Thursday, January 09, 2014

Dividing Over Gender

Not sure how I missed this. In November a fairly prominent commentator on religion called for a wholesale schism in the church. Now if you don't know anything about this you might assume that one of those terrible complementarians is calling for schism in the church, since they are bad people and all. You would be wrong. No, the person calling for schism a month and a half ago is none other than Tony Jones, he of the so-called "red letter Christian" camp. Here is what he said in November:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:
  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not. The time for dialogue and debate has passed. The Spirit has spoken, and we have listened. It’s time to move forward with full force.

Well there you go, you have your marching orders. According to Tony, "gay rights" is something we are still working on but "The full equality of women and men, however, is an issue that has long since been settled." Well, glad he settled that for us (and defined anything other than radical egalitarianism as "inequality"). Apparently the discussion is over. I must not have been on the distribution list for that memo because I don't think the "debate" is over and settled once and for all in favor of "egalitarianism". Quite the opposite.

The sheer hubris of that is breathtaking. Here is some guy on the fringe of orthodoxy, and that is being generous, with a disturbingly large audience deciding on behalf of the church that a contentious issue is settled and anyone who doesn't agree with him should shut their yap or get in line to be voted off the church island. Tony offered a more "nuanced" position in a later post but even there he said, regarding the arguments for "full inclusion in ministry", that "Anyone who is not paying heed to those arguments is willfully ignoring them." Yeah that must be it, the old ploy of suggesting that anyone who doesn't agree with your scintillating argument must either a) not understand it or b) be willfully ignoring it because no one could study an issue and come to a contrary position. Sorry to break it to you Tony but I do understand your argument and I am not ignoring it, I am simply rejecting it. According to Tony embracing complementarianism is "anti-Christian" and "subjugation". Those who hold to that position are no longer welcome in polite company. After all "the Spirit has spoken". Not sure what he means by that but it sounds like he and other egalitarians have received some sort of special revelation that the knuckle-draggers in the complementarian ranks like me are not privy to. Not surprisingly Tony admits to being befuddled by the mere presence of complementarians, as if they are some fringe kooks that only exist in the backwoods of the less "progressive" and genteel corners of the church.

As an aside, I liked some of the comments on the article, especially the ones that point out that Tony Jones and company pick this issue to divide over but seem content to welcome pretty much any other heterodox error in the cool kids camp.

The "egalitarian" position is a pretty recent phenomena. As far as I can tell it did not have a major influence on the church until the 20th century and in many major wings of the evangelical world it still does not. Something being around a long time doesn't make it right but it does mean you should try to examine your new, enlightened understanding in view of the weight of history. My position on this question is unequivocal. Functional gender egalitarianism is based largely on conjecture and "evidence" that is not in the Bible yet trumps what the Bible explicitly teaches. I don't think my egalitarian friends are heretics, just misguided.  Yet we have people like Tony Jones calling for wholesale schism in the church, dividing the church up into two camps based on their understanding of the functional roles of men and women in the church. Ironically while Jesus never mentions egalitarianism by word or deed, He does speak powerfully about unity in the church.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I would not gather on a regular basis in a group where women teach men. I think the Biblical prohibitions against this are clear and I will not be party to someone being disobedient even if they don't think that they are. Would I refuse to share a public platform with them? Refuse to publish books from the same publisher? Would I force them into the position of being an enemy of Christianity and drum them our of the church? Would I refuse to engage in works of ministry with them? Hardly. I am not so uncertain of my positions that I fear a public discussion of them. Taking your ball and going home is childish and so is this ill-conceived call for schism in the church, especially when you hide behind "the Spirit has spoken" as your excuse.

There are some things that the church is rightly divided over. There are even some issues that we should separate over. Is gender one of those? Should we refuse to even so much as share a stage with the unclean advocate of a position on gender that we don't agree with? I don't think so. The irony of the open-minded "progressive" position being the one that is marked by sticking their collective fingers in their ears and singing "La-la-la, I can't hear you" is not lost on me. I get that my position on this issue, or at least my stridency in bringing it up, is not popular with a lot of the limited pool of my regular readers. Likewise among those that agree with me on gender there is a distaste for my less than traditional view of the church. On both issues the New Testament speaks forcefully and regularly. Because it does, I think it is an issue worth debating and discussing. I also think that chasing out anyone you disagree with is the very opposite of charitable dialogue. If we only allow people we agree with to be engaged in the conversation we end up with the sort of destructive theological in-breeding that hampers spiritual growth. Anyway feel free to tell me you think I am wrong. I won't excommunicate you over it.


James Lee said...

You can't debate with someone who has their mind made up can you?

Although I differentiate the ideal of ecclessial authority and teaching - it is plain that speaking in a meeting or using a gift is not usurping any authority. IF that is the problem to begin with.

Scripture is clear that women prophesy - and in the NT - prophesy is for teaching.

Arthur Sido said...

Scripture is clear that women prophesy, with their heads covered of course although few of the advocates of women teaching also advocate for women covering their heads. But what is the context of their prophesying? Is it in church? In public? At home? Scripture is absolutely silent on the "where" and "how". To assume that Paul speaks of women prophesying as implying that it happens in the church gathering and yet in multiple places prohibits women from teaching men leaves us with a quandary. On prophesying Paul is descriptive, women prophesy on that side but his prohibitions on women speaking in church and admonishment that they cover their heads as a sign of submission to their husband is far more compelling.