In 15 years of pastoral ministry, I have heard my share of confessions, accusations, and rationalizations. One conversation stands out above the rest and haunts me to this day. A man in my congregation confided in me that years ago he had physically and sexually abused several of his children. He had been arrested and participated in court-mandated counseling but had skillfully manipulated the system. His wife tried to protect the children, but the abuse continued for some time. When I asked him why he continued to abuse the children while he was on probation, his answer took my breath away. "I guess I did it because I was the head of the family, and it was my right to do whatever I wanted to my wife and kids."
I wish this were the only time I have heard a man use male headship to justify abuse. Unfortunately, I have heard twisted statements like this many times over. My wife, who is a family therapist, hears horrific stories of male authority turned malignant virtually every day.
Few phrases are more explosive in our culture than male headship. Feminists claim that patriarchy (the affirmation of male authority over females) is the basis for most social pathology and for virtually all domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. In their groundbreaking book on domestic violence, sociologists R. Emerson and Russell Dobash assert "the seeds of wife beating lie in the subordination of females and in their subjection to male authority and control. This relationship has been institutionalized in the structure of the patriarchal family" (Violence Against Wives: The Case Against the Patriarchy, Free Press, 1983). Others attack patriarchy even more virulently, calling it a "death sentence" for society (Russ Fink, Stopping Rape: ...1