Few discussions in the church generate more heat and less light than gender discussions. As a topic it is heavily influenced by our prevailing culture which makes it doubly difficult to have a calm discussion. This is tragic because it is an important topic to understand, both from an interpretive standpoint (for example why Jesus speaking to the woman at the well was so scandalous) and from the standpoint of practice in the church and in the family. It is easy for me to point the finger at those who I believe are influenced by the prevailing feminism of the day and are trying to force those contemporary cultural mores into the Scripture. I make no apology for that but I also recognize that on our end those holding to and advocating for a more traditional understanding of gender roles have done a pretty poor job of approaching a topic that carries so much cultural and emotional baggage. Part of the problem has been that we somehow have ended up with Mark Driscoll as the most visible figure in the complementarian camp. That certainly doesn’t help especially given the serious scholars and academic work that has been done by less…flashy…spokesmen, men like Wayne Grudem and John Piper. The other problem, and the one that I think is far more crucial, is the way the issue has been framed.
I think we have gone the wrong way by focusing on what women can't do instead of encouraging them in what they are called to do. Most arguments about gender roles, complementarianism vs egalitarianism, patriarchy vs Christian feminism, whatever you call it focus on the negatives and go like this:
- Women can't be elders. Yes they can!
- Women can't teach men. Yes they can!
- Women are to be silent in church. No they aren't!
- Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. No they aren’t!
Round and around we go, getting angrier and more strident as we do. Whether these are valid and applicable, and I believe they are, it turns discussion on gender to the negative leaving complementarians saying "You cannot" and egalitarians saying "Sure you can!". The debate centers around restrictions on what the church, wrongly, assumes to be crucial functions like "preaching" and often ignores what women are called to do which tend to be overwhelmingly what the Bible values most highly, functions like serving and caring for others.
Let's face it, no one likes to be told what they can't do.
Conversely, telling someone what they want to hear is always easier but it is rarely helpful.
Our sisters don’t need us to tell them what they can’t do as much as they need us to support and encourage and equip them to fulfill the noble calling of being a wife and mother. This requires two steps.
The first is kind of easy, at least compared to the second….
The second step is much harder, at least for me. The church desperately needs for men to step up so women don't have to fill in the gaps. That doesn’t involve watching mixed martial arts on pay-per-view, just FYI. I doubt that outside of a few ideologues who have an agenda to pursue that you would find many wives who don’t wish that their husbands would step up more in the church and the home. I fail at this on a regular basis and I am guessing most other men do as well. For the complementarian position to work, both sides need to be complementing the other and this often is an unbalanced situation where wives carry the lions share of the relationship.
If men would do a better job of encouraging women in their calling and serving as God has called them to do, I think a lot of the squabbling over gender roles would go away. Sure there are always going to be those who have a book to sell but among the "regular" folsk I think the debate would simmer down. A properly functioning, complementary and balanced marriage is one of the best witnesses to the world we have and the very best atmosphere for raising children but that sort of marriage won’t happen on its own. It is not enough and is in fact disingenuous to pound the pulpit about uppity women if we are not going to do everything we can as husbands to encourage our wives and rise to the challenge as men in our own callings.
I am not going to stop writing on this topic although I am aware that it rubs a lot of people who read my blog the wrong way. It is a subject that gets a lot of ink in the New Testament and that is reason enough for us to study it humbly and seek to apply what the New Testament teaches us consistently. I am going to try to spend more time focused on what our sisters are called to rather than what they are restricted from. I have made my position on the boundaries around gender roles very clear and now I need to spend more time working through how we equip women to serve in the vital ways that they have been uniquely called.
Don’t let anyone tell you that “just” being a wife and mother is something to be ashamed of or that you need to "do more" to be a valuable part of the Body of Christ. As I said, we have plenty of “preachers” in the church but we can never have enough wives and mothers carrying out that unique ministry.