Patriarchy is a widespread system of male domination that has caused great oppression in our world and in the Christian church for the ages. Mary Daly brilliantly states in her monumentally significant work Beyond God the Father: “If God is male then male is God”. This statement, for Daly, is about the dominant position of the system of patriarchy. This system was created by men to serve men. Men have been in positions of domination and have created the social roles and social order that have left women as victims. Patriarchy is supported by a plethora of theologies and philosophies that benefit men and oppress women. Social roles are so heavily internalized that women often unconsciously submit to these oppressive forces. Patriarchy is a horrendous, widespread epidemic that has a vast network of sexist social agreements. Daly asserts that patriarchal structures have “gang raped” women’s minds and bodies. She proposes a revolution of the whole system because she believes that patriarchy can be changed.
Our societal structures are infected with the puss of patriarchy. For Daly, the structures in society reside in language and the power to name. Men have overwhelmingly named women in inadequate ways throughout history. Naming all humanity as “man” implies that full humanity is ascribed to males only. In order to liberate language, women must support each other and toil for change. Daly calls for the castration of language to rid language from all vestiges of a sexist world. She further desires “radical change in the fabric of human consciousness” to fight the structures of patriarchy. The caricature of the male in our world is dominating and hyper-rational, while women are passive and hyperemotional. Clearly, we have to move beyond these caricatures and move toward androgyny.  Only then will we will rid ourselves of oppressively patriarchal gender roles and gender stereotypes that affect all of humanity, especially women and LGBTQ people.
The system of patriarchy runs rampant in Christianity. Daly emphasizes that the commonly held view that God is male causes us to identify male domination and female subordination with the will of God. We must transcend this idea about God to bring about change. Patriarchal societies have greatly influenced Christianity’s ideas of women’s roles in the church. Christianity started as an egalitarian movement that resisted the domination of Rome with its patriarchal norms. Mary Magdalene is the witness to the empty tomb, the resurrection, or both in all four gospels. Mary Magdalene is later associated with the sexual sinner in John 8 and the tradition becomes that Magdalene must be a prostitute, a claim for which there is no evidence. Patriarchal powers perpetuated this error to discredit women. These powers have worked to oppress women in these and other ways throughout the history of the church.
Through an examination of the works of Paul we can see that women were foundational and respected leaders in the early Christian church, but the power of patriarchy devalued and discredited this fact. Paul uses the term fellow workers (synergós) to describe “special collaborators of the apostle” in carrying out the sacred task of preaching the good news of the kingdom and were highly placed church officials of the day. Paul recognizes four people as his fellow workers in Romans 16.3-16 (Prisca, Aquila, Urbanus, Timothy) and the one mentioned first among them is a woman. Women such as Prisca were also leaders of house churches and could be called “pastors” of these churches to use present day terminology. Paul also gives titles of leadership and importance to women in the early church, but patriarchal powers have strived to discredit this fact. Paul uses the specific title of deacon when referring to a woman named Phoebe in Romans 16.1-2. Patriarchal powers consistently argue that this term actually meant deaconess and refers to a position only related to the service of other women, but the office referred to does not come about until the fourth century. Also, In Romans 16.7, Paul greets Andronicus and Junia and describes them as being prominent among the apostles. Junia, a woman, is given this prestigious title by Paul. In the case of Junia, we see the male-dominated world try to eradicate from history the obvious central role that women played in the early church. While the early church fathers took Junia to be feminine, from the Reformation period onward there was a decision that Junia was actually a man based on the sole motivation that a woman could not be granted the title “apostle”. The name was changed to Junias to try and make it masculine, but there is no evidence of males with this name in the proper historical period while there is plenty of evidence to support the feminine Junia. As you can see, women had prominent positions of power in the early church but patriarchy worked hard to strip them of their God-ordained right. Scriptural texts such as the Household Codes in Ephesians and Colossians (Ephesians 5:22-6:9/ Colossians 3:18-4:1) have been abundantly abused to spread this oppression in the church. These texts are also widely used to oppress women in their daily lives and women are often forced into subservient roles in their marriages and careers.
Patriarchy has deeply affected the LGBTQ community, including in the interpretation of the Bible. Matthew Vines states, “There are no Christians today that hold truly traditional views on homosexuality.” He further writes, “For the overwhelming majority of human history, homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation that distinguished a minority of people from the heterosexual majority.” He emphasizes that instead same-sex sexual acts were considered to be a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess. This research leads Vines to conclude that in the ancient world men were expected to be attracted to both sexes. Vines compares sexuality in the ancient world to how we view food preferences today. We know the basic appetites of hunger and thirst but our food preferences vary widely and we do not see people as having a fixed “food orientation.” Instead people’s sexual preferences could differ as widely as their palates. What instead held grave importance was patriarchal gender roles. The gender role that one assumed in sex was of utmost concern. Vines explains: “In Rome, an adult male citizen could have sex with slaves, prostitutes, or concubines regardless of gender, but it was acceptable only if he took an active role in the encounter.” Accordingly, a Roman man was only allowed to have sex with male slaves, prostitutes, and concubines because they did not have the full status of man. If a man took a passive role in these sexual encounters, he could be killed for that act. This differentiation resulted directly from patriarchy. Due to patriarchy, women were associated with “all that was weak, cowardly, irrational, and self-indulgent.” Vines emphasizes that since women were seen to be inferior, it was highly degrading for a man to be seen as womanly. Same-sex behavior was only approved when a man “dominated someone of a lower status.” Many theologians apply this knowledge to biblical interpretation, showing that the biblical passages commonly used to argue against LGBTQ behavior are actually statements about patriarchal gender roles.
Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 19.
Adolphus Amadi-Azuogu. Gender and Ministry in Early Christianity (Lanham: University Press of America, 2007), 2.
Mary Rose D’Angelo. Women and Christian Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 208.
Susanne Heine. Women and Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987), 42.
Matthew Vines. God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 31.
Amadi-Azuogu, Adolphus. Gender and Ministry in Early Christianity. Lanham: University Press of America, 2007.
Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
D’ Angelo, Mary Rose. Women and Christian Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Heine, Susanne. Women and Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987.
Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian, New York: Convergent Books, 2014.