Years ago, a woman proudly described to me what her husband had said about her:
“He said I was very strong-willed,” she commented, “and that I needed to be more obedient.”
After figuring out that she wasn’t referring to the family dog, I commented,
“But aren’t you partners in life?”
“Oh, no,” she replied. “He’s the man of the house and the leader. It’s my job to obey him.”
Now this essay is less about the Proverbs 31 woman, or the Titus 2:3-5 woman, or the Ephesians 5:22 woman, all passages misguidedly used to keep half the world population quiet and complaisant, as it is the extension of this attitude to anyone who calls himself (or herself) a Christian, yet is not a Leader.
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” Hebrews 13:17 is used to bring to submission anyone who asks too many questions, is reluctant to do what they’re told, or wonders about the direction that their church, and church leadership, is taking.
But the Apostle Paul had a few things to say about leadership, and in Acts 20:29-30 he called together the elders of the church in Ephesus and warned them,
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
One of the keynote elements of this passage is the, “even from your own number,” part, which strongly implies — explicitly states, actually — that the central danger to Christian teaching and the sheep who seek protection from those who are supposed to be leading them, comes not from the government, not from a greedy corporate society that cripples families with usury, not from educational and entertainment industries that tear down any belief in or respect for morality, goodness, honesty, and God, but from the very people who say they are the shepherds.
So for this reason, it is wise for anyone who chooses to follow a human leader to 1) make sure that this leader is worthy of being followed and 2) if the answer to number 1 is yes, then to watch just how far and how obediently he chooses to follow that person. It’s not bad to keep in mind that, the more money the person makes and the more power he wields, the greater number of people he needs to support his infrastructure. While this doesn’t completely exonerate the simple country parson, it does divert suspicion to the more likely of the two to be misusing his position.
Blind obedience is not an option, and indeed, in its very description — Blind. Obedience. — highlights the problem: people who obey without thinking become a member of the masses, a malleable, easily controlled unit of humanity which enable evildoers — whether they are in religious or secular arenas — to inflict a whole lot of damage on the planet.
So they have done, through history, and so they continue to do, and when Christians, under the belief that they are required to obey whoever is set over them, do not stand up, do not speak out, do not ask for an accounting of rectitude from those who say they are deserving of other people’s submission, then we walk away from the poor, the defenseless, and the weak — the very people we as Christians are to love, protect, and serve.