An interesting concept I hadn’t come across until recently: kyriarchy. This is a concept from feminist theory – which probably explains why I hadn’t previously heard of it… – and I encountered it in this post by Arwyn at Raising Boychick. Arwyn quotes a definition of “kyriarchy” which describes it as:
a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein).
She then expands on this as follows:
While “patriarchy” places man (literally “father”) as the ruler/dominator, “kyriarchy” emphasizes that it is the very concept of “master” that rules us; it is the act of creating hierarchies on which we are all placed “higher” or “lower” that oppresses and damages us.
This reminded me of the Digger leader Gerrard Winstanley’s phrase “kingly power”. As Winstanley wrote in The Law of Freedom in a Platform, the problem with the English Revolution was that its leaders had executed the king, but had not removed – indeed, were now exploiting for themselves – the underlying phenomenon of kingly power:
though all sorts of people have taken an Engagement to cast out kingly power, yet kingly power remains in power still in the hands of those who have no more right to the earth than ourselves.
At first glance, kyriarchy may seem an uncomfortable concept for Christians. After all, the earliest Christian confession was “Jesus is Lord!” – which would seem to preclude us from saying that lordship is inherently oppressive.
However, one of the most helpful comments I’ve ever heard on the statement “Jesus is Lord” – I regret I don’t remember the source, though I think it may have been J.I. Packer – is that it says more about lordship than it does about Jesus. The emphasis should not be so much “Jesus is Lord!“, as “Jesus is Lord”. The Son of God who humbled himself, made himself nothing, was crucified, dead and buried: he is Lord. That is what true lordship looks like: and it’s the complete opposite of human lordship.
As Jesus himself said:
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Jesus’ death on the cross shows us exactly what he meant by this.
So to say that “Jesus is Lord!” is not to affirm kyriarchy by placing at the pinnacle of its hierarchies the Kyriarch of Kyriarchs – though we need to acknowledge that the church has frequently gone down that path, both in its own life and in its support of different forms of political power – but to demolish it, by rejecting the human conceptions of lordship, mastery and “kingly power”.