When I write “love without fear”, a large part of what I mean is the love I have in my life, flowing from Christ, that gives me that ability to reveal things about myself that I’ve been scared to say publicly in the past. The Gospel frees us to be honest and open, even when what we say isn’t popular (and even when we get it wrong). So I think it fitting to take a topic that has been a struggle for me because of its controversial nature, and just be honest about what I now believe. It might turn some folks off from my blog right away, but that’s kind of the point: I don’t need approval because I already have it. I’m not a perfect man with perfect beliefs, but Jesus accepts me anyway and his grace enables me to be honest on the outside about what goes on inside.
When it comes to gender roles, it seems there has been a lot of volatile discussion lately in the church. While the mainline’s have largely adopted a model of equal leadership between men and women, many evangelicals believe that to allow women to lead in the church or at home is to deny the divine authority of scripture. It has become a high stakes doctrine, with even the nature of the Trinity itself becoming a part of the conversation.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, there are really three basic terms I hear tossed out (though obviously there are a lot more variations on these themes):
- Patriarchy- the belief that men are the leaders of families and churches, and what they say goes. Generally implied is that men are superior to women, though many will deny this.
- Complementarianism- very strongly asserts that men and women are equals, but that they have different, complementary roles. One of the female roles is to submit and one of male roles is to lead. There is a wide spectrum of definition of gender roles within this camp, but even the loosest of Complementarians will say that the husband is the head of the wife and women may not serve as elders in the church.
- Egalitarian- believe that there is no hierarchy based on gender. Husband and wife are to be mutually submissive. Leadership, both at home and in the church, is based on gifting, not gender.
I am not going to go into the scriptural arguments for each of these. The strong advocates of Complementarianism will say that scripture is clearly on their side, and for a long time I believed them. But after having seen the damage that gender hierarchy can do and reading/studying the Bible, I am not longer convinced. In fact, I strongly believe that Egalitarianism is the only view consistent with the character of God as revealed in the scripture. I believe that unless you interpret limitations placed on women written the Bible as aimed at the the culture rather than as for-all-time commands, you end up with contradictory teachings.
So that is where I am. I suspect that many of my friends in the church will think that I’m bowing to the culture, but that’s really far from the truth. In fact, I would say that our culture is still very male dominated. There are feminists working tirelessly for women’s rights, and good for them! Women SHOULD be treated as equals. We’re making progress, but we aren’t there yet. So it isn’t the world I’m trying to please. It is God, and my goal is to love as he loves.
My journey on this road started a bit after my divorce. Ironically, I probably felt the sting of male headship in my marriage more than my ex-wife. I took “servant leadership” to heart (that a husband should love his wife the way Christ loved the church), and in many ways my desire to serve in that way put me in an unhealthy place. The reality is, while a husband should love his wife sacrificially, he cannot save her; only Jesus is Savior. I don’t really regret my actions: when I re-marry, I plan to continue to be a servant to my future wife, and I plan to lead her where I am gifted. Yet, there was a time in our marriage where my ex-wife said “This is your responsibility because you are the leader. This mistake is your fault.” I took the blame because it was my gender role.
Now, clearly my marriage was an unhealthy one and gender roles, if they are God’s design, were not being lived out. So that wasn’t the nail in the coffin of Complementarianism for me; it merely opened the door for me to question. And I did question.
As I began to heal, a part of that process was getting involved in the wonderful blog A Cry For Justice (the leaders of which, as far as I know, are still very much Complementarian). When I was blogging and commenting on that site, I saw how damaging gender roles had been in the lives of so many women. This pulled at my heartstrings even more. Now, I understand that Complementarians will say that these were not normal cases, that it was gender roles gone wrong. I get that, and again, this did not convince me. But it did prompt me to dive deeper. I began to wonder if it is truly possible for a women to be considered equal in her being while being assigned a more limited role also tied to her being (because gender IS a part of our being).
I ended up studying the arguments for and against gender roles. I listened to a lot of Complementarians defend their views, and the more I listened, the more they convinced me they were in error. I’ve joked privately that the greatest apologist for the Egalitarian view is John Piper, as almost all of his defenses of male headship (including an example of a woman being careful about she asks directions from a male stranger so as not to usurp his authority) sounded more and more logically flawed. Tim and Kathy Keller are the softest Complementarians you will hear (and I greatly respect Tim’s teaching), and yet they can’t even really define what male headship means in any practical sense (except maybe that the male gets a “tie breaking” vote).
Finally, after listening to as much Complementarian teaching as I could handle, I tried reading some of the Egalitarian defenses. I started the book Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementary Without Heirarchy which I came to believe made a lot more logical and Biblical sense than the Complementarian teaching I’d read. In the end, it comes down to a question for me: can women be considered equal in their being when they are limited by that same being? And logically, the answer is no, at least by my rational. And the implications of that pulled at my heart, because if we are treating women as inferiors when God made them as equals, we are in great sin.
And yet, I currently attend a PCA church, a denomination that was created because of a split decision over female leadership in the church. How can I worship at a church that teaches something differently than I believe? If I truly believe that women should have equal opportunity for leadership in the church, am I damaging the cause by staying in a church that doesn’t allow it?
I honestly wrestled with this, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that there is a very clear instruction in scripture that sometimes we do have to live by imperfect rules for the sake of community. In fact, if my view of Paul’s instruction on male headship is correct, his direction on this very issue was to live out a less than ideal gender hierarchy for the sake of peace and ministry. And that, I can do. I can meet my brothers and sisters at the Cross with our different views if they are willing to meet me. In the meantime, I can pray for the church to change and women to be given the positions their giftings warrant.
And in my home, where my future wife and I decide, we will live out our beliefs about gender roles in an Egalitarian fashion. We have already started while dating, and what is interesting is we still adhere to and enjoy gender roles. I pay for most of our dinners and open car doors, and she loves it when my “take charge” side comes out. But we fill these roles because we choose to, not because of our genders. And the difference is amazing. She lights up when I recognize that she is the better leader in an area, and she loves to serve me when the time is right, as I love to serve her.
It has been a long journey on this topic, and this post is not about making an argument for Egalitarianism. I doubt I will change any minds. But what I do want people to know is that this is where study and prayer has led me, and maybe if we dialog about our differences (rather than me staying silent and in fear) we can all learn something from one another.