I grew up in a home numerically dominated by males.
I look back and pity my poor mother. I am the second of three boys, and my mother was a single mom from the time we were 9, 7 and 4 years old. So I spent evenings and weekends in the summer at the baseball field, and at the winter the hockey rink- you know, “guy stuff”. But I was never really comfortable being a “jock”. I failed at it miserably, really. Not because I was bad at sports (I wasn’t great, but certainly not terrible). I disliked the “machismo”, the swagger, the arrogance of my male peers. In High School, most of the peers I hung out with were female. I was socially awkward (still am in some ways). I was tall, skinny, and quiet, and silently dealing with severe depression. Even with a decent throwing arm, and the ability to track a fly ball, I was not really comfortable among the jocks. I didn’t fit the bill for everything a guy was supposed to be. Many of my peers developed their ideas about masculinity from piecing it together from Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, and dirty jokes they heard older siblings tell. Suffice to say, I didn’t fit that mould. It wasn’t until the university classroom that I “found my groove” as they say.
I had little faith input in my childhood, and didn’t attend church regularly until I was 17. When I came to faith, it was in the context of an egalitarian community, and the person most responsible for my conversion is transgendered (atypical for an evangelical, I know). The Church I was involved with had a pastoral staff of 3 people- a married couple co-pastoring, and female associate pastor. When I left that Church after seminary to accept a call to pastor another church, my home congregation had gone through staff changes, and had a female lead pastor, a female youth & family pastor and a female worship director. I went to a seminary which is firmly supportive of women in ministry. The denomination to which I belong debated and decided to begin ordaining women in 1947. This to me was normal; calling and giftedness was not gender specific. It wasn’t until well into my faith journey that I even heard of complementarianism. When I became aware of this rising wave of complementarian churches, conferences, coalitions, organizations and movements I was caught somewhat off guard. I am still firmly egalitarian in my views of church leadership and ordination. I wrote a few things about it a few years back, which I considered deleting. The tone is somewhat antagonistic. I recently wrote this which is, I think, a more mature tone (includes links to the older posts).
In recent years, the denomination I am part of (my “tribe”) has seen a renewed debate on issues of gender and sexuality. There has always been objections from some people and congregations within our denomination on this front. But recently the dissent has become much more loud and increasingly confrontational in tone. So, as I ponder my own role as a pastor of a local church, it raises several questions in regard to the role of women in the church:
1. How do egalitarians and complementarians have conversations which are gracious and constructive? If unanimity is not possible (no signs of that happening any time soon), how can Christians maintain fellowship, when both sides have entrenched views, especially on the poles, where they are convinced faithfulness to Scripture demands their position be upheld? Can those who believe the other side are in violation of Scripture continue in partnership?
2. How do denominational bodies handle opposition voices on issues of gender roles in the Church (or any issue really)?
3. How do I, as a male pastor in single pastor congregation, find ways to support women in their callings within the Church?
4. What hermeneutical assumptions do I bring to the “clobber texts” for both sides of the debate? How does my early development in faith in the context of an egalitarian congregation shape my reading of the text?
5. How much do I weigh in on the decisions and positions of other congregations? My role is to lead the folks entrusted to me, so do I risk becoming distracted and entangled with other groups battling over this issue? To what extant does my position allow/expect me to engage in broader conversations?
6. To echo Alastair’s concern: how much do we allow the views from the ends of the spectrum to dominate the conversation? The moving of the discussion to the poles creates problems, so how do we balance the discussion to reflect the full spectrum and allow all places on the spectrum to speak?
* * *
I now live in a home numerically dominated by females.
I am married, and I have 3 daughters (5, 3, and 9 months) My house is full of barbies, pink frilly things, and giggling. My mother always pondered how would things have been different if she had at least one daughter. She now has 6 grandchildren… all girls. Family get-togethers are very different than they were when I was a child. My wife and I met at Christian Youth retreat (how cliche), and got married in 2006. Our first daughter was born in 2010. While expecting we had long discussions about how to structure our lives, and how would work and raising children look. After a long conversation, we did mutually decide Jenelle would be a stay-at-home mom. To the casual observer, we might look like the ideal complementarian family. I pastor a church. She stays at home with our 3 kids. I drive a mini van. Of course this is far from the total picture. Jenelle and I made this decision together, not based on an assumption of patriarchy and family values, but as a result of a whole host of considerations. My wife, interestingly, leans slightly to the side of complementarian views of the family (not at all dogmatically though, and she is firmly supportive of women in ministry). This keeps life interesting. When it’s time to make decisions, just getting a conversation to happen is half the challenge. I want to practice mutuality, she wants me to make a decisive call.
Having struggled with ideas about masculinity in my own life, and being negatively impacted by the trend of emphasis on being “macho”, being a supportive husband, and now finding myself raising girls creates a new and significant tension in my mind. It also raises a bunch of tough questions for me on gender and family:
1. How much sway should I, as a father, exercise in forming my daughters views of how they understand being females made in the image of God?
2. How do I help my daughters, as they get older, to engage with the pressures of a culture which commodifies female sexuality?
3. How do I support my wife, who plays a “traditional gender role” even though we don’t necessarily have traditional views on gender roles? What does the way my family operates communicate about our views on gender roles to others?
4. With the creation of humanity, both male and female, in God’s image, and the design for companionship, how do we honour singleness within the Church? What is my role, as father in influencing my daughter’s views on marriage?
On both the discussions, that of gender in family, and gender in the Church, I am doing my best to be a gracious conversation partner. The usual polemics, and scripted critiques (“you don’t have a high view of Scripture”, “your views are oppressive and archaic”, “the Bible is clear”, “this is misogynistic” and so on and so forth) removes any chance of fruitful discussion. I am glad to be part of an exchange of people I can trust to be both honest and gracious when discussing a tough topic.