I have a confession to make. Though I am generally a theologically conservative Christian, I do lean center/left slightly on many issues, including abortion (I think we should make it illegal, but allow women the first 6 weeks to do what their conscience allows), immigration (I think we should work at making it easier for Mexican and Central American immigrants to work and live here legally), and the Biblical view of hell, in which I subscribe to the Conditionalist (a.k.a. annihilationist view), which you can read about at RethinkingHell.com.
But an area of contention and change in the Church in which I trend conservative involves the role of women in ministry, where we have two opposing camps:
- Egalitarians – who believe that with respect to church and home leadership, men and women are essentially equal, there is no place for the traditional idea of ‘male headship,’ and women can take any position of authority in the church.
- Complementarians – who believe that men and women are different and complementary in nature and creation, and this also entails different roles in home and church, and to some greater or lesser extent, there are some leadership roles in the Church that women should NOT hold.
Now, like the feminists before them in history, egalitarians are seeking a type of liberation from the patriarchal abuses of authority that are part of modern Complementarianism. And also, like feminists, they are over-reaching in their response, and destroying what is good and necessary about gender differences and authority.
What spurred me to write on this was a recent article from Soujourners, an Evangelical-Left publication (politically leftist, and more centrist on doctrine – though I have friends who would not consider them truly Evangelical, which you might evaluate using Bebbington’s Quadrilateral). In the article, entitled 10 Ways to Stop Sex Trafficking, their very first recommendation is this:
1. Stop supporting masculine-centric ministries.
When our faith excludes women, we are stating that men are entitled to more than women are. If we do this in ministry, we create a hierarchy that sets men above women and that creates an environment where men can easily abuse women because they are seen as less valuable. We can counteract this in multiple levels such as: supporting women in ministry; using inclusive language in our hymns, sermons, and Scripture translations; and speaking out when ministries relegate women to certain lessor roles.
So what is wrong with that? It is one-sided. It throws out the baby with the bathwater. In responding to a one-sided approach, it merely spews out the other side without any balance. And in the end, this is equally abusive and dangerous. Don’t believe me?
The Negative Impact of the Feminization of Culture on Men
Let’s look back at social feminism (as opposed to Christian feminism). It had noble goals – giving women the right to vote, to equal pay, to freedom in vocational and family roles and choices. But something went awry. In desiring and pushing for equal rights and opportunities, it also ended up pushing for erasing the real and helpful distinctions between the genders.
Was that so bad? Yes. Because the feminization of culture as the norm for all human behavior and function has led to all kinds of chaos among men. Effects include:
- Promiscuity – birth control and legal abortion allowed men to have sex without any consideration of responsibility for children (part of feminism, but not really part of feminizing culture, I’ll admit – but this undergirds the next point)
- Absentee Fathers – men failing to take responsibility for children they have fathered (since the role of the father is now replaced by the need for merely a parent of either gender, and the increased wage expectations of females who are no longer ‘helpless’ in needing to be supported by a working father)
- ADHD Diagnoses of Boys – the diagnosis of ADHD in boys is much higher (and precipitously on the rise) than in girls (admittedly, many factors may be involved in the rise of ADHD, including standardized tests, electronics use, and sleep deprivation), leading to the criticism that boys act like boys, not because they have a defect, but precisely because they are biologically, and therefore psychologically, UNLIKE girls in many ways. See How feminized education harms boys.
- Passive Men – while the empowering of women does not lead to the disempowering of men, the rejection of dominant and confrontive male patterns as bad has demolished the true masculine along with the false, macho version. See Healing Injured Masculinity.
The Debate in the Church
But within the church, this is an even more important subject, one which has and will take up much of our time within evangelicalism. So here’s a few high level observations to continue the conversation.
- There are two extreme poles here which need to be avoided. Women and men are equal in many ways, and different, if not unequal in roles in others. Ignoring the real, created gender differences on one hand, or erecting rigid gender roles that entirely exclude women from leadership on the other, are hurtful and counterproductive. Men will never be pregnant, nor have the emotional or physical makeup to nurse children. Women, in general, will always be less physically powerful. There are implications in nature which extend into the social world which can not be ignored.
- If you want strong men, you can’t have a woman at the helm. I know you feminists think that this is a false dichotomy, and perhaps in the business world this is true. You could argue that a strong man could lead under a woman if he was gender oblivious. But trust me when I say, if you have a woman at the helm in a church, the men will in general be passive, and that is nature, not conditioning. That’s not merely a bias to overcome, but a natural reality to be submitted to, if you will.
- There is a logically consistent middle position. Whether you call it ‘weak complementarianism’ or ‘partial egalitarianism,’ there is value to having balanced, flexible, healthy male headship in the home and in the church. For instance, my view in the church is that women can hold every position except for Senior Pastor/Elder. Unless you don’t mind spiritually emasculated men. And I respect people’s disagreement on this – I just won’t be participating in a church with a woman at the top (though I might cooperate with them in ministry). Bottom line is, I won’t separate myself from either the feminized or strongly complementarian Christians.
And with regard to the Sojourner’s suggestion that supporting ministries that deny women access to positions of authority, I think that is provocative, to say the least, and misses the mark if you are aiming to cut out violence against women at the root.
How about lending support to ministries that empower men to healthy manhood? (there is a reason that after the feminist movement died down, a men’s movement arose to restore men). How about supporting ministries that get men off pornography, and reaches out to those trapped in the industry?
This recommendation by Sojourners may seem a valid attempt to address the forces of patriarchy within the church, but to me, it’s more of a negative pot shot than a positive contribution to change. I could equally recommend that, in order to restore spiritual leadership and vigor to men, we ought to stop supporting egalitarian ministries. But that would be uncharitable.