What is the Patriarchy… And does it have anything to do with the church?

The "What is the Patriarchy" panelists before the discussion began

There were 50 chairs filled with young bodies eager to hear a piece of wisdom from the panel. The chatter circulated the room as people found seats next to friends and roommates, classmates and strangers. Introductions, the clanging of water bottles on the floor and “Barbie” references poked through the noise. The room, basking in the 5 p.m. sunlight, was practically buzzing with anticipation for the event to begin.

On March 13, 2024, Point Loma Nazarene University’s Multicultural Opportunities for Students Actively Involved in Community (MOSAIC) club and Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR) held an event in the Fermanian Conference Center called “What is the patriarchy… And does it have anything to do with horses,” a joke pulled from the “Barbie” movie. Five panelists led a conversation on how the patriarchy affects different aspects of women’s lives. From relationships to religion and race, women professors and feminists tackled topics often deemed uncomfortable to discuss. 

Leading the conversation was Paula Cronovich, associate professor of Spanish. Beside her was Philosophy Professor Heather Ross, Ordained Minister and Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Holland Prior, Literature Professor Bettina Pedersen and Old Testament Professor Stephanie Matthews. 

With nearly 50 young women and men in attendance, the conversation began. Each professor started by sharing stories of times they had negative experiences throughout their lives because of one common factor: they are women. Sipping from their matching “I am Kenough” mugs, they listened to one another as they shared shocking, vulnerable stories — nodding, laughing and grimacing through each one. 

“We laugh so we don’t cry,” said Ross, sarcastically. 

Although the discussion itself was focused on the broader implications of the patriarchy, almost every example and conversation came back to one central idea — living life as a feminist and a Christian. 

Many Christian teachings today emphasize that a woman’s place is below a man’s. From a young age, girls are taught to submit to their fathers, and eventually, submit to their husbands, as seen in Ephesians 5:22.

Hadley Halbert, 2022 PLNU alumni and current chapel staff, is the daughter of a Nazarene pastor and has experience ministering to Nazarene churches in San Diego. She said that she understands that these gender roles can be damaging for women to hear and identify with, but it doesn’t need to be unchallenged. 

“I think if we are not deeply rooted in reading what God has spoken over us, if anyone was to tell a woman, ‘know your place, you’re below man,’ if we don’t have our identity rooted here [with God], then we’re going to start to believe those types of lies,” said Halbert.

Not only are these ideas of what men and women should be and how they should behave apparent in the church’s teachings, but they even creep their way into the earliest foundations.

“I remember in Sunday school as a little kid, we would sometimes be able to act out the Bible stories. The little boys in the class were not always interested in acting it out and the little girls were, but it turns out that a lot of the Bible stories we were focusing on had male characters,” said Kara Lyons-Pardue, professor of the New Testament at PLNU. “And so the little boys always had to be doing something that they didn’t want to do…and the little girls were left to side roles at most. I think that’s sort of a visual image of how we all lose pieces of the fullness of who we are and desire to be when we are so rigidly concerned with gender first and foremost.”

What makes the patriarchy so damaging is that it puts us all into categories, Matthews said through the microphone. But if God made us each uniquely beautiful, why would we think we need to be the same, she asked, looking at the attendees in front of her. 

“Anytime that faith is combined with positions of power, those who are traditional power brokers — those who have the wealth, the prestige, the social capital, the power — are likely to read and reinforce readings of text or understandings of theology that serve their own interests,” said Lyons-Pardue. “They may even deceive themselves that they are reading this well or representing Jesus well, and yet, at the same time that toxic combination of power and religious conviction can actually so obscure the message of Jesus that we don’t hear it.”

While many students may remember when Halbert was a student herself, she now works as a chapel programming assistant, often seen running around Brown Chapel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Involvement with PLNU’s chapel, pastoring to nearby churches and leading worship services has made Halbert no stranger to being in the spotlight when it comes to church. And while for many, it is not out of place to see a woman in a position of leadership in school or church, Halbert has said she has received her fair share of pushback.

“I’ve even had other women…literally call me and tell me, ‘I’m worried about your salvation, you need to repent and step down because you’re going against God’s will by wanting to pursue pastoral ministry,’” said Halbert, her eyes wide. “My biggest thing is if I feel a really clear calling from God in my life, and I’m faithful in that and God is continuing to open doors, then who is to say that God is not using me for God’s ministry, you know?”

Pedersen took the stand to share her opinion on the church’s non-inclusive language. After attending church for countless years, she grew tired of the masculine language that was presented in worship, sermons and benedictions. After her pastor dove into the biblical story of Sarah and Abraham, she wrote a benediction that captured the importance of laughter — a key element in their story.

“Now may the grace of our dear Christ, the laughter of the wonderful power of our great God, and the gentle stirrings of the gracious Holy Spirit bless and guide your every step this day and forever more,” said Pedersen.

This benediction does not have gendered language; instead, it serves as a closing prayer for all, according to Pedersen. She said that highlighting the skeptical laughter turned joyous laughter emphasizes a story where God’s graciousness was shown to a woman. 

What followed was the passing of a microphone and Ross stating that Jesus is, and was, an anti-patriarchal figure. Amen’s, scattered claps and sounds of approval radiated around the room. 

Halbert said she’s had to determine how her faith and her feminism can coexist. For her, it’s within the scripture. 

“I think that Jesus actually elevates the importance of women a lot in scripture in ways that can often be overlooked,” Halbert said. “A woman was the first person to see Jesus resurrected and says, ‘Go tell everyone.’ The Samaritan woman at the well is one of the first encounters in Jesus’s ministry. Historians believe that that entire city came to know Jesus because of her.”

The end of the discussion meant the floor was open to questions. A few young women asked questions about their personal lives. To respond, three or four panelists would offer advice backed by their fields of expertise, their faith or their personal experiences. 

The curse of the patriarchy affects all genders. The suppression of women through the language and teachings of the church is something that can only be resisted by conscious labor, Ross said. 

Pedersen said she imagines a feminist world as the New Jerusalem. A place where God’s promises are fulfilled. A place where God’s people can live equally among one another.