Introduction: Graham Ware

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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?

 

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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.

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Introduction: Bronwyn Lea

Bronwyn Lea

I confess that I am not sure how or why I got invited to sit at this virtual table and join in this conversation about women, men, and the life of faith. I have far more questions than answers, and being here reminds me of that daring feeling in adolescence of getting to sit at the dinner table with the grown-ups: participating in Conversations That Matter, even though I was not always sure what to say.

However, I care about this conversation. And more than that, I care about the way in which it is conducted. So I accept this invitation with no small measure of excitement-and-uncertainty.

None of us come to a conversation about faith and gender without some self-examination and self-disclosure as to our origins. Jesus meets us all in a time and place bound by particular familial, religious and cultural contexts. Much of the life of faith involves us seeking to understand the ‘norm’ we were born into and replace it with a cruciform worldview: a new ‘norm’ shaped by the gospel. Yet this new norm still exists within a particular familial, religious and cultural context.

My journey thus far has been this: I was born in South Africa into a family that did not profess faith. My parents divorced when I was young, and most of my childhood was spent in a life full of women: raised by a single mom, attending a girls-only parochial school, having only sisters as siblings. Heck, we even had exclusively female pets. I became a Christian during these years and attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible Camps in the same way as I did ballet: extra-curricular activities which were supported by my parents. There was neither a need nor an occasion to think about what the different roles of women and men might be.

I pursued political philosophy and law at university, and along with my regular classes I received a rapid and unwelcome introduction into the world of Christian Bickering. I had no idea there were so many different groups all claiming to be Christian, nor how deeply (and nastily) many of them disagreed. At college I learned that it was important to know which “type” of Christian you were. Labels were necessary evils, apparently. As it turned out, I was “charismatic” with a leaning towards the “prosperity gospel” and “dispensational theology”. Who knew?

I started dating a guy who wore the labels “reformed”, “calvinist” and “evangelical”. Our first argument was over predestination. The way he handled the bible (thoroughly, contextually, holistically) was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Although I had called myself a Christian for twelve years at that point, it was only then that my biblical education began. I had always known Jesus was my Saviour: it just took a dozen years to think through what I had been saved from.

With my introduction to reformed theology came a package-deal understanding of “biblical womanhood”: wives were to submit, and ideally be home makers. Book after book was passed my way and the logic seemed persuasive to me, even though some of it made my blood boil. I recall yelling at my boyfriend one afternoon: “What is the point of me being at law school at all if the only thing it will be good for is for me to one day be better equipped for me to educate sons?!” Girls, apparently, were not worth educating.

I graduated from law school and an unexpected sequence of events led me to pursue ministry. In particular, I had a passion for Christian women in the workplace. At first, I had wanted to be a strong Christian witness in business, but over time this developed into a passion for equipping other women to fulfill that role. I reluctantly began my first year at a small Anglican bible college (seminary). The questions about the roles of women in the life of faith bubbled beneath the surface: I was being equipped and trained in exactly the same way as those training to be pastors; but those were roles I could never fulfill. I was trained in preaching (and was told I had some aptitude for it), but it was understood that any teaching or pastoring I did would be towards women. I felt called to teach and equip women anyway, so I was completely content with that.

After graduating from seminary, I began working as “women’s worker” (for want of a better title) in the city. A year later, I married a man who was set on pursuing a doctorate. A path opened up for him to do so in the USA, and so I packed up my fledgling ministry and we relocated to California.

We found ourselves in a very big Baptist church: among people who loved God and loved his people, but whose expression of faith often had different language and customs to those with which I had become familiar. I volunteered with the local college ministry, and when the college pastor resigned a year later, I became the Director of the ministry… with all the duties of the pastor, but half the salary, half the leave, and no retirement contribution. Such benefits were for Pastors. And women could not be pastors.

If a worker is worth their wages, then if you pay a worker half, does that mean you consider them to be worth half? Sometimes, it felt that way, even though I was well-treated and well-supported during my tenure there.

In the meanwhile, I found myself reading more and more on the topic of women in ministry. I learned the labels “egalitarian” and “complementarian” (all-important in the American church, apparently) and found that I was sympathetic to viewpoints from both sides. I appreciated that some of the complementarian hermeneutic read more like a 1950’s textbook’s lessons in patriarchy, and yet at the same time I wasn’t ready to jump ship.

I had entered marriage believing in the men-sacrifically-lead and women-willingly-follow model of marriage. However, as the years passed I was hard-pressed to give one single example of a time when this played out in a “he makes the final decision” trump card. I think a healthy, other-person-centered marriage looks much the same no matter whether you have Comp. or Egal. pencilled in on your business card.

Am I a complementarian or an egalitarian? Both. Neither. I’m not sure. Nate Pyle once described himself as a “non-hierarchical complegalitarian”, and I think I shouted an audible “Yes!” at that label. As I said, I have more questions than answers.

I’m not sure the labels matter, but the conversation matters very much. Even though motherhood has taken me out of the realm of paid, vocational ministry; I still care very much how this discussion is parsed. It matters because I still speak and write on matters of faith. It matters because I am raising a daughter and sons. It matters because both women and men are made in the image of God and He calls us all to serve and flourish in His Kingdom, and yet we are to do so within the loving boundaries of Scripture. He defines service and flourishing, not us.

I am so grateful to part of the Passing the Salt Shaker discussion – not just because these issues matter and truth matters. I am grateful to be here because people matter, and the way we talk about gender is at least as important as (if not more so) what we say. Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love.

Not by our doctrine. Or our rightness.

I’m excited to welcome you all to this table where we can gather as a family who love each other and who can talk about hard, important things. As with all family gatherings, there will be variety and disagreement, and the voices of both mothers and fathers. Sometimes we may feel frustrated. Sometimes we will laugh. But there will also be learning and listening and togetherness.

One of my great joys as a mom is to watch my children learn how to love each other and interact well. There is always room for improvement, but I delight in seeing them mature together in understanding and character. My hope for this blog is that our Heavenly Father watching us, His children, at this virtual table, will be pleased to watch us grow too.