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Women, Men and Twitter Part 2

This is part 2 of a blog about women,men and leadership in the church.

My twitter stream has been populated with an ongoing conversation about women in leadership in the church. For the past 15 years I have been on a long journey from a Complementarian to an Egalitarian position. (see previous blog for definitions). When I was a complementarian I had no desire or practice of abusing women, demeaning them or insulting them. I was trying to be faithful to the scriptures and believed that the Bible taught clearly that men and women were of co-equal value but have different roles.

I have been a convinced egalitarian for the past 8 years or so and I have come to believe that there are good exegetical grounds for seeing that women did have leadership roles in the early church and that they can have today because any restrictions Paul may have sanctioned had cultural and apologetic reasons for being in place. See this interesting piece by Graham Cole from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

There is also a very helpful book that Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry wrote together coming from very different theological positions. It is a model of gracious and robust dialogue. (more on graciousness another time…)

But I still believe that there are many men and women who are saved by Gods grace, that value Gods word and who are not intrinsically sexist or abusive who hold to a complementarian viewpoint. ( Of course we all need to continually check ourselves for racist or sexist tendencies wherever we are in this debate.) I cannot and will not break fellowship with them or refuse to worship or do mission together. I disagree with them, I am willing to have frank and robust discussion with them but I still count them as family. I have been talking a lot about meeting in the middle – and perhaps the language of middle ground may not be helpful. So let me try and explore what I am trying to work through.

One tweet from a friend that haunts me is this: Would you take a middle ground position on slavery or racism?

That is a telling tweet in this conversation and leaves me asking a few questions. (I am not seeking to criticise this tweet which was made in a long conversation. But to wrestle with the challenge of it and to respond to it.)

Is a complementarian understanding of the role of women equivalent to racism and slavery?

As a man some would argue that I can’t understand the experience of exclusion and injustice that many women feel on this issue. And they have a valid point. I cannot possibly understand what it is like to have your calling in life questioned or to feel marginalised because of who you are. But as an Asian who has experienced racism I can relate a little bit to what prejudice feels like.

I am not sure we can equate this issue with slavery as there are options – in the western context we can choose to be part of a church that is egalitarian and not stay within denominations and tribes that don’t allow the full expression of women with leadership and teaching giftings. Slaves have no choices at all so I am not sure they are comparable. As for racism there is no biblical justifiable warrant for this at all – although i dont agree with complementarians I believe they can make a case for it from scripture.

2. Is the idea of building common ground actually counterproductive to genuine change?

My argument has often been that though there are different opinions and this is an issue of great importance this is not an issue of things pertaining to salvation in other words someone that takes a different view from me on women in leadership is still in the kingdom. They are not to be considered a member of a heretical cult – like the mormons or the Jehovahs witnesses. This issue falls into the same area as baptism. As a convinced Baptist I believe the scriptures are pretty clear that believers should be baptised. I have many friends and family who take a very different view following either a Anglican or Presbyterian view of infant baptism. Many of my Anglican friends have a biblical case showing a real desire to submit their views to the authority of scripture. I cannot see that case at all. In the light of this I could:

a) write them off as people who have ignored scripture and have entered the slippery slope to liberalism/strong ( this line of argument is the way that the complementarians such as Wayne Grudem reads the egalitarian / complimentarian divide)

b) write them off as people who obviously dont care about mission and justice – as surely this is antithetical to the grace of the gospel which is offered to all people independent of their family or tribe or upbringing (this is the line that some egalitarians take the debate as for them to deny women leadership roles is an issue of the justice that the gospel brings.

c) agree that this is an important but not a gospel issue and so we can find ways of working together and to study the scriptures together in a way that we can help eachother to come to a deeper understanding of Gods will.

This is how evangelicalism was birthed – when Anglicans and Baptists joined together to fight slavery. I believe as we meet as brothers and sisters with humility and respect for eachother and a firm commitment to God’s word there’s more chance of change than if we retreat into polarized silos. I am looking for common ground in the polarised groups in a bid not to settle for a lowest common denominator middle ground – but to establish common ground that there can be any chance of a conversation that could possibly lead to change.

A friend of mine put it well – in the Northern Ireland peace process – someone had to start talking to terrorists. I can only imagine what a costly decision that was as both sides had clearly entrenched and deeply felt hurts. So many loved ones lost, so many injured, as Bono put it;

And the battles just begun
Theres many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
Torn apart

But someone decided that rather than allow the war to continue to claim lives, there needed to be a peace process. The war within evangelicalism over this issue does no one any good. We shoot at eachother and as a result lives are damaged, ministries crippled and the gospel is not demonstrated or proclaimed as it should be. I am trying to find a way forward. Peace does not have to mean that egalitarians are the only ones that have to compromise – thats not peace. I am looking for a way to establish some common ground and praying for Gods spirit to empower us to do what scripture demands of us all (Ephesians 4:3):

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace

Jenny Baker has written a helpful post and is right to make sure that both sides are willing to the effort. So I am calling both sides to come and converse as sisters and brothers and lets work this one through.

Any ideas on ways forward or do we have to settle for a divided church / polarised church. Ideas welcome…

More to come… on graciousness, christians against sexism and more…

16 thoughts on “Women, Men and Twitter Part 2”

  1. I agree that there is no comparison with slavery if you think of it in terms of choice, but I feel the comparison comes with respect to the fact that once upon a time some Bible-believing Christians used what they believed the Bible had to say about slaves and slavery to justify the practice. Of course another load of Bible-believing Christians used what they believed the Bible had to say about justice to justify abolishing slavery. This is where the two issues are similar. I’m no expert, so I’d be interested to know what common ground these two groups found.

    1. The comparison with slavery is deliberately emotive and probably exaggerated. But the point is that there was once a debate in the church over whether scripture supports or opposes slavery (and that debate still goes on at least on a theoretical level in theological colleges!). There is now not much of a dispute that whatever the scriptures say about slavery in a 1st century and earlier context, there is no way it could be supported in the 21st.
      The suggestion by some (I think Brian McLaren is one) that the egalitarian/complementarian debate with respect to men allowing women (or not) to exercise gifts they feel God has given them will be viewed in a similar way in several decades: there once was a debate that was based around scripture but to debate it now in our context would be cultural insanity.
      Ararvah raises an interesting point: historically speaking, what common ground was found between the two groups? Again, we’ll come back to the point raised on the previous post: it might have been much easier for white men (like me) on either side of the debate to agree than for an enslaved or freed black man to feel accepted by slave-owners. As an egalitarian man, I am not ‘inconvenienced’ by joining with a complementarian church or group. My wife or sister, however, might see things differently.

  2. Excellently put Krish, I feel exactly the same way.
    As an Anglican I am very much on the side of women being in leadership and in principle I am fully in favour of women bishops. However, I cannot be in support of anything coming in to our church law that will alienate those who are against women in leadership.
    I completely agree that it is not a salvation issue, if it is then we have a lot of former church leaders from the last 1500 years who we will not be seeing when we go to glory!
    I also don’t see it being a stumbling block for people to come to faith. As you point out, there are churches on both sides of the argument so if the core message is believed then there will be a place for them somewhere.
    But it is clear that some people will always have problems in being a part of this “peace process” because they have been hurt by one side or the other in the past. This road will not be easy, but I am fully in support of what you are trying to do!

  3. So interesting. As a woman training for ministry it is often the elephant in the room which occasionaly rears its ugly head. You never quite know which side of the line people will fall on, and I am increasingly surprised each time.
    Slavery is an interesting comparison, and I think it is unfair to make it about the church, and especially in this country, but I think there are cases where it is a valid comparison because women have been treated as the property of men arising out of the Biblical interpretation. When this has led to abuse and injustice, we do need to make a stand.
    My question is how can we explore issues of Biblical manhood and womanhood in a way that doesn’t alienate or reject people and their ministries, and is there room to examine what men and women have in common rather than their differences?

  4. Hey Krish, Not sure who the twitter person you’re referring to here was but I think I was the first person to mention the middle ground argument and ask how we would feel if it was used about race rather than gender.

    As a friend I’m sad that you felt you couldn’t respond to me personally if you felt it was haunting or unhelpful rather than simply discussing it publicly alone.

    I think that for those of us facing it who have an egalitarian view (and even for many of those of us who have complimentarian views but are trying to help the church avoid misogyny), our experience is that it is similar. It’s interesting that much of the language about race in South Africa (historically and more recent) is similar to the language used about women in some evangelical contexts today. I have met a number of older Afrikaans brothers and sisters who sincerely believe that the Bible teaches that there should be different roles for “whites” and “nonwhites”. A number of them are good people and would say that their views are in good conscience.

    I didn’t mean this to be unnecessarily offensive or inflammatory, but I do think there are parallels.

    God bless,

    Sally

    1. dear Sally
      i really don’t remember who said what in the flurry of twitter activity and i certainly wasn’t intending to be offensive or unhelpful.
      I was trying to wrestle with the subject in general and work things through.

      If you think it would be better, I am happy to take the blog post down completely ,or to alter it as you see fit.
      I was / am not seeking to cause hurt, in fact quite the opposite I want to find a way forward.
      Every blessing
      Your friend
      Krish

  5. It’s lovely that you want to find a way forward and heal the divisions between your church friends, Krish, but that’s not really the point. Just because you didn’t want to hurt women doesn’t mean complementarianism isn’t a harmful way of thinking. What are women allowed to do in our churches? What are churches teaching about the role of women in family life, in public discourse, at work, in politics? There are big questions here, and I don’t see how we can brush them aside as a minor exegetical dispute. If you don’t acknowledge the real issues, how can we find any meaningful way forward?

  6. I don’t think there can be genuinely middle ground on this one. The reality is that complementarians will not allow women to exercise gifts of leadership except in a very narrow field and egalitarians will not accept these limitations. Both sides have genuine issues with each other’s hermeneutics. Learning to love and respect each other whilst agreeing to differ is probably the best we can hope for.

  7. Hi Krish, likeing this a lot. One thing I do want to point out is that the debate about Women Bishops is a slightly different one to answer because of the institutional and hierarchical structure of the Church of England. Does that make sense? Is this largely where the heat is comming from around this debate?

  8. Krish
    Thanks for starting a discussion! As someone who is exploring her role in ministry and leadership, I’ve found N T Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, to be interesting – he talks about 3 ways to deal with how Israel should be in the world – separation (like a hermit, or a nun?), compromise (like Herod?) and revolt (like the previous martyrs, or radical feminism?) – Jesus found a fourth way – I’m trying to work out what that looks like for me – as we are all Jesus’ body in the world today. What sort of dialogue did he have, and with who? What did he do?
    H.
    PS Tom Wright puts it better than I did…

  9. Hi Krish. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. I”m just interested in whether you’ve been convinced by an egalitarian position both in terms of women in ministry AND male headship in marriage. Also, the piece by Graham Cole that you ink to seems to be a response to him as opposed to the piece itself. So just wanted to check whether you intended to link somewhere different. Thanks.

    1. Hi Nathan, thanks for making contact. I feel a blog post coming on headship in marriage. Thanks for the heads up about the wrong link – was having some tech troubles the day i posted that one – will never use an IPad again to update my blog. Thanks for being part of the conversation. Blessings
      Krish

  10. Hi Krish, first of all I want to say I feel a bit sorry for you, writing your peice and then getting lots of feedback fired at you all at once.
    I find this interesting, my fiance directed me to it a few weeks ago because it is an issue I have been working through for the last couple of years.
    In the past I went out with a guy who stongly believed that women shouldn’t preech. This opinion was exercised in a way that made me feel further from God (like I wasn’t part of the elite male crew), less intellegant because anything I said needed to be checked by a man and as a result less valuable because I was a woman.
    The biggest thing my fiance and I have had to work through on this topic is that my value is not held in what I do, but who I am – a child of God. I am an adopted child who doesn’t need to do anything to be loved.
    I think this is the biggest issue in the controvosy over women speakers on both sides of the spectrum. Those who believe that women shouldn’t preech can take the role of a meek subsurvient woman who takes her value from being submissive. On the other side those who believe women should preech could be upset that their value is being taken from them because they are disqualified from preeching due to their gender.

    But back to the main thing – My value is not determined by what I do – Jesus has done it all. If we believe this then where do we end up.
    I am already valuable -> I do not need to preech to prove myself -> this leeds me to the whoper that God’s mission on earth is of paramount importance and teaching his people is a massive responsibility therefore I shouldn’t want to take it lightly, think of it as something to fight over or believe I (a human not God) can come to the right conclusion (you have made it clear you think this too)… and from the view point that ‘I’m already valuable’ you can consider specific bibical references.

    From the point that God’s mission is a big one I am happy not to be a minister because I believe I could not carry the resposibity of watching, ministering to and ensuring the spiritual growth of a whole church community.

    I do not feel compromised by the view that women should not preech in church. I have bibilically encouraged and rebuked males in my church, young, equal and old (less of the rebuking for my seniors :) ) on a level equal to a ministers work and this makes me invaluable to the work of my church. (WAHOOOO!)

    I hope these ideas are helpful,

    When you talk of common ground to start from – would that not be the Gospel? If we found it in anything else – such as history, establishments or culture, our conclusion would be flawed because it was grounded in human thinking not God’s thinking. ??? I’d go with the gospel for common ground.

    (Merry Christmas)

  11. Just wondering if anyone else thinks that women can be in leadership without going against what Paul says about women not being allowed to teach or have authority over men?

    I personally don’t see a contradiction in thinking here, although I agree that churches seem to take very polarised positions – either women can’t do anything except serve tea, or they are trying to do absolutely everything and overstepping the other way.

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