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Men lead, women obey?

In the lead up to the recent CBE conference, which Tamie has already reflected on, The Age published a local write-up of the quarrel between egalitarians and complementarians in Melbourne Anglicanism.

We’ve heard some people worry about the article’s inaccuracies, yet it has at least one thing exactly right: Christians really are at loggerheads on this.

Others have seen the article as inappropriate: doesn’t it make a scandal out of an internal matter for the church, an issue that Christians need to work out behind closed doors?  Yet this is as public as it gets.  The world will know us as Jesus’ disciples because of our love for other disciples.  Or take the cosmic sweep of Ephesians: God will be known as the church becomes the place where all humanity is unified, in plain view of the whole Universe.  Whatever comes of this issue will happen in public.

The tragedy of this debate is not that men might be oppressing women, as appalling as that is, but that it simmers with a disunity that undercuts the most basic business of the Christian church: making God known together as we worship him together.  This is the irony of The Age article, which seems a banner for division as much as a banner for justice.  Is this really the occasion to join some camp or other?

Instead, what if Christians talked together as Christians and worked together as Christians?  The great need is for Christians to stop treating one another as adversaries.  Thankfully, there are already some wonderful examples of this in practice (my coverage here).  And we can do more.  What if complementarians made themselves known as passionate advocates of gender equality?  What if egalitarians seriously tried to get to grips with gender differences?  Maybe someday the opposing camps will even hold a joint conference — now that would be something!

As for Ridley, if it is somehow ‘at the centre of the renewed debate’ as The Age article claims, I would hope that it’s as a flagship for Christians working together.  That has largely been my experience, at least.  As Peter Adam is quoted in the article, students are indeed free to hold either position with a clear conscience.  More importantly, students usually understand that this issue is a second-order one.  Mostly, complementarian students are not stupid enough to set upon women candidates for ordination.  Mostly, egalitarian students are wise enough not to heckle others for sincere beliefs.  And the rest of us are free to discern what to make of these things, along with many other matters, while together we get on with the business of making God known.  This is formalised in Ridley’s Gender and Ministry Policy.

Categories: Woman Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

4 replies

  1. Another fine and balanced post from you guys!

    I think you sum it up when you say, ” What if complementarians made themselves known as passionate advocates of gender equality? What if egalitarians seriously tried to get to grips with gender differences? Maybe someday the opposing camps will even hold a joint conference — now that would be something!”

    I think sometimes complementarians can just be using theology to cover for a dorment sexisim they might not even know they have and that egalitarians might be doing likewise to cover some sort of militant 1960s feminism. I think if you want to run a ‘complementarian’ church then you’ve gotta be able to point to the awesome women you have in your church, their awesome ministry opportunities, etc. Likewise Egalitarian churches should point to their mens breakfasts or something to show the acknowledge at least some form of distinction.

    And a combined conference would be one worth attending I think!

  2. “The tragedy of this debate is not that men might be oppressing women, as appalling as that is, but that it simmers with a disunity that undercuts the most basic business of the Christian church: making God known together as we worship him together.”

    It’s not that easy. To believers the absolute shame is that we are in disunity of agape. But unbelievers may care less about our disunity then they do the fact that women are being demeaned and put in bondage. Maybe some won’t notice. But there are in fact women who have been repulsed by the gender fights; repulsed because they don’t want to live as what is felt as a second class citizen in order to draw close to God. Ultimately, that is a demeaning of God’s love to women to those who notice.

  3. I think you’re right, TL, it’s not that easy. On one hand, we want to do good PR for the church and make Christianity attractive. On the other hand, we want to let the Bible shape how we think about gender even if that’s counter-cultural. Which isn’t to say that one side is the ‘sold out to culture side’ and one side is the ‘Bible side’. It’s just to say that making Christianity appealing (or less unappealing) is not the only concern.

    I think education’s part of it. Most complementarians wouldn’t see women as ‘second class citizens’ and for my part, I’ve often been better treated and had more ministry opportunities in complementarian churches than egalitarian churches. So the caricature isn’t always accurate. There are sinful people on both sides of the discussion. Both have failed women at some point. Which is another reason for both to show grace to each other.

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