I thought I would dust off the old blog to weigh in on an important topic that has been in the spotlight recently. If you missed it, Twitter was abuzz last week with talk of complementarianism and specifically, women’s roles in the church and home. As you can imagine, it didn’t go well. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to share a perspective that has been helpful to me as I unpack this controversial topic on a personal level. (I realize that for many of you, this talk of “complementarianism” may sound like a foreign language or, rather, it is not an issue in your spiritual circle. If that’s the case, feel free to sit this one out. As Christians, we have plenty weighing heavy on our souls to add yet another burden on our plates.)
So, back to this interesting perspective that has captured my attention. It is a teaching session by a teaching pastor, Suzy Silk at Church of the City/New York (posted below). As a disclaimer, I do not know this teacher personally, but she offers a compelling argument for a position which she labels “complementarity without hierarchy.” In this teaching session, she tests the hypothesis against the biblical text (in full context of scripture), and offers thoughtful biblical insight related to the oft-debated passages (1 Cor. 11; 1 Tim. 2; Eph. 5). Yes, the teaching session is long, but given that this issue has been debated for centuries and impacts half (or aguably, 60% of the church), an investment of an hour and twenty minutes seems reasonable. I also really appreciated that she recommends resources at the end that offer two contrasting interpretations, trusting the reader to do the hard work and come to their own conclusions (with the aid of the Holy Spirit, of course).
Let me pause here and say that I typically find labels like “complementarian/egalitarian” unhelpful, as they often ignore the range of nuances that fall in between on the scale, but I am going to make an exception with this post for the following reasons:
- This debate has become increasingly toxic, to the point of dividing churches and denominations and thus, distracting from the primary call to preach the gospel. Like many Christians, I’m exhausted over the in-fighting and particularly, the never-ending bullying, accusations, and hateful rhetoric coming from professing Christians and directed toward their own Christian brothers and sisters who dare to embrace an interpretation of scripture that does not line up with every jot and tittle of their own personal interpretation. (As a disclaimer, I am referring to secondary or tertiary issues, not issues of primary doctrine, which should be challenged when interpretations conflict with a clear reading of the scriptures.) When it comes to the issue of complementarianism, the attitude among hard complementarians has often been “one size fits all” (translation: you line up with x-y-z of stated position or you: are not committed to the sufficiency and supremacy of scripture/are not being biblical/must be an egalitarian/liberal/feminist/marxist/heretic/false teacher/woke/you fill-in-the-blank.) This brand of hyper-complementarianism has little tolerance for any other position on the complementation scale. Not to mention, translating the x-y-z formula into a universal practice in our churches and homes has proven to be a challenge. As a woman with the gift of teaching, trust me, I’ve witnessed it firsthand as it relates to women’s teaching roles within the church. Can a woman teach during a Mother’s Day service at the invitation of a pastor? Ditto, for any service? Can she teach in youth group settings where young men are present? Can she teach in coed college settings? Can she teach an adult coed Sunday school class alongside her husband, or without her husband? Can she speak up and ask questions in her adult Sunday school class? In a church service, can she read scripture from the stage; share her testimony; participate in a panel or Q&A where men are present; lead worship; step up on stage at all? Can she teach chapel at Christian schools/colleges? Is it acceptable for her to share her story/insights during a Sunday morning service if she sits on a stool and is interviewed by the pastor or a church elder (as opposed to standing behind the lectern and delivering the message)? Is it acceptable for a pastor to quote a female author, read her blog insights on Christian teachings, or read/quote/recommend her books? If she is in charge of children’s ministry/women’s ministry, can she be listed as “pastor” on the church website alongside the male “pastors” leading their respective ministries. And the list goes on. This is only a sampling of actual, real-life scenarios I’ve experienced either firsthand in my own personal ministry career or involving other female ministry leaders whose spiritual gifts fail to line up with the prescribed roles of caring for the babies in the nursery, teaching the children, leading the women, or staff support (though all are equally worthy gifts). The mental gymnastics employed to define women’s roles as it relates to complementarianism is absolutely exhausting. Most Christian leaders and pastors in the same conservative camp don’t even line up when it comes to translating complementarianism into a universal practice related to women’s roles, so good luck figuring out what the “rules” (x-y-z) are. And we’ve yet to touch on the challenge of defining complementarianism as a universal practice when it comes to women’s roles in the home! (Perhaps a follow-up post for another day.)
- Given that my name was mentioned in recent news reports related to Beth Moore’s departure from the SBC, I feel I owe it to my audience to clarify my personal position related to the roles of women in the church and home. I do so knowing it will be a source of disappointment to some in my audience and it will be a source of relief to others. And most of you will simply not care one way or the other as long as the gospel is being preached. If you are among the disappointed, I understand. I have spent the last several years attempting to process my own feelings of disappointment over Christian friends and/or ministry leaders that didn’t line up with my own personal views related to politics, social justice issues, etc. In today’s culture, it is easier to simply “cancel” someone rather than objectively listen to their perspective and attempt to understand how they arrived at said perspective. Just as that has been my tendency at times, I pray we can truly begin to listen to one another and respect that not everyone will agree 100% with our positions or perspectives. And that’s OKAY!
- My earlier writings/teachings reflected a more dogmatic position related to complementarianism (with a hierarchical foundation), which I now feel deep sorrow and regret over, especially given the tendency for it to be weaponized against women and silence them in regard to abuse of all types (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual). Though I NEVER counseled women to remain in abusive relationships, I am profoundly sorry if anything I may have taught related to women’s roles played a role in influencing anyone to endure a toxic or abusive relationship. Please forgive me. Similar to Beth Moore’s recent statement on Twitter related to complementarianism, the eruption of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements served as a bullhorn wake-up call in my life. While my journey to better understand the passages in the Bible related to women’s roles began in 2014, it was hearing the painful testimonies from girls and women that helped me connect the dots between toxic power structures that have in turn, subjected women (and children) to a higher risk for abuse. I am heartbroken I didn’t see it sooner, but trust me, I see it now.
- I have heard from many Christian women over the past several years who feel numb/stuck/confused/sad/disillusioned/you fill-in-the-blank over the silence (or worse, defense) of blatant misogyny in the church that has contributed to the devaluation of women. I want you to know that I see you. You are not alone. The last several years have been some of the most difficult years of my spiritual life, but also the most rewarding. God has nudged me out of my cozy, Christian comfort zone (aka: the echo chamber) and in doing so, revealed my own counterfeit gods (security in an insulated tribe/fitting-in/privilege/willful ignorance/etc.) which have blinded me to the sufferings of others. I remain on that journey today and in a posture of humble repentance. If you’re looking for someone who has it all figured out, I’m not the gal to follow. But also know that I am no longer afraid to engage in hard conversations, especially when it involves topics that distract from the gospel I so love. In ministry, I have always described myself as a fellow sojourner, and that will continue to be my posture in the future.
There is much more to be said on the topic of women’s roles and particularly, factors that have played a part in my own personal shift, but I will save that conversation for another day. My goal today is to begin this necessary conversation for the sake of healing the division. (And yes, we can expect it to get messy before it gets better.)
For now, I encourage you to listen to this teaching if this has been a topic that has caused you confusion in the past, affected your life or ministry calling personally, or just plain weighed heavy on your soul. It’s okay to wrestle with passages of scripture that are more gray and don’t offer clearcut black and white answers. In fact, that’s normal. Do the hard work. Dig deep in the scriptures. Give yourself permission to study other theological perspectives. Accept that it may not be possible to have 100% certainty this side of heaven when it comes to God’s intended meaning on some of these gray matters. Should you come to a different conclusion than mine, I totally respect that and commend you for doing the hard work! Finally, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you wisdom and discernment. Like one pastor said in regard to his own evolving position on women’s roles in a sermon entitled What Can Women Do, “If I’ve got to be wrong, I want to err on the side of grace.” Amen to that!
Finally, let me end with a quote attributed to Augustine (though his authorship has been disputed). It is fitting all the same:
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”
(I am happy to engage with thoughtful questions/comments related to this topic, but ask that you listen first to the teaching in order to have a better understanding of what “complementarity without hierarchy,” actually is, since it best describes my own personal position. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I am happy to join you on this journey into a deeper biblical understanding of this topic. It would be an honor!)