Christian egalitarians: authority-fearing, culture-worshipping, Bible-hating, puppy-kicking liberals (and other truths)


I hate pontificating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Often, we can only hate most deeply that which we know most truly. Going through the annals of this very blog and my own conversations (especially during college), pontification makes frequent guest appearances.

By “pontification” I mean saying something authoritatively more for the sake of emphasizing the authority with which you say it than the point for which you did. It’s speaking to your base and those who agree with you, and it often says more about you than it does for the topic at hand. And generally, especially for issues where there is deep disagreement, it accomplishes absolutely nothing more than entrenching each side.

Continuing this series on gender relationships in the church, I don’t want to do that. I really don’t. But too often, this is the case.

Last night, in further research for these posts, I listened to a lecture given by Ligon Duncan at The Gospel Coalition called “19 Objections to Complementarianism” (see my last post for definitions of terms). I tried my hardest to be open-minded. I was absolutely ready to write this post today and recant. I wanted to be challenged and given things to wrestle with, so I’d have to either further nuance my thoughts, or see that I need to spend more time in silence before writing about these issues.

Instead, I was very disappointed.

Not only was there not a single point he brought up that I would actually bring up (and he brought up 13 points), but every time Duncan would reference those that disagreed with him, he would not only call them “Christian feminists” (which I still don’t know how that should be taken), but he would also refer to them as “those who reject the biblical witness”, or “those that accept culture over the Bible”. These sort of characterizations continued through the entirety of the talk.

Now, I want to be gracious on two accounts. First, I want to acknowledge the theatrics and harsh language often used by Christian egalitarians. I know that conservatives–many of whom are simply trying to follow the Bible the best they think they can–are often spoken of as women-hating and misogynistic patriarchs simply not wanting to give up their power. For the vast majority of complementarians, this is simply not true. While I absolutely believe there are many deep harms and problems that come from putting consistent complementarianism into practice, I know that this is not the hope and goal of these conservatives.

Secondly, I want to give Duncan the benefit of the doubt that, perhaps, every “Christian feminist” that he has met really has fit the caricature he and others have painted. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I know many public Christian leaders that really do seem to take their cues from the wider world or their own presuppositions and then find ways to explain away, disregard, or twist the Bible to fit their own desires.

To be sure, there are many people that are Christian egalitarians that are naturally quite militant. It’s often strong, articulate women that want to be pastors or teachers that are the ones advocating for this inclusion. When I see that, I don’t entirely blame conservatives for asking if they’re really arguing this because of biblical concern, or if they just want to overcome biblical limitations on what they want to do. It’s not everyday that you find these egalitarian beliefs being held by a quieter, more conservative woman who would never feel called to be a pastor.

And so here’s my point in this post. Before we get to individual texts, subtexts, and contexts in this discussion, there’s a reality we all have to recognize: a big part in why each of us believes what we do on this issue is because we haven’t seen a “not crazy” version of the other side.

My hope–my prayer–is that God would be gracious enough that I may try and be that to my more conservative friends out there. And so if you find yourself as a complementarian or sincerely don’t feel like women should hold authoritative places in churches, there are some things we should clear up before we move forward.

My thoughts began to change on this topic not as I engaged the wider world and culture with conservative ideas and got push-back. I never felt ostracized, “not cool”, or without “relevance” when I was a complementarian (or at least, to some emotionally-distressing extent). I have never been one to be “worried” about the offensiveness of the Gospel (my atheist college friends can tell you that). I’m a full believer that if your message doesn’t have hard truths, it’s probably not the truth.

In fact, in the bubble I ran in, I never felt a sway, pull, or push to change my views on this at all. This was an issue I took for granted and it wasn’t even on my radar as something I needed to reconsider. Instead, my beliefs started to change in the halls and classes of a conservative seminary as I engaged with the Bible, Bible interpretation, and the history of the texts. It was encountering these things with full force and having the Bible itself force me to a place where I needed to reconsider some things if I was going to stay faithful to it!

There was no “cool” teacher or group of students that led me “astray”. It was by seeing a few key things, which I will mention in my next post, that got my gears turning and my mind wondering.

A recent blog post by a friend was deeply disheartening and, if I’m honest, was a big impetus in me writing this series. In it, they claimed that much of the motive of egalitarians was fear of authority and wanting to reach beyond it. They seemed to claim that egalitarianism is far too often based in a deep fear that authority would be exercised well and so they cast off all authority, trying to seize it for themselves.

Not only does this seem to miss just how much Jesus redefines authority and “submission” (Christologically, I personally think it easier to understand a command to “submit” to be a call to leadership, not away from it, but that’s for another post), but it seems to miss the very real, and very human possibility that complementarian men hold onto their authority so doggedly because they trust no one else with it, and fear what letting go of it may bring. In fact, I wonder if this isn’t a big reason for Driscoll and Co.’s rejection of more traditional and overt denominational authority structures in their churches.

At the end of the day, fear and lack of trust can be found at the bottom of so many of our beliefs and convictions–both liberal and conservative. But for the record: I tend to think my life shows a respect, trust, and love of church authority. I even had discussions with my pastors before writing these posts, not wanting to interfere with the process they’re currently going through in defining this issue for us.

In conclusion, I love the Bible. It is the all-authoritative, all-sufficient, all-powerful chosen meeting place wherein God is revealed by the Holy Spirit to his faith-filled people. I try to submit to it the best I can. And, honestly, changing my views on this topic was an act of submission to these words, not an act of “getting around” it or making it more “palatable” or “watering it down” or “accommodating” it.

Hey, at the end of the day, I consider myself more at home in the “conservative” camp trying to effect change there, rather than in the “liberal” camp lobbing grenades at the place I used to call home. Whether the conservatives will still have me or not, I don’t know. But, hopefully, I can show them what a faithful, Bible-loving, authority-trusting, church-serving, Spirit-communing soft egalitarian might look like.

Let’s just hope I don’t start pontificating.

[image credit: Istvan Sandorfi, “Alexa”; series header: Anselm Kiefer, “Bohemia Lies by the Sea]

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12 thoughts on “Christian egalitarians: authority-fearing, culture-worshipping, Bible-hating, puppy-kicking liberals (and other truths)

  1. YES! I was actually just thinking this this morning. So many of us haven’t see “the other side” done well and in full light of scripture. I try, as much as possible, to draw attention to those who I feel actually are doing complementarity well and joyfully, and when I find egalitarians (such as you) who are level-headed, well-spoken, and without an ax to grind, I’m way more likely to listen and reconsider my views. (By reconsider, I don’t mean convert, I mean that I consider again what I believe and alter it where necessary. More and more I lean toward what some call soft-complementarity, and I have high hopes that we’ll all join in the middle someday =)).

    Thanks for always being circumspect and wise and truly full of the Spirit. Really.

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  2. (And assuming it was my blog post that you’re referring to, I said in it that both feminism and patriarchalism are BOTH reactive instead of trusting in design and order. I am just as much against patriarchy as I am against strident feminism because both lose the forest for the trees. But maybe we can talk about this more in PERSON someday! =) )

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