The Palin candidacy has raised the question of whether the Biblical doctrine of male headship is arbitrary. This criticism is coming from different fronts. On one front, unbelievers are accusing evangelical supporters of hypocrisy. For them, it’s an ad hominem argument.
On another front are “evangelical” egalitarians or “evangelical” feminists who level the same charge.
The tacit assumption here is that if something is arbitrary, then it’s unwarranted. And that’s often the case.
But it all depends on the example. There’s nothing inherently irrational or unreasonable about certain arbitrary distinctions. Take a chain-of-command.
There are situations in which a vice president would make a better president than the president. In that situation, it’s somewhat arbitrary that the president has all the authority, and the vice president as none.
But should we therefore amend the Constitution to give the vice president the same authority as the president, or even more authority than the president, to accommodate those cases where the vice president would make a better president than the president?
The distinction between a 2-star general and a 3-star general is rather arbitrary. Still, it’s a useful distinction. Everyone can’t have the same level of authority.
The distinction between a colonel and a general is somewhat arbitrary. After all, some colonels have better strategic or tactical sense than their superior officer. And there are even situations in which a subordinate officer ought to disobey his commanding officer.
Should we therefore revise the chain-of-command to give a colonel the same authority, or more authority, than a general—to accommodate those cases in which a colonel has better military judgment than the general under whom he serves?
There are isolated situations in which that would lead to a better outcome. But, in the main, then military would become dysfunctional without a chain-of-command.
Or take parental authority. Some parents abuse their authority while other parents abdicate their authority. Does it follow that parents should have no authority over their children?
So the objection to male headship involves a half-truth. Any command structure is somewhat arbitrary. But that, of itself, doesn’t make it unreasonable. Some things are both arbitrary and necessary.