Is egalitarianism a mere reflection of contemporary culture? Do we egalitarians submit to the “feminist spirit of the age and falling short of the biblical ideal.” No, and anyone who says this has shut their eyes to the world around them.
I can and can’t relate to Tony Jones who recently wrote that he had nothing more to say about the so-called “debate” over whether women should be allowed to operate in their full gifting in the church just like men (see “‘Women in Ministry’ –I’m Over It”). He says this because, “It is simply unfathomable to me that entire versions of Christianity today — be they Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist or Amish — restrict ministry to men.” For the most part I relate. I understand that this is a subject that must be handled with caution in some contexts, e.g. if I were preaching the Gospel in Afghanistan I might not push my egalitarianism. I live in the United States though where (hopefully) the installation of a woman pastor wouldn’t put the safety of the church at stake, so I don’t get Christians in our culture who spend time arguing against women’s full inclusion in the church. Rather, I like what T. Michael Law said (see “Biblical Womanhood”),
“And I say this: if you’re not going to wear a head covering to church, why let a theologian or a pastor tell you that you cannot teach or preach? Or why let them tell you that your voice has no place in the most important committees in the church? Or why let them tell you that the theological direction of the church is a man’s job? The appeal to ‘biblical models’ is fallacious, not least because it is often done with a lack of understanding of the social and historical context of the writing that supports the enforced view. It just so happens that the first century context is oh so perfect for the modern man.”
While I don’t support creating a schism in your local church I do support leaving a church where you feel like women are not being given equal standing. There will always be those who selectively choose those passages that limit women’s function in the church, so I see no reason to fight battles within all those churches. Honestly, I don’t care that some churches are “complementarian” just like I don’t care that some women are complementarian. But women who are not complementarian don’t have to stay put either, especially if they sense they have a calling and giftings that are being ignored on the basis of their gender.
Now, what I am about to argue may surprise you since I indicated that in our culture it shouldn’t be a surprise if a woman pastors a church or preaches on Sunday.
I read a bit of Denny Burk’s essay defending and fighting for complementarianism/patriarchy as God’s ideal for the world (if you want to subject yourself to it go read “Complementarianism or Patriarchy? What’s in a Name?”) where he writes,
“Evangelicals who are unwilling to be counter-cultural are going to find themselves one way or the other accommodating themselves to the feminist spirit of the age and falling short of the biblical ideal. Egalitarians accommodate themselves one way, and complementarians-in-name-only do it in another. ”
Then he quotes an essay by Russell Moore who wrote (in the ETS article, “After Patriarchy What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Gender Debate”),
“Egalitarians are winning the evangelical gender debate, not because their arguments are stronger, but because, in some sense, we are all egalitarians now. The complementarian response must be more than reaction. It must instead present an alternative vision—a vision that sums up the burden of male headship under the cosmic rubric of the gospel of Christ and the restoration of all things in him. It must produce churches that are not embarrassed to tell us that when we say the “Our Father,” we are patriarchs of the oldest kind.”
Let me note two things:
(1) Egalitarianism remains counter-cultural. Patriarchy reflects the world’s ways. Even in the United States a woman makes something like 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same job! Burk and Moore are funny framing it as they do. Also, they are dead wrong. Ask women in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and probably even Australia and Europe: “Are you treated as equal to men in your society?” Many may not want to be seen as equals because they affirm their culture’s values and that proves my point. Most of the world and most of human history has been oppressive to women, even Christians in the name of “headship.” So let’s ditch the silly argument that the complementarians are standing their ground against a corrupt culture. They look more far more like the world in this regard.
(2) Egalitarians are not “winning the evangelical gender debate,” (I can’t name one major evangelical denomination with a woman as Superintendent or the equivalent in the U.S.) but I think we are making progress and my guess is that it resonates with people just like the argument against slavery resonated with people at one point. If there is neither “male nor female” in Christ then even the Pauline admonitions that seem to support male hierarchy are functional, but not optimal.
I’m not going to spend time here tossing proof-texts back and forth. People know my views and I’ve written on them already on this blog. But I do want to ask us to pause and think critically about what Burk and Moore are trying to sell, because it is not accurate, it does not rightly describe the plight of women (even in our culture), and the worst part about it is that it tries to frame egalitarianism as the church adopting the world’s values when common sense shows us that complementarian (i.e. patriarchal) views are far more commonplace everywhere we look.
This post is part of the Week of Mutuality syncroblog
[Note: I am not necessarily equating complementarianism with the oppression of women. As I said early in the post, I don't mind that some women prefer living in a complementarian-type world attending churches that reflect those values. My main point is that egalitarianism doesn't reflect the values of the world's culture and it never has. One can throw around silly statements like "the feminist spirit," but even with all the progress we've made in our culture women are still treated as inferior in politics, business, and almost every sub-culture.]