Can men be pastors? Can Christian men be teachers, preachers, elders, seminary professors, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, small group leaders, police officers, elected officials, church treasurers, and so on and so forth? How does that line of questioning make you feel? Why does it sound so off, even offensive?
I was 32 years old before I heard the word egalitarian.
My universe was very small growing up. I, sort of, realized there was a Christian culture outside of my soft patriarchal, quiverfull one. But that’s how it was always understood. Being out there, on the fringe, barely Christian, if they were Christian at all. Even though I was shy and non-confrontational by nature, I grew up with a strong sense of justice…and the culture around me was unjust. I knew it. I had no theology to back it up, no one to talk to who could explain to me that there was a different way. I didn’t even have words to put to it. But I knew it was wrong.
As I listened to the pastor of my new church describe the insults and attacks he and the elders had endured after they made the decision to invite women onto the elder board, a weight lifted off my soul.
For the first time in my life, I discovered what it felt like to have male leadership take the hit for me.
Prior to this, only one or two individual men had heralded my gifts. Finally I knew what it meant to be part of a church body where I did not need to keep my mouth shut or squirm in my seat or disagree in silence whenever issues regarding women were addressed. Because that is my world for the most part.
While my own position concerning the role of women in the church has gradually changed, my work environment has not.
I should have realized it long ago; I should have recognized the signs.
But I didn’t. I suppose I was so lost in my own ideas that I didn’t notice. My husband and I were both raised in complementarian or patriarchal homes. Both of us were taught that the man was the head of the home, the priest and leader of the family, and that the woman was to submit to his leadership. He was wise to take her counsel, but the ultimate decision lay with him. He, as the man, made the final decision. And the wife submitted.
Soon after our 8th anniversary, we began homeschooling our children. The homeschooling community is, by and large, staunchly patriarchal. I threw myself into the whole scene. Women were to be raised to be keepers at home; there would be no careers for my daughters. I still remember my 5 year old daughter throwing herself on the couch in tears when she realized I didn’t support her desire to become a doctor.
I was a freshman in college and I believed that I needed to take the backseat of Christianity.
I was headed to Columbia, Missouri with some peers to do homeless ministry. People were piling into cars, and it came down to who was getting shot gun. Without a fight, I took the backseat. I told one of my peers: “I will take the back seat, I guess I am going to have to get used to this submission thing.” Defeated, I quietly slid into the back seat.
How to Be Egalitarian with a Complementarian Spouse. Well you cry a lot, sometimes, especially in the beginning. You both get mad and accuse the other of not being the person you married. You get into theological fistfights.. You sit opposite each other on the kitchen floor and joust back and forth with “Well how come we care about the prohibition of women teaching but not women wearing gold jewelry?” and “Well despite Jesus being so countercultural in his treatment of women, why were The Twelve all men?”
This post is a Top 3 Winner for The Junia Project’s 2017 blog contest. “It was an American supermodel who first showed me an egalitarian view of the Bible. Kathy Ireland shared with me in an interview about her first modeling trip overseas when she was 18, when her loneliness led her to read the Bible her mom had slipped into her suitcase, and how Jesus’ love, honor, and care for women led her to God.”
When I was looking at the worship life of the American church, I noticed that lament, and something like the book of Lamentations, was absent in so much of our worship life…Why is it that in our typical American churches we don’t want to engage in a very important spiritual practice that we find throughout […]
It was November 2013. The conference had already started, and I was running late. I walked quickly along the sidewalk with my lunch crew, and we made our way inside. They went straight to their tables, but I wanted to put my coat and scarf away. I walked to the coatroom and grabbed a […]
When I was a pastor in the nondenominational world, most conversations around gender and church leadership revolved around whether women should preach from the pulpit, teach men, serve on an elder board, or hold the title of pastor. Complementarians claim these roles are reserved for men only, while egalitarians believe that women may lead in these ways. This is the conversation I lived in for many years, first as a complementarian pastor of a nondenominational church for 17 years, and then as an egalitarian, having shifted to an egalitarian view about ten years ago.
Since joining the Anglican Communion six years ago (a Christian community that is more sacramental in its theology), I have been introduced to a new set of conversations about gender and church leadership.
Sacramental Christians include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Lutherans. These four groups alone represent more than 14 million Christians worldwide . In this context, conversations about gender are quite different than in evangelical settings. (This is not to say that sacramental Christians cannot also be evangelical – I certainly am both.) For example, many sacramental complementarians have no objection to women teaching men or serving on governing boards. It is not uncommon to find women in complementarian congregations instructing both men and women in matters of theology, Scripture and spiritual practices. These roles are usually not a matter of contention or debate.
What is a matter of debate is whether women may preside over the Sacraments (serving communion), which can only be administered by ordained clergy . Sacramental Complementarians insist that women should not preside over the Sacraments; thus, they should not be ordained as priests or bishops. Egalitarians in sacramental congregations insist that women should preside over the Sacraments; therefore, they support the ordination of women.
Complementarianism looks different in sacramental churches, and centers around keeping women from administering the sacraments.
There are three arguments for this restriction that I want to address:
At the beginning of March one of our readers wrote in and asked this question:
“I recently watched a video regarding The Gospel Coalition’s stance on their complementarian view. In it, John Piper begins to explain that we must be able to answer children’s questions as to what it means for a boy to grow up and be a man, or for a girl to grow up into God’s model for womanhood. He states that egalitarians have never been able to answer his question. I would love to hear your response.”
This video had been making the rounds on social media, so I was familiar with what she was talking about. You see, John Piper seems to have fallen into the cultural narrative that manhood must be earned. For Piper, manhood isn’t something you simply grow into with age according to your biology. Instead, it is something you work to achieve…
There are many articles written by Christians trying to pick apart why it is that so many women, both in and out of the church, are flocking to see 50 Shades of Grey, after buying 70 million copies of the book (sales divided equally among professing Christians and the American adult population ). Secular and religious experts are discussing the repercussions of rape culture, feminism, the innate need for love, and the search for the divine as explanations for the popularity of the books and movie.
As I look across American culture in general, and American Christian culture in particular, I am left wondering, “What else did we expect?” 50 Shades of Grey is simply a mirror to the experiences of women. Regardless of what side of the church walls they grew up on, women both in secular society and in Christian subculture are consuming the books and film because the underlying ideology of the story is what so many are familiar with, only it has been exaggerated and sexualized in form.
Time after time, I’ve read complementarian literature that seems to misunderstand what is meant by biblical equality for women and men. The heart of the misunderstanding appears to be a misperception of what is meant by the term “equality.” Very often, the complementarian literature I’m familiar with assumes that egalitarians are advocating for the “sameness” of men and women in the church, rather than for their equality. For example, in her book, “The Feminist Mistake,” Mary A. Kassian uses the terms “equality” and “sameness” interchangeably (p. 37). She also wrongly assumes that Christian egalitarians want women to be “just like men” (p. 38).
It wasn’t until I started attending a private Christian school as a 12-year-old that I became aware of the spectrum of views regarding the roles of men and women in the church and in the home. In seventh-grade Bible class, I was taken aback to learn that some Christians believe that the roles of teaching and authority in the church, and the sole leadership role in the home are reserved for men only. A small number of my classmates and I were more interested in carrying on the lively discussion than others, so our teacher agreed to mediate a debate on the issue outside of class time.
With the Church of England’s recent vote to begin ordaining women as bishops, the issue of women’s ordination has once again been in the news.
Unsurprisingly, much of the rhetoric in the blogosphere and social media has been polarized between complementarians who condemn this decision and egalitarians who applaud it. One complementarian blogger characterized the decision as evidence that the Church of England is “spiraling down the burning sewer of apostasy.”
Unfortunately, many complementarians fail to recognize the fact that there are two distinct paths people may take to an egalitarian view of gender. Failure to understand these paths leads to all sorts of misunderstandings, accusations, and pronouncements of heresy. Although the boundary between these two paths can be blurry at times, distinguishing them from each other in broad brush terms can potentially help deescalate the rhetoric and contribute toward more virtue laden conversations.
The first I call “the path of rights.”