Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rebellious Streak

Among the many different hats I wear from time to time is the hat of a proofreader for the seminary's weekly newsletter, called "the SEMI." Next week's issue will focus on the issue of abuse (many different forms thereof). An article on spousal abuse was written by Dr. David Scholer, who teaches regularly on the issue of women in ministry, and who I consider a close friend. The following is an excerpt from the upcoming article:
...of course, I know of virtually no Christian male leader who talks publicly in support of spousal abuse, but there are (far too) many who teach a submission that never takes account of this reality and who counsel women who receive abuse that it is their biblical duty to endure it. I remain struck by the fact that John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s 1991 book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism barely addresses the issue of the abuse of wives. Given the Fourth Affirmation in the official statement of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood about the way that men have abused their God-given authority over women (according to that view), one could expect that their magnum opus might have a chapter on spousal abuse. Alas, there is none. There are three isolated pages in the over 500 page book that briefly mention the abuse of wives. The book has just been reprinted (2006) with a new preface, which comments on what complementarians (formerly traditionalists) need to be concerned with now fifteen years after the book’s original publication. There is not a single word about spousal abuse.
A bit of context: Dr. Scholer is what we like to call an "egalitarian." That is to say, he affirms the rights of both men and women to all roles within the Christian church. Piper and Grudem consider themselves "complementarians." They argue that God calls men and women to different, but "complementary," roles within the Christian church, based upon the natural differences between men and women. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is considered the quintessential text of their organization, the "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" (CBMW).

But this blog entry isn't really about the evils of spousal abuse. I'm certainly not looking to accuse "complementarians" of advocating spousal abuse, even if I might suggest that they (as with so many of us in our society) turn a blind eye to it too often. But I'm sure that Piper and Grudem are as opposed to abuse as anyone else with a sane mind.

But my work on the SEMI issue on abuse led me to a related topic when it comes to gender issues. What actually struck me about Dr. Scholer's article was his comment about an "Affirmation" of CBMW against such spousal abuse. I got curious to see the actual text of the affirmation, and finally found it. The affirmation in question reads:
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).
  • In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
  • In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
Very affirming of "proper gender roles," to be sure, but likewise clear that abuse is wrong. I reject that assertion that for women to "resist limitations on their roles" is a sin, but that's the egalitarian in me talking, and gets a bit more to my point (yes, I do have one!).

I did a bit more research, and found an exposition on this statement (note: the link is to a PDF file). In talking about that last point, it repeats the assertion that the "root problem" is "a sinful resistance to biblically prescribed roles." I've often heard the suggestion that anyone who disagrees with the CBMW does so out of "sinful resistance." It should be no surprise that I find the suggestion more than a little offensive. In my conversations with "complementarians," I often try specifically to make the case that we believe what we do, not out of a sense of "rebellion" against God's word, nor out of a desire to make God's word say something other than what it really does, but because we truly believe that God's word, rightly interpreted, means something far more open than what people like the CBMW think it does. In regard to the issue of spousal abuse, it gets us nowhere if a complementarian affirms that abuse is a sin, but refuses to listen to an egalitarian's suggestion that a wife has the right to do something about that sin, accusing the egalitarian of rebelling against God's will for submissive wives.

A recent post on the blog for "Christians for Biblical Equality" (CBE, an organization that might be described as the Christian polar opposite of CBMW) says it this way:
If I were to talk to the most ardent of the hierarchalists, I might hear that I’m an evangelical egalitarian simply because I’m rebellious or I might be accused of rejecting the authority of Scripture or I might have been “feminized” (whatever that actually means). As a matter of fact, I’ve heard these very accusations time and time again. In some cases, it is believed that evangelical egalitarianism is simply a disguise for the conspiracy of liberalism among evangelicals.
I don’t like those broad labels and accusations which have no basis in reality, at least, for me. Perhaps I’m an egalitarian because I’ve seen it in God’s Word after years of struggling with the idea and after years of seeing abuses in the church and in our seminaries. At any rate, if the hierarchalist is willing to get to know me a little better as a person before making up one’s mind about me, I am willing to get to know him or her as well.
I should be clear here that I believe that the writer refers to other kinds of abuse (i.e., non-spousal) when he uses the term "abuse" in the above quote. His point is simply trying to keep an open mind, and trying to get past the knee-jerk labels. I have attempted to be as fair in my own dealings with "complementarians" (I think few people would call themselves "hierarchalists," and so I avoid that term), no doubt with varying degrees of success. I don't really expect to "convert" too many such people from interpretive views they've held for most of their lives (in most cases). But if I can at least convince them that I'm not exercising a "rebellious streak," then at least we can agree to disagree with intellectual integrity.
And that's really my point: there are some serious issues to be discussed, and I'm not foolish enough to think that everyone will agree on such substantive issues. But if we can at least avoid the accusations and accept that there's an honest attempt to follow God's will, maybe we can work together to reach some solutions.


  1. Your points are well taken when you said: "But if we can at least avoid the accusations and accept that there's an honest attempt to follow God's will, maybe we can work together to reach some solutions."

    This weekend I spent some time conversing with a Pastor who is a complementarian. I walked him through several questions that allowed him to see the harsh conclusions that complementarians are forced to come to. Here is how I did it:

    1. I asked him if there is a law of God that forbids a woman from teaching the bible to men. He said yes.

    2. I asked him if a woman disobeys this "law" and continues to teach the bible to men if that would be practicing sin. He said yes.

    3. I asked him if I disobey God's "law" against teaching the bible to men and continue on in unrepentantance at the time of my death, would I go to hell. He said yes.

    This is why complementarians and egalitarians cannot agree to disagree. If complementarians would not judge their sisters in Christ of sin, then it would be much easier for them to accept these sisters in Christ. If they continue to assert that there is a "law" against women's teaching men (plural) when 1 Timothy 2:12 does not qualify as a universal prohibition against godly women teaching correct doctrine to men, then compelementarians will never be able to accept women using their God-given gift of teaching for the benefit of men. Instead men will have to forced to leave so a woman can teach without sin. Because of this faulty tradition within the complementarian camp, I recently did a talk at a convention of former Jehovah's Witnesses that exposed the faulty tradition of the restrictions against women that exist both in the cults and in Christianity. I should have a link to my talk at my blog site located at by the end of the day. I think there are a lot of things brought out in the talk that many in the Church have never before considered.


  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for your comments. I certainly do not dispute that there are many complementarians who hold such harsh views. However, it is my belief that not all who adopt the "complementarian" label think the same way. Some are open to dialogue. Some can accept that people of faith can hold differing interpretations of the same Bible, while honestly trying to seek God.

    Of course, the differences between my own attitude and that of the pastor you describe go beyond just our theology on women in ministry. I do not believe that we are saved by our ability to keep the law, but by the saving grace of Christ. Christ's death covers all our sins: past, present, and future. Although I do think that we may be in trouble if we persistently choose to disobey God (an indication that we may not be "in Christ" in the first place), I believe that we are not saved by the "rightness" of our theology. If a person honestly believes that the Bible does not teach that a woman can not teach, how can it be "disobedience" for that woman to teach if she does so out of a firm conviction that it is God's call for her to do so, and she finds this conviction backed up by her honest study of the Bible?

    I grieve that there are indeed those who would sooner leave a church entirely rather than be taught by a woman. But I am thankful for those with whom dialogue is possible, and will continue to seek such.

    However, while I continue to assert that I believe that my complementarian friends are in error, if I do so with the same intransigent attitude that so many of them use upon us, growth becomes impossible.

    One area at which I think we have room for dialogue is indeed the matter of spousal abuse. We are (generally) in agreement that such abuse is sin. We need to dialogue as to how we can proactively work against such abuse, rather than giving the barest of lip-service to its sinfulness. This is an area that I think complementarians have thus far failed, and I would hope that they themselves see this as a real problem, even as they may not agree (at first) with the egalitarian attitudes toward solutions.



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