Falsehood—Biblical Patriarchy Breeds Toxic Masculinity

Falsehood—Biblical Patriarchy Breeds Toxic Masculinity

If you happen to believe that God created man and woman differently with different roles in the home and church to complete what is lacking in the other (called complementarianism) there is a chorus of voices blaming you for the toxic masculinity of our culture. Here are a few of these voices:

  • “At its core complementarian theology is one of inequality and hierarchy. And inequality breeds abuse” (Huffington Post).
  • “We can no longer deny a link between complementarianism and abuse” (The Making of Biblical Womanhood).
  • The theology of male headship “feeds the rape culture that we see permeating American Christianity today” (cofounder #ChurchToo).
  • “Because complementarian theology promotes a power differential between men and women, it fosters the sort of abuse of power that devolves into sexual abuse” (Huffington Post).
  • Complementarian theology “is a breeding ground for abusive marriages.” The problem is not the occasional “rotten apple” but a “rotten theological tree” giving rise to sexism and misogyny (Religion Dispatches).
  • Male headship theology makes abuse both more possible and more likely. Power differences between equals are emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually destructive (Christians for Biblical Equality). (Source: Nancy Pearcey, The Toxic War on Masculinity). 

Sadly, these views are causing many in the rising generation of kids raised in the church to jettison their faith to embrace agnosticism or the heretical tenets of Progressive Christianity. This episode shows how the argument that biblical patriarchy breeds toxic masculinity is a complete fiction.


Foundation #1: Egalitarianism

It is important not to confuse egalitarianism with believing in the equality of men and women. Complementarians believe in the equality of women. Egalitarianism specifically denies gender role distinctions; male and female are interchangeable.

1. Egalitarian teaching denies the authority of Scripture.

  • Genesis 2 tells us that Eve was created to be a helper fit for Adam; Adam is not created to be a helper fit for Eve. Their roles are NOT interchangeable.
  • Galatians 3:28, which says there is no male and female cannot be used as evidence that Christianity erases gender roles, since the one penning these words also commanded wives to submit to their husbands. This verse just stresses what God made clear in Genesis 1—that women are fully equal to men in worth as God’s image bearers, in our call to the cultural mandate, and in status as full members of the Body of Christ.
  • 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. Both the word used here for teach and the context imply that what is in view is the authoritative teaching of the Word of God, which corresponds to the preaching role today. So, Paul teaches that pastors and elders are to be male.
  • Even if this were not explicitly stated, it would be clear from Paul’s requirements for elder/overseers to be husbands of one wife (I Tim 3:2). Paul did not add “or the wife of one husband.”
  • It would also be clear from Paul’s description of the church as the household of faith (Gal 6:10). Under the Old Covenant and in the New Covenant, men were always assigned the role of leading their family household.
  • Egalitarianism flatly contradicts Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:22-23: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church. If husband and wife roles are interchangeable, egalitarianism requires changing this verse to read “Husbands submit to your own wives as the Lord submits to you. For the wife is the head of the husband even as the church is the head of Christ.

2. Egalitarian teaching is rooted in a false premise: subordination = inferiority.

Complementarian opponent, Jeremy Bouma writes: “Proponents of gender-based hierarchy don’t believe ontological equality of men and women leads to functional equality; equality of being does not lead to an equality of roles.” He assumes that equality in value means that there can be no differences in roles. Submission of a wife to her husband’s leadership, in his view must mean that, by definition, she is inferior. But, in fact, this assumption is completely false; it does not conform at all to reality. Does a citizen submitting to a police officer mean that he believes he is inferior to the police officer? Does an athlete submitting to her coach mean she is an inferior human being to the coach? Does anyone actually believe that a child submitting to his parent implies that the child is a human being without as much intrinsic worth and dignity as the parent? God, the Son is fully equal to God the Father in every single way. But for the purpose of salvation, he submitted to the Father’s will. The truth that submission does not mean inferiority was settled once and for all by Jesus Christ.

3. Egalitarian teaching is rooted in another false premise: authority is inherently oppressive. Jesus sacrificed his life for us and now rules over us as our lord. That is LOVE, not OPPRESSION. Adam, the first husband, is assigned to cause his family in the garden to flourish. The essence of masculine leadership is serving others—dying to ourselves—so that others prosper. The writer whose words I read earlier, who said, “male headship feeds the rape culture” must have never read Jesus’ words. You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mt 20:25-28).

Egalitarianism rests on the fatal logical flaw that the authority structure itself is the problem; but we know better. The cause of toxic masculinity is human sin. The Danvers Statement defining complementarianism says, The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women. In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility. Notice how well this statement matches reality. Sin causes LEADERS to abuse their authority or refuse to take responsibility for leading. It causes FOLLOWERS to either rebel against authority or be mindlessly, submissive, which is not true loyalty to a leader.

Foundation # 2: Critical Theory

Critical Theory is a false worldview through which cultural Marxists explain and confront power structures. Shenvi and Sawyer in their 2023 book, Critical Dilemma, trace critical theory back to Neo-Marxist, Antonia Gramsci. They write,

“Like many early twentieth century Marxists, Gramsci wrestled with why decades had passed since Marx’s writings and yet, so few communist revolutions had taken place. He concluded that the key obstacle to communist revolution was the hegemony of the ruling class. Gramsci used hegemony to refer to the way the ruling classes' values, norms, and ideologies had fused with culture and were then used to justify the economic, political, and social dominance of the bourgeois.

Following Marx’s social binary of dividing society into the working class and evil business owners, critical theory divides society into two groups—those who have power and those who don’t. Just as Marx argued that business owners always ECONOMICALLY OPPRESS workers, Gramsci argued that those holding cultural power always CULTURALLY OPPRESS minorities. Membership in categories of race, gender, religion, immigration status, income, sexual orientation, and gender identity determine whether we are oppressed or one of the oppressors. Someone could be part of the oppressed group in one way, but one of the oppressors in another way, which is where intersectionality comes from. Intersectionality measures someone’s level of oppression, based on how many of these oppressed groups they identify with. Let’s examine four false premises of critical theory.

A. False Premise # 1: The best way to understand humanity is through the oppressor/oppressed lens. Let’s be clear, God condemns real injustice and recognizes that the marginalized—widows, orphans, aliens, the poor are most likely to be oppressed. God clearly condemns the sin of partiality (Jam 2:1-7). But we are warned specifically not to be partial towards the poor as critical theory is. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor (Lev 19:15). Notice here, that the biblical binary is not one’s socio-economic class, but whether one walks righteously or unrighteously. That is found all through Scripture. Here are a few examples.

  • From the beginning of time those who obeyed God’s Word not to eat of the fruit would experience life in contrast to those who disobeyed God’s Word, who would receive death.
  • Psalm 1 closes, summarizing mankind: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
  • Romans 13 explains the state dividing citizens into two categories: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.”

Critical theory undermines the basic moral delineation of God in the universe between holiness and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness. Its division into oppressors and oppressed is also so absurd that its view of intersectionality would label Abraham Lincoln a vile racist. He was a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male, protestant. Never mind that he gave his life to stop racist slavery in the south.

B. False Premise # 2: Critical theory has a false view of the origin of truth. It says that the more categories of oppression someone identifies with, the more weight his or her truth claims should carry, whether or not such words correspond to reality.

As Carl Truman has pointed out, critical theory is rooted in the modern triumph of the self—the absurd notion that we can determine our own truth. Rosaria Butterfield heard this argument in a confrontation with a student who accused her of using hate speech because she said that her female friend’s “large hands” had covered hers. Butterfield answered, “Jill stands six foot two without heels. I’m five two. My hands barely cover an octave on the piano. Compared to mine, Jill’s hands are large.” The student quipped, “Trans women are hurt by such insensitive comparisons to bio women. It’s hateful.” Butterfield responded, “But the size of Jill’s hands is measurable, objective truth.” The student answered, “Who cares about your truth? Your truth isn’t my truth. Your truth hates my reality." (Five Lies of Our Anti-Christian Age).

Humans have an amazing ability to deny that absolute truth exists when it comes to our moral accountability to God. But in the rest of our lives we know that absolute, objective truth matters; ignoring it may cause us to end up dead. Probably everything else Butterfield’s student did that day depended on truth being absolute—driving through a green light that required confidence in an objective truth—that the drivers on her right and left were going to stop for their redlight, and taking her cough medicine because she believed the label, Robitussin was objectively true, and she was not drinking strychnine. Humans don't make truth; we discover it or suppress it. 

C. False Premise # 3: True justice means eliminating inequality. VP Kamala Harris advocates this view: 

“Theres a big difference between equity and equality. Equality suggests ‘O everybody should get the same amount’ The problem with that: not everybody’s starting out from the same place." The accompanying animation shows two men climbing a mountain. The White man starts at ground level in reach of a rope dangling from the mountain’s peak. But the Black man starts in a ditch from which he can’t reach a rope. Harris then contrasts equality with equity stating that equity “is about giving people the resources and support they need so that everyone can be on equal footing and then compete on equal footing” (Shenvi and Sawyer, Critical Dilema).

Critical theory does challenge Christians to greater empathy for those who are poor or marginalized and to remember that Scripture requires Christians to protect the disenfranchised from oppression by the powerful. But critical theory’s understanding of justice is not only FALSE, it is EVIL. Critical theory changes the concept of equal (equal opportunity) to equity (equal outcomes.) This is the same evil foundation beneath Karl Marx’s belief that income inequality is unjust. To say that justice gives the right to demand equal outcomes takes zero account of all the other factors that impact outcomes. The chief obstacle to Christians accepting this view of justice is the Bible. Unjust treatment is only one of many factors that Scripture says have negative life outcomes. There are many, many others! Consider, as an example, just these negative outcome causes from Proverbs:

  • Prov 1:10ff My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us ambush the innocent without reason”…..these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain.
  • Prov 10:8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
  • Prov 13:3 Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
  • Prov 6:9-11 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
  • Prov 13:15 The way of the treacherous is their ruin.
  • Prov 19:3 When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.
  • Prov 19:15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.
  • Prov 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
  • Prov 24:21 My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?
  • Prov 28:19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
  • Prov 21:12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he throws the wicked down to ruin.

4. False Premise # 4 Critical theory provides an unjustifiable excuse for insurrection. This is dangerous. Its false divisions of citizens into the minority and oppressor classes, combined with its evil replacement of equality with equity provides the political right of the oppressed to violently overthrow the ruling class. We saw this aspect of critical theory on display in the burning of many properties in our cities in 2020. Insurrection has always accompanied Marxism. In the twentieth century, Marxist regimes, playing upon idealistic young adults' delusions, slaughtered nearly one hundred million land and business owners in Cuba, Venezuela, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, and China.

So, we have overwhelmingly refuted the false foundations upon which the accusation that biblical patriarchy breeds toxic masculinity rests—egalitarianism and critical theory. Now we refute this claim with the sheer facts:  


The word patriarchy is used positively by many Christians to describe the principle that God established the husband as the head of the family under the Old and New Covenants and that the legal right to property came through the male line. In recent years, the term patriarchy has come to be used in its literal sense, PATER = father, ARCHE = rule, and associated with the oppressive abuse of authority. There is ambiguity and confusion about the word; but there is no ambiguity about the historic practices. In Roman households the father and husband had "Patria potestas” absolute power to rule. When his child was born, if he gave a thumbs up, the child was kept. If the father’s response was thumbs down, the child was immediately taken out and drowned. That is oppressive patriarchy. That is literal FATHER RULE.

In contrast, OT Israel practiced the rule of law. Leviticus 19:18 summarized the law to which Israelite men were bound: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. We’re not sure how the moral law was enforced in Israel, but the most common structure was accountability to the town elders. In no case was a Hebrew father a law to himself and able to abuse his wife or child. The NT church never practiced Roman oppressive patriarch, by like the OT covenant community practiced the rule of law. Husbands were held to an even higher standard by the elders of the church, to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. This kind of loving treatment of their families by men who believed God wanted them to lead their homes has continued to this day. Nancy Pearcey, in her new book, The Toxic War on Masculinity, reveals objective data that show that the most loving, caring husbands of any subgroup in America today, are devout men who hold to biblical views, like the fact that they should lead their homes.

“Many people assume that the most theologically conservative men are patriarchal and domineering. But sociological studies have refuted that negative stereotype. Compared to secular men, devout Christian family men who attend church regularly are more loving to their wives and more emotionally engaged with their children than any other group in America. They are the least likely to divorce and they have the lowest level of domestic abuse and violence.”

For Further Prayerful Thought:

  1. What would you say to another Christian who told you that you needed to understand that the NT does away with roles and says there is no longer any male or female?
  2. How would you respond to a Christian who said that he thought the oppressor/oppressed lens of critical theory was a good lens through which to look at life and history?
  3. Why can justice never be defined as identical outcomes? What are some of the biblical “outcome causes” that lead to poverty or ruin? How can we rightly define “justice” but still compassionately recognize that a child born in the city to a crack mom with no father starts at a different place than an upper middle-class kid whose parents are together and love him well?