Lists of Things That Women Cannot Do: The Problem With John Piper (and Me)

file4171276032990John Piper made a bit of a splash with his podcast of last week: Should Women Be Police Officers? A female listener called in, saying she “is a woman who enjoys being a woman… and feels no desire to compete to be better than men at being masculine,” but felt she was “called to police work”. Was this wrong, she wanted to know?

Piper begins his response with a caveat:

“My sense is that it is unwise to make a list of women’s jobs and men’s jobs. There is simply too much diversity and too much flexibility in how many jobs there are and how the jobs are done and what the very relationships with men or women are in all the various jobs. It just won’t work to try to make a list like that.”

But then, as Benjamin Corey insightfully points out, he goes on to do just that. Using “biblical principles”, Piper elaborates on two general principles regarding masculinity and femininity, that being that women should, in general, not hold positions that are both personal and directive in their leadership over men. So, for example, a female traffic engineer may have a very directive job, in that she is telling (male) drivers where they may drive, but her leadership is not personally aimed at them. This may be contrasted with a female drill sergeant, whose leadership over men is clearly both directive and personal, and would “violate her sense of womanhood and their sense of manhood” in the discharge of her duties.

Like Aimee Byrd, I am grappling with this podcast. I, too, was deeply influenced by Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when I read it fifteen years ago – but as time goes by I’m finding a deep discomfort with where the lines are being drawn, and I am more than a little irritated by the persistent theme that theirs is the line held by those who “deeply want to shape their whole lives by scripture” (the closing paragraph of the podcast). As if, by questioning his lines in the sand, this reveals something less than a deep desire on my part to seek and obey the Scriptures.

I remain a “soft” complementarian in that I am persuaded that the Scripture does address men and female distinctly and differently their relationships with one another and in the world. I admit that there are cultural filters to the context and worldview at the time we must consider (after all, we are not advocating for slavery according to the household codes of the NT letters), and that we are somewhere on the continuum of a redeemed view of humanity, with particular application to our expressions of sexuality. Whatever happened before, and in, and after the garden of Eden affected relationships between men, women, and God – and we have hard theological work to do to figure out where in that journey we are.

My own persuasion is that the Scripture still addresses me, as a woman, differently as it does to men. But what I don’t know, and what Piper’s list of what women should do in the workplace (and Grudem’s list on what women should do in the church) reveal to me is a deep problem in applying these convictions. The Danvers Statement states that “some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men,” a fact which Grudem insists “draws a definite line.” My question is: is the line really so definite?

In my experience, it really is fuzzy.

In Piper’s example of a woman (acceptably) working as a traffic engineer, she may not be personally directing all those male drivers and thus violating their sense of masculinity (!!!), but in the real workplace, she would be presenting her plans to a state level department of transport. There would be committee meetings and managers, presumably a high number of whom would be male. And then there are the construction crews who will build those roads and put the signs where she demarcated they should go. In a day to day way: her job would involve some significant personal direction with male co-workers and subordinates. Like I said: fuzzy.

In my own marriage, my husband and I are persuaded by the servant leader/capable helper model, but I will own that in practice – it looks a lot like the healthy egalitarian marriages I see around me, because in truth: respect and other-person-centered love, which Scripture calls us to, lands up looking very similar in practice. In my nearly 12 years of marriage, I can’t think of a single example of a “when the rubber hits the road, final decision” where my husband needed to wield his manly decision-making authority over me. It really has always been more considerate than that. Fuzzy.

And what of teaching? So, I can’t teach the scriptures to men, but if I publish a talk on my blog, can men read it? Should they? I can teach children and women, but not men… but at what stage do boys become men? Can I teach a high school group? What about college? What if there’s a male pastor who says I am teaching “under his authority”? Is there a difference between my sharing my testimony in a Sunday school class, or sharing it in the main Sunday service? Can I teach church history (which surely should be instructive), but not the book of 1 Samuel (which is both historical and instructive)? Fuzzy.

My confession is this: Pastor John’s podcast shines a light on something of the slippery slope of trying to apply principles. I find myself wanting to put significant distance between my own views and his, but I have a hard time knowing how, or where, to draw those (broad, smudged) lines.

The questions I’d like to raise at our SaltShaker table are twofold:

  1. To what extent do Piper and Grudem (and the big names at CMBW) speak for all complementarians? How big, and how grey, is our grey area?
  2. If one does have a general commitment to a difference in male/female roles in church, family and the world… how in the world do we start trying to figure out what that looks like in practice without sliding straight down that muddy slope?

What Does The Trinity Teach Us (If Anything) About Gender Relationships?

Alastair has raised a number of questions about the use of trinitarian theology in discussions regarding gender. In a longer post, he laid out some critiques offered by leading trinitarian theologians about social trinitarianism, arguments that rely on the “use of the inner life of the Trinity as a basis for its social vision.”

Reading these posts left me spinning. Even though I have a theology degree and have read more than the average number of articles on men and women relating “biblically” to each other, this was a perspective I have never heard before, and yet on reading the critique I realized that YES! I have been confused by the fact that both complementation and egalitarian theologies rely on arguments positing a certain view of the way the Father, Son and the Spirit relate to each other to support their views (Complementarians: “just as the son submits to the Father, so women should submit to men! Together, men and women reflect the beauty of the Godhead!”… Egalitarians: “Just as the Father, Son and Spirit relate in mutual, affirming, mutually submissive ways, so too we are imago dei and there is no one-upmanship between men and women.”) The shifting and varying theological arguments here do suggest to me that rationalization, rather than honest and principled theological reasoning, is taking place.

I, for one, am in favor of taking a distinct step back from social Trinitarianism. The danger that we will project our social and hermeneutical biases onto Scripture is ever-present, and greatly heightened when the doctrine in question is the unknowable God himself.

However, I am not sure then what to make of the statements as in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “but I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”, particularly as it relates to the meaning of “head” and “submission”. These are relationship-words which Scripture itself uses to describe aspects of the Father/Son’s relationship, men and women’s relationship, and the relationship between us and God. Clearly, we are to learn something from the patterning of relationships, but it seems that we are in grave danger of error when trying to pin down exactly what it is we’re learning.

I do not understand “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to refer to ontological ordering (head doesn’t mean “source”, after all), but if it does refer to some functional way of relating, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to apply it. I had understood “head” to mean “authority”, and the verb “submit” to mean “appoint yourself under the authority of…”, recognizing that Jesus himself submitted to authority (the Fathers’, the rulers of his day etc), and that even the demons themselves submit (recognizing authority) in certain situations is significant because it signals to me that, whatever we say about mutuality in God’s economy, that we are not always at the same levels as others, and may need to accord proper respect and deference as is appropriate to that situation. Jesus is the King of Kings, but there was a time when he bowed to kings.

Even if I am persuaded (and I think I am) that there is no “eternal subordination of the son to the Father”, the scripture still speaks of Jesus’ submission, and in some way calls us to model that submission in appropriate relationships. As such: the questions of what that means for me as a woman relating to my husband specifically, the men in my church, and men in general still remain. It would be, however, something of a relief to not have the Trinity being used as a theological club to make points in that conversation.

Is Complementarianism A Gospel Issue?

Hannah A raised a great question in her discussion of Jen Michel’s post at Her.meneutics: How far does Christian liberty extend in gender applications? The issue of a woman finding one’s place in a complementarian church is a different one from finding one’s place in a parachurch organization, which is by nature a less-organized (in the sense of less strictly governed, not in the sense of being administratively handicapped).

It was St. Augustine who wrote “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It seems to me that Christians in church and para-church alike all agree with Augustine. We all want unity on the essentials, and liberty on the non-essentials. The underlying issue, then, is whether we consider the question of  roles and relationships of men and women in the church to be an essential, or non-essential doctrine. 

In other words: is the issue of women in the church a ‘gospel issue’?

I believe that the amount of liberty we are willing to extend in gender applications is directly proportional to how firmly we believe our theology of gender to be an essential to the Christian faith. Owen Strachan, President of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, certainly sees complementation theology as  quintessential to the Faith. “Complementarity is a simple biological fact and a core biblical teaching. This is not a fourth-order doctrine,” he writes, adding in parenthesis: “as if we can rank any teaching of Scripture.”

It is hard to disagree with Strachan on this. After all, James tells us that whoever keeps the law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking the whole of it (James 2:10). Who are we, then, to decide what is “important” in the Word of God?

Firm egalitarians face the same issue: that being that their understanding of the gender passages is intrinsically tied into their hermeneutic and understanding of the gospel as a whole. As such, for writers such as Sarah Bessey, seeing the Kingdom value of women and their call to discipleship is innately woven into the redemptive message of the Gospel. “There is Scriptural justification, historical justification, Spirit justification, traditional and communal justification for women preaching and pastoring and leading,” she writes.

Both complementarians and egalitarians have this right: that salvation is not an abstract concept for neutered souls. Rather the gospel of God’s Kingdom is for men and women (not gender neutral people), embodied souls who are saved in their maleness and femaleness – and somehow we must live our understanding of the Kingdom out in our gendered reality.

In a real way, this is so much more than a question of what women and men can and can’t do in practice – it is a more fundamental question of identity and finding our place in the narrative of God’s Kingdom. Looking at it this way, it seems that it is a essential issue in the Augustinian sense – something in which we should seek unity. And if that’s what we mean by essential, then we will not be able to afford one another much liberty on gender applications.

And yet.

Yet—all of life is undergirded by theology, and our hermeneutic of the Kingdom should affect every aspect of our life and practice. In some sense, everything we do is essential in as much as it is colored by our allegiance to Jesus; and even so we see the Scripture itself tolerating a variety of non-essentials, each of these shaped by the theological scruples and contextual background of the people in question. Is it okay to eat meat? Well, that depends. Are you Jewish? Were you an idol-worshipper? Who are you eating with? The apostle Paul had clear gospel-shaped convictions on this issue (1 Corinthians 8-10), and yet declared it to be a non-essential: an issue we dare not draw a line in the sand on and thereby judge those for whom Christ has died.

Must one observe the Sabbath? Well, that also depends. What do you understand by Sabbath? Are you a Gentile? Are you keeping with the intention of the sabbath and rescuing a fallen ox, or are you defying it an working? Do you mean Saturday or Sunday? And how does Jesus’ resurrection change that?

I do believe Scripture has something to say about the place of men and women in the Kingdom (and I believe it has something specific to say to each, since it was God’s delight to make us different), and I deeply believe that the Gospel should undergird and inform our hermeneutic and application of this question.

But do I think this is an “essential” question, one in which we must have unity? No, I don’t (and neither do any of our Creeds). I would put this into the non-essential category – an area where we have liberty, subject to the Word of God and our Spirit-led consciences. But, there’s still the matter of how we do church in practice. And so to answer Hannah’s more specific questions:

Do you allow for liberty of practice for those who are more/less conservative than you? Yes.

Would you participate in an organization that restricted/supported female ordination because you believed something greater was at stake? Yes, I would participate. But I do not have a clear conscience about teaching men, so at this point would decline an invitation to preach to a mixed congregation. My own conscience is captive on this issue, but I do not feel a conviction to persuade others on it.

Thanks for opening up a good discussion, Hannah.

Now, would anyone else like the saltshaker?

What Easter Says About Trusting Women

Why do men fail to trust women? In his last post responding to Damon Young’s HuffPo piece, Alastair suggested a number of reasons men fail to trust women: including that men are taught not to trust their own (nor women’s) feelings, differences in perception and experience, a gendered confidence gap, and a number of salient issues that pertain to allegations of abuse and why the abused one (often, a woman) has a hard time being believed.

Here is one additional, glaring thing that I wanted to add: haven’t men always failed to trust women, because somehow there is an innate belief that women are less trustworthy? History is replete with examples of women’s testimonies in court not being believed, of women being considered hysterical witnesses, of women not being considered as able to participate in discussion, weigh opinions, to vote.

I am grateful to be a woman in the 21st century rather than in the 18th century, when I would not have been able to participate in both law school and seminary: both realms considered beyond the reach of women (a hat tip here to Hannah More, as one of the women who worked hard to change the world despite being an 18th century woman!) However, even as a woman in the 21st century, I am affected by this subterranean suspicion that women are somehow less trustworthy than men. And sadly, in the church, the Bible is often touted to support that view.

1 Peter 3 refers to wives as “weaker vessels” than their husbands, and then there are those clanging words of 1 Timothy 2:14 where we are reminded that it wasn’t Adam who was deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (And, I am struck by the fact that Adam is named as an individual-not-blamed, while Eve-as-individual is not named… it the more generic “the woman” who was deceived… as if Adam as an autonomous agent is an exception, but all women are innately deceivable.) Are these not hints, then, that even in God’s economy, women are less able to act, less able to discern, just…. less able? In other words, are there theological reasons for women to be considered less trustworthy?

I haven’t met many willing to own this statement outright, but it seems to me that it lies as an undercurrent beneath some of the discussions about women in leadership in the church. Being prone to being busy bodies and gossips as they are (1 Timothy 5), and being deceivable and weaker (the Bible says so) – surely then women should remain silent?

This week before Easter gives me cause to pause and reflect.

In the hours before his death, Jesus charged John with the care of his mother. I take it he did this because, in His perfect way, He acknowledged her as a “weaker vessel”: not as less able, but as older, grieving, and socially, emotionally and economically vulnerable in a way that the younger male disciple was not.

But in the hours and days after his death, God in His sovereignty entrusted a group of women to be the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Women, whose opinion counted for nothing in court. Women, who couldn’t vote. Women, who were regarded as less able, and innately less trustworthy.  But it was to these that the Angel first testified that Jesus had risen from the dead, and to these that Jesus first appeared and commissioned to bear witness to his resurrection.

Of course, the disciples didn’t believe their story. Of course they didn’t trust the women: “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11) Surely the women were mad? Or frightened? Or too full of feelings? And so wasting no time, the disciples ran to see for themselves.

That first Easter, nobody trusted the women.

But I’m reminded on Easter that Jesus did. He trusted the women.

And it tells me that somehow, when it comes to bearing witness to Him, He trusts me too.

On Being The Single In Ministry

Graham introduced a number of salient questions on the issue of singleness, family and ministry, all of which merit careful thought.

I would like to address this from the viewpoint of singleness in vocational ministry. Graham asked: “do we see an unconscious or conscious bias towards clergy having to be married?” As someone currently serving on a search team for a new lead pastor in our church (and someone reading a lot about the process), I observe a fairly strong bias in favor of married candidates. It seems to me that some of the reasons married candidates might be perceived as better are:

1) they are seen as better able to relate to congregants (the majority of whom are married themselves),

2) sexual temptation is (or should be) less of an issue for them if they are married, and

3) they are seen as more socially stable than their unmarried counterparts.

With respect to 1) and 2), I am personally of the opinion that there is no reason that married ministers are necessarily better able to relate to married congregants (just as there’s no necessary reason that younger ministers are necessarily better able to relate to younger congregants – the question is how good are they relationally, more than how similar they are experientially). Nor do I think that married candidates are necessarily less tempted sexually than the unmarried. Life experience tells me otherwise.

Both of those biases reveal a presumption that the singles are single because they are somehow lacking in communication skills or fidelity in comparison with their unmarried brothers; a presumption which does not rightly honour the Holy Spirit’s gifting and sanctifying of all believers.

With regard to the third issue – that unmarried (male) candidates are seen as riskier hires – it has been my experience that single men in ministry often catch the attention of women in the congregation as being potential marriage material – a factor which admittedly does complicate the pastor-congregation relationship. I think that single men in ministry, being visible Christ-like leaders who often demonstrate emotional sensitivity far beyond that of their peers, become very attractive to women seeking godly partners. Certainly: there’s a “risk” that hiring a single pastor might well invite the eager attention of some who want to change his status to “married”. And, for the single person in ministry, there’s the problem of “dating in a fishbowl”, where the entire community becomes invested and interested in your relationships in a way which can interfere with the work of ministry and makes dating feels really awkward.

However, what I think underlies this problem is something which I faced as a single person in vocational ministry for over ten years – and that is that the community is often overly interested in the relationship status of their single ministers, and does not respect their privacy or personal space. People give married ministers space in a way which they do not grant single ministers. A married minister can decline attending an event, saying that “he has to spend time with his family”, and that reason is accepted without question (and celebrated for its healthy boundaries) by a church community.

However, a single person in ministry often has a harder time creating boundaries for personal time. It can be harder to just meet with a friend for coffee (without a well-meaning church member asking if this is a “significant” friendship). It can be harder to say no to an event because you just need a night at home on the couch.

For me, it was something of a relief to transition from being a single person in ministry to getting married, because somehow people backed off a little once I had a ring on my finger, and the line between my private life and public ministry became that much easier to discern.

Of Female Ghosts and Haunted Churches – {Bronwyn Lea}

Imagine for a minute that you have just finished the first course of a delicious meal at a family dinner. Seated around the table are your siblings and cousins: those of whom it is true that blood is thicker than water. You love them. You enjoy their company. You are all in on the old family joke about crazy Uncle Bill and his wild habit of trying to ride reindeer every winter. Also, sometimes they drive you crazy. You are all living in different places and phases of life, and sometimes opinions around the table can get heated. Especially on the favorite sticky topics.

But it’s okay. Because you’re family, and love keeps a tight rein on making sure that frustration doesn’t lead to fighting.

This blog, at Passing the Salt Shaker, is that kind of table. We are family, getting together to chew the fat. In particular, we want to talk about the sticky topics surrounding men and women in the church, and how this works out in our faith and practice. We know we will disagree. But we also know we are family.

We are inviting you, gentle reader, to pull up a chair at the table and listen in. We want to talk openly and honestly about these topics, we want to press deeper into Scripture and grow in love and Christ-likeness through these discussions. And the reason we are doing it in public, on a blog, is that we want the world to know that it is possible for families to have heated discussions and still not break fellowship.

Who’s seated at the table? Some of the faces may be familiar. You can read a little more about each of us in our introductions: Hannah Anderson, Graham Ware, April Fiet, Alastair Roberts, Hannah Malcolm, Kristen Padilla and myself. The faces at the table may change, and we’ll have some guests for dinner too, but the idea is this: someone will raise a topic for discussion – something we’ve read or been thinking about… and then we’ll take turns to “pass the salt” along the table, each contributing some thoughts.

None of us is claiming to be experts on the topic. But we’re all interested in the discussion and sticking around at the family table to talk about it.

Being the extrovert that I am, I came to the table itching to talk about Jen Wilkin’s article 3 Female Ghosts That Haunt The Church, which was published by The Gospel Coalition last week. In it, Wilkin warns men in ministry (and those in earshot) to be careful of three pitfalls in dealings with women: treating them as Usurpers, Temptresses, or Children. Each of these, says Wilkin, stems from a fear that women are trying to take authority illegimitately, wield sexual power over you, or are unable to fully follow what you’re saying. She writes:

When fear governs our interactions, both genders drift into role-playing that subverts our ability to interact as equals. In the un-haunted church ,where love trumps fear, women are viewed (and view themselves) as allies rather than antagonists, sisters rather than seductresses, co-laborers rather than children.

In a way, I found it somewhat surprising that The Gospel Coalition, being as staunchly complementarian in its views as it is, published this piece. I was very grateful that they did, though: it seems to me that if women were regarded as contributors rather than conspirators, and as equals rather than as children, a great number of the complaints about patriarchy and abuse would disappear. So much of the mud slinging in this debate happens because we have assumed the worst of our listeners before we even started talking. A space of mutual trust and respect is a bedrock for any healthy relationship, and of course it should be so within the Family of God.

Women have often not been treated with trust and respect, and I think in this article Wilkin offers an insightful diagnosis (the “this might be your ghost if you’ve done the following…” suggestions are particularly revealing) and appeal  (to pursue women trustingly, rather than to “permit” them participation begrudgingly, as she has written of elsewhere.)

When faced with a woman like Wilkin, who is clearly not a usurper (she is a firm complementarian), a temptress or a child, I can see how a man with firm biblical convictions about the ‘place’ of women might let his guard down. My question, however, is this: what if the woman asking the questions doesn’t agree about the place women should hold in the church?

What if, not intending to be a usurper, but from an honest enquiry into what Scripture means, she has questions about whether God might be calling her to teach, or even to preach? What if, having searched the Scriptures, she has come to different conclusions and wants to know whether it’s okay for her (or not even for herself, for another woman whose wisdom and godliness she admires) to teach the Sunday School class, or to officiate communion.

In other words, if there were a real challenge to his viewpoint. Would he, as Wilkin suggests, be able to “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, or would she be considered a real, live usurper just for having asked the question and holding a different view point?

My own experience is as someone who fully believes that women are of great worth and dignity as God’s children and equally responsible and gifted for the word of ministry, but who also believes that the bible speaks to men and women differently in certain parts of the Bible. I am, to put myself in the proverbial pigeonhole, a “soft complementarian”.

The difficulty for me comes in knowing what that actually means in practice. What does that mean in my marriage (my immediate family), and what does that mean in the church (the family of God)? How, in practice, does this work out in the ways I work and serve alongside the men in my church: me, a sister and mother, shoulder to shoulder with the brothers and fathers in God’s household?

I read literature to see how others are working this out in practice, and some of it makes my skin crawl. I am neither Betty Crocker nor Betty Friedan. I am not the bake-cookies-for-Jesus type, but when I ask questions of what I should do with teaching and speaking and writing gifts, I read both complementarian and egalitarian believers whom I respect and love as brothers and sisters in the faith, and am often horrified at how quickly the egalitarian women are dismissed as usurpers, just for having asked the question. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to be made to feel like a guilty complementarian just for having respect for egalitarian questions.

Indeed, I’ve been taken aside and given a gentle talking to on more than one occasion for asking “presumptuous questions”.

Is it really possible in practice to ask questions about men, women and authority in the church and “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, when deep in your heart you believe that anything other than your position actually would amount to usurping?

So, brethren around the table, I’m passing the salt.

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.