With a title referencing male privilege, this surely must be another article bashing evangelical men, right? Absolutely not! Though the mere mention of the term privilege causes some folks to bristle, I don’t want to talk about male privilege as something to bash men about but as something that is a gift to the entire Body of Christ, particularly the most vulnerable in it, when used as God intended.
First, is there such a thing as male privilege? It’s important to define privilege. When I use the word, I mean an advantage available to a certain group of people. The entire male gender does enjoy some advantages over the female gender when statistical averages are compared. It’s important to note that privilege refers to statistical averages more than individual comparisons. There will always be outliers, and any one individual man can easily find twenty women with more money or influence, even more physical strength. But averaged out by county, state, or nation, men consistently earn more than women working the same jobs. They average out as physically stronger than women. And in many nations, men still hold clear legal privilege over women by law. Averaged out through humanity, there is a clear advantage financially, physically, and often even legally to be being born a man.
Next, is privilege a bad thing? NO! It can be a very good thing. It’s not a thing to be ashamed of, UNLESS you only use your privilege to serve yourself. Always in Scripture, those privileged by race, gender, or financial ability are called to steward that privilege to serve those around them in need. I don’t write as a bitter old woman mad at all the men in my life who abused their privilege. In fact, quite the opposite. The majority of men in my life with God-given authority over me, particularly my dad and my pastors, have used their authority to bless me again and again. I have had really good examples of men in my life who leveraged their privilege for my benefit (even though they likely have never thought of it in those terms).
As I’ve been thinking through what headship should be in the Body of Christ, I can’t get away from my dad’s example. Each Father’s Day, I stand in the aisle reading cards until one makes me cry. Then I know I’ve found the right card for Daddy. Yesterday, he gave my oldest son a farmer’s cap as he took him to guitar lesson. When my son got out of the car and walked in the house with the cap turned sideways on his head, he told me, “Mom, you have a good dad.”
Daddy had three daughters and no sons (now he has six grandsons and no granddaughters, which I find funny). Daddy loves his daughters, and he worked hard as a farmer to provide for us. He did not personally start off in life with land or equity that he inherited from his parents. He didn’t have a chance to get a college degree. But through hard work and a good business sense, he is leaving his daughters with financial security and peace of mind.
Daddy is an authority in my life. He doesn’t request much, but whenever he does, my sisters and I drop everything we are doing to help him. But it’s because we love him, and we know he would do anything he could to protect us and help us. Daddy saw that we were well educated, and he values our opinion and defers to us often. He is proud of his daughters’ accomplishments. He respects our minds. But Daddy also knows stuff we don’t know, and we need his knowledge.
Daddy is more financially secure than me. Daddy is stronger than me. Even with chronic heart failure at age 78, he can slice a piece of wood with a single swing of the ax (which I learned last year when he was trying to show me what I was doing wrong). But Daddy has never lorded that authority or strength over me. He instead has used it to bless and help me when I have been vulnerable or needy. He has used his strength to enable me to be strong.
A friend gave me feedback on my post on Thomas Jefferson, “Authority isn’t missing from your expression of headship, but it’s a means to an end; not an end in itself.” This is how my dad and the majority of pastors in my life have used their authority in my life. Their authority wasn’t about their authority. Their authority wasn’t the absolute thing to preserve. Their authority was a tool. They felt responsibility for those with whom they were called to relationship and they used their authority to bless those in their care.
There is beauty in this vision, which I argue is the Biblical model, for both men and women. For men, it addresses the angst we have seen over the last two decades over what it means to be a manly man. May my sons and nephews understand that being a manly man means above all else that you shoulder your responsibilities and leverage your gifts and privileges for those smaller or weaker or less secure than you. For women, this vision frees us to recognize godly men (men who don’t protect their authority or privilege but use it for the good of others) and respond to them as is appropriate, to encourage them as needed. If God calls us into relationship with one, then we support them as they support us. We bear our responsibilities beside them, with them, be it in the church or home, as helpers strongly suited for just that kind of co-labor. All in the image of God.