–noun, plural -mer-ies.
1. oatmeal or flour boiled with water until thick.
2. fruit custard or blancmange usually thickened with cornstarch.
3. any of various dishes made of flour, milk, eggs, sugar, etc.
4. complete nonsense; foolish humbug.
I’ve loved the word “flummery” ever since first encountering it in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels. Wolfe usually applied the term to expositions of a crime made by Inspector Cramer. Wolfe’s culinary obsessions almost guarantee (though I do not recall this from my reading of the novels) that Wolfe had actually eaten flummery, at least in the sense of items 2 and 3 above. Mostly, however, he deployed the term to name nonsense and other foolish humbug.
The term came to mind as I reviewed a report from a young man, newly enrolled in a Christian college somewhere in the upper midwest. He had studied our Five Aspects of Man curriculum and deemed it both Biblical and illuminating for the world around him. But, then he found himself in conversation with a Resident Advisor in the dorm he inhabits. From their conversation about gender-specific roles, he reported this:
My RA, who has been a really oustanding guy who I really respect, has taken some classes on this and read some books and he really questions the whole idea of subjugating men and women into roles. He said that if men are placed into the leadership role, that by itself devalues women; just saying that they cannot be leaders makes them feel inferior.
Where to begin?
First of all, the Bible does not say that women may not be leaders. Titus 2, for example, expressly encourages older women to be leaders of younger women with respect to their roles as wives and homemakers. The church for centuries has acknowledged and affirmed women as leaders. Leadership is not the issue. Who is leading whom — that is the issue.
The Bible explicitly places men as leaders of women in two spheres: marriage and church. Ephesians 5:22ff is the locus classicus for the former, 1 Timothy 2-3 for the latter. Other places in the NT add Apostolic weight to these two principles: men are heads in marriage and in the Church.
What this means is that women are not to lead men in marriage and in the Church. But, this is precisely where egalitarians insist that (1) the Bible isn’t really saying what it actually says, or (2) the Bible is wrong. Which egalitarian you consult determines which of these spins you will get.
Please note, however, that women are not excluded from leadership. It is expected that mothers will genuinely lead their minor children, including their male children. And, women may lead other women. Again, the issue is not whether women may lead, but whom they may lead.
Second, the idea that “roles” subjugate men or women arises from the recent notion that individual persons are “free” in principle to be anything they choose. Yes, for most people, there are opportunities to improve their health, wealth, influence or their economic, social, and educational conditions. Along with these opportunities — whether they are great or only minor opportunities — is a corresponding opportunity to see these conditions deteriorate.
But it is a falsehood to suppose that we are a blank slate on which only we may write. By the time we can begin to contemplate altering ourselves in even trivial ways, others have written extensively on our slates. This is not an evil thing. And, much of what is written by others is construed as roles, some of which are gender-specific. Were it not so, there would be no civilization, no wisdom, no continuity with our past.
Finally, the alleged harm — that someone excluded from leadership shall “feel inferior” — is nothing more than folk psychology elevated to an ecclesiastical standard of behavior. It is the very nature of leadership that leaders are significantly, sometimes vastly, outnumbered by non-leaders. Yes, leaders may be far too few in number (e.g. Moses before Jethro offered him advice). But, they also can be far too many in number (consider in this regard any modern governmental beauracracy, including the denominational structures of most Protestant churches). A body in which all members were leaders would be leaderless.
Finally, the gender-specific leadership prescribed in the Bible has nothing to do with gifting or talents. Leaders may be taltented; they may have fewer talents than those whom they lead. But the leadership of fathers, husbands, elders, and bishops — these are responsibilities laid on the shoulders of males, who beyond their sex must qualify for leadership according to objective criteria specified by Apostolic mandate.
The pitiful thing about this young man’s report is that he indicates his RA, and those who have trained the RA to despise the leadership God has laid upon the men in the Church are bent on training their followers to despise the same responsibilities laid upon them by the Lord.