Abuse and Gender: When Brotherhood Goes Wrong
Romans 16:1-6 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, (2) that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. (3) Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, (4) who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. (5) Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. (6) Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
There is a place for male brotherhood. When men band together into a “band of brothers” for a righteous cause, it is a wonderful thing. You see it in times of war. You have it in Scripture in the example of David’s “mighty men” who displayed the virtue of intense self-denial and loyalty:
2 Samuel 23:15-17 And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (16) Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD (17) and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.
So a band of brothers is a great thing as long as the team’s goals are those of the Lord’s. Bands of godly brothers will be one of the greatest resources of protection for the weak, innocent, and abused. But, alas, the band can so easily turn into a gang.
As we have mentioned before in this blog, the experiences of Christian women when they report abuse to their church leaders is very often not a story of virtue and noble, valiant protection being afforded her. Rather, the sad state of affairs so frequently turns out to be brotherhood gone wrong. Men with power in a church abuse that power, cling together, and oppress the victim. And it seems to me that this is very often done without the church leaders really seeing their prejudice operating. There is a blindness to the thing. And yet it is there. It needs to be exposed, admitted, and talked about.
“Birds of a feather flock together,” as the old saying goes. Races, genders, nationalities, occupational groups — they gravitate together just as the language groups did after Babel. But these bands can go bad. Honda Goldwing owners can find themselves spurned by Harley-Davidson riders. Chevy vs Ford. And then it gets uglier. White against black. Black against white. Men against women. Women against men. The particular school of fish in which we swim becomes the definition of right to power and control.
The Christian brotherhood is a wonderful band, but when it turns into a gang, well, many of our readers will be able to testify of the terrible and painful results. Men, without perhaps realizing it, stick together simply because they are men. When a woman comes along, telling her story of abuse at the hands of one of their brothers, there is a serious choice to make. Often it is not the right one. We are men. She is a woman. In the church, we hold power and control and it must be maintained. We don’t call it power and control. We call it pastoring, or shepherding, or headship. But quite often – perhaps even most often – it really comes down to “us against them.”
Which brings us back to Romans 16, quoted above. Go through the list. The Apostle Paul names both men and women in his warm greetings and commendations. We often skip right over these lists — there are others in the New Testament. But I think that one important lesson we can take from them is that there is no hint in them of a male gang. Women are regarded as fellow-heirs and fellow laborers in Christ. I am not addressing here the whole matter of the roles of men and women in the church. I am simply saying that the Scripture does not teach us that men are superior to women, that men are in some exclusive brotherhood from which women are banned. Quite the contrary.
And therefore, I challenge every local church, every Christian pastor, church leader, church member, husband, and man to take a long, honest look at how we think about men and about women. The day that a woman in our church comes to us for help and protection from abuse will be the day that our real thoughts on these matters will be exposed. So far, and for the most part, what we are seeing is an indecent exposure of which all Christians should be ashamed.