April 23, 2014

Why I Am an “Egalitarian”

By Chaplain Mike

Comments are now closed. Thanks to all who participated in an invigorating discussion. To be continued…

One issue that came up in our recent series on The New Calvinism was that of the role of women in the church.

The TNC position (as well as that of others) is generally complementarian, favorable to a more patriarchal view of family, church, and society. Based on structures established in creation, reinforced in a fallen world, and not negated in the New Testament, men are designed to fulfill certain roles, including leadership. Women are designed differently. Though fully equal in personhood, they have been created to fulfill complementary roles that do not include holding positions of authority over men.

Complementarians would thus limit opportunities available to women for Christian vocation, particularly those of ordained, pastoral, or authoritative teaching ministries in the church.

I humbly disagree. In my view, complementarians misread the creation narratives, ignore one of the great consequences of the fall, neglect to appreciate the significant role of women in the Biblical story who subvert man-made authority systems to cooperate with God in bringing to pass his redemptive plan, fail to grasp the significance of Pentecost and the nature of the new creation community in Christ, and misread NT passages that restrict women as universal rules.

My own position has been called “egalitarian” (though I dislike the term). I believe the ideal situation is full partnership of men and women in the service of God’s Kingdom. I do not believe that strong role distinctions were part of God’s creative plan. Though men and women certainly do complement each other in many ways, are not identical, and do have some different tasks unique to their respective sexes that they are to fulfill in life, these differences do not indicate universal hard and fast “authority” and “role” structures.

My position can only be briefly outlined here. I summed up the “big picture” of what I believe in a post last week:

The entire trajectory of Scripture points to a kaleidoscopic people of God, ever more diverse, with always surprising revelations of unlikely people using their gifts in unexpected and even subversive ways to encourage [God's] family and bless the world.

Why I Am an “Egalitarian”

1. Man and woman were created, both in the image of God, to be equal partners in living in his blessing and representing him and fulfilling his calling in the world. The word “adam” in Gen 1 does not refer to a male individual, but to humankind as a whole, and it is humankind, male and female together, that God blesses and calls to rule over his creation (Gen 1.26-27).

2. The word “helper,” which is used to describe who Eve was created to be for Adam, does not indicate submission but a full complementary role with man (Gen 2.18). It does not imply in any way that the woman was created to be man’s “assistant,” but rather his full partner.

3. Gen 3.16 clearly states that conflict between the sexes is a result of the fall, and that man’s rule over woman will be the dominant outcome. Patriarchy (man ruling over woman) arises from a broken world, not God’s original design.

4. Much of the First Testament story leading to the coming of Messiah literally hangs on the surprising work of God through women who, despite their subservient role in society, acted in faith and sometimes took prominent or leadership roles against what their society permitted in order to advance God’s plan (examples: Tamar, the midwives in Moses’ day, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, etc.). Matthew’s genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 even includes some of these women heroes, though in patriarchal societies women’s names were never included in such lists.

5. Mary is one of the Bible’s greatest examples of a true disciple. As Luke portrays her, she received, obeyed, and proclaimed God’s Word (Luke 1:26-56). This fits with Luke’s emphasis throughout the Gospel and Acts that God’s Spirit-filled people in the new community, both men and women, young and old, slave and free, will prophesy in the new Messianic era.

6. Women participated actively in Jesus’ ministry. It is true that none were apostles during his lifetime, but the way Jesus treated, accepted, taught, empowered, and received ministry from women sowed seeds for their full involvement in the life of the church later. The Samaritan woman was the first evangelist in Samaria, teaching the gospel to men. Mary was commended for taking the place of a disciple at Jesus’ feet rather than one who busied herself with serving, fulfilling the traditional role for women in the household. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, sharing the good news with the disciples themselves.

7. Was the Great Commission given only to men, or to the whole church? If to the church, that includes women, who are therefore commanded to be active in the process of making disciples and teaching them.

8. Acts 2 portrays a seminal turning point, showing that something entirely new is happening in the world: the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all kinds of people who had previously been in positions where they were not authorized to speak for God. We are now in “the last days,” an era which is marked by a priesthood of all believers. This includes women “prophesying.”

In 1Cor 11, Paul speaks of women prophesying in the church and does not disallow it. In fact, in 1Cor 14, Paul describes this as the ministry gift of the Holy Spirit that all should desire, and describes it as, “those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation.” What is that if not teaching and/or preaching in the congregation?

(It is true that Paul issues a restriction with regard to women in 1Cor 14 as well, but this may be explained by local circumstances in Corinth. See below.)

9. NT examples such as Priscilla (named first in tandem with her husband, a very unusual thing) who apparently took a lead role and with her husband Aquila, taught Apollos; Phoebe who is called a “deacon” in the church, and Junia who is called an “apostle” (Rom 16) indicate that women held high offices in the church. In fact, when you read Romans 16 where Paul greets his friends and coworkers, there are no distinctions between men and women in the way he speaks of them and their participation in ministry. It is the same in Philippians 4, where two women are commended as Paul’s “co-workers” right along with the men.

10. Passages that seem to restrict the ministry of women may be understood in the context of local situations Paul was addressing. These situations are described in the surrounding context in each letter. Sound exegesis requires that what we draw from these passages must take that context into account, and the way we apply them in our own day must reflect the problems Paul was addressing as well as the solutions.

For example, Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, did not permit untaught women in Ephesus who were being influenced by false teachers (1Tim. 1.3-4, 5.14-15, 2Tim 3.5-6) to teach or usurp (seize) authority over men in the church. (1Tim 2)

In 1Tim 2, where some say Paul forbade “teaching and exercising authority over men,” the restriction is not stated as a command, but as a statement of Paul’s policy. The imperative for women in the passage is that they should “learn,” which in the ancient world would have been controversial and a huge step forward for women. Paul was restricting their participation at that point because they were not ready, and there was a problem with false doctrine that was attracting women in Ephesus. On the other hand, where women are well taught, hold sound doctrine, and are capable of teaching, they should be allowed to do so, and welcomed by the church as gifts from God.

11. Finally, the overall arc of the Biblical story is from creation to new creation. In Jesus, the new creation has begun to break in to this present age. This means that we who follow Christ must alter our views of all earthly categories that characterize this fallen world: family (Mark 3.31-15), marriage (1Cor 7, Eph 5), children (Matt 18.1-5), slavery (Eph 6, Col 4, Philemon), who may speak for God (Acts 2.17-18), and authority structures (Matt 20.24-28).

This is where a passage like Galatians 3.28 comes in, with its insistence that the old categories simply no longer apply in the same way they did before for those who are now in Christ.

To summarize: I believe the ideal situation is full partnership of men and women in the service of God’s Kingdom.

For Further Reading
For an excellent and fuller description of the way I understand the Scriptural teaching on this subject, check out the summary at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They don’t share my view, but do provide a very good summary of it, and I appreciate that they have taken the time to understand it and think through it.

Part 4 of Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, is devoted to showing how reading the Bible as Story makes a difference when considering issues like women in ministry. This particular issue is treated as a case study of the various ways we approach the Scriptures.

Comments

  1. Donna – true. Biblical power is power to serve, strength and gifts are given to build Christ’s kingdom, not our own. My objection to the concept of gender -based hierarchical roles is primarily that I don’t believe they’re based on an accurate reading of the Bible. The implications of this are first that a significant number of people who God has gifted and called to serve by teaching and leading are actively opposed and impeded by other Christians. The second implication is that one group has been granted an authority that isn’t truly theirs, to the detriment of both. Third, there is often a disruption of relationship and spiritual growth that comes when both parties must learn to work together without appeals to the short-cut of “tie-breaking votes” and “final says.” A subsidiary concern that has been bothering me more lately is that the increasing emphasis on “biblical manhood and womanhood,” with clear deliniations of what’s proper for each sex, encourages Christians to define themselves in comparison to each other, not in relationship to Christ.

    • Hi SaraG,

      “My objection to the concept of gender -based hierarchical roles is primarily that I don’t believe they’re based on an accurate reading of the Bible.”

      I understand that to be the position of many egalitarians, and I accept that is your belief. I just very much disagree that we are in a better position today to interpret what an accurate reading of scripture is than those who actually lived during the lifetime of the authors of scripture, or were taught by those who did. The wisdom from the early church Fathers, or the tradition of the church, for 1900 years clearly taught a hierarchy within the family and the church that was gender-based, and continues to do so.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    I really enjoyed your thoughtful approach to this topic but personally favor the position as outlined by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    How would you answer this question? why would the Lord would make such a significant change as including female leadership in the community of God’s people without very explicit instructions about this new approach?

    If this were to be a part of the New Testament approach, it would have seemed prudent for Jesus to include some women as part of his twelve disciples. He did not. Choosing the seven in Acts 6 would have presented another opportunity. But again, only guys. How about having a female writer of a New Testament book? That would have made a real statement. But once again, it just didn’t happen.

    Am I wrong-headed to ask questions like these?

    Dave

    • I wouldn’t say wrong-headed, Dave, but your questions are unanswerable. Likewise, why didn’t Paul advocate for setting slaves free? It’s hard for me as a 21st century reader to read passages about slaves and put myself in his sandals. I can’t understand, from my perspective, how anyone could have tolerated that. It appears that the Bible was written in the midst of real life, and the way change happens in real life isn’t always clear or predictable.

      I happen to think that there is explicit testimony to the ideal, and it’s found in Acts 2—

      In the last days it will be, God declares,
      that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
      and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
      and your young men shall see visions,
      and your old men shall dream dreams.
      Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
      in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
      and they shall prophesy.

      • Mike,

        Thanks for the response. I’m not seeing a manifesto for revising gender roles in Joel’s prophesy. Doesn’t seem to fit with Peter’s application in context.

        I’ll admit that I am probably steeped in a complementarian perspective on this. Any teachers or theologians that you’d recommend in connection with this issue?

        Thanks,
        Dave

        • Dave, I haven’t kept up with the latest books on the subject, but I know there are a bunch of good ones. I’m sure you could find a good representation at the Christians for Biblical Equality site: http://www.cbeinternational.org/.

          And I would agree with you if you phrase it like that: “a manifesto for revising gender roles” is not really the point. The point is a new creation, designed to ultimately restore (and surpass!) God’s blessing in the original creation. As we are living in the tension of the now and not yet, all elements of that will be imperfectly realized. However, I think we should begin to see glimpses of the ideal lived out as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ together. Jesus and Paul were not revolutionaries in the sense that they politicized issues like this and worked for change. They planted seeds of new creation that, at the proper time, should be harvested. In the post, I have stated my understanding of the biblical theology, and think I have a reasonable position. If you were to ask me about implementation, I would be much more hesitant and unsure about giving direction.

          • Yes, the Gospel does indeed have a trajectory.

          • I believe it would not have been prudent for Jesus to choose women as among the 12 apostles, for a very specific reason: the witness of a woman was not considered valid in that culture. Women could not even testify in court. The primary calling of the apostles was to spread the word as witnesses of the Resurrected Christ.

            This idea makes the fact that Christ appeared first to women, very significant indeed. He did not have to do so. Peter and John came to the tomb with Mary Magdalene, and He could easily have appeared to them then, rather than waiting till they had left and appearing to Mary alone.

            I believe the message to the 12 apostles was clear. “I am sending you as witnesses to a world that will not receive the witness of women. But I am insisting that you yourselves accept the witness of women. My Church is to be different from the world in this matter. Though the world will not listen to women, my Church will begin its life with its first and most significant event, witnessed by women.”

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      I gotta jump in here:

      The calling of the twelve was a symbol of the restoration of Israel in Christ. If Jesus had called 6 men and 6 women, he would not have been understood as restoring Israel. The calling of the twelve is an enacted parable, like eating with sinners, and turning the tables over in the temple.

      Also, if you are going to use the 12 apostles argument, then you also have to consider that every single one of the apostles was a Jew. So was Jesus. So is leadership then limited to the Jewish males only?

  3. After reading most of the comments, I have a stronger conviction on this issue. The discussion has been very helpful to me in a number of ways.

    There are two things on which I am certain.

    There have been gender issues since the beginning.

    There will be gender issues until the day there’s a new heaven and a new earth.

    I’m looking forward to that day.

  4. So, for those here who are complementarian, what is it about women as women – or a woman simply because she is a woman – that prevents them or her from being able to do the things in church that complementarians say only men or a man can do?

    To be specific about the two most common things (i.e., 1 Tim ch 2 vs 12):
    1) teach men (which usually includes preaching from the Scriptures to men or to a mixed-sex assembly) or
    2) be in an authority position in a church over men
    what is it about each and every woman that precludes any woman from doing these things, and why do you say that? (Other than: “Because that’s what 1 Tim 2 says”; because one thing the scholarly books have shown is that the interpretation of those verses is subject to a number of factors and even the “plain reading” of the verses creates other problems when the entire section is looked at – problems that demand interpretation of other verses or other things.)

    What exactly prevents someone with female physiology from doing those things? What is there in or about the nature of women (as opposed to the nature of men) that precludes or restricts or forbids each and every woman from being allowed or perhaps even being able to do those things? Or is it even right to talk about men’s natures versus women’s natures? Does the Gospel apply differently to men and to women simply because of a person’s gender?

    Also, as some complementarian churches say and do and practice re: letting a woman preach or teach or be in an authority position over a man: How does a woman having a male “covering” over her allow her to do those things by protecting her and protecting and/or unscandalizing the men whom she is teaching or leading?

    • Wow, the sorting of these comments by date and time seems to be a bit askew. And to add one thing to my last paragraph/statement:

      Also, as some complementarian churches say and do and practice re: letting a woman preach or teach or be in an authority position over a man: How does a woman having a male “covering” over her allow her to do those things by protecting her and protecting and/or unscandalizing the men whom she is teaching or leading? I.e., how exactly does such a “covering” work? What are the mechanics (physical, emotional, spiritual, whatever) that are involved? What does such a “covering” literally DO? Is it the placebo effect? Does it prevent the fiery darts of the enemy from hitting men? Does it prevent the enemy’s assault on the woman? Or what?

      • Yes, there does seem to be a touch of the chaotic in the way things are posting. My comments have wound up in places with very little connection to where I intended to put them. Oh well, maybe kind of a game – “match the comment to its topic.” Wonder if we could license/market the concept

  5. I can appreciate your comments Patrick!

    At times I have to wonder with CBMW, and other comp organizations that use the word, ‘feminized’ aren’t doing the same thing you spoke about.

    Feminized Church

    Feminized Egalitarian

    Feminized Culture

    Feminized Men, etc.

    I think you get the picture.

    It reminds me of my childhood days when boy would jump on another boy, and tell him he threw like a girl.

    Its strange how they glorify to me feminine qualities, and yet turn around as use the same term to almost demonize something. Its almost like feminine can be good, but if something is bad there is a feminize characteristic to it the way they write their articles.

    They add the word ‘feminized’ to some concept, and yet tell you how they respect and love women. lol! How they get from point A to point B still baffles me.

    I remember a article I read about how a fellowship went into town to eat, and found the restaurant they had in mind was closed. The group then had a discussion on where else to go. The author stated that the leader showed his egalitarian feminized way by not informing the group with his leadership skills WHERE they were going to eat! lol how when there is no one in ‘charge’ nothing gets done, but you can never make up your mind! What does that say about their view of women? It doesn’t sound the alarm of respect and love to me. Those ‘silly little things’ more comes to mind.

    Lets face facts! Using the word ‘feminized’ is suppose to be a cut down. It has ‘girly’ characterizations to it. To me you can’t say you love and respect women, and then turn around to use them to put down something else. Talk about ‘gender confusion’! We are loved and respected yet the source of all evil in the world as well. Our female nature as they define it is used to shame others – you throw like a girl concept.

    To me its rather insulting. You don’t tell me you appreciate my womanhood, and then use it to characterize negative aspects you don’t appreciate about the world around us. Its rather short sighted. Its demeaning. To me its talking outside both sides of their face. You don’t glorify female traits, and then use them as a weapon to shame at the same time.

    When they stop the ‘you throw like a girl’ concepts all the time? When they stop the ‘you want to wear the pants’ concepts to put you back in your place? They might not have to worry about the defensive responses they get. They seem to push the message you either believe like we do or you are participating in the ‘feminized’ culture. It sends the message that when you decide to wear the pants again come talk to us. When you decide to ‘act’ like a women come talk to us.

    People look at those types of things and wonder what other boxes do they have in mind? lol and why wouldn’t they? They are going to tell what gifts and characteristic that God gave us, and then tell us which are good enough – and which we should ignore. THAT may not be the message they are trying to get across, but from their reading list? That is indeed what is coming across.

    When they stop the female traits bashing MORE people may stop to listen. I don’t see that happening. At times I think its almost fun for them the way they do it. What a waste of energy.

  6. MOD COMMENT: Comment deleted.

  7. witten,

    Remember this is a free country. No one can force you to go to a church that preaches male dominance. There are plenty of men who are willing to treat women as fully functional adults. You don’t have to fellowship with men who want dominance and control over you.

    When I was young I suffered for years under churches that preached male dominance. As much as I hated it I felt it was better than not going to church.

    But as I got older I decided it was better not to go to a male dominance church. Luckily, I found churches (and men) were changing. I have been able to attend a church where there are no restrictions on women.

    It’s better not to associate with people who believe in male dominance. Stay away from them. There are more than enough Christians these days to associate with who will treat you as an equal.

  8. I’ve read complementarians argue based on 1 Timothy chapter 2 verses 9-15 that the reason (or “a” reason) that women cannot teach men or have or exercise authority over them is because Eve, not Adam, was (completely) deceived and hence women are more deceivable than men.

    So, would this be Complementarian Genetics 101:

    The “x chromosome” carries the “deception gene.”

    The “y chromosome,” however, carries the “anti-deception gene.”

    Therefore, if a person has two xx chromosomes, and is therefore a female, they are by nature completely deceivable (which is one way you can translate the compound exapataô in contrast to the plain apataô in the same verse, 2:14).

    However, if a person has one x and one y chromosome, and is therefore a male, they have a genetic defense against being completely deceived. Therefore only those with both an x and a y chromosome are to be entrusted with positions of authority in the church, and only they can teach both men and women.

    - – -

    If this is not Complementarian Genetics, why isn’t it?

    • The large majority of the heretical sects being founded by men, “complementarian genetics” is shown by history to be quite false.

  9. As a young, self-described evangelical female pursuing ordained ministry, I find it difficult to find a nitche. Either I am described as a “liberal” because I am female, or I am charismatic/Pentecostal. I am pursuing ministry because God has placed a call on my life, and to not do so would dishonor what I believe to be the Spirit’s leading. I am humbled by the Spirit’s calling, although challenges remain. Please don’t forget the Holy Spirit’s role, in additional to scripture, in calling women into ministry.

  10. I meant that my post dated September 13 at 11:42 was meant to be a reply to Donna’s on Sept. 11 at 9:26. Arrggh!

  11. One thing that some people find annoying about complementarianism is that it has gray areas. What I mean is this. Many complementarians believe that all believers (not just male believers) have the responsibility to carry out the Great Commission. These same complementarians also believe that it violates biblical teachings for a woman teach a man. So what constitutes teaching?

    If teaching doctrine merely involves the conveying of spiritual truths, then it would be difficult if not impossible for a woman to share the gospel with a man, for the gospel is a spiritual truth. When Jesus told Mary Magdalene to go tell His disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God”, was He overriding what in normal circumstances would be considered a sin? In other words, did He give her a one-time “you can teach and not sin” get-out-of-jail-free card?

    However, if not all conveying of spiritual truths is teaching, then what constitutes teaching? It seems the Bible doesn’t give a clear definition that is agreed upon by all complementarians. What is considered acceptable by one complementarian may be considered a blatant violation of 1 Tim 2 by another complementarian.

    In contrast, many other doctrinal beliefs (such as credobaptism) seem to be less ambiguous.

  12. Patrick Landau says:

    I am a seminary student at a Baptist seminary. I just finished a research paper on Celtic Christianity, and I think it would be interesting to examine their approach to equality. As early as the 6th century, Irish Christians had monasteries of both men and women in which a woman was the head. This is not a new issue or a 20th century issue as I believe one comment stated.

    Also, I believe that there is an issue of power and dominance created, unintentionally, by complementarians. Why is it that women must submit to specific roles, whether it be in marriage or in a church setting? Further, what about a woman makes her need to submit to a man in any circumstance? Not to be crass, but why does having a penis make you eligible to be a pastor/deacon/elder/bishop and having a vagina does not?

    This requirement of roles or submission that is directed at women seems to me to create an imbalance of power and authority. Thus, complementarians to me seem androcentric and patriarchal in a negative, though unintentional, way.

    Ultimately, some will disagree with me, but I want to make this point. I understand that complementarians do not intend to create power structures, negative hierarchies, or be harmful to women in any way. However, your intentions do not change what your actions are doing, which is harming women by placing them as lesser in the kingdom of God than men.

    (Biblically, I am on the same page as Chaplain Mike, so I will not go into the specifics of how I interpret the different scripture texts.)

  13. It’s never a good idea to marry someone who wants to lord it over you.

  14. I think a lot of this conversation is laced with extremes and polemics that are not productive. The terms “complementarian” and “egalitarian” aparently mean different things to different people. It seems to be getting framed as a rather black and white issue. I have considered myself to be a complementarian, though what I mean by that is not what many egalitarians on this thread imply. Perhaps these terms are too charged and do not convey useful meanings.

    Anyway, to counter the extremes and polemics; Do some men in authority abuse that authority? Yes, they do. Does that mean all men do? Absolutely not. Even people who consider themselves egalitarians can abuse others. Do I believe the Bible and church tradition teach that all women are commanded to submit to all men? No, I am not required to submit to random men on the street, co-workers, or the guy who takes my order at Starbucks (chai latte, please). Does this mean that as a woman I cannot particpate in ministry/evangelism? No, there are many, many things women can do to be involved in ministering to/evangelizing others that are not exclusively within the role of priest/head pastor. Does it mean that a woman has to ask her husband’s permission to give him 2 tylenol (or to take them herself, or to buy dish towels, or decide what to wear to work that day etc…)? Perhaps it means that to some fringe groups, but not to any actual, real living couples I know in the flesh who believe the man is the head of the family. Does it mean that the woman’s knowledge, gifts and expertise is not valued and put to good use? No, it does not mean that. Just like a wise commander in chief values and puts to use the knowledge and expertise of his generals, so does a wise husband deal with his wife.

    To believe that the man is the head does not mean that he is to be “dominating”. To believe that God has set an order in the family that places men in the position of head does not necessarily mean a lot of what is being implied in this thread. It can mean these things when approached in a sunful manner, but that order is not defined by these things.

    • Donna, in the post itself, I am not responding in a polemical sense to the “complementarian” view because of abuses or extremes in that view. I’m stating my understanding of the Biblical story and how it leads me to take the “egalitarian” position. Obviously, many of the commenters have personal issues with one side or the other. We can’t divorce theology from life experience. However, in the end, I would hope we would respect those who differ with us, study the issue thoughtfully, and work together for the missional unity of God’s people in all traditions.

      Comments are now closed. Thank you all for an invigorating discussion.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    From what I’ve read on this and other blogs “Complementarians” are in danger of slipping into Male Supremacy mode. Most of the ex-Quiverfull blogs claim to be refugees from Complementarianism as in “WOMAN, SUBMIT! GOD HATH SAID!”

    (And I’ve seen the Catholic equivalent of Quiverfull, with a domineering “I Am Always Right and Once You Accept That And Always Agree With Me We Won’t Have A Problem” husband and a widdle wifey pumping out at least a kid a year while psychologically regressing into permanent childhood herself. It wasn’t pretty.)