Why? When I hear of hundreds of women attending a women’s ‘Equip’ conference, where numerous delegates were confused about the teaching on the appropriateness and intention of women having short hair, I ask; Why? When I observe men and women, who readily accept women leading in their work place and have a marriage based on mutual service, attending churches which teach a complementarian understanding of men and women relating, I ask; Why?
Why do intelligent and reflective evangelical men and women seem to accept the notion, men are to lead and women are to follow, as a God given directive for all time, in society, church and family?
One answer is, they accept it as the cost to be paid. The cost to be paid to belong to an active, bible based church. They want to be in a church where Christ is central, where the bible is taught, from where evangelism takes place, in which friendship can grow and where children will be taught and nourished in their faith. Within my city of Sydney, Anglican churches have these qualities as their goals. Most of these churches however have a top down leadership driven complementarian culture. I believe many people regrettably put on hold their lived experience at work and their own personal conviction, which affirm an egalitarian understanding; an understanding in which both men and women are challenged to lead and both men and women are called to follow.
A hierarchical complementarian understanding may be the cost to be paid to belong, but the cost is fraudulent. It does not have to be paid and it should not be paid.
The price does not have to be paid, because it can be shown an egalitarian understanding of men and women in relationship is affirmed in scripture. The divine image bearing capacity of male and female, the joint commission to care for and to populate creation, the terrible consequences of the fall including women’s submission to men, the attitude of Christ towards women, Christ’s redemptive work reversing the consequences of the fall, the life of the church including the example of Paul, and the hope of a new creation, combine to establish the biblical context of men and women relating as equals in the home, church and society.
There are difficult passages requiring careful exegesis. These must be placed in their cultural context and the wider biblical context. Much conservative biblical scholarship has been applied to these passages, showing they support an egalitarian understanding. I especially refer you to the work of Dr Philip Payne, Man and Woman, One In Christ and the book Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy, edited by Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis
The price should not be paid because of the disastrous consequences of patriarchy in culture and history throughout the world, of which complementarianism is but one expression. Within British history the denial of the vote for women until the late 19th and early 20th century, their reduced education opportunity, the exclusion of women from professional careers and the passing of a woman’s property to her husband when married, all reflect an oppressive patriarchy, supported by a complementarian reading of scripture.
In other cultures today, the devaluing of girls’ education, restrictive laws governing women’s independence, controls on their right to work and the harmful and illegal practice of FGM are all products of patriarchy. Our ability to speak against them, as disciples of Christ, is seriously compromised, if we hold a complementarian position on gender roles. In all cultures and throughout history domestic violence has been an ugly and degrading reality. Most scholars agree that patriarchy, the assumed right of the man to lead if not rule, is the soil from which such violence grows.
Our challenge as Christians, when wresting with the way men and women are called to relate and reflect God’s purposes, is to go both deeper and wider. Deeper in our understanding of the scriptures, less ready to accept the position most stridently put in our immediate setting and wider in our view of history and the world; recognising the corrupt outcomes of patriarchy. To go both deeper and wider I recommend the work of CBE; Christians for Biblical Equality.
Paul Perini, a member of CBE Sydney.