Every one of us holds a view about the role of women. What can they do; what can’t they do? Your answers to these questions defines your bias.
“Wait, I’m not biased!”
Relax. We are all biased, and the sooner we acknowledge our biases, the sooner we can have a meaningful discussion.
“My views come straight out of scripture!”
That’s what everyone says.
We may think that our biases are informed by scripture, but often it is the other way around. We come to the Bible wearing certain lenses, and what we look through determines what we see.
What is your bias? Here are three lenses or perspectives the church has towards women:
- The traditional hierarchical view
- The complementarian view
- The egalitarian view
The traditional or hierarchical view says women are inferior to men. This was the line taken by theologians who said women were created in the image of men rather than God. Since she is inferior by design, they said, a woman’s role is to serve her husband, and she can never lead. “A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men,” said the men of the Fourth Synod of Carthage.
Then there is the complementarian view that says women are equal in value but unequal in role. In the same way a child is equal but subordinate to a parent, a wife is subordinate to her husband or church leaders.
The complementarian view differs from the traditional perspective in that it affirms the equality of women, while reinforcing stereotypes about men being natural-born leaders. “Some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men,” says one complementarian website. In the home as in the church, men lead and women follow.
Finally, there is the egalitarian view that says God made men and women equal in every way—they are equal in value and equal in role.
Since men and women were given joint responsibility to rule over creation, both can lead. This is not to deny the differences between the genders or to suggest those differences are unimportant. But to quote the Christians for Biblical Equality, the egalitarian view recognizes that “God calls women and men of all cultures, races, and classes to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church, and world.”
Name your bias
Are you a traditionalist, a complementarian, or an egalitarian?
What we label, we diminish, but if I had to choose between these perspectives, I would be unashamedly egalitarian. I’m a Kiwi married to a Dane; how could I not be?
But I am not a rabid egalitarian. On the one hand, I am convinced that equality protects us from the abuses of hierarchy and the misuse of authority. But on the other, I fear the dogged pursuit of equality can hinder authentic relationships.
Like a referee, equality is essential, but it’s not the game. It is not the ultimate goal. For the Christian, the higher goal is love.
Jesus never said his disciples would be known for their equality and sense of fair play. We are to be known for the way we serve, respect, and prefer one another. If we settle for equality, there’s a danger we will fall short of all that God has in store for us, particularly in our marriages.
Equality is not the end game in the war on gender discrimination; it’s the starting point for the new creation.
Equality is a good thing, but what we do with it is far more important. I look forward to the day when my daughters have the same opportunities as my son, but I’m much more interested in what they will do with those opportunities.
Imagine a church where women get the same respect and take on the same roles as men. Actually, you don’t need to imagine such a church at all. Just read the Book of Acts, and you will see that a church where all are valued can change the world.
It happened before, and it can happen again.
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