It’s been a really interesting conversation with Hannah and I’ve been reflecting for a while on what I’ve learnt and observed. There is so much we could discuss and perhaps on another day we’ll come back to this and take some of the discussions further, I certainly have a lot more questions. My main goal was to simply listen and try to understand not to drive home my point or why I think X or Y is wrong, as a result I’ve probably come away with a few more learning points. Here are a few of them:
The debate between egalitarians and complementarians is often more like a battle-ground than a debate. We can do better. Listening and civil conversation even when there are significant differences can help remind you that while the person you’re talking to maybe an opponent on this issue they are not your enemy.
There is more common ground than we think. So the discovery that in different ways we both agreed with the idea of ‘equal but different’ was a surprise. Which means there is room for discussion. Egalitarians are unhappy with our definition of ‘equal’ and complementarians are unhappy with their vague ideas on ‘different’ but that doesn’t mean progress can’t be made by talking them through.
There are a vast number of issues on which it surely is possible to agree but let me give just one as an example: Violence against women. Churches that believe in a leadership role for men in the church and husbands in the home SHOULD be, even MUST be the first to stand up and say the persistent violence of men toward women around the world is wrong, is evil and must be fought tooth and nail. No equivocations, no qualifications, no ifs and buts, not as a token gesture but as a committed, heart felt response. There are so many causes and issues in a society that a church could take up and support and it’s impossible to do justice to all of them, but I think this issue really should go WAY higher up the list.
I simply don’t agree with the notion that a leadership (headship) of a husband in the home gives any kind of permission or slippery slope to domestic abuse – it’s like suggesting all feminists hate men or are secretly lesbians. It’s simply not true. Sin can twist everything and anything. So a stand on this issue would go a long way to putting our money where our mouth is on this.
Observations on feminism/egalitarianism
One of the main observations was about the issue of gender, in that Hannah who has given a lot of thought to these issues, really couldn’t point me to anyone or anywhere that had a good answer to the questions, ‘what is a woman?’ and ‘what is a man?’ It seems that most Christians here are somewhat bemused, they can see from scripture that the two are not the same, scripture and experience suggests it is something more than biology but what? I was expecting something here even if I disagreed with it but really there was nothing. I think again here both sides have some more work to do: clearly the personality distinctions often made by complementarians of men as logical and women as emotional is inadequate because it seems arbitrary – can you give me a verse or narrative thread for that? At the same time without any clear notion of ‘difference’ egalitarians lack a compelling explanation for what seems obvious – men and women are not the same.
Headship is touchy subject and egalitarians are split on this – some think there is headship in the home and others don’t. Hannah and her husband don’t. What surprises me again is that there really is very little to say or show how Eph 5:23 applies today, in fact it doesn’t. That however is an inadequate response to that passage. There are poor exegetical grounds for applying Eph 5:21 but not Eph 5:23.
I’ve often thought what would it take for me to change my mind on this issue and the first requirement would be more compelling exegesis and then more compelling application. No one has given a good answer of how I go about being a ‘source’ to my wife. I’m still looking but I’m not sure it exists.
Feminism has done an awful lot of good on a whole range of issues and I’d have no problem in being supportive of that but I have a number of concerns. Firstly the distinction between feminism as a cause and feminism as a philosophy. I think there is significant risk in that feminism actually becomes the dominant way of seeing and understanding the world and everything interpreted in this light. I think as Christians there’s much to learn but, but, but…how does the person of Christ transform feminism, how does He stand over and above it, for surely He must. It’s Christ who is Lord, who claims a Christians highest allegiance and it is Christ who gives us identity and meaning in our lives – I think feminism as a philosophy isn’t far from being an ideology that challenges that – that instead it’s feminism that gives identity, belonging, purpose, meaning first and foremost.
Observations on complementarians
Well, we don’t do ourselves any favours do we? I think we could do a lot better at listening to women and how they’re being led. It’s not weak leadership to ask. We could do a lot better at speaking up on issues like violence against women, we could do a lot better at including women in much of the ministry and mission of the church without having to sacrifice any principles or confine women to looking after the children and the coffee. We can do much better at encouraging, developing, using and including the gifts of the women in our churches. I’ve said it before and will say it again.
We would also do well to be more positive in articulating our view, we’re just negative. By that I mean we’re increasingly defined by our opposition, by explaining why the other side is wrong and not holding out a clear and compelling picture of why we might be right and why the lunatic fringe like the patriarchal folk are completely wrong.
We would also do well to respect women better on social media and blogs – reasonable discourse is far too often absent from social media and Christians should be shining examples of it and not the worst examples of it. Avoiding the use of ‘Jezebel’ would be a good too.
I’m learning and this conversation has given me some fresh food for thought and a greater appreciation of some of the injustices that women face, some of the deep insecurities they deal with that are not being adequately dealt with by the church but is being dealt with by various women’s groups and movements. I’ve learnt more about how complementarians are perceived (not very positively) and how there are numbers of areas and issues which collaboration and discussion would be far more beneficial than division and fortifying our respective trenches.
What have you learnt? What are your observations? Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.