When you hear someone say, “Be a man!” or “Don’t be such a girl!” what images come to mind? You can probably picture what the speaker means by those phrases fairly easily, right? In American culture, our gender roles are tightly interwoven into our societal fabric. Sometimes we notice them, but many times we go through our day without giving them a second glance. Depending on your worldview, gender roles can be viewed as helpful classifiers or oppressive limitations on how people express themselves within society.
For Christians, the act of performing our gender roles takes a step beyond the cultural controversy and enters the realm of theological discord.
You may be familiar with the terms Egalitarian and Complementarian. If you’re not, you soon will be! I’ve put together this infographic to help explain these two contrasting theological approaches to the roles of men and women in the church and society. Notice that I’ve included Proverbs 2:6 before anything else. This is a conscious choice I’ve made to draw recognition to the fact that too often we confuse the art of critical thinking with the act of being critical. It is important to remember that both approaches share a common goal, which is seeing men and women returned (through salvation and the second coming) to God’s original design. While they differ in what that design looks like, it’s my hope that we can all appreciate one another’s desire to see the kingdom restored. We are all calling for the garden, but there is no need to shout.
My View & Yours
I think you can probably guess, based on the premise of The Thistlette, that I am an egalitarian. But this post isn’t really about my view. I’m not going to brandish my sword to try and prove anyone wrong or tear anyone down. Actually, I’m much more interested in focusing on helping you discover what you believe, even if that’s not the same as my own opinion. And this is why:
As a freshmen in college, I was once totally ignorant that there was an “issue” of women in the church. I was raised complementarian, but I had never given it much thought as to why all the people in leadership roles were men. That’s just the way it was. Then one afternoon, as a counselor at a Christian summer camp, I walked out to meet the pastor that would be leading vespers for us that night and met — Claire. I experienced a flash of emotions ranging from surprised to embarrassed and ending with confused. All summer I had led my campers to evening worship and watched as they listened intently to a local pastor teach from the side of the campfire. That night, as I watched Claire doing the exact same thing, I felt a gnawing in my stomach that I could not ignore. I looked around at everyone else and couldn’t understand why I was the only one phased by this. Throughout the week, I grew more and more troubled. How would this impact the kids? Did she really have a church she worked at in real life? And people go there every week? I was dumbfounded.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to take her aside and try to make sense of my feelings. I remember telling her that I had never met a “woman pastor” before. She smiled knowingly and asked if I had any questions. (Uh, only about a million!) I asked her why she was a pastor, and how she justified it. Both questions now make me cringe in their insensitiveness, but she answered with grace and tact. As she explained how she had felt called to ministry and showed how God had led her into this vocation, another question loomed in my mind. “But what does your husband think of it all?” I pictured him (probably a small, absent-minded professor type) sitting in the front row and shh-ing the children as Claire stood behind the pulpit. “How awful for him,” I thought. Claire just smiled and told me how her husband was her partner and supported her in whatever she felt called to do because he believed that God could use her. The cultural gender roles were thrown out the window in favor of equal support and submission. She asked me to imagine if I had felt God calling me into something people thought was difficult or wrong, would I still follow his call. I stammered, but I knew she was right to ask.
That was where it started for me. Just a small conversation around a picnic table, but it changed something in me drastically. It opened my eyes to the world of different beliefs and the reality of the systemic oppression of women’s rights, not only in the church, but in the world at large.
I’m not saying that you have to follow my same path. I don’t believe in a formulaic approach to much expect perhaps baking brownies (that’s science, guys). You don’t have to leave behind everything you know about being a godly woman or man if you start asking questions. In fact, a lot of what I learned as a complementarian women informed my personality in positive ways. (I do believe it did me more harm than good, but I would be dishonest to say that I did not learn from it at all.) What I’m asking is that you let yourself be open and that you try to learn as much as possible about what you believe and why. There are so many things we can learn from each other in our separate pursuits that will bring fruit to our lives if we can only allow ourselves to be vulnerable to doubts and differences.
Once I allowed myself to embrace and not run from my doubts, I grew into my faith more strongly than before, which is what I hope for you. May you continue to seek the Lord and pursue his design for your life.
I welcome your comments, thoughts, and questions. I will try to respond to them as quickly and as correctly as I can!
If you have an idea or topic you would like to see discussed on The Thistlette, leave your suggestion in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.