A funny thing happened the other day.
OK, maybe not so funny, but it happened.
I wrote a post ruminating on what might be an underlying dynamic contributing to the sex abuse climate extant in the conservative evangelical church at the moment. My post got re-posted at the David C Cook Facebook page and folks started to comment, some positive (agreeing or furthering the discussion) some negative (disagreeing or trying to shut it down altogether). One comment in particular called me out with this:
“I have never seen such a perverted attack on the complementarian view of gender and the biblical view of marriage.”
Negative comments don’t bother me. I worked professionally in high tech for 15 years and was on the receiving end of many a negative comment — usually from men because this was high tech 20 years ago and high tech was all men — and can I just say, I love men! I love men for lots of reasons, but one reason that has to be at the top of my list of “Reasons Men Are Awesome” is that they tend to be (and yes, I am making a sweeping generalization) direct, confrontational, emotional-in-the-moment, and volcanic, meaning they blow up, say their peace (or is it piece?) and when its all over, they readjust their clothing, smooth down their hair and quite innocently ask if you want to grab a sandwich. As If Nothing Happened. Because nothing did. We disagreed, argued about it, moved on. No meta-communicating about the process, no grudges, no social punishment. Just sandwiches.
But, as usual, I digress.
I am quite sure the fellow commenting about my perversion and attack on the Bible loves Jesus as much as I do, submits to God’s word as much as I do, and was contending for the gospel as best he can. And so I got to thinking, what is he reacting to? Why the volcanic blow up (offers of sandwiches notwithstanding). And I think at least part of what’s happening here is that he’s picturing complementarian theology at one end of a fairly broad spectrum, and I was addressing it at the other.
Here’s where it gets sticky and I ask for help, and friends, this is a genuine inquiry. I’m not trying to advance an agenda, I am trying to understand something and need some help from thoughtful people no matter where on the issue they land today.
Is it fair to put complementarian theology on a spectrum from uber-conservative (let’s say Christian Patriarchy) to fairly liberal? What would exemplify the progressive endpoint of the spectrum? Conversely, does egalitarian theology also exist on a spectrum? If so, what might its end points be?
I and others toy with comparing the current debate about women’s roles in the home and church to the centuries-past debate about slavery, where the Bible was used on both sides of the divide toward dramatically different ends. Ultimately, the liberal/progressive reading of Scripture won.
The thing is, in hindsight, trying to make a Biblical case for a spectrum of possibility concerning enslaving Africans (from the uber-conservative “God approves of African slavery because Ham” to the arguably more progressive end, “benign imperialism in the form of compassionate slavery can be good”) is horribly offensive and so clearly an egregious use of Scripture that I can hardly stomach it.
But here I am, asking if the idea that women are subordinate to men by virtue of a Divine edict of beneficent hierarchy, can be put on a spectrum and patiently waited out while the debates rage and the dust settles.
In other words, is there a Biblically-meaningful difference between The Gospel Coalition vs Christians for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood vs the Christian Patriarchs?
I like to think that had I been a contemporary of famed William Wilberforce, I would not have needed a trip to the slave boats to become an abolitionist, I would not have been someone who politely conceded there are “differences of interpretation and we all mean well,” and turned away while African men, women and children were abused in the name of God. I tend to see the call for women’s full equality in church and home in the same terms. I don’t see nuance, I admit that.
That said, I am also quite aware that using slavery as an exemplar leads to conclusions of this kind. So I ask, what alternate/other/better/more useful metaphors, historical or otherwise, can we employ in our pursuit of a robust theology of gender?