Each week at simple free we have someone lead the liturgy. We pass that responsibility around, and different people take turns. Tonight Heidi led. In some churches, to have a woman lead the service in that way would be considered not only strange but unbiblical. (to those of you from either a mainline church like the presbyterians, or if you are from a nonchurch background, this whole discussion may just seem sort of crazy, so sorry about that!)
I don’t know what all the people in simple free think about women in leadership. I’m sure everyone would want to have a biblical view on the matter– but I’m not sure they are of one mind as to what scripture says about this issue. I do hope that simple free is a place where people feel free to discuss and debate this issue openly and to really try to see what Scripture says, or more importantly maybe, what it doesn’t say about this issue.
One could characterize the debate regarding the roles of men and women as having two opposing viewpoints: egalitarianism, and complimentarianism. Usually egalitarianism is the view that women and men stand on more or less equal footing, according to the bible, and can perform similar functions, but that the differences are usually person-based, not particularly gender based. In other words, women don’t always do better with children, men are not always better leaders than women, etc. The complimentarian says that God has created men and women with distinct gender specific roles to fulfill, and unless they realize and work to be what God has ordained for them to be through their gender, they will live a life of frustration and inadvertent disobedience. True fulfillment will come from embracing ones gender role.
There are at least three areas in which one could differ on these two sides: A. Career B. Home C. Church It is possible to, for example, be a complimentarian with regard to B and C, but an egalitarian with regard to A (whether it is consistent is another matter- more on that below…)
A. Career: The egalitarian with regard to career would say that women can do anything, even be president of the united states. Complimentarians with regard to career would think this is inappropriate, as a womans place is not in that sort of leadership position, and perhaps not even in the workplace at all (very conservative Christian groups believe women should work at home, unless severe financial distress forces her to work).
Caveat: Now of course the egalitarian doesn’t say that a woman must work– of course if one spouse makes enough, and the other can spend more time with the kids, then thats great. But the decision of who works and who doesn’t wouldn’t be made simply on the basis of gender. On the other hand, women are pregnant for 9 months at a time, and that can interfere with a lot of careers– but that is a practical matter, not a biblical directive.
B. Home: Egalitarians with regard to home tend to think that a husband and wife should make decisions jointly, and that no one person has automatic say-so on matters. Complimentarians are certainly for discussion and dialogue, but ultimately, it is the man’s job to make the tough decisions, as thats part of his leadership responsibility in the home.
Caveat: in most cases, the complimentarian would hope for a peaceful unified decision, and there will hopefully be few cases where the male would need to make a decision against his wifes wishes.
C. Church: Egalitarians with regard to church believe that any role in church is open to men or women– that would include pastoral role, eldership, etc. God has not limited people by their gender, and Christianity has a biblical mandate for gender equality and Christianity has been a great supporter of greater freedoms for women from the beginning.
Complimentarians tend to believe that women should not teach or lead over men, except in the case of male children. So women should not be pastors, or elders, or theology or bible instructors (except in classes that are aimed at women).
Of course there are slight variations– not all egalitarians are as adamant, not all complimentarians are as restrictive.
Now one could be an egalitarian with regard to women’s career roles, and a complimentarian with regard to their church roles– for example, you could say that its OK to vote for a woman for president, but not ok for a woman to be a pastor, because the pastoral role has specific gender requirements, but that restriction doesn’t apply to secular careers. But honestly, this seems sort of like a strange view. In lots of churches there are women who in many cases are some of the smartest most gifted potential leaders in their churches who are not allowed to utilize their gifts because of gender specific restrictions. The complimentarian position seems to me to face its greatest stress point when you have female university professors who teach males daily, or female doctors who tell males how to live their life on a daily basis, or female judges who are handing out sentences to males daily, who are simultaneously told by their churches that they are unable to be leaders in their church, because men are leaders, and women are unable to perform such functions. If in fact a church thinks leadership and decisionmaking abilities and authority are gender based, then to be consistent it seems that such churches should not allow women who are leaders such as doctors, judges or professors to be members of their church. Then they would be more consistent.
In Nebraska, there are very few women with an excutive position in business over the VP level. We rank 48th in the nation. There are lots of reasons for this, including women’s choices, pregnancy, etc. But certainly part of the reason for this is cultural and institutional. It is much easier for guys to get mentoring to step into leadership roles than women, because guys hang out together at the duck blind, etc. There is also a cultural expectation that guys will run things because guys have run things. Kind of like how we thought for years that our next president would be a white guy– whether democrat or republican. Were women incapable of being president in the 1800s? Yes, but not due to gender. It was due to opportunity– particularly cultural expectation, education afforded them, and societal norms.
I saw the same thing when I taught at Bethel University in Minneapolis before I moved to Omaha. Two of the strongest departments at the school were philosophy and physics, and both were notoriously short of women students. Regularly, when we encouraged a woman student to go into philosophy, her response was usually incredulity: “but I’m a woman!” Often cultural expectations led most women at Bethel (and most Christian schools) to think that their gender directed them more towards either education, nursing, or social work. The women who were philosophy majors excelled, and often went on successfully to graduate school. The cycle was broken and now those women will hopefully be role models for other women.
Complimentarians in these debates often view their position as biblical, and the other side as mere adaptation of cultural norms from secular society. But this is a fairly ungenerous stance to take, I think. There are Biblical passages which seem to place restrictions on women based on gender, but the typical egalitarian response here is that the Bible reflects a degree of gender bias from its own culture, and those specific passages should not be cherry picked, but must be read in the context of other passages which seem to reflect a gender equality.
There are lots of books written giving biblical support for complimentarianism. But there is an entire organization whose sole purpose it is to show how that egalitarianism is THE Biblical position. It is called “Christians for Biblical Equality” http://www.cbeinternational.org/ This site has a lot of interesting articles about egalitarianism and complimentarianism.
Again, the goal of bringing up the egalitarian view is not to criticize the complimentarian view as being unbiblical per se– rather, it is to open the discussion. It may be that there is more support for complimentarianism than I think there is. But at this point, I personally lean towards giving women as much equal opportunity as possible, and I base that on my reading of Scripture alongside my practical experiences of seeing women leaders who are very good and gifted, and also seeing many gifted women who are stiffled, stymied and stunted in the name of the Bible when it seems to me it may have more to do with human cultural tradition than with clear Biblical guidance. It would be a shame to unnecessarily restrict the working of God’s grace and so keep the church from experiencing the full giftings of 50% of our Church members. I will continue to advocate women going into traditionally-male occupations (such as philosophy professors) and I believe this is itself a mission to allow the grace of the gospel to continue to equalize us as God wanted. (-Andy Gustafson)
A few of their specific points on their “Biblical Truths” page are worth quoting in their entireity, not because I totally agree with them, but because the biblical support for egalitarianism is often ignored by the other side:
FROM THE CBE website:
3. The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings (Gen 2:21-23). In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.
5. The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.
9. The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions (Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5; 1 Peter 2:9-10; Rev 1:6, 5:10). Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context (1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:9-15).