I caused quite I stir by defending a mild form of complementarism according to which men and women are (at least in some ways) statistically different so that it is mistaken to strive for a society where they ought to be equally represented in every domain.
I do not, however, hold this view owing to Biblical statements (which I see as culturally conditioned) but due to strong empirical evidence.
This is by no means an absolute conclusion and if it can be shown that men and women are statistically by no means different, I shall gladly accept this conclusion.
I consider anyway the following thing to be certain: during the whole history of mankind, many differences stemming from cultural prejudices have been seen as being the ways things are and should be, thereby causing a tremendous amount of frustration and suffering.
It is an inconvenient truth that the Church has plaid a very dark role by holding fast to dogmas which are clearly unjust and fly in the face of our concrete experience.
One example is the existence of female theologians, pastors and apologists. I think it should not be controversial that they do the job as well as their male counterparts.
Interestingly enough, I think that a good argument for encouraging their number to grow is because they bring up a different and complementary perspective in the concerned fields.
From an Evangelical standpoint, Leslie Kenney wrote a great manifesto for that purpose which I reproduced here.
I decided to start this year’s series with a reprint of what has become my manifesto. By the time you’re finished reading thing, I want you to make your hotel reservations singing “I Am Women.”
So here is my plea to any woman who feels called by God to serve Him through the study and practice of theology or biblical studies in an academic setting—to any women who feels called to serve God in any environment dominated by men—don’t give up, back-down, or walk-away! Please!
While the whole question of whether women should preach, teach, or be in positions of authority cycles through the Christian blogosphere with dependable regularity, I usually try to ignore it. However, back in August 2011 I read a blog post by Marlena Graves in which she quoted Margaret Feinberg. When Feinberg was asked in an interview whether there was a “gender ghetto” in evangelical Christianity? Feinberg’s response was:
I wonder why we’re even talking about this when there are so many needs around the world?…Now is not the time. When every starving person has food, when every homeless person has a place to live, when every well is dug, when AIDS has been eradicated in Africa, when all of our neighbors know Jesus, then we can sit and debate about titles and who should do what.
Moore’s response to this quote from Feinberg, which was much more restrained than what mine would have been, is that gender inequality in Christian leadership is a justice issue. No, it’s not as critical or urgent as saving people’s lives, but social justice is not a tidy, self-contained list of problems that can be ticked off one at a time; it’s an interconnected web of cause and effect. But more importantly, I sensed in Feinberg’s response more than a little rationalizing. If Feinberg can convince herself (and other women) that things like the gender ghetto within evangelical Christianity are superficial issues compared to world hunger, human trafficking and evangelism, then she can keep ignoring it as long as she wants to—and make other women feel guilty if we bring it up.
Fast forward to a few months later and the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Francisco November 2011. Now, I knew that there wouldn’t be many women there, but a series of posts by Michael Bird and Brian LePort made me start to wonder whether I might, in fact, be stared at like some carnival oddity. By time I got on the plane for San Francisco, the charts
illustrating how severely the ETS lags behind almost every other religious/academic organization in the number of female members had burned themselves into my brain. I wondered whether I would be sitting at dinner with a big invisible “quarantine” sign around me?
As it turned out, I was occasionally the only woman in the room, but more often I was one of two or three. And most of the men I met were downright giddy that a woman would want to pursue a PhD in theology, although they admitted that there was still a small contingent of hard complementarians who believed otherwise. My experience tells me that women would be welcomed at the ETS if they would come. The problem is that many women won’t feel comfortable until there’s a critical mass, and there won’t be a critical mass until more women come. As Michael Bird wrote in the post that started the whole ETS kerfuffle, “If you (women) don’t speak out for women’s issues among evangelicals, then who will? Don’t count on me, I’m male, and I’ll be too busy going to the various receptions and browsing the book exhibits, so it’ll have to be you girlfriend!”
By the time I got back from ETS, it was time to start prepping for the holidays. My days were spent in a haze of cleaning, shopping, and writing posts about Advent and the commercialization of Christmas. One day though, one of my favorite bloggers, Amanda Mac, wrote something that made me stop the holiday whirlwind. Apparently, another of those inevitable arguments had erupted on the blogosphere about whether women can lead or teach in church. The details really don’t matter, although you can read about it here. What mattered was Amanda’s response (paragraph returns have been removed for the sake of space):
I don’t know that there is any more fruitful discussion to be had about this topic around the blogosphere. It just ends up being a way for those who already know which side of the debate they’re on to affirm their position and sharpen their polemic against the other side. Part of me is tempted to do a self-imposed moratorium on writing about women and ministry issues on CW Theology. Part of me says, “Amanda are you nuts? Writing about women in ministry brings in the big page hits.” Part of me wants to throw everyone in a UFC cage and let them fight it out — The last person standing wins. All of me is tired.
In her post, Amanda links to another popular blog “Emerging Mummy,” in which Sarah Styles Bessey writes that she’s “leaving the men’s table:”
So I am no longer standing beside your table, asking for a seat, working and serving and hoping to be noticed and then offered a seat or arguing for my right to a seat. I don’t care to sit here anymore. I have not desire to be indoors, in your neat boxes. Instead, I am outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, the people of the second chance, the radical grace givers, the ones with arms wide open, the ones that you’ve rejected as not worthy of being listened to and I will be happy here.
This is a wonderful post, full of joy and triumph. And leaving, for Sarah, may be a gift that God has given her, but my concern is that she makes leaving the men’s table sound so empowering and downright sensible that women may leave who really need to stay.
It’s a ruthless truth that evangelical academics is an overwhelmingly (white) man’s world. Even the theological blogosphere, which should, theoretically, be a level playing field, is ruled by men. And as I’ve said before, the comments section of even egalitarian blogs like Scot McKnight and Roger Olson is populated primarily by men. Then there’s Amanda Mac’s Great Blog Experiment of two years ago in which she took all personal references off her blog, essentially making herself anonymous. When commenting on other blogs she used only her initials or some other genderless pseudonym. What she found was that people were more likely to click on the link to her blog when she was anonymous than when she used her real name and went back to being a girl.
Now other than a few specific hard complementarian sites and seminaries (and we all know who they are), I don’t think most of these guys are doing this on purpose. With a few notable exceptions, I don’t think there’s an active conspiracy to keep women out of the evangelical academy or the theological blogosphere. I do think that there is a centuries-old paradigm that continues to infect us all and that must be destroyed. It’s a paradigm that assumes that men, and only men, can interact with deep theological topics, and that women always speak from their hearts rather than their heads.
I have, literally, sat around the table with these men and been part of the conversation. I have spoken and been spoken to and many (though admittedly not all) of these men are ready and willing to talk deep theology with a woman. But how will the rest of the masculine academic tribe ever have this experience if women don’t pull up a chair and start talking—regardless of the odd reactions they might get. The reason I feature my photo prominently on my blog and also started attaching my photo when I comment on other people’s blogs is because I want people to get used to seeing a woman’s face. Focusing that much attention on myself does not come naturally and still feels kind of weird (as it probably does to a lot of women), but I encourage female bloggers and commenters to start doing the same.
Back in September 2012, Leanne Dzubinski wrote a wonderful post called “God Will Make a Way,” in which she challenges the frequently-held belief that if God intends a women to use her gifts in a non-traditional ministry that God will open a door for her to walk through. Dzubinski challenges this assumption on two fronts. The first problem, she says, is the assumption that if a women is not offered an opportunity to use her gifts that there is something wrong with her. The possibility that there might be something wrong with the system never enters her mind. The second problem is that it removes the responsibility of the woman to act, encouraging her to passively leave everything in the hands of providence. But the Bible tells us that God does not want us to be passive. God called Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and the New Testament Church (to name just a few). Then he expected Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and the New Testament Church to go and do what he asked them to do—regardless of the obstacles. “While God absolutely can and sometimes does miraculously change things for us,” writes Dzubinski “can we also consider that perhaps we need to work together to change the system?”
I ask any woman who has been called by God to study theology, hermeneutics, or apologetics (and you know who you are) to just do it. I encourage any women who feels discouraged or tired because she sits in a classroom populated entirely by men to remind herself that obstacles are not evidence that she should give up. I demand (and I don’t demand things very often) that if you are not called to “women’s ministry” that you do not let others channel you in that direction.
And I humbly ask that if you want to blog about complex theological issues, do it. Do it often. Do it well. And let everyone know about it.
I really hope that the Church of Rom will follow this trend in every respect.
Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)