We were at the Equal and Complementary conference yesterday. Fiona McLean was addressing what a complementarian viewpoint might mean for a woman, and we found her the most helpful of the speakers: her presentation was quite warm and engaging, her content was pretty thorough and nuanced, her tone was reasonably irenic, and she began to get practical. Here’s what she had to say.
Understanding our socio-cultural context
- Feminism’s rejection of authority
- The mentality shift from ‘responsibilities’ to ‘rights’
- The mentality shift from obedience to individualism and personal autonomy
Some common objections to the complementarian position
- It teaches that men are superior, women are inferior.
- It protects men and oppresses women.
- It misrepresents Christianity.
- It puts gender over gifting.
- Many respected Christian leaders are egalitarian.
Women in ministry
- The question is not about gifting or personal fulfilment, but service of others and what God wants me to do.
- Ministry is much broader than ‘the ministry’ (ordained, official, paid positions). The Anglican system has some unhelpful limitations.
- What matters is the corporate body, not the individual.
- Being a wife and mother is a good thing, not a bad thing. Personhood is grounded in relationships.
- It’s not about placing restrictions on women, but about how both women and men can serve in light of their various opportunities and circumstances.
- Fiona’s view: Men are to be the chief shepherds in churches, but this authority is for church only, not society. Fiona is uneasy about women preaching, but women should be ordained as deacons and be appointed for doing ministry.
Some cautions for a complementarian viewpoint
- There are many grey areas and questions. When does a boy become a man? Is lecturing teaching?
- It becomes a ‘women’s issue’ that men don’t need to think about. Connected with this are the dangers of imposing rigid rules on women, and the idolatry of home and family.
- It gets blown out of proportion, and we fail to recognise that we must be unified with egalitarians, people through whom God works.
- It takes our eye off other sins — greed, materialism, lack of hospitality, self-reliance, apathy, and so on.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.