Monday, January 26, 2009

And now for something controversial...

Nate, Austin, and I discussed our next topic of conversation and we have made a decision to discuss Gender Roles. For Austin's sake, I hope this stirs up some controversy, but I'm not so sure, we'll see. Austin describes himself as a "robust complentarian", I would describe myself as a "nervous complentarian" and Nate doesn't know what he is. This doesn't place any of us on the opposite side of the issue but hopefully our nuances and levels of certainty will be good enough for the pugnacious spirit of Austin Surls. They gave me the assignment of introducing the topic. For that I will be eternally bitter.

I am acutely aware of the emotions behind this issue and this probably contributes to my nervousness. Complementarians often accuse egalitarians of compromise and accommodation to the pressures of a very egalitarian culture. Egalitarians often respond by accusing their 'opponents' of sexism, discrimination, and even the oppression of women. Harsh rhetoric.

In some ways, when we consider the wide spectrum of theological opinions and potential disagreements, this is really a very minor issue. The gospel is not compromised, the basic tenets of orthodoxy are not at stake, and no one is about to lose their salvation. But when we consider that over half of most of our congregations are women and the immediate effect this debate has on our everyday praxis, this issue is extremely important and cannot be ignored. On many of these "peripheral issues", I prefer to "agree to disagree" and, without abandoning the dialogue, learn to live and work with those of differing opinions. But it's not so easy with this issue! If I believe it's wrong for a "woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" and my sister in Christ believes that God is calling her to preach, we cannot easily coexist within the same "church setting." Outside of the "church" (in the sense of the popular misuse of the word) we can fellowship get along well enough, but it is near impossible to live out both of our convictions.

So to begin this dialogue let me make some suggestions about how we ought to approach this touchy and oft explosive issue.

1) For complementarians: let's make an attempt to really hear and understand what the other side is saying before we dismiss them as compromisers. This issue is really about hermeneutics not Bibliology. There are many godly egalitarians who are committed to the Scriptures as the reliable and authoritative word of God. To quote Gordon Fee (thanks Nate), "You don't have the right to disagree until you've understood." I don't think we have to be ashamed of our side of the debate, but let's not cover our ears and scream "heretic" until we really understand the issues.

2) For egalitarians: please do not condemn complementarians as sexists or closeminded ignoramuses. Many, probably most, of us hold to our position because of our interpretation of the Bible and would gladly switch sides if we were convinced we were wrong. I actually don't want to be a complementarian, it makes me uncomrtable. I'm there because of my understanding of Scripture. And if you are a woman on this side of the fence, do not make or take the debate as a personal attack or defense of yourself and your ministry. Many men, myself included, feel nervous enough already discussing this issue because we are afraid of the sexist label. If your goal is honest and constructive dialogue, then distance yourself from the debate. Keep to the Scripture and hermeneutics. This is where the "battle" must be "fought", not with personal attacks or examples.

3) For both sides: this issue should be considered separately from issues of subordination or lack thereof within the Trinity. Egalitarianism and complentarianism do not necessitate a certain view of the trinity and the although some correspondence between these issues should not be ruled out, neither side should argue from any perceived correspondence. We should be careful with too much conjecture.

4) Even if we cannot "do church" together as we would like, Christians who disagree in this issue should be able to dialogue with civility and brotherly (and sisterly) love. Do not make this a test of fellowship.

5) Let's not neglect or ignore the correspondence of other practical issues. If you are an egalitarian pastor in a congregation of complementarians, does it violate Romans 14 to ask a woman to preach? If you are a complementarian, what about women deacons? I think that I Timothy clearly allows for women deacons, and many other softer complentarians agree with me. But where are the women deacons in our churches?! I don't see any! Let's not get too involved and invested in our side of the debate to "right the ship" where and when we need to.

6) Finally, let's be careful not to focus too much upon women and their issues and neglect men in the process. Men are in church less and less. Why? A friend of mine once told me that he feels like single young men are the least important and most neglected people in the church. He's not alone in feeling that way. With all of the attention focused upon the role of women in the church, its easy to not define the role of men. If we are stressing the importance of women and their contributions, let's not stop working on getting men more involved in the church and making it a place that meets their needs as well.


Anonymous said...

well, it will be interesting to hear the feedback on this. i myself am somewhere in the middle of both sides...i'm not extreme on either side and feel uncomfortable saying i'm either or...though when all is said and done i think i have more of a leaning towards the complementarian side of things. i know there's that whole headship issue but what does that mean exactly? i can't seem to define exactly what that is supposed to mean or look like though i know it exists. i also can't rule out the possibility for the allowance of women deacons in the church. i think it was within the realm of possibility based on the passages in question. anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue. it was very interesting.

Sabrina said...

i am probably more of a "nervous"/soft complementarian than anything else, and see woman deacons as biblical, but i always have questions about the 1 timothy 2 passage. how much of the historical context should come into play? what does it mean for a woman to usurp a man's authority? teach over a man (pulpit speaking, book writing, sunday school teaching?)? at what age does a boy become a man?

i would also agree that this is not a gospel-centric issue, and i prefer not to argue about it in most settings. it bothers me when people argue about these issues. also, i find it ironic that even in most churches with complementarian theology, women are doing most of the serving.

Jim said...

Every time I decide I am done dealing with this issue someone I respect or care about brings it back up. I should say up front that I am a evangelical egalitarian...and I am not nervous about it. :)

Good comments about it not being a core belief. We actually have quite a few members at our church that don't believe women should be pastors but yet we have three women serving as pastors. I believe this is a commentary on the level of certainty or the warrant of belief on the gender debate. If you say you are a uneasy complementarian, then maybe women in leadership isn't such a big deal if you love many other aspects of the church.

I think the more conservative evangelical churches are more influenced by post World War II culture and the legalism that many of our denominations (SBC, GARBC, etc) struggle with than what the Bible actually has to say about gender roles. It's much easier to take the complementarian viewpoint in a conservative church and sweep women deacons under the rug than it is to really grapple with what the Bible teaches on the subject. Similiar problems have arisen when dealing with addiction recovery groups in the church and using real wine in the Lord's Supper...I've had many tell me that Jesus didn't really turn water into wine, he actually turned it into non-alcoholic grape juice. Really? I guess that same logic applies with women deaons as well.

Your wish to stay away from subordination in the Trinity is hard for me to stomach. I think it has a very direct correllation. In fact I think the titles of the two camps are really mixed up. It should be:

Egalitarians should be known as complementarians--That is at the core of what they believe, that the sexes complement each other.

Complementarians should be known as hierarchalists--I believe that is at the core of what they believe. Distinct and hierarchal role differences regardless of spiritual giftings between the sexes.

This is a very complex issue that addresses cultural teachings and timeless principles. You'd never know that by reading John Piper, Wayne Grudem, or Mark Driscoll. They are very dismissive of opposing viewpoints. So much for Christian dialouge.

Without going on and on, I think there are two major principles at play.

1. Individuals rights are always subverviant to the advance of the gospel.
2. How do we treat each other as Christians (my belief is this has very little to do with gender)

I think that keeping women from leadership is the exact opposite of what was being taught in scripture. The admonishments from Paul and Peter were what was needed in their cultural context to advance the gospel. In my congregation, many people are so surprised that this is even an issue that for most it takes them away from the gospel message. I think that is very, very sad.

The Rev said...

I enjoy reading your stuff. Dynamic Interaction is good for all of us.

For the most part your original is interesting, Since I have some time I thought I might give you some feedback.

Discomfort at your bibical view is more about you than about the Scripture. Who really cares how we feel about it when after lengthy and tedious application of the principles of Herm'c we come to a Biblical view.

Discomfort could be part of our human condition. We don't like God to impose upon us prinicples of function which set us apart from the flow of culture as it impacts our local assembly.

Discomfort is God's way of getting our attention to look at our heart. Tension in the head is good for us - it drives atttention to our inner rebellion toward Him and our need of absolute submission.

PS - IT takes a lot of reading to figure out what it is you are trying to say. Very erudite and graduate-schoolish.

Have a great day

The Rev said...

Looked for a way to communciate with some of you. When I go to your blogs it baffles me to find a way to leave you a message without going to a blog.

So here is another thought to one of the reasons women do most of the serving.

Men in our culture are educated by women and are taught that some of the characteristics stamped into the male psyche are destructive.

Also the cultural or global intent of I Tim and women can be found in BibSac.

Seems like some of the blog responses and some of the dialogue here is rather shallow ::grins::

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul