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Women, Men, Church & Twitter – part 1

Twitter Debate

I have been wrestling this week with the memories of an intense Twitter conversation I was part of on the train on the way to Durham University. On reflection twitter is an interesting place to try and have a theological conversation – the advantage is that its public which means we can interact with people who are not in our normal “hermeneutical circle” who will help us to think things through from another perspective. On the other hand the disadvantage is that its very public and restricted to 140 characters which means its difficult for anyone to nuance the contributions and so its easy to go for the cheap shot, the cutting response or the pithy soundbite.

So I am sorry if my tweets were unhelpful in any way.

The twitter conversation was on the gifts and role of women in the church – something I am very interested in and have been working hard to try and help people from different tribes to try and listen to eachother and engage with eachother graciously about. As you are no doubt aware the conversation is very polarised. Complementarians argue that

“In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.”

Some express this very forcibly and have made it central to their teaching for example Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Some seem to argue that if you are not a complimentarian then you are basically a feminist liberal.

Egalitarians argue that:

Some egalitarians have made this central to their teaching and some seem to argue that if you are not egalitarian then you are a chauvinist who oppresses women and denies their true humanity.

Both extremes make this an issue of biblical orthodoxy – the complementarians arguing its about the authority of scripture and the authority of Christ while the egalitarians often emphasise that justice and power of the gospel are at stake.

I know there are evangelical Christians on both sides of the debate. I know there are good and bad arguments being used by both sides. I know there are actually a range of egalitarian and complimentarian positions. There are “hard” and “soft” proponents. There are those that are lead more by the scripture than by the culture and those that are lead more by the culture than the scripture – on both sides. I know there are people that have been hurt on both sides of this debate, and I recognise that women who have felt their God given calling have been dismissed have been particularly hurt.

My hope is that we can build a centre ground coalition that champions the centrality of the gospel, the authority of scripture and a gracious respect and honouring of women and the recognition of the need for a hermeneutic of humility when it comes to the scriptures and a spirit of generosity when it comes to those we disagree with. I want to start a peace process – not just that we agree to disagree but that we find a way through an issue that is splitting the church right down the middle…

I’d love to know why you think this is the issue that is dividing the church at the moment?

… More coming soon

just posted part 2 here.

37 thoughts on “Women, Men, Church & Twitter – part 1”

  1. Helpful post.

    It is a necessarily practical issue, rather like eating Pork in the early Church. Combine the conscience issue for the complementarians (who aren’t going to be part of a Church with a female leader) with the feeling of personal attack for the egalitarians (‘how dare you say I shouldn’t be a Pastor’/’my female Pastor is the most Godly Christian I know’) and you’ve got a spark and plenty of fuel.

  2. Thank you for bringing this important issue out!

    For me the debate on women in leadership often misses the point. I am passionate about seeing women in leadership positions because to not do so leads to the abuse of women. I know this may sound like a strong statement for some. However all forms of violence against women, whether they be domestic violence, female genital mutilation, or the murdering of girl babies are perpetrated because of the belief women are inferior. When our churches and communities do not have women in leadership positions we reinforce that belief.

    I know this is only your first post, so I hope and pray that as you move on through your thoughts and discussions, you will be enabling people to understand that although this about enabling women called to leadership to fulfill their purpose, it is also about preventing the abuse, rape, murder and torture of women and girls across the world.

    1. Thank you for raising this important aspect of the conversation.
      The question of “what are the implications of the belief and practice of the church on the rest of the world” is a hugely significant one and i hope we will be able to engage with is as we go on.
      How we phrase this part of the conversation is important because we don’t want to insinuate that all people that hold to a complementarian position are involved in domestic violence or the abuse of girls.
      Thanks again for your comment.

      1. I appreciate it’s important not to upset people. On the other hand, look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. The good people who walked by the injured man and did nothing were not responsible for injuring him – they weren’t bandits – but it seems pretty obvious to me that they deserve some criticism. If you don’t speak up against abuse, you’re walking past it. And yes, of course I know that challenge applies to me too!

    2. God Loves Women, I think you need to be very careful not to needlessly polarize the debate by implying that to take a complementarian position is to support the abuse, rape, murder and so on of women.

      All Christians, whether complementarian or egalitarian, would (I hope!) agree that making women inferior to men, or doing anything that leads to abuse of women, is completely wrong and unBiblical.

      It is of course important to discuss and engage with the broader impact and implications of different views, and the unintended consequences they might have.

      But one of the key issues is precisely whether excluding women from leadership does de facto make them inferior. Complementarians would say men and women are of equal worth, but have different roles.

      It’s important to assume good faith on the part of other Christians, to recognise sincere motives and Biblical convictions, even and especially when we believe them to be seriously misguided and harmful.

      This cuts both ways, of course – neither should complementarians make emotive attacks on egalitarians as liberal feminists out to destroy the authority of Scripture.

      We need to actually listen to one another, with open minds and open Bibles – sadly we’re often not very good at it.

      1. Really well said. I have been really interested in reading various blogs/twitters etc on this subject but do find it tends to get far too heated and I stop engaging because I find the comments are too intense and seem to border on venomous at times. This is NOT a salvation issue, so we need to be really careful that we bear with one another in love – and that includes those who hold a view we can’t understand at all.

      2. Hi Caleb, thanks for your thoughts. If we said that black people could not hold leadership roles we would be supporting and perpetuating racism, and in fact for a long time some Christians did perpetuate racism using the Bible to back up their argument.

        I am not saying that all complimentarians are abusive or believe abuse is acceptable. But the abuse of women stems from patriarchy, and the belief women are inferior. All perpetrator programmes working to enable men who choose to abuse to change are focused on challenging the beliefs that women are inferior and men are superior. For many Christian perpetrators of abuse, challenging the belief that women cannot lead will be important in that man being able to change his behaviour.

        Should we say women cannot lead in corporate environments or business? Should we not read books by women? It is partly as people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds have been able to enter positions of authority that racism has been reduced.

        I do not see my position as emotive, it is about reality. A third of women will be abused at present, we must be about challenging this, even if it requires us to re-evaluate some of the beliefs we see as integral to our faith. Just as the Christian advocates for slavery had to.

      3. Caleb I agree, we need both open minds and open Bibles to make any engagement in this debate fruitful, it is so easy to take a polarised view.

        I would add that we need to add prayerful attentiveness to this mix.

        Thank you Krish for beginning the conversation. I would describe myself as a Liberal evangelical which tends to confuse many, and really appreciate your desire to be peacemaking!

  3. yes, it was a good conversation.

    i really do understand the desire to hold a middle ground and to not let this cause division in the church.

    the problem with that is that, at the heart of this argument, is not whether women can wear a collar or not, but whether women and men are of equal humanity.

    it’s about the image of God – men and women are the image of God together and it is in this that we are called to partner with God in the mission of God, in order to build the Kingdom of God.

    if there is a disfunction in this relationship between men and women, then it isn’t just an issue of dog collars or even purple shirts and weird hats – it’s an issue of the Kingdom.

    but also, it means that women are trying to engage with people who have an underlying assumption that their humanity is somehow different, less than, a man’s humanity.

    in conversations about this, then women are stuffed before they even open their mouth, and often if they do open their mouth then that very action condemns them anyway.

    men who are ‘egalitarian’ might be able to flourish and survive in a situation of middle ground on this. but i rather think that women will never be able to. they might just survive, but they won’t flourish.

    1. As a former complementarian now egalitarian I haven’t met anyone who would disagree that ‘women and men are of equal humanity’ but I do agree that it is difficult for a woman to express her opinion in a complementarian context.

      I have found myself talking to egalitarians and explaining that the complementarian view is backed up by believing that women being subject to men is pre-fall, which seems to me to be their strongest point. They’re not consciously trying to oppress women,
      they’re trying to be guided by God’s spirit and word.

      My current position has been reached by studying a range of literature respected by each ‘side’ and concluding that complementarians are holding more tightly to doctrine than to scripture. Which is sad, because most of the people who taught me to read the bible, and from whom I learnt to teach the bible, came from a complementarian position.

      I suggest that the debate would be more constructive if everyone putting forward their point of view was able to thoroughly and accurately put forward the other point/s of view, however much they disagree with them. This is the only way that my husband and I ever successfully resolve an argument. Putting our own point of view again and again has never made any difference to the other one, and it won’t work with theology either.

      1. hi jay

        yes, i know that complimentarians wouldn’t acknowledge that they think women have a lesser humanity to men, but actually that’s the outworking of their theology. it stems from Genesis 2 in the different humanity of men and women (i disagree with this exegesis, but this is where it comes from for complimentarians), when this idea of a different humanity is rolled out and women are excluded from certain things, roles that happen to hold the power, then this shows that the humanity is considered ‘lesser’ – if not explicit it is an implicit hermeneutic to the rest of scripture and to the way women are responded to in community.

  4. Best book on the subject is: “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals” by William Webb. He argues for a redemptive movement hermeneutic. Complementarians find it hard to avoid use of this kind of hermeneutic on slavery, so they should be open to it on women’s ministry too.

  5. Thanks for this.

    The leadership debate is important, but when Christians divide themselves into complementarian and egalitarian camps based solely on leadership they miss the point. The Christian church should be whole-heartedly supporting campaigns against sexism and abuse, and that should be the most important focus of conversations about gender.

    One of the interesting aspects of the Twitter debate was the blurring of discussions. It might seem easy in theory to separate church leadership questions from other issues like family, workplace and abuse, but in practice that didn’t seem to be happening. I didn’t see posters saying “I understand and appreciate feminism, but I can’t accept a female bishop” – I saw posters saying “the Bible is clear that men and women have complementary roles, therefore feminism is WRONG, and they are all so angry all the time, and everyone knows they hate men, and they exaggerate all this constant complaining anyway.” The complementarian position seemed to lead straight to an outright and very troubling rejection of some pretty basic issues.

    If anyone claims to be a Christian complementarian, or to build common ground with complementarians, I want to see them acknowledge this. Don’t concentrate on keeping the men in power and their supporters happy – stand up and say what’s right. Say look, our society is not OK, and online culture can be a terrible place for women, and every time we say God doesn’t trust women with leadership we reinforce that. So if we’re going to hold to the male leadership position, we need to try very, very hard to teach our congregations to work hard for gender equality, and make sure that’s part of every conversation we have about gender.

    Is it possible to be a complementarian without encouraging the subordination of women in other areas of life? I honestly don’t know, but that’s a conversation complementarians and common-grounders need to take seriously.

    Common ground is very comfortable, but some things are more important than comfort.

  6. Great to see this being addressed. I don’t think it is being an issue at the moment any more or less than at other times (well, apart from the immediate twitter flurry…). It is a hardy perennial that doesn’t seem to go away. The issues are just the same as when I was in my 20s in the 1980s. That’s a bit depressing. The only difference seems to me to be the overwhelming immediacy of information and opinion.

  7. I’m not sure I understand the possibility of a middle way here – is it not a binary, women are given the opportunity to serve on an equal basis or they are not? Giving some concessions to what they are and are not allowed to do means they remain excluded from a selection of roles based solely on their gender. It is not a compromise that can satisfy feminists (of all genders) as women are still dis-empowered and excluded.
    I completely agree that the disagreement needs to happen in a culture of humility but I’m afraid that any ‘center ground’ will end up being an endorsement of the status quo, which is far from satisfactory in many churches.

  8. I don’t think that this is an issue *now* more so than at other times. Unfortunately it is a hardy perennial, and the same things are being said now as were said when I was in my twenties in the 1980s.
    I think that social media brings some things into sharper focus because of the overwhelming immediacy of information and opinions, and thus the sort of twitter flurry that happened last week. And social media does give a kind of license to everyone to express an opinion on everything all the time!
    And, of course, other issues are tearing other configurations of the church apart…
    I would really like to be able to say that perhaps this is the kairos moment to move forward on the men/women issue, but actually I think it’s a repeater and what we need to do at the moment is deal with it well for the current generation of young women and – a different issue – young men.

  9. This has also been on my mind and heart. Like you, I have been troubled by some of the rhetoric used in arguing this issue, and the sense of Christians ‘biting and devouring one another’. I am also unsure of the usefulness of debating things on Twitter; on blogs one can debate things more fully, and my impression is that Twitter with its 140 character limit means that people get very entrenched and just end up trading insults.

    I personally would want to separate out what I see as two related issues: the theology, and the problem of sexism in the church. I think that if the problem of sexism is addressed properly by the church, then actually there will be more ‘room’ and grace for people to disagree on the theological things.

    Why is this an issue particularly now? Much of it has to do with the Women Bishops decision in the Anglican church. I think Mark Driscoll’s recent tour in the UK gave him a bit more of a voice and platform here, which has made some egallitarians twitchy. I also get the sense that some women have just reached a boiling point where they have said ‘no more’. Perhaps the recent campaigns against slavery and sex trafficking have reminded us that abuse to women is still a MASSIVE issue worldwide.

    What do we do about it? Personally, I think it would be really good to have an ‘evangelicals against sexism’ type thing. It will be a challenge for complementarians to explain how this works out in the context of their theology, but it’s one that I think they can and should rise to. I have found sexism from ‘egalitarian’ quarters and actually working for and with complementarians I have been completely respected, valued and encouraged in my ministry (to both men and women). So I can confidently say that the complementarians position is NOT inherently sexist, and it pains me that evangelical Anglicans effectively want them out of the communion. That notwithstanding, I think perhaps complementarians need to take more initiative in expressing love, value and respect for women.

    This is just a starter thought – but I think the problem is sexism, not theology.

  10. It is such a shame that the issue of women in leadership / ministry has (and still is!) caused divisiveness. I am currently experiencing a potential divide in the circles I mix in – because I feel called into ministry and will soon be completing my training. The divide, whilst it is ‘done in love’, is still a divide, and has caused much pain and confusion on both parties. Such a shame and a difficult thing to deal with. I am pleased that this issue has come up a lot recently, not because I believe the louder the shout the more likely the ‘win’ – but because I hope that people will openly and honestly begin to discuss and study and debate and … perhaps to challenge tradition and firmly held views.

    I have started a series of posts telling my journey from complementarianism to egalitarianism. If you are interested it begins with this post … http://www.joroyal.com/2011/11/one-where-i-come-out-part-1.html – would love to hear your thoughts :)
    Jo

  11. Thanks for a very helpful post. I used to hold a complementarian position, despite myself, mainly because I saw it as the position most honouring to scripture.

    However, I ended up thinking it can actually be dishonouring to both scripture and God to take particular verses out of the context of God’s big story – let’s face it, if we are going to do that, we have to stone people to death for wearing outfits made of two kinds of cloth.

    I think there *can* be a middle way – because despite wanting to call myself a feminist, I do believe that men and women are different (no room for why here, except to say one word: testosterone!). I just think that men and women are like two overlapping circles in a venn diagram rather than completely separate circles. Men *tend* to certain behaviours and women *tend* to certain different behaviours, but I would hate to say that this means men and women are locked into those behaviours. Churches that advocate total equality between men and women still tend to have mainly male leadership: the entire ‘Emerging Church’ movement is a classic case in point. I’m not sure we should beat ourselves up too much about that, hopefully over time women will start to feel more confident in hearing God call them to whatever he has in store for them.

    1. Is the problem that women don’t hear God ‘call them to whatever he has in store for them’? Or could it be more complex than that? Organisations, including churches, can be gendered, that is operating in a way that privileges one sex over another and makes the experience of that sex the norm. I would say that church leadership privileges men in many ways, and there are far more barriers to women in leadership than women not hearing God.

  12. This is about what it means to be human – for women this is not an issue, it is the embodiment of who they are as persons. There is a pertinent test – how does a particular view read if the word woman is replaced by Asian, African, Hispanic, Black etc. Our sex, like our colour, is integral to who we are, created in the image of God. If we see that image expressed in our service of God, whether in exercising authority or ministry, to limit it on the basis of sex is no more acceptable that to do so on the basis of the colour of our skin. So sorry Kris, there is no middle way on this – a middle way on this is no more acceptable than saying there is a middle way on accepting those who are not white in leadership.

  13. I wonder whether this issue is really splitting the church at the moment.

    My part of the church (the Methodist bit) debated the issues back in the 1970s and 80s and came to the conclusion that God calls and gifts both men and women in all kinds of ministries.

    Since then men and women have exercised those ministries and we have seen proof of God’s anointing in the fruit of those ministries.

    In my daily Christian walk, this debate is in the same pile as my Spacehopper, flared jeans and Sony Walkman.

    I pray for any for whom this is still an issue.

  14. It may be that the idea of ‘middle ground’ is hard to find in this debate, but what I think we do need is a space to debate the issues through in a context where the authority of scripture is taken as axiomatic and where we listen respectfully and carefully to what the best people on the other side are actually saying rather than judging the other position by the ‘straw person’(!) of what the most extreme proponents say.

    I think that on both sides of this debate the idea that we may actually be interpreting scripture wrongly has such big implications for any of us that most of us don’t engage at all, we just defend out positions and caricature the other point of view.

    Personally I’m closer to the egalitarian view but earlier in the week I spoke a friend who takes the opposite view to me and he expressed the frustration that there always seems to be more “heat than light” when we debate this issue. On that, at least, I couldn’t agree more…

    1. John,

      I suggest that the phrase “more heat than light” is unfortunate.

      a) Things in this “debate” are incredibly unbalanced. Men can talk all they want about Biblical interpretation or Tradition but essentially none of us have any skin in the game. The cost to men of one side or the other winning is essentially nil. Nobody is suggesting that men should not be allowed to do things they currently do. Yet men frequently have strong opinions that they express from positions of power and authority on this issue that they can only possibly experience through empathy or through the fear of being replaced. When the stakes are low (as they are for all men in this debate) it is easy to complain that others are getting all excitable and hence use the expression “more heat than light”. For many women this debate is of critical importance. The outcome determines their whole future as it affects whether & how they can respond to God’s call. It feels horribly wrong from a justice viewpoint for men to have any say in how important this debate is and how it should be conducted. To give men say has parallels with asking a Slave Owner whether their slaves want to be free or asking a Banker whether it is appropriate for Bankers to get bonuses.

      b) Secondly you may not be aware but in recent days there has been a storm on a number of blogs and on twitter over the way men frequently accuse women of being shrill, angry, ungracious because of their tone in this debate. The phrase “more heat than light” can also be understood in that way. This is a problem as it is a manipulative way of hanging onto power by denigrating & belittling the people on the other side. It demands that women behave according to social norms in which they are not treated as equals of men. It applies rules differently to women by criticising them for behaviour that is celebrated and encouraged by men.

      1. Thanks Dave. My comment about more heat than light is not targeted at women (who are on both sides of this debate, of course). In my experience male contributions to the debate (on both sides) are just as emotive!

  15. Hi Krish, I hope you are well. Ive enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for your time and effort!

    I write to you because I would love to read your views on the “Sleign in the Spirit” movement.

    This has been a contraversial discussion among christians and in Brazil it has been a topic that generates much conflict.

    Generally, I find that three different views exist.

    1 those that are against it. That believe that these are NOT manifestations of the Holy Spirit and instead represent an influence of cult worship practices. They will argue that these manifestations are not found in the Bible and therefore are foreign to the church.

    2 those that are in favor. They argue that certain preachers are specially gifted or annointed for a ministry that perform signs and wonders like Moses in the OT. Such preachers will have the ability to knock people over with the power of the Holy Spirit.

    3 Those that are not sure but choose to accept it. These Christians are usually skeptical about such manifestations but choose to believe in order not to put the Holy Spirit “in a box”. They will say: who are we to judge what the Holy Spirit can and cannot do? They will claim that not everything is found in the Bible and if the Name of Jesus is being preached then the church should support it.

    What are your thoughts dear friend?
    Best to you!

  16. I wonder whether this issue is resolvable by discussion.

    On one side are Bible-believing Christians who hold that the Bible shows that certain roles are not and never can be open to women.

    On the other side are Bible-believing Christians who hold that while the Bible is the word of God, it was written in a certain cultural situation and needs to be applied to a new different culture.

    As the two groups are starting from different places, I wonder whether they can ever come together after rational debate. The only way forward is for one group to say, “OK, we’ll try your interpretation of Scripture, and see whether God uses it”.

  17. Krish, I think the motivation to keep people talking about the issue, and to find a way of working together and respecting each other in spite of our differences is really good. But my question about a ‘centre-ground coalition’ is what happens in that space and who gets to decide? It is one thing to be generous and respectful about the difference in our beliefs about men and women; it is another thing to be generous about our practice.

    My concern is that the ‘centre-ground’ for shared worship and mission will end up being complementarian by default, not a place that genuinely accepts the beliefs and practices of all sides of the conversation.

    I won’t clog up your comments with any more for now, but have expanded on these thoughts on my blog: http://blog.sophianetwork.org.uk/2011/11/thoughts-on-the-middle-ground.html

  18. Hi Krish
    This is an interesting debate and one that I personally continue to have a bit of a struggle with! I would say that I was brought up in a church with Complementarian view but have grown more towards the Egalatarian model. Why? I think that although I am still personally a little uncomfortable with the idea of women preachers, we have to admit that the Evangelical Church in the 20th & 21st Centuries has been perfectly happy to commission, support and bless their gifted women in ministries throughout the world. Its almost the “where there is no man” approach – if there isn’t the primary choice, we’ll put up with the next best thing! This is surely not what we mean. I don’t think this does the church, or the gospel any favours. If women contribute to our Bible Studies (and probably write them!), teach our children and young people, lead our worship and prayers then we are already recognising their spiritual contribution and should treasure it.

  19. Very interesting post. As a Christian woman who holds a complementarian theological position and many feminist views, I’m interested in how people describe themselves as ‘complementarian’ or ‘egalitarian’. Is one’s position on this particular issue of faith strong enough, important enough, to be something which defines oneself? If it is, then I don’t know that the debate is possible, because by attacking my position, you attack my definition of me. A feminist approach to the subject would be to recognised not only our different personal perspectives, but also the systems we find ourselves in.
    I have always been struck by how when ‘leadership’ or ‘eldership’ or whatever the debated position is, represents status or power, or is seen as the only or main way in which a person can serve God and their community in the full time capacity are called to, then the debate is fiercest and hardest and women and their churches lose more by being disallowed.
    Perhaps therefore the issue isn’t in our view of complementarian or egalitarian, but in the meaning we place upon some roles in church life compared to others?
    I believe if we take the view that to be an elder is somehow more than to put out chairs, or do the children’s work, or say something encouraging one day, then everyone who isn’t an elder loses out and the discrimination we show is wider than sexism, and carries devastating effects on to all people, not just women.

    1. I agree that no role is subordinate to another within the church community but that is not what the issue is about. Leaders in a church community have been called by God and the church to exercise their spiritual gifts in a particular way. If you have spiritual gifts of leadership and cannot exercise them within the church then, however many chairs you stack with a cheerful heart you know that this is not the primary role God has called you to. If you are in a church where women cannot exercise spiritual leadership and oversight then you have a problem and you usually have to leave or live in a church where you know you do not ‘fit’ so you no longer feel you truly belong. How you accommodate women in this position is an issue that I know some US complementarians are trying to address. Unfortunately such women are generally channelled into leading the women only type ministries thus perpetuating the gender divide in church and reinforcing stereotypes even more. It’s a difficult one.

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