Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Her.meneutics Gender Debates

From Her.meneutics – The Christianity Today Blog for Women (

We talk to theologian Russell Moore about Bachmann, the divorce culture, and why a feminist reading of Scripture would often be easier than a complementarian one.

Interview by Rachel Stone

Yesterday on the blog, we heard from theologian William Webb, an egalitarian who says the Bible's "redemptive movement" shows that because of Christ, women are more, not less, free to exercise gifts in church ministry and beyond. Today we hear from popular pastor and blogger Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and, as of today, the board chairman of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Moore says that headship in marriage actually empowers women, and that complementarians and egalitarians can find common ground around fighting a pornographic culture that reduces women to sexualized bodies.

Many evangelicals who would elect Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann for President wouldn’t attend a church with a female pastor. Is there a contradiction here?

On the face of it, there is no contradiction since Scripture teaches that the church, not the world, is presently the outpost of the new creation. The state in this age doesn’t — and can’t — reflect God’s kingdom purposes in the way that the church or a family can.

I would gladly vote for someone to be my president who disagrees with me on whether or not infants can be baptized. I wouldn’t want that same person to be my pastor, because we will have to decide together who and how to baptize. The Kuyperian principle of “sphere sovereignty” is helpful here.

On the other hand, that’s the ideal and, very often, not the reality. Unfortunately, American evangelicals have too often longed for a secular authority to serve as a spiritual leader, and political professionals have been all too willing to exploit this by teaching candidates to parrot evangelical-sounding phrases and “testimonies.” In such cases, political leaders become totem-like for evangelicals. An attack on a candidate who identifies with “us” is an attack on “us” or, worse, on Jesus. That’s unhealthy, regardless of whether the politician is male or female.

In the case of evangelical over-identification with political partisanship, though, there can be a subtle shifting in what it means to define a woman’s life, or a man’s, as a “success.” There is quite a bit of inconsistency in evangelical complementarians talking about a “gentle and quiet spirit” while cheering Ann Coulter’s latest sarcastic barbs.

Lots of evangelicals, such as William Webb, take the Bible seriously and are still comfortable seeing a woman in the pulpit. What about you?

I don’t think the issue is one of comfort — there are many women I would love to hear preach, and who are much better Bible scholars and communicators than any man I know. But the issue is whether the Scripture’s qualifications for this office (1 Tim. 2 and others) are normative.

There are some so-called “complementarian” Christians, I’m sure, who hold the position simply because they have never seen anyone but a man in the pulpit, and just find anything else odd and disquieting.

I have never met a convictional complementarian, though, who holds that position out of reflexive comfort. For most of us, the Scripture is pulling us in the other direction from our comfort. It would be much easier, especially for those us under 40, to embrace a more feminist stance here and elsewhere.

Complementarians sometimes say that a feminist or egalitarian reading of the Bible owes more to our own cultural prejudices than to a faithful reading of Scripture. Is this true?

I do not believe that egalitarian Christians are evil, Bible-destructing people. Most of them are trying to reconcile some things they find in Scripture (Jesus’ affirmation of women, for instance) with others that seem to contradict these (the teachings of Paul and Peter on the church and family, for instance).

I do think there’s a tendency for all of us to read the Scripture around our own “plausibility structures.” Paul obviously can’t mean that women aren’t to teach men, we conclude, because the very idea seems absurd, so he must mean something else. I think that’s a mistake.

This is not unique to egalitarians by any means. For example, American Christians have a great deal of difficulty hearing Jesus and his apostles on issues of wealth and poverty. We seek to make Bible elastic enough to allow us to pursue our dollars and follow Jesus simultaneously.

When complementarians argue that we shouldn’t conform the Bible to our cultural expectations, we are not saying that this is unique to egalitarianism. We’re saying, across the board, that we should let the Bible be as countercultural as it is.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood claims that evangelical feminism has caused a "tragic loss of the beauty of manhood and womanhood as created by God." What would you consider an example of this?

I think this is one area where complementarians and feminists can find common ground. The pornographic “revolution” has not empowered women but the men objectifying them. The abortion-rights “revolution” has not empowered women but sexually predatory men. Women and children are the first hurt by the kind of unaccountable divorce culture we have allowed to be cultivated in our culture and our churches.

Moreover, in Christian circles, there is often a diminishing of the value of the unique contribution of women to the church and to the home. What is implied is that a woman’s gifting is only valued if it is the same as that of a man.

What complementarianism contributes to this discussion is to say that where there is a loss of self-sacrificial, other-protective male leadership, the result is not equality but the worst form of patriarchy. In the Bible, headship is not dictatorship, but instead the responsibility to sacrifice oneself for another (Eph. 5:25-30). In a Christian view of reality, women’s value is not determined by her sexual attractiveness or availability to men. A truly complementarian Christianity will value the full spectrum of gifts, and the cooperative economy that God brings about through the distinctions between women and men as well as through their commonalities.

Thank you, Dr. Moore!

No comments:

Post a Comment