The church has an interesting paradox. With only a couple of denominations as exceptions, church leadership is primarily men. In some, women aren’t even allowed to lead, which is what I’ve been arguing against in this gender roles series of posts. Many of those denominations which allow for female leadership still have more men than women as their practice catches up to what they now allow. Yet when you look out at the pews, which gender is the significant majority? Women. The church is still very heavily oriented toward women, even though a lot of theology would seem to favour men. We have a patriarchy in charge, but other than those leaders, there are few men who really want much to do with the church. When I was a leader of a Campus Alpha last year, our leadership team at one point was 7 women to 2 men. Most of the guests – non-leaders in Alpha language – were also women throughout the couple of years I did it. I remember when I went on my own Alpha retreat when I was a guest and I got a room to myself because I was the only male guest. Going back even farther, a former youth pastor referred to me as “the token male” in our student group because other than him, the ratio was usually six or seven to one.
Tagged: Gender Roles Debate – An Introduction
In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, they’ve hidden from God in their shame (notice that is what separates them from God, not the sin itself…a subject for another time). God calls for them, they grudgingly come out, and God explains the consequences (or punishment, depending on your viewpoint). Verse 16 says:
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” (NIV)
I’ve now concluded my rebuttals against the complementarian argument. I don’t want to stop there. I don’t want to just present why I don’t like the other side. I want to present why I do support egalitarianism. This first one is one that I don’t think any complementarian would argue with in principle, but would see definite conclusions than I do. Here I’ll look at the idea that both male and female are made in God’s image.
There is a linguistic problem in English, as there was in ancient Hebrew and in Greek (and Aramaic, and any other languages that appear in the Bible). We have no pronoun that is gender inclusive but still personal. It’s either a neutral like “it”, which strips the whole personhood out of God, or you pick one of the genders to favour. So how did the ancient writers refer to God? Most often as a “he”, with some exceptions. Why a he instead of a she? Lot of arguments for it but I’m not sure I’ll bother spend a lot of time on them here except to say that there were good cultural reasons as well as good metaphorical reasons for that linguistic choice. One of the unfortunate side effects is that even when people do not directly argue that God presents himself (or herself) as a male to show that men are supposed to lead – as they sometimes do, although rarely enough I did not include it in prior posts – they still tend to think of God as a male god.
The arguments used from the Bible for complementarian gender roles in the leadership of the church are pretty straightforward. I don’t really need to explain any of them, because they all fall in the “the Bible says it; I believe it; let’s do it” stream of arguments. Like I argued for why I don’t think homosexuality is a sin, though, this type of argument usually doesn’t actually look at what the Bible really says – it just grabs the snippets that can be twisted to support that view. So starting with those oft-quoted texts on women in church leadership:
11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NIV 2011)
6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[a] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.
Most often heard in defense of complementarian gender roles in the church are the biblical arguments, but occasionally I’ll hear an argument based from psychology as well. Generally speaking, I hear this argument boiled down to a few statements:
- Somebody has to lead; we can’t all follow. Following is not lower, rather just another necessary role. So why are us crazy egalitarians complaining about women being “reduced” to following?
- We evolved – or were created – with certain gender differences. Denying those differences goes against your design. Therefore some would phrase it as actually sinning because you’re not doing what God made you to do it, while others would just say you’re making life unnecessarily hard on yourself by not being the “you” that God made you to be as either a man or a woman.
Obviously while I might agree with some of the premises, I’m not exactly convinced by either set of arguments.
Before I delve into my reasons for egalitarianism, I’ll try to give as fair of a presentation of complementarianism, the opposite position, as I can. Yes, I do write this series with the hope of people coming to an egalitarian conclusion, but you can still make up your own mind and I will respect you for it. I’d like to make the information available to you to do so, in the same way I would not try to get someone to become a Christian by only giving them my reasons for it and ignore the objections. So I’ll introduce complementarianism here with its core concept as I see it, along with why that concept doesn’t make sense to me, then give a few more posts on why Christians continue to take that stance.
Complementarians do not claim that men are better. Or at least most don’t in our day and age in the West, although there definitely are some scary pockets. In general, though, complementarians fully accept in principle that women and men are completely equal in value. Value to God, value to the church, value to each other as friends, value in romantic relationships, everything. In theory, men and women are completely equal worth.