Ancient Roman and Asian societies were honor and shame societies. Their lives revolved around who was honored and who wasn’t. There were two main sources of honor: ascribed and achieved. Ascribed honor was your roots, where you came from, your family, your family achievements (wealth, reputation, etc.). Achieved honor had to do with your personal successes and achievements.
Aristotle, a student of Socrates (and considered a genius), developed the social construction of a society whose citizens were the wealthy and noble born men. It is interesting that Aristotle ignored Plato’s more liberal ideas of women (the Greeks liked Plato’s ideas) and chose to view them as completely inferior. A man could become noble by his achievements as well. If one was not male, noble born or from wealth then that person was not considered honorable enough to sit in discussion and planning of the social issues or sit in judgment of law issues. People of this background could not become leaders. Many well-known and educated men throughout history used this same or similar pattern of thinking including Calvin and Luther. Thus the Rabbis and Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were greatly influenced by Socrates (469BC-399BC), Plato (424BC-347BC) and Aristotle (384BC-322BC)
Women could be considered noble born by reason of their family status and family achievements. However, because women were considered physically inferior and incapable of the physical and mental challenges that men exchanged between themselves, the primary honor they could gain was in serving their fathers and husbands and in certain personal feminine achievements, primarily the arts.
Men sought to perpetuate their own honor by marrying women who could continue their own nobility, wealth, and good family bloodlines. This is why few men in those times (including the days of Jesus and the early church) thought it of any consequence to love their wives. They married to perpetuate their public honor and continue an honorable bloodline. The majority of society was scrambling in a “quiet” way to outdo each other. And in these struggles women fell to the wayside. These were the issues of women and marriage that Paul so delicately, indirectly and brilliantly spoke into in Ephesians 5. According to Mischke, it is a common theme of the honor/shame way of thinking to speak indirectly. This way one can be directed, direct others and correct oneself without shame of error or failure. It is commonly called “saving face” in Eastern cultures today. And this I believe is what Paul was doing in Ephesians 5 and in 1 Cor. 11:2-16.
It is my belief that the entire system of male dominance we deal with in the church today is built around these ancient paradigms. The hierarchalists don’t say outright that women cannot be leaders and cannot be equal partners with their husbands because women are inferior mentally and physically. But they do say it indirectly and cleverly.
In Jesus’ day and in the early church, the challenge Jesus’ Truth brought to the Pharisees’ power and authority was so feared, so destructive to their (may I say evil) paradigm of honor and shame that they sought to kill Jesus. And they also sought to kill Christ’s disciples before and after Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s Truth brings equality, mutuality, and true compassion, support and help to become like Jesus in humility. These things, especially humility, do not walk well with a scrambling for honor.
The vociferous responses of the hierarchalist male dominance crowd to the teachings of mutuality, is very similar to the attempts by the Pharisees to destroy Jesus and His disciples. We have difficulty getting along because we not only speak different languages but our approaches are opposite. Those believing in equality want to speak more directly. Those in the honor shame paradigms speak their beliefs indirectly so that one has to interpret and guess at what is really being said. Hence the “equal but different” mantra that is really not about equality at all. But they speak their anger boldly and harshly because mutuality threatens their social systems.
Paul chose to be all things to all that some may be won for the kingdom. (1 Cor. 10:31-33) Thus he spoke indirectly in most instances. Christ chose to do both fairly equally. In many instances He strongly rebuked the Pharisees who were constantly challenging him critically and in judgmentalism, and in other instances Jesus wove His answers and directions in metaphors and stories.
My hope is that considering these things we may all (including myself) better learn how and in what circumstances we can respond both directly and indirectly toward the issues of male hierarchies in today’s churches in hopes of bringing and living the humility of honoring all believers.
What say you . . . . . .
- Honor & Shame in Cross Cultural Relationships by Werner Mischke
- Honor & Shame in the Gospel of Matthew by Jerome Neyrey
- When Dogmas Die by Susanna Krizo
- Woman in Greek Civilization Before 100BC by Arthur F. Ide