Men and the debate on women’s roles

Disclaimer: I am not a man.

Happily, I could end my post there and have said something meaningful.

The thing is, there is a lot of discourse over gender roles these days, much of it seething just below the surface with anger and fear for sure, but hope and optimism too. The stakes feel high.

25 years ago, I started reading, thinking and praying about the question of what women ought to be and do in the church and home. By “ought” I mean, what, if anything, has God ordained as boundaries for women, and what might God’s motivation have been in doing so.

In 25 years, I’ve concluded that there is no definitive answer, so the one thing we can say with absolute confidence is that clearly I am not the quickest study out there.

If there was a definitive answer, surely we would have landed upon it by now, what with all the words that have been spilled in hot pursuit.  But faithful, Jesus-following, Bible-honoring people continue, year after year, to disagree on the boundary markers for women, and will go on disagreeing until God establishes shalom as God promised God would. I believe with all my heart that God’s people will laugh heartily in those days about all the stupid things we bickered over, and we will grieve even as our tears are wiped away for the ways we ran roughshod over other human beings in our need to assert our theology was “right.” I for one am counting on the fathomless mercy of God.

Lately I’ve been taken with what seems to be considered a flip side of the “woman’s roles” question but really is just as essential and fundamental: how do the various beliefs about women’s roles in home and church affect men?  Our operating metaphor leads us to ask questions in bifurcated ways, but really we are dealing with ranges of possibility. I’m hopeful we can engage as sympathetic interlocutors rather than adversarial ones, allowing as best we can for the fullest set of possible responses.

Since I am not a man, rather than make pronouncements I’m going to throw some questions out there and hope those of you who are men speak up. I hope women contribute too, either by asking additional questions, by nuancing the questions I’m asking, or by postulating answers but holding loosely to them so that if actual men contradict or nuance those answers, we are able to genuinely hear each other. I also hope women take time to ask the men in their lives these questions — not just marriage partners but fathers, sons, brothers, friends. If you get any great insights, share them with the rest of us!

I have tried to keep my own point of view out of the questions as best I can, but I’m sure I’ve failed, so feel free to re-write the questions or deconstruct them to show me and everyone else the assumptions I’m operating with.  Remember, I love a good deconstruction.

So, without further adieu …

  • How do beliefs about gender roles for women affect men?
  • When a man sees himself as the spiritual leader in his home, is that motivating or paralyzing for him?
  • When a man sees himself as the leader at church, does that affect the ways and places he chooses to serve?
  • Do unmarried men feel they have as much leadership opportunity in the church as married men?
  • What sorts of expectations about women and marriage does the debate about biblical womanhood create for unmarried men who are looking to marry?
  • Does a man raised in a complementarian church or home have different beliefs about what a good marriage will be from a man raised in an egalitarian church or home?
  • Do men raised in complementarian versus egalitarian homes or churches choose categorically different kinds of women for marriage partners?
  • Do clearly-articulated roles for women tend to minimize manipulation within relationships or exacerbate it?
  • How do men respond internally when popular preachers say that men fail to be “Godly men” if they are not the sole breadwinner in their home or if they are a stay-at-home dad?
  • How do men respond internally when popular preachers encourage women to take leadership roles in their homes and churches?
  • Are we assuming there is only one “correct” response from “real” Christian men to these questions?
  • Is there room in our understanding of God’s created order both for men who want to lead and men who want to partner? Can we have both or must we continue to duke it out until we are all in agreement?
  • Are these even the right questions?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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