Deconstructing Patriarchy, Reconstructing Faith

Patriarchy is one of those systems of oppression hiding in plain sight– especially in the Church. Over the course of history, the Church has used the Holy Scriptures to defend itself in its practice of patriarchy. However, I believe anyone with an eye and a heart directed toward Christ, knows better– they just don’t necessarily live better because it’s hard to go against a cultural norm, like patriarchy. But, going against culture is exactly what the teachings of Christ liberate us to do. We are in the world, but not of it. Not only our culture today, but also the culture of Jesus’ time was primarily formed in service to patriarchy, not to equity or liberation, yet Jesus found many ways to stand up against the patriarchy of his culture.

So, what is patriarchy? It’s one of the oldest ways we humans have learned to de-value one another. It sets up a hierarchy of humans; instead of allowing us to love and value one another equally, we feel a need to compete and hold others down. It’s also a system of oppression because it uses institutions like education, law, healthcare, religion, government, business, and even our own families to enforce its rules upon us. In the basic formulation of the social hierarchy of patriarchy the father/husband/master/male is at the top, with mother/wife/female below, children below that, and slaves below that–we can “thank” Aristotle for laying out this hierarchy so clearly for us in his Politics.1 What is most insidious about patriarchy is that it argues that this hierarchy is dictated by nature, that this is a natural social hierarchy, and therefore, many in the Church have argued this hierarchy comes from God, the creator of the natural world and humans. This hierarchy is enforced and reinforced in subtle and not so subtle ways in everyday life– from domestic violence to unequal pay in the workplace to lack of respect for female and children’s voices in political matters. Women, men and children are all punished when they decide not to play by patriarchy’s rules. And you’ll notice that some people are left outside of the hierarchy altogether– like many LGBTQ+ Christians. Because our culture and society for centuries has been built in favor of patriarchy, everything around us seems to point to its naturalness. This is in fact the stickiest part of patriarchy. It seems like it can’t be undone because our entire existence has been built upon it.

Yet, if you’re a Christian, you have a very clear example of how to fight patriarchy and live beyond it in the example of Jesus. This is an important part of the gospel, the good news! How does Jesus fight the patriarchy of his day– by flipping over the hierarchy of patriarchy, like he flips the money changers’ tables! He tells his followers to become like children to receive the kingdom of God (Mark 9:13-16). He says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:33-34). He listens and learns from the Syrophoenecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), and corrects his disciples when they are fighting amongst themselves over who is the greatest (Luke 22:24-27). There are even ways in which our creation stories in Genesis (Gen 1-3) push against patriarchy in very surprising ways. Overlooked characters like Joseph, Jesus’ father, can be appreciated for the ways they challenged the patriarchy of their day (Matthew 1:18-25). Jesus, in essence, points to a different way in which to build “family” that no longer relies on hierarchy, or who is in and who is out. Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35). Because Jesus lives so counter to the patriarchy of his time, I wrote an entire bible study entitled, Finding Freedom: Releasing the Bible from Patriarchy’s Grip, to explore these stories and more!

As a pastor who’s had the privilege of removing patriarchy from my faith in conversation with and learning from some of the best minds in theology, church history, and hermeneutics (a little Southern Baptist girl educated at Wake Forest, then Harvard, and now Candler), I wondered what the experience of pulling out the patriarchal rug from under the feet of a Baptist congregation in the South would do to the faith of those congregants. The last thing I wanted to do was create a stumbling block for faith for any person I pastor. And yet, the process of deconstructing faith is incredibly important in the reconstructing of a more liberative faith for those of us raised in conservative or fundamentalist church settings. And so, I set out to teach this bible study critiquing patriarchy with an eye toward how faith might change for the bible study participants. To measure changes in faith, I asked participants to self-report their connectedness in five key categories of faith (God, Christ, the Bible, the Local Church, and the Christian Tradition) at the beginning and at the end of the bible study. And you know what? Even though this study accelerated the deconstruction process that many of these Christians were already on, 88% of the participants reported an increase in connectedness. In fact, every category measured showed an increase in connectedness over the course of the bible study.

Deconstructing a part of the way we understand our faith does not mean we feel completely disconnected from our faith– it simply means faith is changing, and for these folks, changing for the better. And interestingly enough, men reported the largest increases in connectedness over the course of the bible study– signaling the sneaking suspicion we’ve all had–  patriarchy is bad for men’s faith, too! We all must get free from patriarchy to experience full liberation in Christ.


If your church is interested in using my 4-6 week bible study entitled, Finding Freedom: Releasing the Bible from Patriarchy’s Grip, I hope to have it published and shareable by the end of 2024. Please reach out to me at kgplating [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.

If you’d like to begin an exploration of important concepts to deconstruct patriarchy and reconstruct faith in your own life, I highly recommend these feminists and womanists authors as a starting point:

Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1974.

Gafney, Wilda C. Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. 10th anniversary ed. New York: Crossroad, 2002.

Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2006.

*** A note on the images used above: What would the experience of church be like if we were to elevate those whom patriarchy tears down– the child, the woman, the minority, the homeless, the refugee, the LGBTQ Christian? These stained glass windows generated through AI (ChatGPT) help us to begin to imagine how the church might look differently if we follow Jesus’ call to flip the hierarchy of patriarchy, and to live outside of the hierarchy.


1. See Rachel Held Evan’s discussion here, with excerpt from Aristotle:, accessed April 18, 2024

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