Socio-politically: Maureen Dowd wrote about it this past week. Hanna Rosin wrote a book about this happening. Sandra Fluke got Rush Limbaugh into a tizzy and then spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Republican leaders, for some reason, could simply not stop talking about rape. Mitt Romney bragged about his binders full of them. Last week, Americans elected the largest number of females to Congress than it ever has.
In Evangelicalism: Rachel Held Evans brought attention to misogyny and patriarchalism at one of the bastions of the Neo-Reformed. Her new book, which already carried some controversy, has been criticized and patronized by conservative evangelicals, including one of the top female thinkers of that flock (Evans’ response, a scholar’s rebuttal). Concerning said bastion, after a rough search and count for the phrase “Complementarianism”, it seems that over half of the results appeared this year alone. At the time of this writing, a different bastion of the Neo-Reformed, upon visit to their site has as the featured video: “Complementarianism: Essential or Expendable?”. The Church of England just announced their new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and one of the main issues being talked about is his views on women’s ordination.
And so, I’m starting a series of posts (as I usually do) to offer up some of my thoughts on the Christianity side of this discussion–thoughts which I hope are helpful to us all. But first, I find it only fair to tell you all my journey into this and where I stand. I’ve hinted at it before, but a fuller treatment might be in order.
first, a couple of notes
To all of you that did not grow up in church or haven’t paid attention to these discussions (and you’re probably better off for that): yes, there is honestly a discussion in Evangelical churches about what women can lead and/or teach. In most every church that considers itself traditionally “evangelical”, women are prohibited from holding places of leadership that would cause them to be teaching men or authoritatively leading significant vision-shaping parts of the church.
This is because of particular interpretations of a few texts in the Bible, and out of a strong desire to be faithful to Scripture as they see it. Most people that hold these views do not hate or–at least explicitly–think less of women. They believe that following the Bible accurately leads to flourishing of one’s life and soul, no matter how counter-intuitive or off-putting those words may seem, and so, the belief (of many men and women) is that to follow this interpretation is for the good of women and families, and not the detriment.
Also, two definitions for those not familiar with this: “Complementarianism” is, generally, what the more conservative view is called. They say that women are equal in value and worth, but have different, complementary roles and functions in the church and families. “Egalitarianism” (theologically speaking) is the belief that men and women are each equal, not only in worth and value, but also in their responsibility to use their gifts–even those having to do with leading, teaching, and preaching–in official capacities and offices in the church and family.
And lastly, my church is currently going through our own discussions on this. I am not an elder there, nor do I play any official part in their decision-making process. Please don’t confuse my words with official pronouncements from my local church family. But, I do consider it a privilege to be a member of a denomination that has (contrary to what others say is possible) been able to exist in peace and flourishing while leaving this issue up to the conscience of individual pastors–focusing instead on the primary issues if the Gospel.
I was raised in the south, in conservative southern baptist churches where this was, expectedly, the only view to which I was ever exposed. The idea that there was an alternative was lost on me. In college, I became immersed in the culture and “theology” of Mark Driscoll (I’ve given my thoughts on him before) and his church planting network, Acts29.
I was finally made aware that the complementarian view was “under attack” by larger, liberal voices, and I became well-versed in the arguments against women’s ordination, teaching, and pastoring. I became very good at articulating the typical Evangelical and (as Driscoll calls it) “Reformissional” (a misnomer if I ever heard one) perspective that–oftentimes, in practice–tries to restrict and encourage women at the very same time.
Then I went to seminary. I’m sure Westminster would cringe to know that it was in their halls, in conversations with their students, that I realized I was wrong. I started reading more about it and only became more sure in these new convictions. We’ll go into those particular arguments in future posts, but it wasn’t a singular moment that led me to where I am, but rather a series of discussions that led me there (or, as my more conservatives friends would have forebodingly warned: I “drifted away”.)
I then became a full-blown Egalitarian. As I became more passionate about this, of course, I over-corrected in lots of ways, becoming deeply depressed and angry over the “plight of women” in the church, and becoming a little militant in my new views. God encouraged me and corrected me in a couple of ways.
First, as I started lamenting that obsessive nature of my church at the time to the gospel of “biblical womanhood” and “biblical manhood” (at the expense of, and distraction from, the Gospel of Christ, I believe), I started paying more attention to the women around me. Just as I have a conviction that, even in those churches that downplay Holy Spirit giftings, the Holy Spirit still moves in those ways regardless of how they describe it, I saw the same happening here.
There were women in worship and service that, even in spite of their own articulations otherwise, were still at least functioning as pastors and elders in the church. Both men and women followed them, sought their counsel and teaching, and were encouraged by their proclamations of wisdom and the Gospel. I was encouraged that the Holy Spirit will often times exalt women, even when the power structures try to fight against it.
Secondly, I became more and more frustrated and angry at organizations that claimed to united by the “Gospel” and yet would not allow people in their ranks that disagreed with them on this. But my anger betrayed to me that I was becoming just like them: I was equally making this “women’s place in the church” issue a new law by which I would judge these men in order to be in fellowship with them. I realized I was making this issue primary to the gospel. And this is wrong. This issue is of utmost importance, but at the end of the day, it is not the Gospel.
where I am now (it might surprise you)
To be sure, as I embark on these posts, know that I have so much gratitude for the complementarian men I have learned from over these years. Most of my primary theological foundations were laid by men who love their wives and churches, and yet would never ordain a woman to any official elder or pastoral role. They have thriving churches and healthy families, and model marriages.
And this is what ultimately made me neither an Egalitarian nor Complementarian. I’m still trying to figure out a name for where I stand. I’ve been going with “Soft Egalitarian”, but I don’t know if that’s right. Also, both sides so often try to re-define themselves to make themselves more appealing or palatable, that both sides, depending on how I articulate myself, may claim me (more so with Egalitarians, though, to be sure).
Just as I am with politics, I am a freedom person. I think there should be a few primary issues into which we pour ourselves wholly, and the rest should be up to the individual’s conscience. I think there should be absolute freedom and equality in official roles in the church, so women can exercise their gifts freely (ala Egalitarianism).
But, I also do not think that women are the same as men. They are indeed different, in complementary ways, but I feel they should exercise those same offices as men in those complementary ways. That’s the key. Female pastors will be fundamentally different than male pastors (in style, temperament, approach, etc.), and yet they should both be working together to round out one another’s ministries.
In the home, I think that all of those qualities that are usually offered to us as “characteristics of a godly man/leader” are not uniquely “male” qualities, but Christian virtues that all Christians should seek and cultivate. All Christians should seek the discipline, security, leadership, self-sacrificial love, strength, initiative, and self-motivated spirituality that are usually reserved as the “marks” of a “biblical” man.
And then, as the husband and wife mutually serve, submit to, and love one another, they try to outdo one another in that Christ-like, serving submission-leadership, whether or not the other person is doing the same. In short, they seek mature Christian spirituality and, practically, simply do what works. There are times and seasons where one or the other will be too weak to lead and initiate. This is human reality. The other spouse should feel free to step up, not fearful that they are “overstepping their God-ordained boundaries and roles”.
So there’s my story, and that’s where I stand. In the weeks ahead, we’ll explore some of the details of these issues, and, hopefully, in the ensuing discussions, some real progress can be made in done of our minds.