There have been numerous really wonderful articles on women in ministry lately, and I have been so busy both with my own writing and editing, proofing, and formatting my very unsuppressed wife’s new book on grief, that I have not been able to get involved.
I’m going to point to a couple of posts on Dave Warnock’s blog, and add just a few short words of my own so that if any of my readers have been missing all this, they’ll have a place to start.
I dove back into the issue with Dave’s most recent post on the issue, Responding to comment storm, in which he deals with the storm of comments that resulted from this post in which he mentions that his wife refused to make a certain person her friend on Facebook.
My attention was caught especially by just a couple of lines:
. . . It is not and cannot be up to you to judge whether your actions make women feel inferior. You cannot do that, I cannot do that, no man can do that. Only women can judge whether complementarianism and male headship does that to them, in that way the evidence is clear.
I have also frequently heard the refrain that certain men’s wives and daughters and totally happy and nobody feels suppressed in their churches. I also do know women who are complementarians, and would say the same thing. But I find it interesting that this apparent happiness is to be denied to others. There are many reasons why a woman might not feel suppressed in a church where leadership is confined to males. She might not be called to leadership herself. She might truly believe complementarian doctrine and thus stay away from such positions out of obedience to God as she sees it. I do think there is a certain peace in obedience to what you truly believe is God’s will, even if you are wrong.
But then there is the other side, reflected in Dave’s comment that I quoted. We truly can’t speak for others. We can’t know how our attitudes and our speech impacts other people. I recently was able to rejoice as a woman with whom I am acquainted was sent out to pastor a church. She had felt God’s call when she was 10 years old, I believe, but her grandfather told her that women could not be pastors and she should forget about it. She did, but then with her children grown the call came again, and now she has the peace and joy of obeying that call. What impact did that grandfather’s denial have on God’s kingdom?
But I really want to share my own personal perspective. My wife and I attended a service at a much more conservative church than we normally attend. At that service, the minister expressed the complementarian view rather forcefully, and then offered communion. It was open communion. I was simply amused at the sermon. I thought it was theologically and Biblically naive, though presented by someone who has a PhD in Biblical studies. It wasn’t just the complementarianism but the related church structures that he improperly inferred from scripture. Basically, I saw it as a theological debate.
My wife, however, felt differently. I could tell that she was hesitant and a bit withdrawn during communion. She told me afterward that she had questioned even taking communion, but had finally forced herself to do so. The man was still a Christian brother. But what was a theological debate to me was a personal affront to her. What’s more, she was right, and if I had been fully sensitive to her perspective, I would have heard it as an affront. It said, “You are not what you claim to be.” She is called to be a teacher. She is a teacher of exceptional skill. Denying that role is an affront. Complementarians don’t see it. They think it’s some kind of pride issue. But of course the only people who are to humble themselves are women.
For my wife to “humble herself” under those circumstances, however, would be an affront to God, because she truly believes she is called by God. It’s not something she can just put aside and ignore because some bigoted church leaders say it isn’t so. There’s a prophetic action against injustice that is called for, a proclamation: “I am called of God.”
Does she need to disrupt someone else’s service? No. It’s their church. She doesn’t need or want to do that. But she isn’t going back there, and she will be very clear in other circumstances as to what her call is and to the fact that she rejects any claim that denies it.
But let me get more personal about myself. I also cannot claim to define how others will feel about what I say and how I act. I have been egalitarian since at least my college years. I support ordination of women in ministry. I believe my wife’s call is at least as important as my own, and quite possibly more so. (I have no standard of measure, so who knows?)
But when my wife felt she was supposed to submit a resume for a job in another city, she took some time to bring the issue to me. Why? She felt that I would not consider the move because of my own work circumstances. What had I done to give her this impression? I’d made some negative comments about the job option involved, amongst other comments that seemed minor to me. And I would note that my wife is not particularly shy. That particular job didn’t happen, but I thank God for the opportunity it gave for me to speak positively and precisely about how I viewed her calling. I made assumptions about that, and I should not have done so. (Note that we married when we were both in our 40s. There hadn’t been a large amount of time for her to evaluate my response.)
There’s a certain amount of man vs. woman stuff here. I tend to breeze by things about feelings; she doesn’t. But at the same time, none of us should assume that we can speak for someone else on what will seem oppressive and what will hurt. We need to give consideration to what they express themselves and make as certain as we can that they are free to make such expressions.
Final note: Dave has a number of good links related to this issue here