Male Headship: Reform of the Protestant Tradition
John Witte Jr.
Emory University School of Law
DOES CHRISTIANITY TEACH MALE HEADSHIP? THE EQUAL REGARD FAMILY AND ITS CRITICS, p. 28, David Blankenhoom, Don S. Browning, and Mary Stewart van Leeuwen, eds., 2004
Both the legal and the Protestant traditions of the West have offered multiple answers to the question whether Christianity teaches male headship. Both the theology and die law of the Protestant traditions have had to steer a course between patriarchal monism and gender-blind egalitarianism. This discussion is best shown through the literary debate between James Fitzjames Stephens and John Stuart Mill. Stephen argued that male headship is a character of marriage designed by our Creator. Marriage depends on the absolute consent of both parties, but man has superior power, ability, and opportunity. Mill disagreed, and argued that nature teaches equality.
Mill’s critique of the argument for male headship led to reforms of marriage for the next 150 years. Mill’s argument is unique in that it sought to improve marriage law, not to replace it, and the contractarian model of marriage Mill espoused has taken firm hold. However, Stephen’s warning about undue contractualization of marriage leading to ruin for many women and children is also proving true. The solution to the issue of male headship is to go back to the sources of marriage, but doing so with a newly enlightened approach. Marriage cannot be understood from a single point of view.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 7
Keywords: Male headship, Christianity, John Stuart Mill, James Fitzjames StephensAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 7, 2011
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