In chapter 18 of “Discovering Biblical Equality,” called “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role: The Logic of Woman’s Subordination,” Rebecca Merrill Groothuis has spent time showing that the argument of “equal…but unequal” isn’t logical. Here she does it again.
I just wanna take time here to say that the philosophical arena in this debate is the genius of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. I’ve never seen anyone else master the philosophy behind this debate like she does.
This section involves the idea that, while men and women are equal in being, they are unequal in role—and the woman is to be FUNCTIONALLY SUBORDINATE to the man. Here’s her attack on the complementarian thought:
“ ‘Equal in being but subordinate in role’ CAN accurately describe instances of functional subordination; however, it does not serve as a description of EVERY relationship of subordination to authority, and it cannot accurately be applied to woman’s subordination. Female subordination is not functional subordination therefore it cannot be justified on those grounds” (316).
Inherent within the idea of “FUNCTIONAL” subordination is that someone submits to someone else or works under someone else to fulfill a task, a FUNCTION. But with complementarians, this is not the case:
“Female subordination differs from functional subordination in its SCOPE, DURATION AND CRITERION. The subordination of women is limited neither in SCOPE nor in DURATION. It is not based on INFERIOR ABILITY or designed to accomplish a temporary task. It is COMPREHENSIVE (ENCOMPASSING ALL THAT A WOMAN DOES), PERMANENT (EXTENDING THROUGHOUT THE LIFE OF A WOMAN AND APPLYING TO ALL WOMEN AT ALL TIMES) and decided solely by an unchangeable aspect of a woman’s personal being (FEMALENESS). Although femaleness is, in fact, irrelevant to ascertaining a person’s innate abilities in the higher human functions involved in leadership, decision making and self-governance, these are precisely the functions from which women are PERMANENTLY EXCLUDED; thus the inferiority of female persons in these key areas is clearly implied” (316).
As Groothuis states in the chapter, there are times when functional subordination is permanent (such as the fact that a person just can’t seem to get down a trade, skill, or talent, etc.). However, there are other times when the subordination is temporary. And the evangelical patriarchal perspective doesn’t see any TEMPORARY subordination from women—which is why 1 Timothy 2 is deemed a universal letter subordinating women at all times. But this goes against the very practice of hermeneutics, according to Henry Virkler:
“…it is important to define the intended recipients of a command, and to apply the command discriminately to other groups. If a command was given to only one church, this MAY indicate that it was meant to be ONLY a LOCAL rather than a universal practice” (“Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation,” page 227).
1 Timothy 2 is the ONLY instance in Paul’s letters were women are being told not to teach but learn in silence. In contrast, the instructions for wives to submit to their husbands abounds in the Pauline literature (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; 1 Peter 3:5).
For the complementarian, women are always to be under the man no matter what! And no talent is weighed: the woman always loses, whether or not her ability is better. But, according to functional subordination rules, the woman’s subordination is rather temporary a majority of the time. So, from here on out, if the complementarian chooses to make functional subordination work, he’ll have to make women’s subordination of an occasional nature.