As Tamie and I continue writing about gender, we’ve had two kinds of experiences. We’ve been encouraged by respectful conversations with others, such as the interaction following On Femininity. Yet we’ve been saddened to meet others who wouldn’t even consider the discussion because it has been so hurtful and offensive to talk about in the past.
The issue has been fiercely polarising and the sabre-rattling gets pretty tiring. It’s especially saddening that pejorative terms continue to circulate amongst our leaders. They are Evangelical Feminists! (A feminist? For shame!) They are Hierarchicalists! (Hierarchy? God forbid!) These are swear words in the vein of ‘Fundamentalist’, used for pigeonholing and disparaging and fearmongering. Even the ‘Evangelical’ in Evangelical Feminism disparages rather than clarifies, the point being that an ‘Evangelical Feminist’ could never really be an Evangelical in the first place. But is there another way?
Early in 2005, two books from the opposing sides were published simultaneously by IVP in the UK:
- Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An analysis of 118 disputed questions
- Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy, edited by Pierce, Groothuis and Fee.
Both books were covered in a review article of Evangelical Quarterly 78.1. John Wilks concludes,
What particularly struck me…after reading both books and all four reviews, is the way these two volumes seem to talk past one another. Reading them both in parallel is a little like watching a peculiar game of charades where participants must attempt to impart information with only minimal awareness of what the others might have said. It is not a debate or a discussion between differing positions. As bizarre as it might seem, even [Grudem’s] Evangelical Feminism leaves me with this impression, for all its continual citation of the egalitarian argument, rebuttal of the proposals and the call to be refuted in turn. This is not an invitation to a discussion but a gauntlet thrown down in a challenge. …
…I can only presume that Grudem believes that his book has driven the final nails in the ‘coffin’ of Egalitarianism. Henceforth, no one could possibly decide to be egalitarian. It seems more than a little ironic then that the very same publisher could release a volume that deals with his earlier writings on this subject only tangentially, and reaffirms everything he thinks he has demolished. Not only is the Egalitarian body not dead, she was not in the coffin to start with.
The debate is far from over. Indeed, the discussion points that generate most debate have clearly emerged: Kevin Giles’ discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and Webb’s Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic clearly stand out from the reviewers’ comments for example. But judging from these two volumes, it seems that there might currently be far less interest in an actual debate from both sides. At the very least, that is a charge that both sides probably need to reconsider.
There you have it. The big problem is not the persistence of ‘Evangelical Feminism’ or ‘Hierarchicalism’ but that we have reached a point where Christians are unable to communicate usefully because they treat each other as adversaries.
I can only say that the way forward is not in winning a (currently fruitless) debate but in reconciling brothers and sisters.
The single most useful resource we have found is Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James Beck (Zondervan 2005). Its hallmark is its irenic tone: its four contributors are committed to interacting with goodwill and understanding, to listening and persuading before combating. The contributors write simply as Christian family and fellow travellers. It’s amazing what clarity emerges when the heat goes out of it. It’s refreshing even to see the simplest steps forward, like the replacement of pejorative terms with positive self-labels, egalitarian and complementarian. In such a heated climate, this is exactly what we need: to listen and learn from each other.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.