I was out to coffee with a friend and we were discussing gender equality in the church, or the lack there of. Recently, I went through the membership process at my own church. It’s a newer establishment still finding its bearings, and rooted within the Evangelical Church. I grew up nondenominational and find it ironic that I wound up at a church that identifies with a denomination notorious for its lack of gender equality. In the membership course, what is referred to as “secondary theology” was briefly discussed (albeit with a 10-foot pole mentality) specifically, the theology of gender roles. The short and skinny of it: I attend a church that believes there are certain roles meant solely for men; teaching, eldership, the usual culprits. But men and women are still equal, even though, you know, they can’t do the same things. So my friend asked, “Why are you at a church that doesn’t support the equality of both men and women?” She was hinting, fearfully, that I was okay with it, or worse, passive. My answer? It’s complicated. But here are a few of my reasons:
“The church has not been kind to women.” That is perhaps the most profound understatement I have ever made about any subject in my life. Jesus liked women. More than that, He loved them. He treated them with dignity and respect. The same could not be said, I thought, for the religious leaders of his day.
I was a complementarian for more than 20 years. I believed that women should not serve as church elders or senior pastors, that the primary vocation of Christian wives was to submit to the leadership of their husbands, and that husbands should lay claim to that leadership. Because I came to faith when I was 19 years old and immediately joined a complementarian church, I thought this was the only approach to gender roles that took the Bible’s authority seriously.
I now believe that Galatians 3:28 applies to more than just our legal status before God; rather, this passage (and others like it) provides the church with a redemptive vision for community life.
There was a time I tried to keep both a hierarchical view of authority in the church and a freedom for women to use their Spirit-given gifts as they felt called by God. I had started wrestling through the issues of a woman’s place in the church. But I got caught in the middle where I was undecided about how far I would go along the spectrum of beliefs. I was certainly moving away from complementarian theology (women can only teach and lead other women; husbands lead, wives submit) which took shape during Bible college and was reinforced in my church.