Mutuality or patriarchy?

First off, it’s been a while since I last posted on here and even longer since I posted regularly. Life has kind of got in the way of blogging activity for me recently.

However, I wanted to make my own contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality synchroblog; and as I wondered what I should write, Denny Burk posted a response to Rachel that I felt needed a reply. In it he acknowledged that the complementarian view of gender roles is patriarchal, but then went on to try to show that this is fully “Biblical” and that evangelicals should be proud to hold this view. Meanwhile, over at Ed Czysewski’s blog In A Mirror Dimly, his Women in Ministry series has attracted many comments from women, but several have noted the lack of feedback from men – especially men who ware supportive of women having an equal role in the church’s ministry and decision-making.

As far as Denny Burk’s piece goes, Rachel herself has written a fairly full response, which says quite a lot of what I wanted to say myself and with which I agree. But there are a couple of points I wish to add to that discussion.

Firstly, the issue of scripture itself. Complementarians cite scripture as though what is said is prescriptive – and not just for the original audience but for all time, including our own. But I would want to argue that, especially in the Hebrew scriptures but often in the New Testament too, what we read is simply descriptive of the situation at the time. Many evangelicals are keen to “cut to the chase” when reading the Bible. That is, they want to jump right into the application for us today. But if we take this shortcut, then we can misconstrue what we read; we take things out of context and make scripture appear to say things that were never intended, and certainly never intended for us in our own situation. Thus, though it is perhaps unsurprising that the Bible is addressed to people living in a patriarchal society, the fact that this is so does not mean that patriarchy itself is “God-ordained”.

Furthermore, there is an underlying assumption that everything that can reasonably be said or understood about a subject or a text  has already been understood or said. Well, it took the church 1800 years to realise that, while the Bible appears to condone slavery, the principles laid down in both Testaments now make slave ownership an impossible position not only from a human perspective (since almost all humanists would agree) but froma specifically Christian perspective. I believe this impacts on the issue of gender roles and the position of women in our own age. It is a sad reflection, I believe, on the Church that we are playing catch-up with our contemporaries rather than leading the way.

Secondly, we cannot simply stick our heads in the sand and shout louder to maintain a conservative view. There are times when we have to do the serious work of reflecting on actual experience – and not just our own experience, which leads to a narrow view, but the experience of others too – and test our theology and view of scripture against that. We have a prime example of this in the New Testament when the new church came up against the FACT that non-Jews were believing in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit – without first being circumcised. According to then-current theology this shouldn’t have been happening. But it was! The evidence was clear. So a reappraisal of the theology and a new interpretation of the Hebrew scripture was needed, even though the debate rumbled on for quite a long time.

Thirdly, while I agree that Christians should be counter-cultural, this is far from being a slam-dunk argument. That a particular approach to an issue may counter-cultural at a particular place or time is no more a guarantee of it being “Christian” or “Biblical” than is the fact that someone is being persecuted. People may be persecuted because they are simply engaging in obnoxious behaviour, which may be far from Christ-like. So while we sometimes (often?) need to challenge an aspect of our culture in the name of Christ, we need to make sure that we are not simply reacting on the basis of our own personal feelings, interests or cultural biases. Perhaps one reason why patriarchy appears so negative to so many people in our 21st century context is because it is.

I believe that as we listen to the stories of women in our churches (start with Ed’s blog series if you are new to this), as we experience the ministry of women in leadership roles, it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit is gifting women for these roles. As I hear stories of women who feel thwarted and discouraged because others tell them they can’t do something, or can’t possibly have a call of gift for leadership in the church purely because they are women, my heart breaks. We, followers of Christ, must do far, far better than this. We cannot afford to waste what God is giving us. And men who agree, and who are currently better placed in terms of influence, must stand up and be counted, to make and be the difference.

Along with Rachel and many, many others I do not believe that patriarchy is God’s dream for the world. God made us, male and female, to bear his image and it is together that we inherit God’s kingdom.