Two Steps Back, and Proof Texts Too

Two Steps Back, and Proof Texts Too

Via Aristotle’s Feminist Subject, I found the story of the “True Woman” movement. See their manifesto as well.

Earlier today, John Hobbins was calling for “respectful dialogue” as the “need of the hour.” I like John Hobbins, and he displays great wisdom. Respectful dialogue is both needed and rarely to be had.

Unfortunately, with respect to the issue of women in leadership, I have a hard time complying with that request. It’s not the nature of the logical arguments involved. I do regard the complementarian position to be an egregious misapplication of scripture, using a collection of particulars to overcome the force of the overarching and underlying narrative. It uses a few comments by Paul to transform the incarnation into some sort of petty power play.

But that’s not why I’m emotional about this, despite my fairly heavy language in the last paragraph. I read, hear, and speak this issue in the shadow of the many women I know whom God gifted for leadership, and whose behavior these women would call ungodly.

It’s not that they want to raise children. Many of the women of whom I speak raised families as well, and I do not intend to speak ill of those women–or men–who make a choice to be homemakers. It’s a praiseworthy choice. It’s not so praiseworthy, however, when one pretends that choice makes one spiritually superior, or makes efforts to restrict the choices for other women who may feel somewhat differently.

At the emotional level I know women who are definitely gifted, ranging from Lucille Knapp, the gifted woman who taught me my first two years of Greek to Dr. Leona Running who taught me such languages as Syriac, Akkadian, and Middle Egyptian, to my wife Jody Neufeld who is a gifted teacher capable of taking spiritual concepts and bringing them down to daily life.

The problem, you see, is that when I hear someone say that a woman can’t speak or lead in a church, it’s not some abstract thing. I see those women and the myriad of others like them, being told that it doesn’t matter how God has gifted them–they better shut up, go away, and make that other choice.

Egalitarians can, and should, celebrate women who choose to make their ministry in their home. But complementarians will find it impossible to celebrate those women who choose to exercise their God-given gifts of leadership in the church, or those men who choose to be homemakers.

And that leaves me with a strongly, even emotionally, held position.

30 thoughts on “Two Steps Back, and Proof Texts Too

  1. Thanks for the link, but Thank you even more for your observations from personal experience(s)!

    (I understand John’s call, but as your comments suggest a mistaken conservatism with respect to the Bible inherently cannot always “respect dialogue.” An analogy is the position slave-owning bible believers took on race-based slavery in the U.S. through the late nineteenth century. “Can’t we all just get along, in respectful dialogue? But if not, let there be seccession for the sake of our interpretation of scripture and our god-given hierarchical position over the other.” Oh no, I’ve ranted and should have appealed to personal experience.)

  2. Henry and Kurk,

    You will not be surprised if I come back right at you and say that, precisely in this debate, as in a few others, such as in the debate around homosexuality, if we cannot engage in holy conversation in which we are as careful as possible not to return evil for evil, why bother saying that Romans 12 stands higher in the hierarchy of truth than Psalm 139:19-24?

    As far as I can see, Kurk, you fail to make this important distinction. Put it this way. How do you think of John Brown?
    I was raised to celebrate him in song.

    I think of him as a scourge of God who killed people in God’s name, and who was killed by God in turn. A Molotov cocktail set on fire by the sins of slaveowners and the wrath within him that combusted in the process. Woe unto his random victims. Woe unto him and his abetters.

    On a few issues, gender construction and sexual orientation chief among them, there are people who have been immolated by others, now immolate in turn, and self-immolate in the process (online and off). It is not too much to say that some of them are wannabe John Browns.

    How are we to respond? I do not pretend that a solution is easy to come by. But I have decided that I will not condone or justify radioactive behavior even and especially in the name of a cause I believe in. I learned this early on, in high school already, from some of my teachers who were just “returning” from being militants in underground terrorist organizations. They carefully explained the contradiction they now understood, and which they could not justify. It is the contradiction of promoting violence in the name of stopping it.

    There is an existential reason for my stance which I will share. I have, besides all my friends and family who are egal, other friends and family who grew up in and continue to live out their marriage in the “love-obey” framework; others still, younger than I am, who, though they grew up in an egal setting, have embraced a more complementarian framework; others still, for cultural reasons (e.g., from an Asian matrix), who think of marriage in non-Western and non-egal terms.

    It is unacceptable to me that all of these people be classed as moral perverts, as aiders and abetters of rape and abuse because they are not egal and because they have reservations about egalism. It is an act of violence on the part of an egalitarian if, in a discussion with non-egalitarians, commitment to egal dogma is stipulated as a precondition of dialogue.

    There is also an academic reason for my stance. I agree with you, Henry, that Scripture is misapplied in, for example, excluding women from the pulpit or from teaching in a seminary. I am also unconvinced by complementarian arguments to the effect that, because Paul and Peter did not shatter the “patriarchal” mold of marriage of their day, but filled it with new content, that we must do likewise. But I am also unconvinced by “biblical” egalitarian exegesis which twists passage after passage with a view to making Paul and Peter anticipators of a view of marriage and gender equality in the life of the church that did not exist, historically, until after the rise of modern feminism (the latter I accept as a gift from God’s hand but also, like all culture, something very contradictory which has also had and continues to have devastating negative consequences).

    Indeed, the New Testament easily supports more than one direction on these issues. For example, a reasonable case can be made for excluding women from the pulpit based on the New Testament. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do that, and have a long theological tradition which confirms that for them. On the other hand, a reasonable case can be made for allowing women to preach and ordaining them as presbyters, even if both practices are not envisioned in the Pastoral epistles.

    I would think it obvious that those who argue otherwise are possessed of a sectarian spirit.

    Honesty is such a lonely word.

  3. I think others need to know that John accused me of being a “pro abortion feminist” on the basis of no information whatsoever, and then said that I had a “non-egal upbringing with my mother in authority,” once again without actually meeting my mother or having this information from anyone. These are simply his fabrications but I won’t speculate on motive.

    In addition to this he has attacked me for numerous things that I have never said. If he comes back here, no doubt he will once again attack me without citing me.

    If he would like me to cite where he called me pro abortion or where he attacked my upbringing. I would be happy oblige.

    I would certainly like to see a level of dialogue where people did not feel compelled to say things that were not true and then delete protests.

  4. Suzanne,

    As far as I’m concerned, this is not about you, but about those I hear you taking aim at. Here are two recent examples of comments by you on my blog that I find inflammatory. “Spark and tinder” both, to quote your own self-description.

    (1) You quote me as saying about you: “You are thus at war with the vast majority of religious formations in existence.” You added: “I am happy with that.”

    Well, I’m not happy with that, because the vast majority of my friends and family belong to a religious formation you are at war with. However well-intentioned you may be, I don’t want your “spark and tinder” near them.

    (2) In another thread, you said: “I believe the equal function of woman must be protected first in order to have any open discussion of gender.”

    I’ve heard statements like that before. It’s a standard feminist line. You are welcome to it, but I remain appalled by it. It excludes everyone who does not hold to the functional equality of women from participation in an “open discussion.”

    It is a coercive statement, and reminds me of your campaign to outlaw the “love/obey” framework. Your position is a recipe for a discussion in which non-egals have no right to speak. Believing traditional Jews, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, many evangelicals – all of whom in various ways do not accept the equal function of women: you exclude them from participation in an open-ended dialogue. I find your precondition totally unacceptable.

    Despite your admission to that effect, perhaps you are not at war with religious formations in which women cannot serves as rabbis/ priests /presbyters (it is no different, of course, in Buddhism or Hinduism).

    But I cannot figure out how this might be, since the equal function of women, in the example just cited, is not protected by these formations. Believing members of these formations do not meet your precondition.

    For the rest, you forget that I apologized for mischaracterizing your position on abortion. These were my words:

    I went over the CBE scroll thread, and you are right. I remembered incorrectly. I apologize.

    The other instances you cite, I assure you, are cases in which I misunderstood something you said, or you misunderstood something I said.

    It is certainly my right to delete comments from my blog that I regard as offensive. It is certainly your right to post them on your blog if you wish. Be my guest. It’s a free country, as we say this side of the border.

    Finally, I wish to say this.

    Though I think that your way of coming at the debate is counter-productive, I don’t see myself as being less egal than you are. It’s just that I am not a convert to egalism, or a recovering fundamentalist. I come from a long line of egalitarians, three or four generations at least. I know the territory. I am grateful for it. It is not heaven, but it is not hell either.

    It’s about time, for someone in my position, to look at egalitarianism with a critical eye, identify excesses, unintended consequences, blind spots. All “isms” have them, including egalitarianism.

    I don’t expect you to be interested. Believe me, I find that understandable.

  5. !) You quote me as saying about you: “You are thus at war with the vast majority of religious formations in existence.” You added: “I am happy with that.”

    Focus on “thus,” you put me in a corner and I said “I am happy with that.” Surely the sarcasm in response to your vicious attack is evident.

    That is a different thing from my going about making war on religion. You can’t quote me making war on any religion, as you put it.

    I am particularly NOT happy that you saying things about me that are not true.

    If I remember correctly, you wish to see traditional and neo-traditional forms of Judaism and Christianity outlawed insofar as they do not subscribe to the principle of functional equality of the genders.

    I have never said that it should be illegal for women not to be in clerical positions in any religion at all. You cannot quote any comment that I have ever made about women becoming priests, rabbis, ministers or anything else. The only citation you have given here from me says nothing at all.

    I have said that I wish the vow of obedience to be made illegal. I still do. This is comparable to differences in gun laws, drunk driving and smoking laws. Differences of opinion on these things are normally accepted in civil society.

    (2) In another thread, you said: “I believe the equal function of woman must be protected first in order to have any open discussion of gender.”

    I stand by that completely. Men who do not believe in the equal function of women, must suspend that belief during the time that they are in debate with women about the equality of women in order for it to be an open discussion.

    I went over the CBE scroll thread, and you are right. I remembered incorrectly. I apologize.

    My memory is that this was the time you apologized for saying that I had said something rather negative about Sarah Sumners which I had not said. Perhaps you could check and see if that was not the case. Sumners was the subject of that post and not abortion. Abortion was something you fabricated on another previous occasion out of thin air.

    I also do not remember you apologizing for entertaining everyone at your family reunion with a story of personal abuse which I revealed to you, because to you it sounded much better told as a joke apparently. (My fault for telling it but I should be happy that it afforded you so much entertainment. Somehow I am not. Perhaps this incident explains the sarcasm that I used above when I said “I am happy with that.” On your blog that means I am bitterly unhappy because you lie about me and make jokes about my personal history.)

    I do not remember you apologizing for saying that I was misquoting Augustine’s Confessions regarding the abuse that Monica did or did not suffer. I do remember your saying that a woman who escapes violence diminishes Monica and Saint Peter. Is this your normal counsel to women who live a lifetime with frequent violence? You have no proof that Monica was beaten by her husband in the first place but you insisted that I was disrespecting her anyway. What nonsense. All I wanted was the truth.

    I do not remember you apologizing for saying that I had a non-egal upbringing with a mother in authority either. Perhaps I missed that but I do believe that a request for you to withdraw this and apologize was sent to you by email and when you did not respond I asked to have the compegal blog comments frozen.

    I could go on. But what is the point?

    All I am asking now is that you apologize for your outright disgusting lie about my parents. You know that it is mockery. I was brought up in a traditional family with wonderful parents who had mutual respect. If you want to call that “non-egal with the mother in authority” your only motive can be to discredit my family.

  6. I have persisted in believing up until recently that this was a misunderstanding on your part. I have tried to make comments in a rather minor manner to see if I had been mistaken and that the misrepresentation of my views was only incidental or deliberate. I now believe that it has been deliberate. I should have known when you went on about abortion that you simply have no idea what kind of person I am.

    Beyond all this, you write,

    Since, as you know, I’m convinced that Peter and Paul did not object to the subordination of women per se but took the patriarchal marriage model as their point of departure and filled it with Christian content, just as they did in the case of slavery, I cannot follow you here.

    and

    a willingness to encourage a positive, life-enhancing exercise of authority on the part of men and women in both hierarchical and reciprocal arrangements, has a much better chance of producing positive results than more polarization and further preaching of the myth of gender equality.

    You are not opposed to the subordination of women, nor to hierarchical and non-reciprocal exercise of authority in marriage. You believe gender equality is a myth. You know I refer to the most basic of gender equality. I have made no call for women priests, nor for women in the workplace. I have not said that women are the same.

    I want a woman to be treated a an equal. As an equal human being. It is something that I have experienced far too little in my life. Far too little. You pontificate on something you know nothing about.

  7. Thank you, Suzanne, for so thoroughly misrepresenting me. I hope that makes us even.

    Should readers of this thread wish to know what I think on a whole host of topics that come up in the compegal debate, I encourage you to check out the relevant posts on my blog, but also, the posts I co-authored with Marilyn Johnson and my long conversations with a group of comps and egals at compegalitarian moderated by Wayne Leman.

  8. I’m trying to wrap my brain around the direction of this debate and what to do about it. I am very much opposed to to comment censorship beyond the minimum necessary to keep things legal. On the other hand, hurtful things said about others can easily cross a line as well, and I haven’t had the time to sort this one out.

    When I speak about taking a strong position, it is not my intent that we get excessively personal. I know that these issues do get personal, and it’s hard to avoid. In most cases in real life, I am dealing with a particular person called to a particular ministry who is being blocked by some other person. Thus it gets personal.

    It is not my intent, however, to suggest that those who disagree with me should be denied the right to run their congregations as they believe, nor do I believe they are evil people. I reserve the word evil for those whose intentions are also nasty.

    What I won’t do is pretend that I think that complementarianism is simply another optional position. I believe it tends to be hurtful and I believe it holds the body of Christ back.

    I’m giving myself time to consider whether to censor the thread or not, and I will welcome e-mail from participants (and others) with their views. My well-publicized e-mail address is: henry@energion.com.

    1. You’re not over-reacting. Speaking as someone with (obviously) marginal interest in the specifics of the debate, it does appear as if we’ve imported a high-octane flamewar from elsewhere.

      For me personally, the worst part isn’t the flamewar itself – those can be quite edifying if done right – but the fact that both participants are busily referring to stuff that happened a long time ago in a comments thread far far away. It makes the rest of us feel excluded. Flamewars should be equal-opportunity, darnit!

      One solution would be to wipe the thread (or create a new one) and ask people to post ab initio, without reference to other message boards or blogs except as necessary to provide evidence for factual, on-topic statements.

      Another solution would be to disemvowel statements that you feel cross the line from “your decision sucks” to “you suck”. A wordpress plugin is available here.

  9. Henry,

    I did not look hard enough for your email. Thanks.

    All I can say is that I wish that what I have said does misrepresent John, but it doesn’t. He does not deny saying any of those things to me or about me among a list of other hurtful things.

    Once again he refuses to acknowledge and apologize for whqt he said about my family. He was appealed to in an email first.

    I will not go back in time but these threads are open for examination.

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/12/disfiguring-the-text-why-de-translations-of-the-bible-are-unreliable/comments/page/3/#comments

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/12/the-poisoning-of-the-evangelical-mind-antidotes.html

    I understand that for John complementarianism is another equally viable option to egalitarianism.

    That is his choice. However, I protest something rather different. This does not give him the right to spread false rumours about someone.

    My understanding is that he will only associate with those who do not protest the subordination of women or who do not preach the myth of gender equality. This has an affect on the participation of women in the bibliosphere at large.

  10. Past compegal threads are fully viewable. The nuances in the positions of those who participate are clear after an hour or two of reading. The variety of viewpoints is fascinating.

    New threads begin on a regular basis. David McKay, a firm complementarian, has just joined the team. Compegal has struggled to be a safe place for complementarians to discuss their views with egalitarians without preconditions. It may yet succeed. It is a fragile experiment, and I wish it well.

  11. I meant that the comment threads have been closed. As far as I know this is still the case. Mercifully, the repeated and disrespectful demands that you made on me to differentiate myself from some long dead feminist author of your choice have been buried, as well as your mockery of certain personal comments I made.

    This is the most recent attack that you made on compega, that I had a,

    “non-egal upbringing with the mother in authority”

    Are you denying that you said this? Are you denying that you have no information to support this? Are you denying that you have not met my parents nor do you have any information to support this from anybody?

    Perhaps you could explain your reasons for making this kind of comment, of which there were many, and explain why you feel that you have no accountability or need to apologize for this kind of outright untruth, even when asked in private.

  12. I am sure that you are aware that your attitude was described here. I did not participate in these comments but three out of ten commenters on this poll were “concerned” about the general tone of the comments.

    An attack on an idea is generally considered to be allowed and the most recent compegal post indicates that both comp and egal take hardline positions against the opposing view.

    However, ad hominem attacks, mockery and asking someone to defend their views against on issues that have not been brought up, the introduction of comments about someone’s family, all of this is simply not something that non-Christians would consider normal.

    I have to say that the boundaries in terms of truth and ad hominem, fell far below anything I would expect eleswhere.

  13. Suzanne,

    Once more:

    The instances you cite, I assure you, are cases in which I misunderstood something you said, or you misunderstood something I said.

    You impute shameful motives to me, which I cannot apologize for, because I don’t have them.

    I wish you the very best. I will continue to stand up for what I believe to be true. May you do the same – just not on my blog, since, as this thread shows, you regard me with the deepest suspicion. I would be foolish to provide a forum for your suspicions.

    I go back and forth with people all the time, on line and off, in which the debate is lively and spontaneous and not necessarily carefully thought out. In that context, the debate sometimes progresses by drawing out the implications of the positions of a conversation partner in a way that forces the other to backtrack or reformulate.

    I’m used to misunderstanding and being misunderstood in that kind of debate. Clearly, you are not. Nevertheless, on your own initiative for a long time you kept coming back for more, on my blog and on compegal. I’ve never understood why.

  14. If you lied about me by accident then you should have been adult enough to apologize.

    Nobody makes up a position for someone else that they are pro abortion if they have not mentioned the topic. No one says “oh right, you were non-egal with your mother in charge” because of an honest misunderstanding.

    I was an original blog author on compegal and I have left the blog for good for the single reason that your untruths about me could not be moderated out. You were sent a request by email to apologize for that last comment and if you answered it never reached me.

    I am not concerned about your motives, I am concerned about your behaviour. I asked you repeatedly to cite me when you wanted to attack me, but you refused. You refused to ever support your statements against me with fact.

    You may go back and forth with other people but I don’t know of anyone else that you have lied about so that they have left a blog that was originally a place where they belonged.

    Once again, I don’t know what your motives are. They are mysterious to me. But when you cause damage by publishing untruths, you must still be responsible for your action.

  15. What galls me is that I have never previous to this attacked you. I don’t know why you have made a practice of deriding my personal life and everything I write for the last year. If you want to talk about the wonder and glory of female subordination that is your business, but to simply attack me for your own unexpressed motives is beyond my comprehension.

  16. To bring this back to the issue at hand, I’m not sure your post, Henry, represents complementarianism adequately, at least if it’s to be taken as a discussion of complementarianism itself (rather than certain views within complementarianism that aren’t representative of the whole or, in my understanding, even the majority).

    One thing you assume several times is that complementarians don’t approve of women with teaching gifts using those gifts in the church. The vast majority of complementarians I’ve had any contact with, either in personal life or in scholarship I’ve read, do not hold such a position. They do tend to think scripture supports a restriction in the role relationships of women in teaching in the church. In particular, they do not think Paul condones a woman teaching in an authoritative way over a man. But that leaves room for a lot of teaching in the church. The most conservative way to take it is that women shouldn’t teach at all in the presence of men, who might thereby be taught by women. But even that allows for a lot of teaching in the church. Teaching women and children is certainly teaching in the church. So even on the most conservative interpretation of the complementarian claim, it seems to me that it’s false to say that complementarians don’t approve of women using the gift of teaching in the church.

    But you also have to ignore those who do allow for some instances of women teaching in the presence of men. Craig Blomberg and Gordon Hugenberger, for example, defend a complementarian position that allows for women as elders as long as the head elder is a man, and Blomberg goes even further in allowing women to preach to the whole congregation, taking prophecy in the assembly in I Corinthians to include preaching, and he sees women obviously giving prophesy with men present, as long as their elders are present for evaluation and as long as there’s a male authority permitting it. This, admittedly, isn’t the majority complementarian view (as the view in the previous paragraph is). But it’s still a complementarian position, and your post takes complementarianism itself not to allow women preaching over a congregation with men present. One complementarian position that’s most common does prohibit that (but not all teaching in the church as a general matter). But complementarianism itself does not.

    I would say similar things about the more common view that men and women can co-lead Bible studies together (whether only in cases where both actually lead together or in the moderate position where what matters is that there’s a male leader present, even if he’s not leading at all in a particular Bible study session).

    There are also plenty of complementarians who think teaching in a non-authoritative way (in terms of the authority of the church, anyway) is perfectly fine. Even Wayne Grudem has argued that there’s nothing wrong with women teaching in seminary, and he doesn’t even just mean teaching homiletics and missions. He means teaching biblical studies and theology. He’d include Greek as well, I’m sure, to bring it to the issue you mention. While that does express a kind of authority, he doesn’t see it as church-related authority in the sort of way that he takes I Timothy 2 to be dealing with. He sees it as more akin to the kind of secular authority that most complementarians would have no problem with women having, such as authority in the workplace or government. (I know there are holdouts, but I think one thing the Sarah Palin discussions showed is that those are the minority among complementarians, even if as prominent a figure as John Piper had mixed feelings on the matter. But it doesn’t matter for my point that this is majority or minority. The fact that a significant number of complementarians hold the view is enough to show that the view you’re objecting to with this sort of point isn’t complementarianism but a particular version of it.)

    I’m also completely at a loss as to how you think the incarnation gets transformed into a petty power play. On the most common form of complementarianism, the Son is in eternal submission to the Father. On the part of the Son, this is certainly anything but a power play. But I can’t even see how it’s a power play on the part of the Father. If it’s eternal submission, then this has always been the case, and no one is forcing it on the other, nor is anyone changing to make a role-equal situation role-unequal. So how does the incarnation come out to be a power play? I just don’t get it. You might argue that the particular motivations of particular complementarians are out of some unhealthy desire for power in the church by men, although I think that would be something worth being extremely hesitant to endorse in particular cases without significant evidence, simply because it’s a serious charge and serious charges require particular evidence when there’s a far more plausible explanation, i.e. that they simply see this as what scripture requires given that there are plenty of passages where it does on the surface at least seem to require it.

    1. I’m not sure that I can stand the shock of a reply to this post that is on-topic, substantive, and responds to what I said. That could restore faith in miracles! 🙂

      I’m going to try to be brief in a comment, and perhaps I will promote this back to a new post. Part of the issue here has to do with a lack of nuance in a short post, and in the case of the incarnation with some poor phrasing on my part. After I clarify, we’ll still disagree, but do so more accurately.

      I do not mean to characterize all complementarians as a single position. I have encountered the various forms that you mention. My own position is nonetheless directly opposed to those other options as well.

      In clarifying let me start with the incarnation. I had no intention of saying that the incarnation was some kind of power play within the trinity, though I see that I left that reading wide open. Rather than reword, let me start at another point.

      My own view of hierarchy, not to mention Christianity as a whole starts with the incarnation. In my view, the incarnation is the one absolutely essential element, and it is the element that really changes human relationships fundamentally and profoundly. Scripturally, the implications may be seen stated at Galatians 3:28, or variously in 1 John 4, or simply in the two commands of Jesus to love God and our neighbor. I don’t mean to use those texts as proof-texts, but rather to suggest that they express the implications of the incarnation in practical terms.

      In an analogy with the incarnation itself, we live in a world where we stand in the tension of being totally here and totally “there.” It is in that context that I think that our normal views of male and female roles and authority fall to what the incarnation implies. This doesn’t make men and women the same; what it does is make each person, male or female, subject to God in similar ways. I think this works out practically in directly relating gifts and call to role in the church. If God gifts a woman as a leader and calls a woman as a leader, then that woman should be a leader, and I don’t think there is any fundamental theological reason to reject that call. If the person gifted and called is a man, the same thing applies.

      There were two unfortunate aspects of my previous statement on the incarnation. First, it could be misunderstood as a statement regarding the trinity, i.e. a suggestion that there was a power play within the trinity. As a side-note, I reject subordination amongst the persons of the trinity, but I also would reject any notion that there might be a power-play among them. Such a thing is not logically conceivable to me.

      Second, however, was the broad brush. I do know of those who hold that since God became incarnate as a male, that there is a special leadership role accorded to human males. That position is the one I directly intended to address. In the broader sense, however, I do believe that any position that rejects full service of all persons, male or female, as gifted by God fails to live up fully to the meaning of the incarnation. That, however, is a different charge.

      Since I’ve never written extensively on the topic of gender roles in church, it not being a significant issue in my community directly, I suspect I will have to do some more clarification, restatement, and even possibly apology (in the “sorry” sense, not “defense” sense!). That’s no problem–I’m used to it!

  17. If God gifts a woman as a leader and calls a woman as a leader, then that woman should be a leader, and I don’t think there is any fundamental theological reason to reject that call. If the person gifted and called is a man, the same thing applies.

    I fully agree with that, but the point of contention isn’t that. It’s whether God’s gifting and calling as a leader or teacher requires someone expressing that gift in a way that constitutes authority over men. I think it doesn’t, so I don’t see how restricting a range of authority means not using the gifting of God. If complementarianism is correct, then God doesn’t call women to lead men in such a way except in rare exceptions, but it doesn’t mean God doesn’t call women to be leaders with significant influence.

    I do know of those who hold that since God became incarnate as a male, that there is a special leadership role accorded to human males. That position is the one I directly intended to address.

    I’ve heard that view, but I don’t think it’s standard complementarianism, which goes the other way. Most complementarians, in my experience, don’t see the incarnation in a male as the basis of complementarian gender roles but as a consequence of a decision already made by God for complementarian gender relations with presumptive male authority in the church and home.

    I think ultimately I have the same view as you about the implications of the incarnation for Christian equality, but I think that’s what distinguishes complementarianism from the view complementarians have always tried to distance themselves from. The catchphrase is “equality but complementarity”. The roles aren’t equal in the same sense that the giftings and callings from any believer to any other aren’t equal, but the kind of equality Gal 3:28 speaks of doesn’t violate Paul’s insistence on diversity of gifting and calling in I Corinthians 12. Complementarians just extend that to male-female difference of roles, but the same general point is one that egalitarians recognize, so I’m not sure the application of the incarnation is really any different between the two views. It’s more the scope of how that application works itself out. Both views still accept absolute equality spiritually with respect to salvation and our love for each other.

    1. Jeremy – you brought this down to the critical point, which is good, but your argument from there goes to one I expect, but am never that happy to hear, because it’s hard for me to take it seriously.

      You say:

      I fully agree with that, but the point of contention isn’t that. It’s whether God’s gifting and calling as a leader or teacher requires someone expressing that gift in a way that constitutes authority over men. I think it doesn’t, so I don’t see how restricting a range of authority means not using the gifting of God. If complementarianism is correct, then God doesn’t call women to lead men in such a way except in rare exceptions, but it doesn’t mean God doesn’t call women to be leaders with significant influence. . . .

      George Orwell, call your office. No, not 1984, Animal Farm. “All the animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I simply don’t understand how complementarians make this point with a straight face.

      Women can, under this rule, take on whatever role they are called to and gifted for, as long as it doesn’t mean exercising authority over men, but of course men aren’t subject to similar strictures. It simply isn’t equality, no matter how carefully you slice and dice the verbiage.

      Complementarians just extend that to male-female difference of roles, but the same general point is one that egalitarians recognize, so I’m not sure the application of the incarnation is really any different between the two views.

      For me, at least, the difference is that I believe that God broke down all artificial barriers, and I believe that male dominance is one of those artificial barriers. Again, no matter how one tries to nuance the labeling or the specific nature of “authoritative” teaching, it still privileges males, and I don’t think that lives up to the goal. I also don’t see how it is essentially the same understanding of the incarnation. I believe the incarnation broke down (in an ontological sense, not necessarily in the application of the moment) all the barriers in those three categories; it seems to me that complementarians will disagree.

      To go back in your comment a little ways:

      If complementarianism is correct, then God doesn’t call women to lead men in such a way except in rare exceptions, but it doesn’t mean God doesn’t call women to be leaders with significant influence.

      Again, while we may debate whether I’m right or you’re right on God’s intent, let’s please not try to claim it’s the same thing. I believe that one would seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and observe the gifts and find who is called. Whether that person is male or female is of no consequence, other than based on certain specifically cultural contexts.

      Complementarians would exclude the woman from certain roles, irrespective of the gifts. I could easily see–and have seen–circumstances in which a woman who was better qualified for the leadership role was rejected simply because she was a woman. I have found many occasions, even amongst people who regard themselves as egalitarians, in which my wife can express a view and have it rejected, while I express the same view, and suddenly it’s accepted. That represents egalitarians not living up to their convictions, but complementarians provide the philosophical foundation for such improper discrimination.

  18. Well, we disagree on whether the view is true. I didn’t expect you to be convinced by this. I’m also not trying to pretend that the views are the same. What I was objecting to was your way of describing complementarianism. You were speaking as if it’s using gifts and teaching that complementarians want to restrict. It’s not. It’s using them in a certain context that complementarians object to. You don’t agree with the view, but I’d like it to be described accurately. It’s accurate to describe it as restricting the use of certain gifts to certain contexts. It’s not accurate to describe it as prohibiting the use of those gifts.

    I think your use of Animal Farm is a little problematic. One of the problems he was pointing out is that egalitarian models don’t work out that way in practice. He wants to insist that different animals in the novel really are good at different things, and division of labor is perfectly fine. We want medical experts in the health care profession and economic experts working at the banks we keep our money in. What he didn’t like about the Soviet Union is that there was a pretense of equality of benefits to everyone when there really wasn’t. There were privileges in society that came from certain positions, and there still was an elite.

    One way it’s not analogous is that complementarians don’t think there should be a spiritual elite of those in authority, at least not Protestant complementarians. Another way it’s not analogous is that Christians don’t base equality on role, as is evident in I Corinthians 12-14. A third way is that this isn’t about benefits but about kinds of serving. Paul has a ready answer to the objection that some people aren’t going to serve in certain ways. He says that everyone is equally valuable even if not all serve in the same ways. Some ways are more visible than others and lead to more worldly praise, but that’s not how Christians are to operate. So for those reasons, and probably more that I’m not thinking of at the moment, I don’t accept the Animal Farm objection. But my point wasn’t to defend the view. It was to seek for a more accurate presentation of it.

    On the last point, I will admit that there are complementarians whose particular version of the view might ground someone’s dismissal of a woman’s suggestion of an idea, but I don’t think it’s true that complementarianism provides the theoretical justification of such behavior, since complementarianism as a general view doesn’t specify that ideas women suggest to a group, even in a spiritual context, are to be ignored. In fact, many complementarians would agree that such behavior is immoral (assuming the man in question didn’t provide further arguments that were more convincing when the original reason itself wasn’t, and the woman in question just didn’t realize that, which I’m sure can happen in some such cases but probably doesn’t explain enough of them to dismiss the phenomenon).

    1. . . . You were speaking as if it’s using gifts and teaching that complementarians want to restrict. It’s not. It’s using them in a certain context that complementarians object to.

      I’m going to be brief . . . no, really! Here is the crux. You think I’m misrepresenting complementarians. I think complementarians are misrepresenting themselves, trying to sneak by. You see, I think that your second part contradicts the first.

      I think that if one encounters a woman who is gifted in preaching and church administration, and in fact a solid cross-section of gifts desirable in a pastor, and I reject her as a pastor because she’s a woman, I’m restricting the use of gifts. So I find the entire context of use argument disingenuous.

      If I might yet again refer to Animal Farm, and note in passing that I think your criticism of my use misses the mark, I would say that’s what is involved here is denial of a role to a person who is functionally capable of doing it. If the horse can think (perhaps unlike Boxer), and the pigs deny it the opportunity to do thinking work, that’s not fitting function to activity.

  19. Right, but it’s not denying a woman capable of thinking work the opportunity to do thinking work to say that there’s one context she shouldn’t do it in, as long as there’s another context in which she ought to be doing it in given that she has that gifting. It’s certainly denying the opportunity to express that gift in certain settings, but it’s not denying the opportunity to do thinking work.

  20. Henry, that’s about as unfair as it can get in such discussions. First, we’re not talking about thinking but teaching.

    Second, we’re not talking about a view that the pigs get to decide anything but a view that God has restricted these things. Unless you think God is male, it’s not analogous to say the pigs are deciding it.

    Third, even if God is male, it’s not all pigs who do this on the complementarian view but simply the one who is perfectly loving, knows what’s best for people, cares about us, wants to build the church, and has worked out a plan for how he intends to do that even if he’s restricted the roles of some to do it. That’s true of no human being and certainly not of the pigs in Animal Farm. There’s nothing wrong with a dictatorship in principle, as Plato’s Republic and Statesman show. It’s actually the best form of government provided that you’ve got a dictator who really is morally perfect, wants the best for everyone, knows the best for everyone, and is able to ensure that the best for everyone actually can happen. It’s just that with corrupt human beings it’s the worst form of government, since we’re not even enough like that for us even to consider a good dictatorship as remotely beneficial unless the alternative is anarchy (in which case I’d rather be under draconian rule than in Hobbes’s state of nature). God has the right to restrict our roles as much as he wants, and if he does so we don’t have the moral right to question it. There is the intellectual question why it might be for the best, but we have no right to demand an answer to it, as the book of Job shows with other questions of the same sort.

    I’m not claiming here to be arguing that this is all true, but it is the standard complementarian position, and representing the view accurately requires taking this all into account. This is why I don’t think the Animal Farm analogy is correct. It’s simply not like the pigs saying the horse can only think in certain contexts. Given egalitarian presuppositions, it is less inaccurate to put it this way. But those presuppositions are not shared by the complementarian, and it’s not fair to the complementarian to attribute such a view to them.

    1. Henry, that’s about as unfair as it can get in such discussions. First, we’re not talking about thinking but teaching.

      And you have again illustrated why I’m using “Animal Farm” as a source of my metaphors. So the horse can think wherever he wants, but he just can’t speak wherever he wants.

      Second, we’re not talking about a view that the pigs get to decide anything but a view that God has restricted these things. Unless you think God is male, it’s not analogous to say the pigs are deciding it.

      Actually I think it’s quite analogous. You and I, not God, are discussing how things ought to be. I don’t know about you, but I don’t equate my view with God’s view, though I attempt to get as close as I can.

      Further, I don’t think church conferences, boards of elders, or other groups are equivalent to God. In fact, I find this particular argument incredibly sloppy on your part and very surprising, since I think you normally argue quite cogently even–no especially–when you disagree with me.

      If God restricts the activities of women, then let’s go ahead and admit it. I say that whoever God gifts can use those gifts wherever God calls, and I do not put restrictions on where that might be. The complementarian may say women may have any of the gifts, but they have a prior restriction, i.e. that these women cannot exercise authority over men.

      If that is God’s restriction, in your view, then admit it, but don’t try to pretend the two views are equivalent with reference to the use of gifts–they aren’t. I’m trying to decide whether it’s “offensive” and “just silly” to expect me to believe they are.

      Yet it seems that’s what you expect me to believe.

  21. Henry and Jeremy, Thanks for the stalemate. I don’t usually follow either this debate or the creation-evolution one because they both seem to me to focus on questions I wanted to avoid 30 years ago. But I comment here – just to extend 1. a prayer of thanks for your even-tempered attempts and 2. a prayer for the other two participants for whom each and together my prayers continue.

    Jeremy wrote God has the right to restrict our roles as much as he wants, and if he does so we don’t have the moral right to question it.

    (Sorry to pick on you Jeremy – maybe it’s your name. I have a son Jeremy.)

    Paul eventually says that it is not our practice to argue. I don’t know whether to read this as sarcastic or whether to read the section in 1 Corinthians 14 as dislocated from his quoting of their letter – where a sentence like “Now I want to deal with women etc…” is missing. But while God has rights, I am in no position to define them except that I note his rights when I am in the dentist’s chair or flying into an intersection on my bike at 35 clicks when there is a stupid pedestrian wearing a hood crossing against the light. (I say stupid in spite of my dislike for adjectives because it sums up the role he played in this little get-out-of-my-way scenario.)

    I think it is very likely that Paul and I disagree on some things. As such, I question him and in questioning him I question our tradition and I also question God – I have been given the right to question God and in the spirit of the letter gimel I might receive what I deserve or I might receive a maturing that I did not deserve.

    I avoid some intersections. I think it important not to be right sometimes – a terrible admission for me.

  22. p.s. my reference to gimel is a bit obscure but can be seen in Psalm 119 part 3 of course, such as in verse 17: Grow your servant and I will live and keep your word

    (If John is still reading he can comment on how much I have stretched the Hebrew out of shape.)

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