An overview article I wrote a wee while ago. Some resources at the end. Comments welcome:
Why I’m for Women in Leadership
The debate about ‘women in leadership’ revolves around interpretation of texts like1Timothy 2:12-13; 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, 14:33-35; Ephesians 5:22-23 and some others. A key question is whether the Bible contains fixed hierarchical gender roles based on a ‘creation-order’ blueprint. With limited space I can’t begin to discuss the details and so I’ve included a list of representative resources on both sides at the end of this article if you’d like to read around it yourself.
‘Egalitarians’ and ‘complementarians’ (more on those words in a moment) can agree on quite a bit: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross. So while I’m disagreeing strongly with ‘complementarian’ views here, I do want first to emphasise that we are brothers and sisters in the Lord who are sincerely wanting to submit to and obey the teaching of Scripture. I also hope we can have an ongoing and civil discussion.
Clarity over words
Words are important in this debate. ‘Women in Leadership’ is more accurate than ‘Women in Ministry’ because the questions revolve around if and how can women lead. I prefer the word ‘mutualist’ to ‘egalitarian’, the latter being a word that implies competing rights being bargained over. ‘Complementarian’ is both a mouthful and misleading in the sense that it is a one-sided view where particular leadership roles are only open to men. There are no corresponding complementary ‘roles’ that are only open to women. So it is more historically and theologically accurate to call ‘complementarianism’ what it is; a recent word for a hierarchical view of men and women in leadership and in marriage.
‘The Spirit gives gifts to each one, just as he determines’
Egalitarians argue that hierarchy is part of the curse of Genesis 3, not a normative good pattern to follow. The overall thrust of Scripture is towards transcending patriarchy and effecting a restoration of unity and equality within the body of Christ; from creation and Fall to New Creation. Rather than perpetuate this fallen condition, the church should be reflecting the future hope of the New Creation in how men and women relate in the here and now.
You see this happening in the radically counter-cultural way that Jesus not only related to women but included them within the kingdom of God and called them to be his travelling disciples during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). This was unprecedented.
You see it in Luke-Acts and the remarkable outpouring of the long-awaited Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). No-where is there a hint that gifts are given according to gender, either in Luke or in Paul or Peter. The language is overwhelmingly inclusive to all the church, male and female.
Peter mentions the gift of ‘speaking the oracles of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). In Paul, the gifts in Ephesians 4:11 of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers and in Romans 12:3-8 which includes prophecy, teaching, exhortation and ruling are for everyone.
Similarly in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 the gifts include apostles, prophecy and teaching. This fits with the fact that Romans 16:7 says (despite extraordinary attempts to deny this) that Paul had at least one female apostle (Junia) who is outstanding as an apostle, not as a woman. Priscilla is a Bible teacher to a man; she is called Paul’s co-worker – a term used for those partnering with him in the ministry of the gospel which included proclamation and teaching (and included other women as well). Phoebe is a diakonos (probably ‘minister’) and prostatis (‘leader’ is more accurate than ‘helper’) in the church (Rom. 16:1-2).
Paul is a liberationist in the Spirit, but he is also a wise missionary. The texts in 1 Corinthians and in 1 Timothy are best understood as correcting local problems in worship and church order where women’s inappropriate behaviour had the potential to discredit the gospel. In other words, Paul adapts his instructions to the patriarchal culture of the Graeco-Roman world; he does not enforce permanent hierarchical male-female relationships within the new community of the Spirit, the body of Christ.
Problems with Complementarian practice
Just as Paul engaged with this question in cultural and missiological terms, so must Christians today. To enforce patriarchal hierarchy within the church in our Western culture is not only unnecessary, it misconstrues the liberating arc of the biblical narrative, has marginalised the God-given gifts of countless women causing much angst in the process, and damages the church’s witness to the inclusive nature of the gospel in the process.
To use a title of one of the late and great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce’s most famous books, Paul was an Apostle of the Free Spirit. The tragedy of ‘complementarianism’ is its focus on imposing universal law and artificial restrictions within the body of Christ. Near the end of his life Bruce commented that “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah” (from Scot McKnight in the Blue Parakeet).
For example, I was talking with a woman recently who told me of her coming to faith as an adult. She’d had significant experience in business and held responsible leadership positions. She began attending a local evangelical church, full of enthusiasm to serve and thirsty to learn more of God and his Word. But after some time she found herself increasingly bewildered and surprised to be told she would never be able to do certain things since they were only open to men. Her confusion arose from a profound mismatch between her experience of the inclusive gospel followed by marginalisation and restrictions simply because of her gender. Outside the church she had freedom to use her abilities and gifts as a person regardless of gender. Inside the church, her gender became a barrier and obstacle to using her gifts and being herself.
Complementarian thinking also leads to all sorts of inconsistencies and distortions as a supposed biblical ‘blueprint’ is applied in practice within church life (and marriage). Some say we can’t really understand why God wants it this way but that’s just the way it is. Even though they admit the obvious fact that many women are outstanding Bible teachers and are gifted for leadership, they can’t exercise those gifts because God says so.
Claire Smith pretty well says this in a new complementarian book called God’s God Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women. She says ‘the ability to do something does not come with the right to do it.’ And so just because a woman is a gifted Bible teacher does not mean she should preach. This begs all sorts of questions. Is she gifted by the Spirit of God or not? If she is, is she only allowed to preach to women or is this not actually preaching? (Smith does not say). Neither does she say why this restriction should apply apart from it is what God’s word says. She adds that such a woman should not feel envious of others (men) who can use their gifts to preach and lead. So not only can she not preach (even though she is gifted), to want to do so puts her on the path to envy. No wonder woman are hurt and silenced by this sort of argument.
Others, like John Piper and Wayne Grudem, try to root women’s limited roles in the very nature of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Men (as a sex) are made by God to be more predisposed to lead. Women (as a sex) are made by God to be followers and submissive to men. It is in this sense that John Piper talked recently and controversially of Christianity having a “masculine feel”. You can see the problem here. Despite complementarians affirmation of women’s ‘full equality before God’, it is logically impossible to affirm that a woman is at once spiritually and ontologically equal to a man and at the same time eternally subordinate within a faith that is innately ‘masculine’. It is more consistent to argue, as Augustine and some other Church Fathers did, that women have inferior roles because they are inferior!
Other inconsistencies of application are numerous. Some complementarians end up with detailed lists of what women can and cannot do. Professor Howard Marshall describes the complex dos and don’ts at the end of Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth as resembling Rabbinic Judaism. Some churches silence women altogether. Some have women who can preach occasionally (to do so regularly would confer too much ‘authority’ on her). Some women can teach and preach and plant churches – but as long as she is a missionary in a far-away place. Other churches insist on head-coverings for women and some (Susan Foh) argue for the church to regulate women’s length of hair! Some allow women elders as long as the ‘head pastor’ is male. Others have women on a leadership team but only male elders. Most allow women to teach impressionable boys (and girls) but draw the line at men. Anglicans have ordained women priests but many seem to have all sorts of problems with women bishops. Some don’t allow women to teach at mixed-gender theological colleges, others do. Some encourage women (like Claire Smith) to write books full of teaching that are read by men, others prohibit all teaching by women to groups of men in various contexts. Complementarian practice is a mess.
Why I’m for women in leadership
Egalitarianism can be summed up as being ‘for whatever God’s Spirit grants women gifts to do.’ They believe that the biblical texts point to the equal place of women in all aspects of the new covenant community of the people of God. People, men or woman, are to be recognised by the church to positions of leadership according to giftedness bestowed by the Spirit who gives gifts to whosoever he chooses – men and women alike.
There are a number of reasons I’m on the egalitarian side of this issue.
The first is that I’m far more convinced by the biblical arguments around the relevant texts.
The second is the large numbers of serious evangelical Bible scholars and thinkers who are making good arguments for egalitarianism. I see this and give thanks as an example of semper reformanda – the ongoing reform and renewal of the church by the Spirit of God.
The third is that I believe the church and its mission is desperately impoverished without both male and female leadership.
The fourth comes from experience. It is incontestable that many Christian women are just as intelligent, gifted, godly, and mature as many Christian male leaders. I’ve lost count of the number of women students who have had all the necessary qualities for leadership and yet have had no encouragement or opportunity to express those gifts. There is something badly wrong with this situation.
It’s appropriate to give the last word to a woman, Cherith Fee Nordling,
Our human dignity, value, and status are no longer based on these distinctions and their privileged status in the old order … because in Christ these distinctions do not define human personhood or position. Privilege is given and exercised for the building up of the whole community, whether by men or by women. This does not entitle women to roles any more than it takes them away from men. All service is cruciform, all service is a gift to be given. (from The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology)
Lis Goddard & Clare Hendry, The Gender Agenda: discovering God’s plan for church leadership. IVP, 2010. This takes the form of an exchange of emails between two women debating either side of the argument. A readable ‘way in’ to the issues.
Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church. IVP USA, 2003. A very well written and researched book: an egalitarian who agrees that the husband is head of his wife. Searching analysis and critique of Piper and Grudem.
Alan F Johnson (ed.), How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: compelling stories by prominent evangelicals. Zondervan, 2010. Personal stories of ‘conversion’ to an egalitarian perspective by people like John Stackhouse, Howard Marshall and many others.
Mark Husbands and Timothy Larsen (eds), Women, Ministry and the Gospel: exploring new paradigms. IVP Academic, 2007. Academic. Mixed views on a range of topics including a detailed egalitarian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 by Howard Marshall and an interesting chapter by Henri Blocher on a way forward.
Claire Smith, God’s God Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women, Matthias Media, 2012. A series of Bible study chapters on key texts from a complementarian perspective.
Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, Crossway, 2002. An exhaustive summary of strongly held complementarian arguments updating his and John Piper’s earlier book.
James Beck and Craig Blomberg, Two Views of Women in Ministry. Zondervan, 2001. Answer and response format between 4 contributors. Quite technical.
Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, Zondervan, 2010. A popular retelling of how to read the Bible through an egalitarian lens.
R T France, Women in the Church’s Ministry: a test-case for biblical hermeneutics. Paternoster, 1995. A thoughtful and wise exegetical study by an outstanding NT scholar and gracious Christian, recently gone to be with the Lord (and a former teacher of mine).
Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: an exegetical and theological study of Paul’s letters. Zondervan, 2009. The fruit of a lifetime’s work. An indispensable textbook. Egalitarian.
Craig Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: marriage and Women’s ministry in the letters of Paul. Hendrikson, 1992. Lively, readable and egalitarian from a well-known NT evangelical scholar.
For a host of resources on the Web see:
Christians for Biblical Equality http://www.cbeinternational.org/
Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood http://www.cbmw.org/
For a nice example of civil debate see these two self-critical pieces by Sarah Sumner and John Koessler criticising the weaknesses in their own side: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/27.40.html http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/28.41.html?paging=off
And if all this reading is too much like hard work, have a look at these short videos on women and the family and then women and the church by NT scholar Ben Witherington who has written and spoken extensively on this topic from an egalitarian perspective.
Some excerpts from a scintillating review article by Eugene McCarragher ‘Love is Stronger that Debt’ in Books and Culture, May/June 2013. Reviewing David Graeber, Debt: The first 5000 Years and Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology. McCarrahger is writing The Enchantment of Mammon: Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.
And his words about the American Plutocracy equally apply to the European elites’ ruthless self-protection at the expense of the plebs. Just ask the Cypriots.
“ If the last five years of American politics have demonstrated anything, it’s that Marx’s dictum about the modern state couldn’t be more indisputable: our government is the executive for the common affairs of the bourgeoisie. Now, more than ever, our liberal democracy is a corporate franchise, and the stockholders are demanding an ever-higher return on the investment in America, Inc. Over the last four decades, the Plutocracy as decided to repeal the 20th century, to cancel the gains and protections won by the workers, the poor, and others outside the imperial aristocracy of capital …
.. The Plutocracy’s beatific vision for the mass of Americans is wage servitude: a fearful, ever-busy, and cheerfully abject pool of human resources. Rendered lazy and recalcitrant by a half-century of mooching, American workers must be forced to be free: crush labor unions, keep remuneration low, cut benefits and lengthen working hours, close or narrow every avenue of escape or repose from accumulation. If they insist on living like something more than the whining, expendable widgets they are, reduce them to a state of debt peonage with an ensemble of financial shackles: mortgages, credit cards, and student loans, all designed to ensure that the wage slaves utter two words siren-sweet to business: “Yes boss.” …
Alas, we’re are living in the early, bewildering days of the demise of the American Empire, the beginning of the end of that obsession-compulsion known as a the American Dream….
… Don’t expect any breadth or grandeur from the Empire’s Christian divines. Across the board, the imperial chaplains exhibit the most obsequious deference to the Plutocracy, providing imprimaturs and singing hallelujahs for the civil religion of Chrapitalism: the lucrative merger of Christianity and Chapitalism, American’s most enduring covenant theology. It’s the core of “American exceptionalism,” the sanctimonious and blood-spattered of providential anointment for global dominion. In the Chrapitalist gospel, the rich young man goes away richer, for God and mammon have pooled their capital, formed a bi-theistic investment group, and laundered the money in baptismal fonts before parking it in offshore accounts. Chrapitalism has been America’s distinctive and gilded contribution to religion and theology, a delusion that beloved community can be built on the foundations of capitalist property. As the American Empire wanes, so will its established religion; the erosion of Chrapitalism will generate a moral and spiritual maelstrom ….
… the God of Jesus Christ has no business sense at all, and violates every canon of the Protestant Ethic. He pays the same wage for one hour of work as for ten, and recommends that we lend without thought of return. (Finance capital could not survive a day with this logic, which is one excellent reason to recommend it.) He’s an appallingly lavish and undiscriminating spendthrift, sending his sunshine on the good and the evil. He has a soft spot for moochers and the undeserving poor: his Son was always inviting himself into people’s homes, and never asking if the blind man deserved to be cured. How can you run a decent economy this way?”
Today I participated in my first (and maybe last!) ever road ‘race’: a 10KM run around Maynooth. The only goal was to finish without stopping which was achieved (just).
Photo of red-faced old fella below
When sent to my father, he sent back one from yesteryear …
Which brings to mind a verse from Paul’s great passage on resurrection hope in 1 Corinthians 15:42!
“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable”
The argument goes something like this (and feel welcome to add / correct / expand, these are just blog musings written while watching the latest Scandinavian drama, Arne Dahl and nothing seems to be happening)
Violence ultimately is imposing your will on another through physical force. Violence in the name of Empire or nation is compelling another community to do the same. Where god is used to legitimate and justify the use of that power, it becomes idolatry.
Jesus rejected the violent power-narratives of Roman Empire and also eschewed the route of religious Jewish violence to ‘liberate’ Israel in the name of YHWH. His was a very different path to the bloody one trodden by the Maccabees earlier and the Zealots later. His mission is that of the servant-king, whose kingdom is of a different form to the kingdoms of the world. Rather than use force to advance his mission, he submits to ‘unjust justice’ and illegitimate violence. He is the innocent one, who gives up endless power to win the victory over the powers; over evil; over violence and death by self-giving love.
Disciples in his kingdom are to be busy peacemaking, exercising humility, being self-giving, repenting, loving their hated neighbours and their oppressing enemies. Paul is such a disciple. He embraces suffering, persecution, imprisonment, character assassination and eventual martyrdom for his Lord. He gives up his rights for the sake of the gospel. He never turns to force to advance his mission. He persuades, argues, reasons, serves, teaches, pastors and writes of grace, forgiveness, faith, hope and love. His identity is in Christ, all other identities are relativised – whether his Jewish pedigree or his Roman citizenship.
He models the way of the cross, as his saviour had done – as all Christians are called to do. It is not for nothing that Christians are to remember the Lord’s death as often as they meet. They are to be people of the ‘crucified God’.
The work of the Spirit also rejects ‘the will to power’. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control fulfil the Law and are characteristic of life within the kingdom of God. This fruit is incompatible with force, compulsion, intimidation, threat, control and fear – all ‘fruits’ of violence and war.
Eschatological hope forms the basis of Christian ethics. Christian hope is of a new creation of God’s shalom. Christians are to be agents of the ‘kingdom come’ here on earth. That vision compels them to be peacemakers not war-makers; to reject the use of arms in favour of sacrificial costly love; to forgive rather than fight.
Historically, it is deeply compelling to me that in the first 2-3 centuries of the Christian church, believers refused to take up arms for Empire; soldiering was seen as a sin, utterly at odds with following the Messiah executed by that Empire. The greatest tragedy of church history in my opinion is the later church’s complicity with power, and the ruthless use of force to support and reinforce that power.
Christian pacifism is also coupled with (I would argue) a deeply realistic Christian scepticism about sinful human capacity for self-deception and the mis-use of power. What ‘just war’ does not end up multiplying unjust violence and who decides what is just or not? (one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter etc) What war cannot be presented as ‘just’ (even if it manifestly isn’t) if the ‘will to war’ is there? (Blair and Bush on Iraq – enough said).
OK, even if you are not persuaded by how this sort of thinking about Christian faith, pacifism and war can actually work ‘in the real world’, why is it that the overwhelming ‘weight’ of Christian non-violence in the life and teaching of Jesus, the Lord and head of the church, has historically been marginalised within the history of western Christianity?
This summer I’m leading a couple of seminars at New Horizon. One is on Jesus’ radical call to pacifism.
So, first up – any top recommendations on Christian pacifism / just war? Glad of suggestions for a bit of summer reading.
Second up – do you believe that to follow Jesus authentically means you must be a pacifist?
Third up – what do you think of these imagined typical questions / critical problems facing those who espouse a Christian pacifist position?
‘A non –violent response by Christians to aggression is perhaps required and maybe even possible at an individual level, but it is unrealistic and even unloving at a community level. Where there is a threat to life it is moral to use force to protect the innocent. To stand by and let evil triumph would be immoral.’
‘Pacifism is idealistic. It is rooted in an eschatological theology of redemption, where the future hope of the kingdom come is brought right into the here and now. But we don’t yet live in the future. Our theology and praxis needs to be realistic, taking into account a theology of creation, sin and the Fall.’
‘Pacifists aren’t the only ones who want peace. At times a just war is just as much a route to peace as non-violence.’
‘Pacifists are purists who, when push comes to shove, opt out of the harsh realities of a fallen world. War and violence are part of being human. Pretty well every nation that exists was created through some sort of violence. National security depends on having armies and police forces. Pacifists conveniently let others do the dirty work of fighting to overcome the horrors that violent men habitually resort to.’
Comments, as ever, welcome.
The IICM began in 1973 during some of the darkest days of violence in the North and also a time of new openness to ecumenical dialogue in the post Vatican II era.
The IICM is a place where the Roman Catholic Church and members of the longer established Irish Council of Churches (ICC) meet. There are about 14 member churches of the ICC. The IICM is made up 50% representatives of the Irish Episcopal Conference and 50% representatives from the ICC (various non-Catholic churches).
So it was a novel experience to address a group including a Cardinal, Catholic and Anglican archbishops & bishops and representatives from many other churches. I wore a purple shirt to try to fit in
The theme was Vatican II fifty years on. In the morning, Jim Corkery, a Jesuit scholar, gave an excellent talk on ‘Vatican II and its reception in Ireland’, focusing on Vatican II’s ‘continuity and discontinuity’ with what preceded it and how this has led to ongoing struggles and tensions between progressive and conservative strands of post Vatican II Catholicism. A response was given by Archbishop Richard Clarke, the new Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
In the afternoon I was up on ‘Vatican II in Contemporary Ireland: a Protestant Perspective’ and a response was given by Brendan Leahy, Roman Catholic Bishop of Galway.
I nicked the idea of structuring the talk around a number of ‘theses’ from my ex-Prof of Christian Doctrine, Tony Lane (who is celebrating 40 years at London School of Theology formerly London Bible College) from when I heard him give a talk on RC-evangelical relationships a few years ago. Here are the nine (not 95) I used:
THESIS 1: THERE IS A FUNDAMENTAL ASYMMETERY IN TALKING OF ‘PROTESTANT RESPONSES’ TO POST-VATICAN II ROMAN CATHOLICISM
The point here is that no-one can speak for Protestantism. I could only speak from a personal perspective as a Christian, a Presbyterian, an evangelical.
THESIS 2: PROTESTANTS NEED TO REMEMBER WHERE THEY COME FROM
Protestants have a unique theological and historical relationship with ‘mother church’.
THESIS 3: ANY PROTESTANT ASSESSMENT OF CATHOLICISM NEEDS A WORD ABOUT MOTES AND BEAMS
Protestants and evangelicals have lots to be self-critical of (and there is a lot of critical self-reflection going on)
THESIS 4: VATICAN II REPRESENTS A MAJOR THEOLOGICAL SHIFT WITHIN ROMAN CATHOLICISM
While the Catholic Church may not disown the past (Trent for example) it has reinterpreted the past quite radically in Vatican II
THESIS 5: POST-VATICAN II CATHOLICISM IS FLUID, FLEXIBLE, AMBIGUOUS, and DIVERSE
Contemporary Roman Catholicism has multiple strands, some in tension with each other; for example an inclusivity that tends to universalism alongside an exclusive claim to be the one true Church.
THESIS 6: THERE HAS BEEN A SEA-CHANGE IN THE NATURE OF PROTESTANT-CATHOLIC RELATIONSHIPS SINCE VATICAN II
Especially in the USA, but increasingly elsewhere including Ireland, there are all sorts of overlap, dialogues, partnerships, use of common resources etc.
THESIS 7: VATICAN II HAS BEEN ONE OF SEVERAL CONTRIBUTORY FACTORS TO TRANSFORMED PROTESTANT-CATHOLIC RELATIONSHIPS
Other factors are changes in society, increased personal choice, changes in global Christianity, changes in evangelicalism.
THESIS 8: THERE ARE A VARIETY OF PROTESTANT NARRATIVES CONCERNING CONTEMPORARY ROMAN CATHOLICISM
i. Narratives of rejection
ii. Narratives of irrelevance
iii. Narratives of constructive critical partnership
iv. Narratives of Conversion (the Reformation is over)
THESIS 9: THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FOR IRISH CHRISTIANS IS ‘RE-MISSION’ IN A POST-CHRISTENDOM CONTEXT
Christendom assumptions for Protestants or Catholics just won’t cut it in a post-Christendom context. What’s needed is emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ, Scriptures, personal faith and a willingness to engage in a radical rethink around church and mission.
Thanks to the IICM committee and esp Mervyn McCullough for the invite and warm welcome.
Some evangelicals get nervous about engaging in ecumencial discussions with the Catholic Church in particular. Some I guess for theological reasons – a refusal to dialogue and so somehow ‘legitimise error’? Some I guess for practical reasons – the ‘gap’ is too large to bridge and there are more pressing priorities? Some I guess over concerns about a (hidden?) goal of visible structural unity? Some I guess over a worry that truth is sidelined at the expense of a superficial unity?
All I can say is that there isn’t any great reason to fear ‘being ourselves’ and being open to listen and learn in robust discussion with others different from us.
Truth and grace are not mutually incompatible!
Comments, as ever, welcome.
Wonder what your thoughts are on this interview with Pope Francis by the President of YWAM Argentina?