by Eric Schumacher
"The spirit of Jezebel is alive and well. In every church you enter, you'll find a woman who will oppose you and seek to usurp your authority. Look out for her."
I can't remember the name of the man who said those words. We had only met that day to shingle the roof of a mutual acquaintance. I had recently finished my seminary studies and was in the process of looking for a church to pastor. When he learned this, he offered those words as his one piece of advice.
I didn't believe him. The whole idea seemed absurd. But I would learn that far too many men (and women) believed something far worse. I discovered that a whole system of theology had, at its core, the idea that all women, by nature, tend to try to usurp the authority of men. It says more than all humans are sinful and resist authority. No, it means that all women—by virtue of simply being women—are prone to rebel against male authority.
That mindset is based on an unfortunate interpretation of Genesis 3:16, which reads, "your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you." Some take it to mean that the woman will try to overcome the man, forcing him to rule her. The interpretation does violence to the context in which the man and the woman each continue to have good desires but find them frustrated by the fallenness of the world. The woman will still (rightly) desire to be her husband's helper, but he will respond with a harsh and brutal rule. (That interpretation plays itself out in the chapter that follows—and the rest of the bible.)
I would have never said that women were the enemies of men. In fact, I had many female friends and partners in ministry! My theology told me that men and women were absolute equals.
But the other theology whispered that all women are by nature out to overthrow men. It insinuated that the most significant problems I would face as a pastor were the failure of men to be out front leading and the slippery slope of liberalism signaled by the presence of strong women. That produces two things.
On the one hand, it fosters a mild suspicion of every woman. Every strong opinion or gift in a woman is easily perceived as a threat to male leadership in the church. On the other hand, it breeds disappointment in the contributions of women. We agree that women are good and valuable. But, we quickly add, “Isn't it a shame that there aren't more men doing it?” We view the contributions of women as merely the absence of men. "It’s nice the women are here. But where are the men?"
What's so strange about this mindset is that it runs contrary to everything I'd seen for the first twenty-five years of my life!
I saw the necessity of women in the home. My mother's presence shaped my life. Without her—and the myriad of things she did and said—I wouldn't be half the person I am.
I saw the necessity of women in my school. The majority-female teachers I had from Kindergarten through high school invested in and encouraged me in countless ways. The oldest of three boys, my female classmates were my sisters, teaching me about the importance of male-female friendships, partnership, and encouragement.
I saw it in the church. Women—some who were like mothers to me and some whose names I've forgotten—ran our Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Catechism classes, and church events. They instilled in me a knowledge of and love for Jesus.
Don't get me wrong—there were good and valuable men in each of those environments, just as essential as the women. But that's the thing—both men and women were equally necessary.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot that men need women. You would never have caught me saying men didn’t need women so plainly. For that matter, I wasn’t even aware I was thinking it! But it was there, as though absorbed by osmosis from the culture and theological circles in which I swam. That little conviction, at the center of a system of thought, told me to be suspicious of, defensive against, distanced from the excellent gift of women.
Such a mindset is a product of the fall. It runs contrary to Genesis 1:26-28, in which God makes man male and female, charging them to rule the earth together. I’d forgotten that from the very beginning, God said it wasn’t good for men to be alone.
Mercifully, the Holy Spirit would not let my conscience rest. He provoked me with troubling unease over my assumptions and applications. The Lord sent faithful female friends (helpers!) to ask good questions, share stories, and help me think. Most of all, he provided occasion for me to reexamine significant texts and see what my previous interpretations missed in God’s word.
What do I wish my fellow men knew about women? We need them. Men need women. We require the presence of women just as much as Israel required the presence of the Lord. Women aren't assistants whose presence is appreciated, as if we could get along just fine without them.. Women aren’t power grabbers of men’s purpose, they’re necessary partners in God's purposes for the church and for the world, without which we fail.
Eric is a husband, father, pastor, songwriter, and the author of Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women (with Elyse Fitzpatrick). Connect with him online at emschumacher.com, and through his social media accounts (@emschumacher).