Bronwyn, thank you for speaking into the question of application with such insight! I appreciate your openness and willingness to wrestle with these questions.
I also really appreciate your reminder, Hannah, that not all gender conservatives are complementarians. If I’m honest, I didn’t realize that until you explained it.
I can’t speak to the questions posed here from a complementarian point of view, as that is not my own conviction. But, the fuzziness of what it means to be in authority over a man is something I’ve wrestled with a great deal as I have tried to be faithful to God’s calling on my life.
As a recent college graduate preparing to head off to seminary, I met with a local pastor to talk about what might be ahead for me in my seminary journey. At that time I was adamant that I had no intentions to be ordained. I believed that women could not be called into ordained ministry. But, I did have gifts for teaching, and had been recommended by many of my professors to pursue an academic path. I also had a profound love for Scripture, and as God called me to seminary, I believed the Mdiv. would be step one on a journey towards becoming a professor.
I sat down on a couch in a dimly lit room with my husband by my side and a pastor in front of both of us. The pastor spoke kindly to my husband and to me about our upcoming seminary journey. He lauded my gifts for teaching and ministry, and he praised my husband’s faithfulness in pursuing his calling to pastoral ministry. And, then his face became very serious.
“April, I worry about you,” he said. “You’ve got gifts, to be sure, but you have to be careful how you use them. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
Interestingly, he never gave the same warning to my husband. And, though he never specified why he addressed this concern only to me, I knew that he was worried I’d start sliding down the “slippery slope” and soon become an advocate for the ordination of women.
In that regard, he was right, I suppose, though I don’t really believe in the idea of a slippery slope. And though it was the first time I had heard the can vs. should argument, it would not be the last.
Though he did not say it directly, I think what the pastor was getting at was the idea that even though a woman theoretically could take a position as a pastor it does not mean she should. He was taking his interpretation of the way God speaks to women and men and was applying it to the realm of vocation. If the Bible says women are not permitted to have authority over a man, how do we apply this to a woman who has leadership and teaching gifts?
What about situations in which men recognize a woman’s gifts and ask for her direction?
How does one discern the difference between what can be done and what should be done?
I also want to admit that I struggle in responding to this conversation as someone who is convinced that women can (and are) called into positions of leadership in the church. I struggle because I do not believe women and men have no differences whatsoever. But, I do not think God speaks to men and women differently in the Bible. I think God speaks to each person regardless of that person’s gender differently because we are all different people.
This is why we read the Bible in community, rather than in isolation, because we are a body and what one hears may be what we all need to hear.