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Equal and Complementary conference: Fiona McLean

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

  1. Feminism’s rejection of authority
  2. The mentality shift from ‘responsibilities’ to ‘rights’
  3. The mentality shift from obedience to individualism and personal autonomy

Some common objections to the complementarian position

  1. It teaches that men are superior, women are inferior.
  2. It protects men and oppresses women.
  3. It misrepresents Christianity.
  4. It puts gender over gifting.
  5. Many respected Christian leaders are egalitarian.

Women in ministry

  1. The question is not about gifting or personal fulfilment, but service of others and what God wants me to do.
  2. Ministry is much broader than ‘the ministry’ (ordained, official, paid positions). The Anglican system has some unhelpful limitations.
  3. What matters is the corporate body, not the individual.
  4. Being a wife and mother is a good thing, not a bad thing. Personhood is grounded in relationships.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. There are many grey areas and questions. When does a boy become a man? Is lecturing teaching?
  2. 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.
  3. It gets blown out of proportion, and we fail to recognise that we must be unified with egalitarians, people through whom God works.
  4. It takes our eye off other sins — greed, materialism, lack of hospitality, self-reliance, apathy, and so on.

Categories: Woman Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

5 replies

  1. I liked her talk the most too. Thanks for posting your notes :-)

    Part of its appeal to me was its engagement with the cultural environment.

    I was glad to hear her appealing assessments of feminism (in its various waves). I nodded an agreement as she expressed thankfulness for the earlier feminist movements which demanded equalities on matters of law. And I lamented with her about its decline into increasingly idolatrous and ungodly principles in second and third wave feminism.

    Perhaps the discussions about homemaking and its links with sustainable living that has increased over the last 5 years could be the start of some new movement?

  2. Although, I’d be careful of a wholesale rejection of 2nd and 3rd wave feminism. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

  3. Thanks Tamie!

    I opted out of bringing our baby to Melbourne for the day so it was great to get such a good, concise summary of Fiona’s talk – which I am pretty sure I would have found the most useful for my own use.

    Feminism is such an important contextual grounding for considering practical application of the bible’s teaching on submission! Women have fought so hard to own property, vote, get paid better and have the right to be mum’s as well as be active in society if we so choose. Great reminder of this – also I love the point about the danger of idolatry of home and family. Australia is a culture that worships family and babies and babies are so much fun it is easy to make excuses for avoiding evangelism and other outward ministry!


    Amy Isham

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