Complementarian or Egalitarian? Yes … And No

PLEASE NOTE that I am NOT the author of the following entry.  A friend of mine heard about the series of entries so far this week on TTC, and I thought she had some very interesting perspectives to share.  For personal and professional considerations, she asked to publish anonymously through me, and our awesome editor, Adam Jones, agreed to this.

On a side note, the fact that my friend felt the need to publish anonymously should be a sobering reminder to all of us about the need for Christian maturity and grace in discussing topics that admittedly can leave us a little heated.  

Anyway, read her thoughts below.  I’m sure she will keep up with the comments left on this entry, and if she has any further thoughts in response to your comments or questions, I’ll be sure to pass them on!

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I recently discovered that as a woman teaching in the Church and Christian academia some assume I’m egalitarian. When I first realized this I was genuinely puzzled, “I’m not egalitarian. Why would anyone think that?” Then a friend explained why this might be. It is rare to hear about women who are active teachers in the church and Christian academia who are not egalitarian.
I’m not egalitarian. In fact, I’m not complementarian either. At least I refuse to accept either label. After all, six syllables is just too long of a label. And aside from too many syllables each label comes with excess baggage based on others who use the label. I have enough baggage of my own without having someone else’s attached to me by default. Anyway, I’m more of a hybrid.
Let me explain.
Well, first, let’s define some terms. Christians throw around the terms egalitarian and complementarian without defining what they mean. So, for the sake of simplicity here are my basic generic definitions of the two major camps. Of course, within each camp there are variations. But for simplicity sake we will use these definitions.

Egalitarian= men and women are equal in worth, moral status, gifting, and in their ability to serve in any ministry roles. (Some say there are no distinctions in any roles, others acknowledge distinctions such as how women tend to be more nurturing to children.)

Complementarianism = Men and women are of equal worth, moral status, and gifting. (Some think that there are spiritual gifts not given to women.) Men and women complement each other in their given roles and responsibilities in marriage, family, and religious roles. (Some include secular roles as well.) Women play a supporting role while men take the lead in marriage, family, and the church.

Where I currently stand on this issue – as of today – is somewhere in between. In order to not make this a long and boring post I will attempt to provide a somewhat short synopsis of how I view some of the major passages related to this area. This is not intended to be a theological treatise on the issue – just a snapshot.

Genesis 2 = This passage is more in line with what we today would consider a history book account of creation. In this passage the male (Adam) is the first thing created, then animals, then the female (Eve). Eve is created to be a helper (a good thing not a negative thing) corresponding to Adam. Both sides can use the “helper” idea and exegesis/hermeneutics to defend their view. So, really, the fact that Eve was created as a helper doesn’t help the discussion.
But notice four things: 1) man is created first, 2) both are given authority over creation, 3) Genesis 2 takes place in a pre-fall state and 4) the man names the new creature “woman”, which shows some sort of authority over the woman. (In the OT to name something is to display authority over what is named.)

Genesis 3 = The fall happens. The punishment given to Eve is that she would desire to rule over her husband, but she would fail at this and her husband will rule over her. (This is seldom translated correctly – but the NET Bible does a great job in this verse)
Remember that this is a CURSE. The curse is that the marriage relationship is tarnished under the fall. The woman has a sinful desire to have authority over her husband. So, we can conclude that before this the woman did not have the sinful desire to rule over her husband. But this is allthat we can conclude. This does not mean that they were equal before hand – that is reading into the text what is not there.
That the man would rule over the woman as part of the curse, does not mean that before the fall there was no authority structure. It is very possible that this simply means that the woman will continually struggle to dominate but will continually fail. It does not speak to the pre-fall state. It only speaks to the pain that is the curse of the fall.

Galatians 3.28 = Woohoo! The Bible states that there is no difference between male and female! Sweet! Party!  Or, you can stop using one verse to ignore other verses and pause and look at the context. This verse is talking about how people relate to God in salvation. Neither male nor female has an advantage in how they relate to God. This verse IS NOT talking about how God wants males and females to relate to each other.  So take off the party hat, sit down, and stop taking verses out of context.

Ephesians 5 =  Many women don’t like this passage because it has been so abused. There is a way in which all Christians are to submit to others (vs21). This has to do with mutual respect and position in relation to Christ. This does not mean that there is no authority structure in the church. Even though all Christians are to submit to each other, God still places the pastor and elders as authorities. So, obviously this mutual submission does not negate authority
Also, this is not a slam dunk as to there being no authority structure in male-female relationships. To say this is misguided when the same person who writes verse 21 also writes verse 22.
Yes, Paul tells wives to submit. But scrub the image from your mind’s eye of a women groveling in the dirt pleading with her husband to forgive her for asking him to take out the trash. You cannot understand verse 22 without understanding 23-30. The husbands are called to love their wives sacrificially. Marriage presents a picture of how Christ relates to the church. The husband is to sacrificially love his wife just as Christ loves the Church, and the wife is to follow the leading of the husband just as the Church is called to do with Christ. If you want to argue against this, then how do you separate the wife’s responsibility from the Church’s responsibility?
As a single woman I think that sounds stinking awesome! If I had a husband and he strived to love me the way Christ loves the church I would (in theory) have no trouble respecting him and deferring to him because I would know that he was putting me first and not himself. A husband like this would let his wife be herself and strive to encourage her and use her gifts to encourage the Church. The marriage relationship in Ephesians 5 is a beautiful thing.

1Cor 11:8ff and 1 Tim 2.9ff = These are some of the verse that I sincerely wish were not in the Bible. They are hard and I.Don’t.Like.Them. But they are there and I must deal with them.
I am well aware of how the two sides tend to take these verses. One side takes them as “literal” in that they mean what they say and they say what they mean – so woman, get thee quite! The other side tends to appeal to a midrashic interpretation and say Paul was pulling the OT passages out of context to serve his purpose. (Short overy-simplified explanation of midrash: during the NT times it was acceptable for theologians to use midrash. Midrash was partly the use of OT texts for other than originally intended uses. To our modern ideas of interpretation it would seem that they were “playing fast and loose with the text” – but that is not so.)
While I desperately want to appeal to a midrashic interpretation I cannot. I, personally, feel that to do so takes the easy way out. The study of midrash is long and involved and while familiar with the issues, I am no midrash scholar. But I do know human nature. Human nature will look for any way to justify their view. I know because I do this all the time. (I can eat this huge batch of frosted sugar cookies because I will drink less Dr. Pepper this week – so it all balances! *sigh*) So, when it comes to serious theological issues, before one takes a position that negates another view you better research it completely yourself and know why you take the view. Don’t take it because a book talks about it, or because it seems to make sense. Know all the pros and cons and even then you should hedge your view. In other words, “Based on my current understanding of Midrash I think that _____ is a valid interpretation.”
That being said (and, boy, that took longer to type than I thought it would) I do not claim midrash on these passages. I feel that claiming midrash here is a slippery slope. If you claim midrash here without having a solid grasp of the features of midrash or the theological support and implications of midrash, you might as well claim midrash whenever you don’t like a passage.
Without going into any more tedious details here’s my current understanding of these verses. Paul meant what he said. In 1 Corinthians the women were trying to establish themselves in a way that was over the men. They were refusing to follow cultural norms and were trouncing on the men by refusing to follow the authority God had placed over them (husbands, fathers, church authority). Similarly, in 1 Timothy 2 the women were flaunting their freedom in Christ in a disruptive way and trouncing on their husbands, fathers and church authorities. In both situations the women were pulling a Genesis 3.16! And doing so in the name of Christ!! Yikes! (Their defense: Christ had freed them so they did not have to show respect.)
My understanding of these verses is that Paul is going back to Genesis 2 (pre-fall) to explain why the women should not act like Genesis 3. A Christian woman should not try to flaunt her freedom in Christ. While still living during the fall and waiting for the re-creation (post-fall) we as Christians are called to live like we are not under the fall; hence, the appeal to pre-fall conditions. At the very least this means that the women needed to stop trouncing on the men and respect them. Paul does not appeal to Genesis 3 where it says the men will win the domination battle (which he could have used as a “booyah!” trump card; “women you screwed up so get thee behind me!”). Instead, he appeals to the pre-fall state. The ideal.
There is something to the order of creation. I don’t like it. But it’s there. I think that taking passages such as these and punting to midrash is to deny the significance of what Paul is doing. He is calling people living in the fall, who are members of the Kingdom of God, to live contrary to everything around them and contrary to the sin nature that still resides within us. Paul was calling for them to live like they were in the pre-fall. To live looking forward to the re-creation that will be like pre-fall but oh, so much better.
There are, of course, many more passages that I could address, but this post is getting way long.
So here is a summary of my current views on the relationship of women to the church.

·        I believe both genders were fully created in the image of God. Yet there is something distinct within both that the other does not express – hence why there are 2 genders.

·        I believe that Adam was created before Eve and Eve was not created “lower” than Adam. Yet there was something special about the man being created before the woman. And that by naming the woman, “woman,” before the fall Adam was exercising some form of authority over her.

·        I believe the fall screwed up everything about how we perceive the genders. So everyone’s attempt to arrive at a theology of this will always fail in some way. (Yup, even my attempt.)

·        I believe Paul was not using midrash to get the women to sit down and shut up. I believe he was telling them to act like children of the kingdom who are not subject to the fall. And somehow, someway, this has to do with the privilege man has of being created before women. BUT, remember Ephesians 4 – the men are called to treat their wives as Christ would – sacrificially

·        I believe that women are gifted with the same spiritual gifts that men are. Yet I believe there are just a few minor ways in which women are asked to step aside and let men lead. The role of head pastor (pastor – not preacher) is reserved for men. And, although I am not fully convinced of this I currently lean towards the idea that the biblical role of elder is reserved for men. I believe that other than this, women are not limited in the Church. And while women are fully capable of filling those roles the issue is not capability but submission to God even when we don’t like it.

·        I believe the only other limitations on women are cultural. Thus, in Paul’s time the culture held women to show modesty and respect in certain ways that modern American culture does not. This is why I do not cover my head in church or while teaching; but, I do show respect to my pastor in other ways. For example, if he were ever to misspeak about the Bible. I would not jump up from my chair on the back row and shout “Wrong! Wrong! You mistranslated/quoted/etc the text! Boo! Boo! Rubish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! BOO!!” (If you did not catch that Princess Bride reference you should feel greatly ashamed)  No. Just no.  I would find a respectful way to privately pull him aside and say, “Uh, you might want to rethink what you said.”
Nor would I pull out my phone and start making phone calls during a sermon.

·        I know I have a big giant gaping hole in my view becuase not only do I believe everything I just wrote – but I also believe that God has called single women missionaries. Women such as Jo Skaggs, who was a missionary to Africa – by herself. She taught the gospel and preached.  She is only one of thousands of single women who have served as pastors (at least pastors by default) on the mission field. I believe that these women have been called by God to preach His word to those who need to hear. So here is where I am inconsistent. I can’t explain why I think this still fits. Perhaps this situation is not ideal, and God uses women in these situations because the men won’t step up. Perhaps the women were His first choice. I don’t know. This inconsistency I have is why I refuse either label. God uses these women in amazing ways.

·        I have had numerous opportunities to teach in the church. And I gladly take them. I currently teach a Sunday School class where I teach *gasp* women and men! I have no problem with this. My pastor was in on the decision to place me in that position. He knows me. He knows my theology. He trusts me. I teach under his authority. He doesn’t review my lessons ahead of time or place spies in the class. But he chose me, he looked at my gifting and knowledge and abilities and as the authority of my local church he placed me in this position. I teach women and men because my pastor has given me the authority to do so.
In conclusion, I think the first question to ask is not why can’t women do X, Y or Z. Rather the question for all women (including me) is why am I not content to follow? Am I pulling a Genesis 3.16? 
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
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