A History and Analysis of Headship Theology—Part 1

In May 2022, the Adventist Review published an article in which the author, Laurel Damsteegt, argues that although God created men and women with “ontological equality,” he intended them to exercise functional differences in which men exercise “headship” over women. According to Damsteegt, even before the fall, Adam had a responsibility to protect Eve, and Eve had a responsibility to submit to her husband’s decisions. Rather than being a consequence of the fall, Adam’s headship over Eve was part of God’s original plan for the relations between the sexes. This teaching is called headship theology or complementarianism.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12177

This is a comprehensive history, which includes functional submission of the Son to the Father, in opposition to the Trinity Doctrine. Looking forward to Part II. Also outspoken on this topic is Samuel Pipim, disgraced former campus director at the University of Michigan and alleged rapist.

I appreciate your tying the functional submission of Christ theologically to Adventism’s distinctive Last Generation Theology heresy to the Headship heresy. The three go hand-in-hand as a tempting heresy for our time.

Will you also be addressing Laurel Damsteegt’s belief that gender equality issues and women’s receipt of equal spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit is an outgrowth of Type Two Spiritualism? She claims that equality between men and women, equal pay, etc. is directly inspired by communicating with evil spirits as Type 2 Spiritualism and essentially says feminism = spiritualism-II.

See her views here

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After asking to be unbaptized in my mid-twenties, I took a(n?) hiatus of about 30 years in which I paid no attention to what Adventism was up to, nor read anything in Spectrum.

So a few years ago, I started reading a few articles here and found that SDA’s are arguing over a concept I hadn’t heard of when I went to church called “headship” only it turns out the dispute has nothing to do with male circumcision.

Instead, it seems at least some of its members have found a new way to appear anachronistic to the rest of Christianity, and indeed the vast majority of the world’s more enlightened people, by trying to turn the clock back to approximately 1844 on women’s rights.

Which is biblical enough, I guess, but I suspect this won’t be sufficiently “retro” for some.

As I understand it, there was a time, back when she was alive, during which EGW recommended certain hats for women to wear to church. Digging even deeper into the archives, she had graciously dreamed up a pattern for a female pant suit confection which was both comfortable and modest-and both of which items her followers of the female predicament could buy directly from the church’s profiteer…I mean prophetess, with their husband’s approval and money, of course.

(As I recall, the pattern cost $8.00, which in 2023 dollars would probably buy a woman something like a new vacuum or, I don’t know, perhaps a used washing machine for the Mrs.?!?!)

So the obvious suggestion is that if the GC wants to go completely “old school” ala the Amish on issues like feminism and WO, they could issue a dress code for women to abide by which would show that they concur with correct SDA thinking on these matters.

IOW, separate the women from the girls, as it were, with clearly visible outward expressions of a wife’s divinely-mandated, internal submission to the male member of the marriage.

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I’d forgotten all about this article, although I remember it now. Its publication right before the 2022 General Conference certainly raised a few eyebrows.

“We cannot ignore or dismiss parts or fictionalize scenarios about cultures of which we know little in order to rid the Bible of portions we don’t like or understand,” she states.

First off, this argument is ridiculous on its face. The Romans and Jews were all about documenting their history. If she knows little of their cultures, that’s her problem. We’re not talking about Akkad or Cahokia here. Don’t tell the people who have studied it they’re not allowed to use their knowledge. I don’t know how to hang a gutter or install a storm door (at least, not properly), but I also don’t go down to Home Depot and wave my arms at their contractors about their demonic maintenance abilities.

But second, I’m so tired of arguments like this. Who states it? The Bible? Ellen White? The President? No, Laurel Damsteegt’s own personal translation of some random church document from 1986 states it. That’s hardly the stuff of spiritual or moral authority, but we’re expected to bite our tongues and treat it as such.

Can you imagine the outcry if someone tried the opposite? Imagine the reaction if Sabbath School teachers suddenly went “I need you to stop quoting Ellen White unless you can cite the passage and explain the context.” There’d be pitchforks and torches across the land. But somehow it’s okay for the Adventist Review to publish a commentary of “I’m going to need you to ignore all context and accept my proof texts.”

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Yes, she found a way to make other women look less attractive and make money off them at the same time.

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I thought God created humans, male and female, together as the last act of creation, as the pinnacle of creation, in the image of the gods, just before resting. At least, that’s what the bible seems to say:

From The Torah: Genesis 1

“and Elohiym said, we will make a human in our image, like our likeness, and he will rule in the fish of the sea and in the flyers of the skies, and in the beast, and in all the land, and in all the treaders treading upon the land, and Elohiym shaped the human in his image, in the image of Elohiym he shaped him, male and female he shaped them, and Elohiym exalted them, and Elohiym said to them, reproduce and increase and fill the land and subdue her, and rule in the fish of the sea and in the flyers of the skies, and in all the living ones treading upon the land… and Elohiym saw all which he made, and look, it is very functional, and evening existed and morning existed, a sixth day, and the skies and the land and all of their armies were finished, and Elohiym finished in the seventh day his business which he did, and he ceased in the seventh day from all his business which he did, and Elohiym exalted the seventh day and he set him apart, given that in him he ceased from all of his business which Elohiym shaped to make.”

See? God made humans in the image of gods, at the very end of creation, exalted them, and then finished working on the seventh day and then rested on the seventh day and exalted that day, too.

Oh, wait, I remember now… Damsteegt must be referring to the other creation story, the one where a human is created first, then the garden in the land of Eden, then God puts the human in the garden to tend it for him and proceeds to plant the garden and create animals for the garden, which the human names. Then he creates another rib-based human from the first human. Right, that story.

Sorry, I got confused there. I thought she was referring to the first creation story featuring Elohiym and the heavenly court of gods, and the seven days of creation, an unspecified number of humans as the last thing created - in the image of the gods - and Elohiym resting on the seventh day. But instead she’s referring to the second story from the YHWH tradition, with lonely Adam made from dirt and the garden, no days of creation, and no gods doing any resting.

Got it.

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Is the George Knight of this article the well-known SDA, or is it someone else?

i’m not seeing any clear scripture in either the bible or egw, cited either in this article, or anywhere, that supports this view…what i do see is both Moses’ and egw’s teaching that Eve’s submission to Adam was a consequence of her role in the Fall, and that this submission occurred in the context of their marriage…i’m also seeing egw explain that the submission of either Adam to Eve, or Eve to Adam, would have sufficed to address the change in their human nature as a result of their disobedience, but that Eve’s submission to Adam was chosen because of her role in the Fall…

also, is Laurel at all sensitive about Paul’s counsel against her taking up the role of a teacher…Paul actually wants her to be in silence, and if she wants to learn anything, to consult her husband in the privacy of their home…

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Good evening. This is a different George Knight than the Adventist theologian. The Presbyterian George W. Knight III, discussed in this article, is a proponent of headship theology, while the Adventist George R. Knight is a proponent of women’s ordination.

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Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will not be responding directly to her idea of “type two spiritualism” in Part 2. However, it is highly relevant to a topic I would like to discuss in a future article.

When Damsteegt characterizes feminism as a form of “type two spiritualism,” what she means is that it amounts to belief in the second part of the serpent’s lie at the Tree of Knowledge, that “you will be like God.” She claims that when women assert their autonomy, they are putting themselves in the place of God as the moral authority.

Of course, defining “spiritualism” as insubordination stretches it far beyond its actual meaning, which is the belief that it is possible for the living to communicate with the spirits of the dead. But it allows Damsteegt to characterize anyone whom she perceives as insubordinate to God’s will, including women pastors, as entertaining spiritualism.

Besides numerous other issues with this argument, it presumes that the subordination of women to men is part of God’s original intention for humanity. I will be contesting this assumption in Part 2.

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Thanks for your response and for addressing this in your Part 2. Lookinig forward to it.

It also seems that Damsteegt is arguing that Evil Spirits (capitalized for emphasis) which cause women to “use” their Spiritual gifts, bestowed by the Holy Spirit, at the risk of grieving the Holy Spirit, are exercising a selfish desire to replace God in their lives with selfish ambition. To her, it seems, women with Spiritual gifts of preaching and ministry are blasphemous. This is so full of irony it takes my breath away. I’m not sure where it leaves Ellen White, the founder who preached, ministered, led, directed, and held valid ordination credentials saying she was ordained by God. It appears that to Damsteegt, no other woman, and perhaps even EGW should not claim such a gift.

Perhaps if Damsteegt is reading this, she can clarify this without the argument of “prophetess vs. minister.”

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The most foundational offensive argument of the Headship Heresy is that adherents claim knowledge as to the spritual gifts that the Holy Spirit is “allowed” to bestow on whomever He/She wishes. A Headship Heresy enthusiast has never been able to explain to me how they know the heart and mind of the Holy Spirit. How can a Headship Heresy adherent “tell” the H.S. which gifts to give women without also usurping the H.S. and placing themselves as authorities with power over other people, particularly women?

In fact, when I expressed this several years ago, one Spectrum reader contacted the Web Editor demanding that I be removed immediately and banned. Thankfully, I’m still here.

The Holy Spirit blows where it wishes often with mystery. She (Sophia as referred to in Proverbs as the Wisdom involved in Creation) is also the giver of wisdom.

If Mary, a woman, could hold the Word of God in her body before giving birth, why could her mouth be prohibited from proclaiming the Gospel about the Word made flesh and His mission?

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Ontological equality: that’s a good one!

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Ironically it was an Anglican lady (at an Adventist Student Association Theological Symposium at Avondale College) who convinced me in favour of women’s ordination. In Australia, while most Anglicans support female priests, the Sydney faction strongly opposes them. This lady argued that only a man can fulfil the fatherly role of a priest. Drawing on my Adventist understanding of the priesthood of all believers, the equality of Adam and Eve in creation, and the assertion of Paul that in Christ there is neither male nor female, there was no longer any way to justify denying recognition of spiritual leadership from women.

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