There is no single, magic answer to the epidemic of abuse in the church, both Protestant and Catholic. But increasingly, I’m convinced of one thing: the abuse won’t end as long as men are the sole arbiters of power.
When a woman has to go before an all-male elder board for permission to end her marriage to a confessed child porn addict, that’s a recipe for perpetuating abuse.
Sure, they might apologize later for “not communicating clearly” or for being too “heavy-handed.” But if they don’t confront the root problem—men claiming sole power by divine right—then it’s just going to happen again. And again and again. Any theology that insists on a God-ordained “male priority” (yes, that’s the term they use) is complicit in the cycle of abuse.
If you exclude women from leadership, who holds the men accountable when they abuse their power? Other men, just like them? A God who, to them, is essentially masculine—just like them? I don’t think so.
All-male leadership fosters an environment where men act with impunity.
This shouldn’t be hard to grasp, especially for evangelicals. Those who believe in human depravity should have no trouble imagining what happens when one group claims a monopoly on power—or worse, when they claim their right to do so was given by God himself.
Yet many Christians refuse to consider the one thing that could actually help stop abuse: giving women an equal share of power.
Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at those who wear the term “patriarchy” as if it were a badge of honor. The truth is, many of us who reject patriarchy haven’t done much better. We may accept the notion of gender equality in principle. But if the composition of our leadership is any indicator, we haven’t fully embraced it in practice. (Case in point: though the Episcopal Church has been ordaining women for almost 40 years, the active priesthood is still two-thirds male.)
It’s time for a radical overhaul to church culture and governance. A theoretical commitment to equality won’t do anymore. Token gestures—like putting a woman or two on the elder board—won’t cut it, either.
It’s time for women to have a truly equal share in the leadership of our churches. That means it’s time for some of us to relinquish our unearned privilege, to let go of our monopoly on power. It’s time for some of us to step aside. It’s time to practice what we preach.
When women share equally in the leadership of our churches, it will be harder for men to get away with trivializing and ignoring—and therefore perpetuating—abuse.
That day can’t come soon enough.