I’m a true woman too, thanks

(Originally posted at ClobberBlog)

Bishop Theodora. Photo by Joan Morris & Dorothy Irvin

An early Roman basilica which reads "THEODORA EPISCOPA": Bishop Theodora. Photo by Joan Morris & Dorothy Irvin

So, I noticed that over at By Common Consent, there was some discussion last month of a document recently put out by evangelical complementarians, “The True Woman Manifesto.” The comparison between the Manifesto and the LDS Proclamation on the Family by Cynthia L. is worth reading, but I thought I would go through the Manifesto and offer my own explanation of where I, as an egalitarian evangelical, disagree with the document.

Now, most of the document contains doctrine which I have no problem with. Of the 35 paragraphs and statements contained therein, I only have objections to 5 of them, meaning I agree with roughly 86% of the document. Let’s see where we part ways.

My first objection involves the title, which asserts that agreeing with this manifesto makes you a “true woman” and implies that those who don’t agree with it are not true women. It’s unfortunate to see complementarians trying to claim a monopoly on “true” womanhood, but sadly, not unexpected, and so long as polarizing rhetoric like that continues to be utilized I suspect there will be little bridgework between our camps. Can we not both agree that true manhood and true womanhood comes when a man or woman lives his or her life according to the gifts and calling God has placed in his or her heart? Why can we not build on that, instead of attacking the women in one camp or the other?

My first disagreement with the text, a partial one:

We realize that we live in a culture that does not recognize God’s right to rule, does not accept Scripture as the pattern for life, and is experiencing the consequences of abandoning God’s design for men and women.

While I agree with the first two parts of this statement, I disagree that the present plight of the world comes from abandoning God’s design for men and women. I think the world’s problems come from abandoning God’s design for humanity, things non-gender-specific like His commandments not to kill, to honor one’s parents, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to save sex for marriage. If the world is in trouble for abandoning God’s design for men and women, it’s because it abandoned His pre-Fall design wherein Adam and Eve were loving equals. Part of the world’s problem has always been its subordination of women, a problem that complementarians are regretfully a part of.

Men and women are both created in the image of God and are equal in value and dignity, but they have distinct roles and functions in the home and in the church.

Again, I partially disagree. Men and women do have distinct roles in the home: husband and wife, mother and father. Each is equally important and complements the other. However, in the church, roles are gift-based, not gender-based. We know from the Bible that women could be God-ordained prophets (Exo 15:20, Jud 4:4, 2 Ch 34:22), teachers (Acts 18:26), deacons (Romans 16:1-2), and possibly apostles (Romans 16:7). We know from epigraphical evidence that women in the early Christian church served as bishops, elders, deacon(esse)s, and missionaries (see Glenn Miller here; for a more in-depth discussion, see When Women Were Priests by Karen Jo Torjeson). Why shouldn’t women have access to the leadership roles which they clearly exercised in the Bible and the early church?

Complementarians would likely object that 1 Timothy 2:12 teaches that women cannot teach men or have authority over men, so they try to exclude women from leadership roles in spite of the vast Biblical and early church data to the contrary. Egalitarians believe that this passage is usually translated poorly; as someone who does read Greek, I would translate that verse, “I am not permitting a woman to teach or to domineer a man, but she must be orderly.” Note the present tense. Long story short, the present tense in this case means that the command is specific to the church in Ephesus and “that it is unwise to export this statement out of 1 Tim. into other contexts and other times” as complementarians do. (See Thomas C. Greer, Jr., “Admonitions to Women in 1 Tim 2:8-15,” 292, in Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity Vol. 1; for a shorter online treatment of the passage, see Glenn Miller here.)

We are called as women to affirm and encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church.

See my argument to the last objection. I’m all for honoring and supporting God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church, but I also believe in supporting God-ordained female leadership in the home and church.

When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God the Father.

The passages used to support this statement (Eph 5:22-33 & 1 Cor 11:3) say nothing about submitting to male leadership in the church, probably because the Bible does not teach exclusive male leadership in the church. As for marriage, the Bible plainly teaches that women are to submit to their husbands and men are to love their wives, but think about that. Aren’t women also supposed to love their husbands? Likewise, can a husband really love his wife unless he considers the desires of his wife and therefore submits to them? Marriage is all about mutual love and submission. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21)

Children are a blessing from God, and women are uniquely designed to be bearers and nurturers of life, whether it be their own biological or adopted children, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, or other children in their sphere of influence.

While it’s obvious that bearing children is a woman’s duty (in which, strangely, men often find themselves the “helpmeet”), creating them *wink wink* is a joint endeavor. Nurturing them is a joint endeavor. Fathers, brothers, and uncles are just as important in families as mothers, sisters and aunts. Yes, mother and sister and aunt are all unique roles, but they are in no way a substitute for women’s roles in ministry and exercise of spiritual gifts.

My final objection to the complementarian position is this: under their system, women are expressly forbidden from exercising any kind of authority in the church, most notably the roles of pastor, evangelist, and sometimes teacher. What roles are men expressly forbidden from exercising? Men are encouraged to be leaders in the church and bread-winners while women are encouraged to be homemakers and minister to children and other women, but men are not excluded from these latter roles. If a man wants to work in a church nursery or with the children he can, and no one would tell a single father that he isn’t uniquely equipped to nurture his children.

The more reasonable position to take would be that women are primarily called to nurture children and minister to other women and children, but there can be some exceptions wherein women can exercise leadership roles. Likewise, men could be taught that they are primarily called to lead and teach the church, but there are exceptions where we find men who have a gift with children. That would be a much better explanation of the biblical data, where most of the leaders are men, but shining exceptions like Deborah do stand out.

In any case, I hope that my complementarian friends understand that I respect their position even if I disagree with it, and I want my complementarian sisters to know that I accept them as true women, beautiful and pleasing in God’s eyes because of the salvation offered to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who alone makes us all what God originally intended us to be.

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