Let’s not do away with headship just yet

While Mother’s Day is one of the most attended worship services of the year (with pulpits gushing over motherhood), Father’s Day is one of the least. Can you blame fathers who prefer fishing or golfing over going to church and getting ragged on to step up and be a man, whatever that means?

Our culture doesn’t consider men as heads of their families anymore. On television, dads can be pretty goofy, and they go gaga over big toys. Their image in a show like Parenthood fares somewhat better, but for the most part the idea of headship has all but disappeared, discarded on an ash heap of ancient patriarchy.

The fact is, though, that headship is here to stay whether you believe in it or not. The proof is in the prisons, which offer a picture of what happens in the absence of headship. We know that 80 percent of inmates grew up without the consistent presence of a father in the home. Many witnessed a series of male figures with mom and have siblings with different last names. Some don’t even know who their dad is.

The correlation between having an absentee father and landing behind bars is too obvious to disregard. Growing up fatherless digs a deep, dark and angry hole in a heart, a heart that becomes ripe for criminal conduct.

We do believe that God adds a special measure of His grace to families whose dads are absent by no choice of their own. In any church there is an example of a dad who died and mom had to go it alone, but the kid turned out just fine. That extra measure of grace often comes from male role models in the extended family and in the church. Yet this does not change the fact that those who choose to go AWOL on their responsibilities cause dire consequences for the ones left behind.

Embedded in the structures of creation is the need for a father in the home. You can’t fight the structures of creation any more than you can fight gravity. When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos.

Prison ministry reintroduces the creation order to prisoners and their families by professing the love of a heavenly Father. God's intention for the family is taught in Scripture, which is taught by the church through prison ministries. Crossroad Bible Institute, where I serve as president, teaches extensively on God's will for the family. Even before this, however, the church's ministries teach prisoners that there is a heavenly Father who perfectly and completely can fill that void left by an absentee father.

To be sure, the meaning of headship has gone through adjustments over time and across cultures, as it should. Every marriage needs to negotiate and balance the leadership and nurturing roles in accordance with gifting and opportunity.

But headship is here to stay, and we can make the most of it. Its clearest explanation is found in Ephesians 5:25, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Tyrants and serial freeloaders need not apply.

Instead of the prison picture of what happens without fathers, let’s imagine dads (imperfect as we all are) who embrace the spirit of Jesus and remain at their post. I wonder how many wives would object to that kind of headship and how many more kids could experience the love of their perfect heavenly Father.

Comments (12)

Leave a Comment
The issue with fathers in prison isn't that their families are missing headship. Those families are missing fathers. Families with both mothers and fathers in the home tend to do better statistically than those with only one or the other. It's not a headship issue, it's a parent-presence issue.

Cheers,
Tim

P.S. Did you really use the phrase "ragged on"? What does menstruation have to do with things here?
"Embedded in the structures of creation is the need for a father in the home. You can’t fight the structures of creation any more than you can fight gravity. When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos."

Um, yeah, no. "The family" is not a structure of creation on par with gravity. Households and kinship ties are social constructs that vary across time and culture. Gravity isn't.

And didn't this kind of pearl-clutching analysis of social decline go away with the Promise Keeper's? Really, if manly men just manned up to lead the women and childrens like good manly men should, all would be well on earth as it is in heaven? No one needs that kind of blinkered reasoning, which is really just an excuse to reassert the fiction of male superiority.

If you honestly want to address broken homes and crime, maybe take a look at deeper threats like poverty and racism, among others. Trying to reboot patriarchy isn't going to help anyone, women or men.
Hi Tim,

Josh, TC editor here. David Schuringa is away at a conference today and unable to access our comment thread, but he did tell me that your interpretation of that phrase was not his intent. In his words, "Ragged on is not the same as 'on the rag' - which is a '70s reference to menstruation."
Thanks Josh. I was sure he didn't mean it that way, but also my understanding is they have the same etymological root.

Tim
You've shown a correlation between missing fathers and prison, but I don't see a convincing argument for headship.

Furthermore, we must admit, as we do in logic classes, that correlation does not imply causation.
A lack of father is not the cause of a family disintegrating into chaos. Families break down due to the social economic pressures, racism and misogyny that have permeated every aspect of our culture. If our culture truly celebrated community, we would uphold all kinds of families. We would be the village that helped to raise the child. We would be the support for the single mother. We would be the stability for the parentless child. Growing up fatherless may create a hole in the heart but that hole need not be deep, dark and angry, as the author says. With guidance from the community that hole could be filled with curiosity, understanding and determination.
Crime and brokeness is not the fault of absent fathers, it is the fault of an absent society.
Hi Eric T,

Could you flesh out this statement: "If you honestly want to address broken homes and crime, maybe take a look at deeper threats like poverty and racism, among others"? To me, it seems that growing up without a parent is probably one of the largest, most holistic setbacks a human being can have--psychologically, emotionally, as well as practically. Also, it seems that the author has extensive experience dealing with prisoners and their families (see bio at the bottom of the post), so I think we should give him some credit here.

One last thing, if you don't mind--where does he was propose that if men "manned up" that all would be well? I think the author was trying to say that men have a crucial role in the family. And when something crucial goes wrong in any situation, there are invariably bad results. I'm pretty sure he'd say mothers play an important role in the family as well, but in this particular post he chose to explore the father's role.
Hey MJ,

First, about his credentials. Yes, he has experience working with prisoners and their families. But that doesn't make him an expert on the broader social patterns he addressed.

Second, no doubt growing up without two parents impacts a child in profound ways. But, as others in this thread have noted, the author goes too far in linking absent *fathers* with social decline--especially crime. And crime was my main focus the question you quoted. Many, many factors shape criminal behavior and social patterns of crime.

Last, the whole article is an argument for reclaiming male "headship." The example of crime and prison life is meant to show us what happens when fathers fail to "man up." But these quotes in particular support my point more directly:


"The fact is, though, that headship is here to stay whether you believe in it or not. The proof is in the prisons, which offer a picture of what happens in the absence of headship."

"When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos."

"Instead of the prison picture of what happens without fathers, let’s imagine dads (imperfect as we all are) who embrace the spirit of Jesus and remain at their post."
Agreed that families break down for all kinds of reasons. But it seems odd to praise the village that raises a child without simultaneously calling for the child's own father to raise the child (and castigating the father that doesn't). Further, it seems hopeful (but perhaps not logical?) to assume that a culture or society that produces a good number of fathers who essentially abandon their children is also somehow going to value others stepping in to fill that gap.

Also, this post proves the problem with any kind of dialogue about "headship," in that everyone simply assumes their own version of what they take "headship" to be and then proceed to interact with others as though their version is what is also in the other person's head.
In my work I meet many fathers who are unable to raise children due to current circumstances in their lives. Many are dealing with addiction, mental illness and/or FASD (among other things). For some, the journey is long, painful and potentially dangerous for children to be exposed to. Some of the children of these fathers end up in our prisons (addiction, trauma and abuse are cyclical).
Some fathers are able to have healthier relationships with their children once they no longer have daily contact. I ‘assume’ that there are many versions of headship and that this could be considered one.
It is in these situations that I am hopeful (yes, hopeful!) that the community would be an especially welcoming place to those children, mothers, foster and adoptive parents as they go forward. I am hopeful that communities and churches can help to break the cycle by stepping in to fill some of the void.

 

Leave a comment

A login account is required to leave a comment

See the latest in:

Promotion

promo 1 promo 2
promo 3 promo 4

Donate Now