word “men” chosen by the Holy Spirit in both of these texts is the Hebrew, gender specific word for a man.” (emphasis added)

I think this makes the Exodus 18 passage do far more work than it was ever intended it to do.
The first thing that must be pointed out is that Mr. Einwechter goes well beyond the Biblical text and good Biblical exegesis in making the claim that it was God himself who selected the precise wording of Jethro’s comments, i.e. God “spoke through Jethro to Moses.” Actually, if you read the whole the passage you see that Jethro makes an entirely different claim about his words:

Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. – Exodus 18:19 (TNIV – emphasis added)

The simple truth is that Jethro offers Moses his advice on how he should handle the burden of leadership over the Jewish people and articulates a desire for God’s blessing on whatever path Moses chooses to follow. Nothing more. I am not claiming that Jethro’s advice was not wise or even that it was not inspired by God, however the Bible never makes this claim. It is good advice from a wise and apparently Godly man; let’s leave it at that.

The second point that must be made is similar to the first; even if these words are spoken by God through Jethro, they come in the form of advice that Moses could choose to follow or not. They are not a command. To claim, as Einwechter does, that this advice from Jethro, along with it’s repetition in Deuteronomy 1, constitutes a law of God regarding civil leadership stretches this passage to the breaking point. Let’s be serious. God was not shy about supplying the people of Israel with very specific laws pertaining to everything from the criminal justice system to the daily washing of various body parts to the proper way to prepare foods, yet He choose to rely on advice from Jethro to communicate His will regarding civil leadership? To quote John Stossel, “Give me a break!” The passage reflects wise counsel, and I often wish that we had leaders who fit that mold, but it’s hardly a command.

The third point is that the actual use of the word “men” in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1 may be culturally bound. For Moses and Jethro to refer only to men when contemplating a candidate for leadership would be completely in line with their culture, which was genuinely patriarchal (not the warmed-over modern interpretation of patriarchy of Vision Forum and others). Think about it. Even today, in a culture that could hardly be called patriarchal, except by the most hardened feminists, we still tend to use masculine pro-nouns when talking generally about the people who hold positions of authority. In the same way, only more so, it would never have occurred to Jethro to even consider a woman for any position of leadership at all.

The forth passage that William Einwechter cites as establishing God’s “essential qualifications for civil magistrates for all people and for all time” is Deuteronomy 17:14-17. About this passage Mr. Einwechter writes:

Furthermore, the directions that God gives concerning the establishment of a king in Israel requires that a man, and not a woman, be chosen (Deut. 17:14-20). The king was to be a “brother,” and he was not to “multiply wives to himself.” Clearly, a man is in view here.

To that I say: Yes, a man is in view here! Or maybe we should say that 44 men are in view here. As “The Lawgiver” and a prophet of God, Moses knows that in several hundred years the people of Israel will demand a king. Armed with this foreknowledge, Moses gives several basic laws by which those kings should abide (although none of them did). Far from making strictly male leadership a command for all people for all time, Moses’ failure to acknowledge Queens in this short set of laws only recognizes that Israel only ever had kings over her for as long as the nation existed. This is a fact of history, not a command.

The final point that needs to made is about the nature of the Old Testament Law itself. Even if we actually did find commands for male-only leadership in each of these passages, the Church is no longer under the Old Testament Law and the obligations that come with it. Such commands would no longer apply to us. The laws given by God through Moses to the Jewish people were for the governance and blessing of the religious theocracy of Israel that God established.

Today the order has changed. Jews and Gentiles alike are no longer under the Old Covenant, but are under a new Law, the New Covenant established not between God and nations, but between God and those who love Him and follow His Son, Jesus. If Jesus had come to establish a political kingdom He would have done it. Instead, He came to establish his Kingdom, for the moment a spiritual Kingdom, made up of people from every creed, nation, and race on Earth.

As this is true, we find the commands for Christians regarding civil government to be few, indeed they can boiled down to the simple statement “Obey the civil authorities.” This sums up Jesus statement regarding tribute to Caesar in Matthew 22:17-21 and Paul’s statement regarding civil obedience in Romans 13:1-7. For the Christian it no more difficult than that. No statement about qualifications and certainly none about gender. What does this tell me? That God has allowed Christians to make their own choices on civil leadership issues, tempered by Godly wisdom.

Am I saying that we should expect numerically equal gender representation in positions of authority? I am not. I believe that God has generally provided men and women with different strengths and abilities that offset each others weaknesses. God has made men in such a way that they will take on the rigors and demands of authority far more naturally than women. However, by acknowledging that I am not saying women can never or should never take on roles of authority. History has shown that there exist great women who have skillfully and effectively taken even the highest positions of authority and held those offices with such grace, dignity, and efficacy that they brought honor to the position and to those over whom they held authority. Is this the normal order of things? It is not, but just because something is not normal does not make it illegitimate or unbiblical.

William Einwechter’s position on women in civil government may look impressive and Biblical at first glance, but when you compare his interpretation with the actual passages he cites and the rest of scripture, his case falls apart so completely that there literally is nothing left for him to hang his argument on.