Patriarchy Takes Away a Woman’s Voice

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. —Psalm 116:1 (NIV)

I learned from my mother that women must be strong and have voice. The third girl born to mission-minded parents, she was born in 1922 in Jackson County, Alabama, a place where her Midwestern parents had moved after training at Madison Sanitarium. She was formed in the Seventh-day Adventist world, and stayed there for her 90 plus years. Though she did not have all the details worked out, she consistently and constantly encouraged her daughters and granddaughters and any female friend to think and act independently and to speak feelings without shame or fear. Mother adopted this as a personal core value; she would nurture strength in any female with whom she had contact. This stance is personal for me.

I discovered Carol Gilligan’s, In A Different Voice, thirty five years ago while studying for a Master’s degree in Nursing at Loma Linda University. Gilligan exposed the truth that most psychological theories about development and maturity were based on men. Looking back at my old paperback version of her book, I see only a few markings. Reading it again now, with decades of life experience, I enthusiastically marked a lot more. I had the same experience last month as I reread Mary Pipher’s 1994 book, Saving Ophelia, which highlights tensions of adolescent girls in the United States. That is to say, as I age, I am convicted that my mother’s passion was correct. Empowering women is the most impactful task of our era.

As I wrote last month, Eisler (2002) highlights the power of stories and guiding myths in any group of people. Eisler does not want women to feel constrained by a particular stereotype, and the stereotypes for women come from both directions. Women are constrained by the typically “religious” story of male patriarchy that states females are naturally passive and dependent on males. Women also feel the tug of the secular definitions of “maturity,” and according to Gillligan (1982), the “experts” have based these developmental theories on scientific research that has, for the most part, been done on men.

Adolescent girls in the United States feel a sort of existential unrest as to what is expected for an adult woman. The religious patriarchal pardigms are stifling, and the psychological theories about maturity do not address the relational components that are foundational for women. Furthermore, as a female moves to adulthood, she will sense a societal double standard about how women and men function as parents. Men get accolades for doing well when they choose to give attention to their families. The narrative for women, on the other hand, states they must achieve just the optimal amount of involvement with children. Society implicitly blames women for their children’s problems and categorizes mothers as either having spent too much time parenting — overly protective, or too little time — neglectful (Pipher, 1994).

So, what do we do with the rise of male headship in our denomination? How does this affect young Seventh-day Adventist girls? One can find a lot of materials written about ordination and male headship. I do not want to be redundant. This essay will share some research on patriarchy and the limitations that a default patriarchal stance places on at least half of society. Also, this essay will suggest that nurturing the voice of women is not only a healthy step for women, but for all. Hopefully, this essay will invite the reader to consider that patriarchy — male headship — contaminates any society in which it dwells and handicaps all in achieving wholeness. A patriarchy undermines the ideal of allowing each human to have a voice. A patriarchy, that values certain voices more than others, provides fertile ground for the seeds of scapegoating. One of the positions from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) supported a biblical interpretation which sees a trajectory toward human freedom and equality throughout the canon and rejects male headship. This view is in line with what social scientists are discovering is healthy for society, as it values every human life.

When the United States Constitution was written, a White Christian Patriarchy had no vision that women could be involved in self-determination or that slaves or Native Americans should be given consideration as people. That is the power of an overarching story or “myth.” White Christian Patriarchy needed no definition, then, as it simply was understood to be “truth.” From its inception, our own denomination appeared to be taking steps (maybe baby steps) away from this stunted understanding of hierarchy, but the recent enthusiasm for male headship in Christianity takes us away from the societal trajectory of equality.

Consider a more recent impact of White Christian Patriarchy by pondering these familiar questions:

How did the sophisticated, culturally accomplished Europeans fall into fascism (a mindless movement) just a few decades ago?

If I had been a German (or a Seventh-day Adventist German) would I have seen reality or would I have been deceived?

Gilligan and Richards (2009) make the case that European fascism had its underpinnings in Roman patriarchy. As a society, the toxic effects of patriarchy on both men and women allowed the culture to see fascism as reasonable and preferred. The Roman patriarchal psychology of violence and power created the idea of “male honor,” thus European men were in a vulnerable place. A threat to tribal honor makes one vulnerable to scapegoating. A threat to tribal honor, if not handled honorably, makes one blame any difficulty on others who are less powerful. This stance helps to explain Christianity’s long history of scapegoating Jews. Scapegoating, of course, hurts the affected group, but also hurts the oppressors by irrationally skewing their sense of truth.

The notion of persecution comes directly from Augustine’s legitimation of the value of rooting out any opposition to “truth:”

Opposing views are suppressed, facts distorted or misstated, thought disconnected from ethical reasoning, and ultimately, deliberation in politics is denigrated in favor of violence against dissent and the glorification of such violence. Paradoxically, the greater the tradition’s vulnerability to reasonable challenge, the more likely it is to generate forms of political irrationalism, including scapegoating of outcast dissenters, in order to secure allegiance.

This phenomenon illustrates the paradox of intolerance. A certain conception of religious truth is originally affirmed as true and politically enforced on society at large because it is taken to be the epistemic measure of reasonable inquiry. . . But the consequence of the legitimation of such intolerance for alternative conceptions is that standards of reasonable inquiry, outside the orthodox measure of such inquiry, are repressed. In effect, the orthodox conception of truth is no longer defended on the basis of reason but is increasingly hostile to reasonable assessment in terms of impartial standards not hostage to its own conception. Indeed, orthodoxy is defended as an end in itself, increasingly by nonrational and even irrational means of appeal to community identity and the like (Gilligan & Richards, pp. 129,130).

Former Catholic Priest, James Carroll (1996), also places Augustine at the root of the patriarchy that yielded antisemitism. Indeed, Carroll offers a sweeping account of how violence invaded Christianity via a notion of patriarchy and a neglect of partnership underpinnings. Carroll joins many historians who claim that Constantine’s use of Christianity for political purposes actually created a sort of counterfeit movement, willing to use violence to enforce compliance with dogma.

Valuing all voices is a tool to combat patriarchy. An ethical voice is willing to question preconceptions and practice. An ethical voice notices relationships. “What underlies the psychology and ethics of resistance is the voice of the psyche revolting at conceptions and practices that rest on lies and must, to survive, kill one’s sense of relational truth and presence” (Gilligan & Richards, p. 137). A patriarchy does not allow each person to have voice. A patriarchy enforces a hierarchical arrangement of authority for authority’s sake. A patriarchal stance distorts politics and undermines science and ethics.

Patriarchy’s error lies in wedding us, men and women alike, to a false story about human nature and then characterizing our resistance to this story as a sign of pathology or sin. The long-standing divisions of mind from body, thought from emotion, and self from relationships enforce a kind of moral slavery in that they erode a resistance gounded in the core self and cause us to lose touch with our experience. (Gilligan & Richards, 2009, p. 197)

A focus on the life of Jesus will assist in the task of grounding Christianity in a belief system that dispels patriarchy and promotes equality. Such scholarship uncovers a lost voice. Jesus called his Father Abba, which is an Aramaic term for an approachable, solicitous, loving Father. Jesus’ emphasis involved a particular attention to women and the marginalized and this was a pushback to patriarchal society. “Jesus teaches and ministers to women in ways that speak to their subjective experience, including their suffering as women, even when traditional outcasts. The experience of women as equally subject with men to God’s loving attention is a frequent focus of both his parables and judgment sayings, as well as of his ministering concern” (Gilligan & Richards, 2009, p. 124).

Brian McLaren recently emphasized the same idea:

Speaking of Christ, although he frequently refers to God as Father, I believe Jesus is a deconstructor of patriarchy, not a defender. Consider:

His fatherly metaphor decenters the dominant kingly metaphor of his day, toning down kingly patriarchy to familial patriarchy.

The familial patriarchy of his parables and aphorisms (If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more …?) emphasizes kindness, compassion, and love, not power, domination, punishment, and revenge.

He exposes the inherent dishonesty of patriarchy with powerful political insight when he says, “Call no one Lord … Call no one Father.” (Matthew 23)

He turns patriarchy upside down and inside out when he washes his disciples’ feet. Peter’s negative reaction can be seen as Peter’s (and the church’s?) resistance to Jesus’ radical rejection of patriarchy.

Clinical psychologist Mary Pipher (1994) embraces the hope that daughters can learn to recognize their true voices as a basic step to combatting patriarchy. Pipher calls this “awakening therapy.” This is an effort to raise consciousness of girls to the goal of becoming whole adults in a society that encourages superficial veneers. Positive independence can occur at quiet times in nature or during spaces when adolescent girls are allowed to speak about their differences with parents. Over time, Pipher encourages her clients to ask themselves a series of questions. “How do I feel right now? What do I think? What are my values? How would I describe myself to myself? How do I see myself in the future? How am I similar and different from my mother? How am I similar and different from my father? What kinds of people do I respect?” (p. 255)

God desires and allows all people to be unique. Let us release girls from a corset of patriarchy and listen to their voices. God’s creative genius is infinite. Look at all the stories of faith in Hebrews 11. Each is an example of an original faith walk—with God.

Mother passed away almost three years ago. I still hear her voice. I am finding my own.

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash.

Notes & References:

Eisler, R. (2002). The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships That Will Change Your Life. Novato, CA: New World Library

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Pipher, M. (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Putnam

Gilligan, C., & Richards, D. A. (2009). The Deepening Darkness: Patriarchy, Resistance, &Democracy's Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carroll, J. (1996). Constantine's Sword: The Church and The Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It hasn’t “arisen.” It’s always been that way.

As for “taking away” a woman’s voice, that’s utter nonsense, as I’m sure many men, including pastors will tell you. Women’s voices are heard all the time in board meetings, church business meetings, as well as constituency meetings and GC sessions. I’m not sure how refusing to ordain them takes away their voice. But the idea stirs up those who don’t think it through, so it is somewhat effective when preaching to the choir. However, trying to tie male headship to fascism, is pretty far out. ANTIFA would love it, I’m sure.

Women have a lot of influence in the church. I’m sure Abraham would agree, since he listened to Sarah’s suggestion to take Hagar as a second wife. I’m sure Jacob would agree, since (at the age of 75) he followed his mother’s instructions on how to deceive his father.

Male headship has nothing to do with “power, domination, etc.” It has everything to do with the roles God has assigned, and with responsibility, faithfulness, and integrity But we’ve argued all this before, to no avail. I don’t know any men personally (although I know there are some out there) who are interested in “power and domination.” In fact, there are times when some of us wish we could let the women fill some of these roles, and wash our hands of them. But that would be irresponsible.

Interesting that most, if not all, the references and quotes are from non-SDA sources. Why am I not surprised?

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Wonderful piece–thank you Carmen.

You can google how this has affected other Christian women; there are many tragic stories.

I don’t need to google, as I lived out this devastatingly toxic combination of Adventism and New Calvinism.

Once this virus invades your family, it will take a miracle to eradicate it.

Recognize that the Women’s Ordination issues are the tip of the spear. Realize that this New Calvinist ideology goes back decades in Adventism, and is deeply, deeply entrenched.

Do what you must to save your families from this invader which will take over Adventism like Kudzu through “interference competition.” My recent trip across Tennessee amply illustrated the aptness of this metaphor.

Remember that Kudzu was intentionally planted in the United States for decades.

Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions.


I have lived in Georgia since 1966’ In that time, I can count three SDA Pastors with even a clue of the Gospel,and less of a clue of the equality of women. One of which came from England and the other from down under. The last American came straight from the Seminary. his children’s sermon lasted 30 minutes. his main Sermon Lästed for 30 minutes. Nothing was memorable except the time and The lack of one word of the Gospel of Grace. He reminded me of the evangelist we had over for Sabbath dinner. After dinner he and I walked around my 3 acre property… I asked several questions. his response, It is possible to think too much. later in the series, he ran off with one of his converts.


We need to keep Carmen in our prayers, as Alabama is in great need of Christian missionaries. The state is about to brand itself as the child molestation state. We could suggest a boycott of Alabama, similar to the successful boycott of North Carolina over public bathroom issues, but few have ever been interested in visiting Alabama, squalid and backward as it most certainly is. Given that Alabama is under the control of Southern Baptists, we could attempt to introduce them to Jesus Christ, but they are proclaiming far and wide that they prefer to identify with Roy Moore. Male headship theory harmonizes very well with child molestation, as illustrated by the fact that the young girls whom Moore victimized did not have “a voice” that mattered much in the religious communities in which they lived. That Moore may have done something wrong is bewildering to adherents of male headship theory. For the Southern Baptists, as adherents of male headship theory, to elect a child molester to the United States Senate is something that is very easy for them to do. Of course, the pithiness of my comment forces me to generalize. No doubt, there are some Southern Baptists who are offended by child molestation. And no doubt, there are Seventh-day Adventists in Alabama who will vote for Moore. (Imagine attending a church in which there are members who are wild-eyed cheerleaders for Moore). And I suppose if I learned a bit more about Alabama, I would realize that it has more to offer than just a college football team. But to vote for Moore is to brutalize his young victims all over again and perhaps to crucify Christ afresh. It is not something I could ever do, but then again, I am not a proponent of male headship theory, which glamorizes patriarchy.


Carmen your mother’s home state, Alabama, is poised to make a political decision that will define the political landscape in this country for a long time. Roy Moore, a perfect example of the result of patriarchy, who wants to be Alabama’s next Senator, wants to repeal Obamacare, making it health care inaccessible for millions, in Alabama and ultimatle the USA… Moore claims that Islam is a “false religion” homosexual conduct “should be illegal.” and curtail equal protection under the law for gay and transgender people. Moore supports a tax plan that would cripple support for poor people.
This is not Christianity. Rather, it is an extreme Republican religionism that stands by party and regressive policy no matter what. It’s not the gospel of Christ, but a gospel of greed. It is the religion of racism and lies, not the religion of redemption and love. In short, Moore’s political agenda presents a credible threat to millions of vulnerable people in America. Yet Moore claims to be the moral and Christian candidate, using religion as U.S. slave masters did before him to justify actions which fly in the face of Christ’s teachings. Like segregationists, Moore imagines the struggle for equality in America as a story of loss. At a revival meeting earlier this week, Moore complained that he was being persecuted. He also lamented the fact that the courts took prayer out of schools in 1962 and made a cryptic and confusing reference to “new rights” created in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act was signed. Some members of the congregation responded, “Amen!” A friend from Alabama recently tried to defend Moore by using the defense of “he’s just being manly, things are that way in the South”. This is why there is so much emphasis on female modesty, and on women not inciting male lust, and on wives (and even daughters) keeping husbands contented at home so that they will have no temptation to look elsewhere. While lip services is given to men needing to exercise self control and not act on their fleshly impulses, men are in practice seen as so sexual and so given to temptation that male lust becomes a metaphorical powder keg that must be tiptoed around, lest it explode, bringing down the entire surrounding structures. And of course, this is the interpretation of what happened with the President and Roy Moore—he was male, he had testosterone, how can you really blame him?
The so-called “Biblical” patriarchy when superimposed on today’s culture has tragic consequences.


In the creation, God had made her the equal of Adam. Had they remained obedient to God—in harmony with His great law of love—they would ever have been in harmony with each other; but sin had brought discord, and now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. Eve had been the first in transgression; and she had fallen into temptation by separating from her companion, contrary to the divine direction. It was by her solicitation that Adam sinned, and she was now placed in subjection to her husband. Had the principles enjoined in the law of God been cherished by the fallen race, this sentence, though growing out of the results of sin, would have proved a blessing to them; but man’s abuse of the supremacy thus given him has too often rendered the lot of woman very bitter, and made her life a burden. AH pg 115

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The SDA church in Alabama, unfortunately, is politicized. When I was told as Religious Liberty Secretary in my church, that I could not share with the church family, an editorial by Lincoln Steed, I saw the reality of our context. Patriarchy and politics have invaded our space and people do not even know. The essay from our Religious Liberty periodical was deemed to be “too political.” So we are not defining religious liberty on our terms as SDAs. Time to get back to the true issues in the Great Controversy. I think SDAs, in Alabama, have taken a page from political voices claiming to be Christian and we are letting those voices define the issues.


Such an important article. My home church does not allow woman elders and elders make the big decisions in our church, so that’s one situation that proves that women are most definitely not valued as much as men are, which is a shame. We are in 2017. We’re finally recognizing the true equality of all people, be they young or old, black or Native or white, gay or straight, rich or poor. In the Adventist church—especially if we want to hold on to young people like me (I am in my mid-twenties)—we need to also recognize the equality of men and women in all leadership positions from local church to General Conference level. We need to value every voice, from the youngest child to the oldest grandmother.


Excellent article. Agree 100%.

As a resident of neighboring Dekalb county, I am aghast at the characterization of my state by some respondents here-
but overlooking that risible stereotyping, i suggest that male primacy hierarchy does not “take away” the voice of women, but surgically removes their collective larynx.

Given that mankind across the majority of cultures has done so (subjugated women legally, culturally, religiously) for at least the standard narrative six millenia of “scripturally recorded” human history, and only in the past 100 years or so (well, NZ and Fi 20 years earlier) has the pendulum begun to swing back, we have some more work to apprehend. Does man have the right to change God’s creation, women, and remove some God given organ?