Sunday, March 17, 2013

Women and Church Leadership

There is much rhetoric today about men's and women's roles in the church. Words like patriarchal, strong complementarian, moderate complementarian, egalitarian, and feminist get used in the debates. It is certainly a lively controversy in the church. You might want to read Adrian Warnock's blog regarding the spectrum of views on gender roles to familiarize yourself with the variety of opinions.

As a reasonably strong egalitarian I have found the following quotes helpful. They represent two people who come to quite different conclusions about the role of women in the church. First, J. I. Packer, a conservative evangelical, complementarian, and member of the advisory board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood speaks to the issue of women preaching,

Teaching . . . . is a different exercise today from what it was in Paul’s day. I think it is an open question whether in our day Paul would have forbidden a woman to teach from the Bible. . . . It seems to me that this significant difference between teaching then and teaching now does, in fact, mean that the prohibition on women preaching and teaching need not apply.1

From another point on the continuum of belief regarding gender roles is Kristen Rosser. She is a blogger who describes herself as a 40-something Christian from the Pacific Northwest: paralegal, mother of two, wife of 24 years, with a BA in English, and says,

And this is the sad thing. That we'd rather live with cognitive dissonance, believing that women are somehow equal but yet somehow lesser . . . than to believe it's possible we're misreading our Bibles. We'd rather restrict women and have the Bible be "clear" than admit that we just might be wrong. Certainty is more important than female humanity.2

The fact is, it is easier to point to passages of scripture and say, "This is what the Bible says" than it is to truly wrestle with the meaning of a text and struggle to understand it in its original context and its contemporary expression. Mark Noll, in his book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,  points out that in the debate regarding slavery and abolition, those who had the easiest time in the public debates were those who defended the legitimacy of slavery. They would open the Bible to a verse like Leviticus 25:45 and read, "you may buy slaves from the children of the foreigners who reside with you, and from their families that are with you, whom they have fathered in your land, they may become your property."3 Or they would read 1 Corinthians 7:20-21 that says, "Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so."4 All they then had to ask was, "What does the Bible say?"5 Abolitionists had a much more challenging time making their point. "They had to appeal instead to the 'broad sweep of Scripture' and to generalities regarding justice, love, and common humanity. As abolitionist Gerrit Smith put it, 'the religion taught by Jesus is not a letter but a life.'"6

As we today consider the roles of men and women in our culture we must ask ourselves, "Can we do the difficult work of recognizing that this might actually be hard to understand?" "Can we listen to the Holy Spirit in the text rather than the letter of the text?" Let us not seek the easiest answers or the simplest to defend. Our relationships as men and women and the lives of our sons and daughters are at stake. Let us work hard at this endeavour.


1Tidball, Derek, and Dianne Tidball. The Message of Women. Intervarsity Press, 2013 Quoting J. I. Packer, The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), pp. 11-15.
2 Kristen Rosser with “But That’s What the Bible Says” (http://krwordgazer.blogspot.ca/2013/03/i-have-written-extensively-on-this-blog.html)
3 New English Translation
4 New International Version
5 Noll, Mark A. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006, p. 50 and also at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3403
6 Evans, Rachel Held. "Is Abolition Biblical?" rachelheldevans.com. February 28, 2012. http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/is-abolition-biblical (accessed March 6, 2013).

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