C’Mon Patrick

Thrilled that Alastair kicked off this discussion of Trinity and gender. I have many thoughts, so I’m glad he framed this in specific questions. I won’t even attempt to answer all 7. But before I jump into several, I think it’s important to recognize that no matter how we understand the Trinity, as the great Irish philosophical duo has told us, any and all attempts to produce an analogy or metaphor for the Trinity ultimately leads into some very problematic thinking. So, on to Alastair’s questions:

1. Should we abandon social Trinitarianism, despite the prominent role that it has played in both complementarian and egalitarian theologies?

No. Even though, as our Irish friends have pointed out, analogies will come up short, and possibly lead us into some newly articulated form of an old heresy, I think social Trinitarianism, if we understand it’s limitations, can actually be helpful. It may get us frightfully close to tritheism, but I think understanding the relational connections between the three persons of the one God can actually bring an element of truth to the table. How this plays out in discussions of gender is something still being fleshed out by theologians. But my own take, is that it isn’t useful equally for both sides of the debate. It certainly provides an image far more in line with an egalitarian view of gender.

Several of Alastair’s questions are interrelated, so I’ll group together these: 2. Can our doctrine of the Trinity illuminate and inform our accounts of society or gender relations? // 4. How should we handle verses such as 1 Corinthians 11:3? // 5. How do we relate the earthly obedience of Christ to his Father’s command to the life of the Trinity? //6. Can a doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son be theologically justified or squared with the orthodox tradition of Trinitarian theology?

In response to the first of those; Paul seemed to think so. The fact the 1 Cor. 11:3 draws a very obvious connection between the relationship of man to woman and the Father to the Son, means that in Paul’s thinking there is (or perhaps that there ought to be) in some sense a reflection of one in the other. But what is that connection? Is “head” (kephale) meant to suggest the male’s position of authority over the woman? Or, as many egalitarians have pointed out, kephale (and its Hebrew rough equivalent rosh) can refer to “origin” or “source” (e.g. the “head” of a river). I would tend towards the latter, since I am not at all comfortable with the subordination of the son (at least not in any ontological sense, but the notion of kenosis which Paul uses to depict Christ’s work, and the attitude his people ought to imitate, is applied to all Christian relationships [see Gal. 5:13-14, Phil. 2:3-8, Eph. 5:21] not just of the wife to the husband [e.g. Eph. 5:22]). The Son, in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, is doing the will of the Father (e.g. John 5:30, 6:38-39, Gal. 1:4), but does this mean the Son is subordinate? I would argue no, this makes the Son kenotic not subordinate. Since Christ was in very nature God, there is no ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. Perhaps we can distinguish a functional subordination, but even that is something I’m not entirely comfortable with. But I would certainly not accept the eternal subordination of the Son, since I find this subordinationism pushing its toes right up to (but not quite over) the line with bitheism and/or some form of Arianism.

So, when Paul says “Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:3 NRSV) he is alluding not to subordination, but to the sequence of the creation narrative. All things, including man, are created through Christ, and woman is from Adam (but unlike many complementarians, I would categorically reject any sense of headship of man over woman in Gen. 1-2; this subordination is something resulting from the fall [Gen. 3:16], which I’m sure Alastair will lambaste me for saying 😉 ). The ensuing conversation in 1 Cor. 11 dealing with head coverings is fascinating, complex, and of course hotly debated. But since Paul authorizes women to prophesy with heads covered (v. 5), I am inclined to read this passage as supporting women’s full participation as women. NT Wright has argued, rightly in my own mind, for seeing Paul affirming differentiation without subordination in this passage. Paul, unlike the Gnostics of the early 2nd century, affirms the equal dignity of male and female, and does not support a strange call for women to become like men, and blur genders (as in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas), but that men and women remained gendered as such, but the Holy Spirit- and not gender- defines the participation in the Church (it is worthy of note, and needing further exploration I think, the mixing of relationships within the marriage in verse 3, and the roles of women in the Church in verse 5).

So, the relationship of man and wife reflects the Father-Son relationship not in terms of authority and subordination, but in terms of different but equally sharing in the image of God, and as I noted above, equally called to kenotic ways of living, which reflect the kenotic life of Christ (e.g. Phil. 2:5-8, Eph. 5:1-2).

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Christian Liberty in the Gender Debate: A Case Study

Before starting into my thoughts on Hannah’s post, welcome Jem Bloomfield to the discussion. Looking forward to your participation.

Now, on to the topic at hand; Hannah A has brought up some thoughts which hit at the heart of what we’re up to here (in my own thinking and desire for PTSS at least). She asks about how far do/should we extend liberty on differences of opinion on gender. In other words, to what extent can people of differing views continue in partnership. I am glad Hannah brought this up, because at present some within my own “tribe” are asking this very question (or at least a very similar one); can complementarians and egalitarians function together in a missional body. I am part of the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (CBOQ). CBOQ approved the opening of ordination to women at our Annual General Meeting in 1947. It was not unanimous, and even now, the differences of opinion persist. There are some (I don’t really now what the numbers are like) pastors, laity, and congregations which believe ordination ought to be restricted to men only. These people/congregations continue to function within CBOQ, even though they disagree with this position. A “live and let live” approach has typically been the norm. But periodically the question pops up again.

So the question which Hannah asks “Where do women belong in complementarian organizations?” can also be expanded to say “Where do egalitarians belong in complementarian organizations?” and also tweeked a bit to ask “Where do complementarians belong in egalitarian organizations?”. In other words, yes, complementarians need to wrestle with the question of what freedoms women have to use their gifts, and whether they can function within organizations which have policies which are contrary to their convictions. And egalitarians need to ask similar questions. One Complementarian pastor recently spoke out in a blog post about what the lines in the sand for his continued affiliation with CBOQ are. One of them was if CBOQ declines to ordain someone because they hold to complementarian convictions. Of course, CBOQ has never done so, but our official policy is that women are free (and encouraged) to pursue ordination if they are convinced of a calling. I am not sure how complementarians process this tension, since they are part of a body which encourages something which they find to be contrary to Scripture. When I try to reverse the situation- in other words, if I, as an egalitarian, were part of a complementarian body- I struggle to see how I would continue to remain within that voluntary association.

PTSS is an experiment in such thinking. Can egalitarians and complementarians (with varying gradations within those two broad groups) discuss in Christian unity and grace the implications of our views? So far, I think the answer has been yes. This gives me a great deal of hope. But this is an online project. What happens when we move this to body like TGC or CBOQ? As of right now, a complementarian view of gender is a line in the sand for TGC, but a difference bridged by Christian liberty within CBOQ (although this isn’t always done well).

I think Hannah has captured the tendency well, saying “For many complementarians, egalitarians have been reduced to “liberals” and for egalitarians, complementarians are oppressive chauvinists.” This is the big issue. Can complementarians and egalitarians drop the labels and assumptions they’ve built about the folks on the other side of the conversation? Can we become people who graciously disagree? In denominational bodies where ordinations are overseen and performed, the issue comes into sharp conversation. But in non-denominational or inter-denominational parachurch bodies, this seems more like a possibility.

One nitpicky item to note, Hannah writes “The current debate between egalitarians and complementarians began when feminist theology started making inroads into evangelicalism in the 1970s.” This is only partially true. In some cases, in was after the new wave of feminism in the late 60s/early 70s which saw big shifts, in other cases, it was much, much earlier when egalitarian views began to gain real traction (like for e.g. CBOQ who began a conversation much earlier which culminated in the decision to ordain women in 1947.

But in answer to Hannah’s questions:

Do you allow for liberty of practice for those who are more/less conservative than you are? I certainly aspire to this as best I can. I have complementarian colleagues who I continue to interact with, continue to pray for and with, and continue to break bread with. I have no intention to change this.

Would you participate in an organization that restricted/supported female ordination because you believed something greater was at stake? I can’t say for sure. This is the part I am wrestling with. A pastor friend of mine from another denomination asked me to apply for a Sr. Pastor job at his church. I declined because a) I am currently planted in a call, and haven’t felt the conviction that it’s time to leave and b) I would inevitably run into problems because I have trouble keeping silent on the issue (the church in question allows women in all positions except Sr. Pastor and Elders, and the denomination does not ordain women). Would I speak at a TGC conference if invited? Probably (of course, I doubt they’d invite me for various reasons). Would I join? No (for various reasons). Would I join another organization that I agreed with on every front but this issue? There’s where things get tricky, and in all honesty I can’t answer right now. Luckily, I am quite comfortable with tensions and “I don’t know”s.

 

“Those Clanging Words” cont’d

Just some thoughts in response to Alastair’s comments to my earlier comments. I wrote:

Interestingly, on 1 Timothy, Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis of Genesis 1-3. He states that “the warrant for the injunction [excluding women from leadership] is, in fact, a faulty reading of Torah.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy [The Anchor Yale Bible]. New Haven: Yale, 2001. p. 211). More could be said on how Paul reads the Genesis accounts and what he’s trying to demonstrate. But I will simply say that the ease with which Eve was deceived is certainly matched by Adam, and in Romans and the Corinthian letters, responsibility for sin is placed exclusively on Adam.

To which Alastair replied:

I don’t believe Paul is misreading Genesis, although the proper application of it is a question for another day. A key to the Eden story is that, although both Adam and Eve came under it, only Adam directly received the commandment concerning the tree, before Eve was created (2:16-17). Note that when God refers to the commandment later, he addresses Adam alone and uses the singular ‘you’ throughout (3:11, 17). Eve could be deceived because the serpent played off information that the text suggests she received directly from God (3:1-2; cf. 1:29) against information that she only had second-hand from God through Adam (as with Hebrew reported speech more generally, Eve’s reporting of the commandment in 3:3, where the plural ‘you’ is used, should not just be presumed to be a de dicto rendering of God’s words: here it seems rather to be a declaration of God’s commandment for them revealed through the words spoken to Adam alone). Adam appears to have been close by while Eve was tempted (3:6), without intervening, increasing her confusion and the likelihood of her deception. Adam alone committed thetrespass because he alone knowingly went against what God had said.

Just to clarify what I was referring to, I’ll expand what I was echoing Luke Timothy Johnson on. Alastair and I, for the most part, agree on this part of the exegesis of Gen. 3 (although Alastair elsewhere has drawn conclusions about gender which I wouldn’t from Gen. 1-3). But Adam’s earlier creation, and the creation of Eve after the command to not eat of the one particular tree are not precisely the issue I (and LTJ) are responding to. The issue is the fact that Paul seems to be drawing certain conclusions about women and men based on specific aspects of his reading of Genesis 3 which are not present in the text.

Let’s just look at Paul’s argument based on Genesis 3:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim. 2:11-15, NRSV)

Paul’s argument is typically understood to be this: a woman should learn, and not teach or exercise authority over men, but must keep quiet in teaching times, because 1. Adam was formed first and 2. it was Eve who was deceived, not Adam. Thus, men are not culpable (or more likely less culpable) and women are in some sense disqualified because the original woman was created after the original man, and because their having been deceived demonstrates their inherent lack of ability to correctly handle the commands of God. The problem is two-fold:

First, Adam having been formed first shows little or nothing with regard to male headship or authority generally. On the surface it looks like Paul is arguing that the simply fact of Adam preceding Eve means only men can teach. Adam having been present for the command and not Eve is never shown to be binding on gendered humanity for all time. Adam taught that command because Eve was not present to receive God’s instructions, not because males are inherently designed to hold teaching authority. Once relayed, the command is equally binding on both, even though Eve has it second hand (in our case, all commands of God are taught to us through human teachers, whether we are male or female, so this dynamic needs to be flushed out more). Eve knew the command, and initially trusted Adam that it was from God. Beyond the first generation, no one was present for the giving of that command thus Adam’s creation before Eve is almost irrelevant for discussions of male exclusivity in authority to teach (I say almost because I’ll come back to that in a moment).

 

Second, Paul says “Adam was not deceived” but he in fact was deceived. Paul says “the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” but Adam also became a transgressor. In Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians, it is through Adam that sin enters the world, and in Adam all are subject to death (although, 1 Cor. 11:3 does blame Adam’s sin on Eve, but Paul still asserts that it is Adam’s sin which brings death). Johnson’s argument is this:

Paul plays on the fact that the serpent deceived Eve rather than Adam. Presumably, this is to show that women are less capable of distinguishing truth from error, or are too driven by the appetites to be reliable teachers and leaders. But the logic is flawed. The woman, after all, was deceived by “the most subtle creature that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1), but all the woman had to do was offer the fruit to the man and he ate it (3:6)! We can also note that in Gen. 3:17 it is not the woman who is blamed for eating the fruit, but the man.

He then continues:

Paul was not in this case engaging in sober exegesis of Genesis, but supporting his culturally conservative position on the basis of texts that in his eyes demonstrate the greater dignity and intelligence of men and, therefore, the need for women to be silent and subordinate to men.

Paul’s actual argument, based on Genesis 1-3, seems to be and has been traditionally understood to be that because of men having been made first, and women being deceived, holding the authority to teach is exclusive to males. To make such an argument is problematic, since the text of Genesis does not, in my opinion warrant such a conclusion. So, either Paul (or the person writing 1 Timothy) is misreading Genesis and using it to reinforce patriarchy and make an injunction excluding all women from the authority to teach, or we have to re-evaluate our reading of this particular passage in 1 Timothy. Johnson argues the former. I would argue both to some extent.

I do think Paul has made problematic assertions regarding Genesis. But I also think many readings of 1 Tim. have gone off in a problematic direction. Paul’s assertion that Adam was not deceived is problematic. The text of Genesis makes no such assertion. Why else would he eat of the fruit? The serpent has convinced Adam and Eve, since they were together at the time, that God’s statement “you must not touch it, or you will die” was not to be trusted. The way the text reads, in my opinion, is that they were both deceived, and Paul says Adam was not, and he then gives no account of Adam’s reason for partaking.

That said, I still think there is a real problem with reading 1 Timothy to say Paul’s argument is that women are universally like Eve in being deceivable, and also that Adam being created first means authority to teach is reserved exclusively for males. My own reading would be more like this: Adam was created before Eve, and the commandment came before Eve’s creation. This gave Adam the role of passing along what he knew, because Eve did not know, and needed to be given this instruction. The lesson then is not only males are permitted to teach and females must learn in submission, but that the untaught (in a 1st century context, women would fall here) should respect the authority of those who have already been taught (or have been taught to a greater extent). Eve was deceived because she failed to trust Adam’s teaching (hey look, we’re back to trust issues, but the other way around!). She believed the serpent and not Adam, and in turn, Adam believed the serpent and not God. Thus, Adam’s transgression is what produces death. Eve failed to trust her husband, Adam failed to trust his God.

“Those clanging words”

Alastair’s post to begin this topic was really helpful, and identified the key issues regarding trust. He concluded with a set of questions. The one I want to speak to is the second question: “What are some of the ways that men can change their behaviour and attitudes in order to trust women more?”

In her response (which got picked up by the Huffington Post), Bronwyn, I think, hit the nail on the head, referring to the biblical texts which cause so many problems for gender discussions:

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?

The hermeneutical challenges of these passages (and other passages often cited and used as “clobber texts”, like Eph. 5:22ff, 1 Cor. 14:34-35) are immense, and hard to cover in a single post (so I won’t even try). Several questions swirl in my mind when I read these texts. Most egalitarians will immediately go to historical context, and suggest a greater level of cultural influence than complementarians are comfortable with. These are canonical texts, accepted by the Church as inspired (what that means in terms of infallibility/inerrancy is far beyond the discussion at hand). We assume that the authors were guided by God in the composition of these words. Did Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians & 1 Timothy in Paul’s name, depending on your slant on this topic- also beyond our scope right now) bring some still persistent patriarchal bias into the composition? In Romans and Galatians we don’t see anything like what we see in 1 Timothy. So, was there something unique about the behaviour of the women in Ephesus and Corinth? Did Paul have a lack of trust for all women, or just the specific women in these particular places/congregations? Given the praise he heaps on the women mentioned in Romans 16, can we identify a tension in Paul’s own mind which the Spirit is coming up against?

Without getting to deep into the exegesis of these passages, I just want to work out some things we can take away from them in response to Alastair’s question. A surface reading of these texts can easily reinforce male mistrust of women. As Bronwyn noted, it could be read to mean women in general follow after Eve and are deceivable, weaker, and as such, untrustworthy as witnesses. Yet, as Bronwyn helpfully pointed out, Jesus was certainly willing to trust women. So why were Paul and Peter seemingly reluctant to do the same, even with the Holy Spirit guiding and inspiring? Do we have to reread Jesus? Paul & Peter? All of the above?

Several commentators make helpful observations about meanings of words, like the fact that “weaker” can mean something more lack lacking access to resources, or simply that it refers to physical size making women vulnerable. So, in a patriarchal culture, weaker vessels is not a comment on women’s abilities generally but a statement about cultural assumptions and the treatment of women; i.e. Christian men must act as advocates because of the restrictions and dangers Greco-Roman social structures place on women.

Interestingly, on 1 Timothy, Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis of Genesis 1-3. He states that “the warrant for the injunction [excluding women from leadership] is, in fact, a faulty reading of Torah.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy [The Anchor Yale Bible]. New Haven: Yale, 2001. p. 211). More could be said on how Paul reads the Genesis accounts and what he’s trying to demonstrate. But I will simply say that the ease with which Eve was deceived is certainly matched by Adam, and in Romans and the Corinthian letters, responsibility for sin is placed exclusively on Adam.

Obviously we can dig deeper and deeper into the exegesis of these texts, but don’t have space right now. But, in terms of Alastair’s question about what man can do to alter their behaviour to reduce the mistrust against women, one important answer is to read with greater nuance. One of the phrases that I read from rigid complementarian writings in “plain reading of Scripture”. If we read more critically (both in reading the texts, and ourselves, noting our inherent biases) we see far more at play than simply reinforced patriarchy. Egalitarians still have to wrestle with this too of course, and not simply dismiss 1 Timothy as not authentically Pauline and therefore not authoritative (even if it is pseudonymous, it’s still accepted as canonical) or chalk it up to cultural influence or situation specifics and ignore it. I’d love to pretend certain passages aren’t there. But I always have to ask myself, even if this is specific to Ephesus in the 1st century, what does it mean for me in 21st century Canada? I live in culture with significant immigration from places where patriarchy and low views of women’s value and trustworthiness are alive and well. Even among Westerners, the problem is still there. How do I do ministry in an environment with a plurality of views on gender?

My own behaviour as a pastor with egalitarian views speaks volumes to the culture I am in. But do I keep silent, and hold these views as private, and non-binding on others? How much of my understanding of the trustworthiness of women related to my egalitarian views? If I claim I trust women, how do I influence others and demonstrate this trust in a way which proves to be a positive influence on others, even if the others continue to hold to certain patriarchal or “hard” complementarian views? Can patriarchy still endorse trusting women’s testimony or do the underlying assumptions inevitably undercut any stated level of trust?

I am under no illusion that only egalitarian men trust women. That would be rubbish to even suggest. But is there a connection between what Paul seems to say about Eve and assumed gender roles and a lack of trust shown to women? Given the Genesis declaration that male and female are both fully and equally in the image and likeness of God, what makes males assume men are more trustworthy than women? Do we tend to overemphasize generalized differences between the genders, to such an extent that the shared likeness is downplayed? Isn’t a mistrust of females a mistrust of humanity?

Marriage, Singleness, “Family Values”, and the Church

I’m married. I have 3 children. I’m a pastor. I drive a minivan.

By the standards of “traditional Christian family values” I have all the boxes checked off. When my wife and I were expecting our third child, we had to trade in our dependable, much loved Toyota Corolla for a minivan. I hated the thought of being a minivan dad. I felt like pleated khakis and a fanny pack were not far behind. But one lady in our church actually said something to the effect of “I’m glad you have a minivan now, it sends the right message”. By that I assume it was meant the image I project by driving a minivan is that of a “family man”, and a pastor should be a family man. Anything I can add to that image is to the benefit of my ministry. Apparently some people want their pastors to be dads who drive minivans, have a flock of children and a homemaker wife. But on what is that based? There seems to be the assumption that Christians are supposed to get married and make babies and have perfect nuclear families.

Since this post is meant to get a conversation going I won’t try to be comprehensive or conclusive, but I just want to throw out a few ideas on the subject of marriage, singleness and the Church’s assumptions about the ideal of family life. Most of the PTSS contributors are married, and have children. Sadly, Lore Ferguson had to drop out of this due to time constraints, but she has done lots of thinking and writing on this subject of singleness. Alastair and Hannah M will have to bear the load of the single perspective. But here’s a few of my own thoughts.

When building a case for Christian marriage, many turn immediately to Genesis 1 & 2 (a section which I’m sure will play a significant role in our conversation moving forward). “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'” (Gen. 2:18 NRSV). And in the previous chapter, we read that after making male and female in his image God commanded them “Be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). So does this mean all humans are meant to be in covenantal partnership with a spouse and make babies? Is there room for singleness in this vision for humanity? A few thoughts which should add nuance to our reading:

Is this descriptive of Adam and Eve or prescriptive for all humanity? There are all sorts of interpretations of the historicity of Genesis 1-2, and our purpose here isn’t to tackle that, as fun as it may be. But my own 2 cents is to read Adam and Eve as representative of humanity at our origins, not literally historical people. Thus, God’s creation of humanity in two genders for the sake of partnership and fruitfulness is for the purpose of human flourishing. But if a specific human doesn’t procreate are they failing to obey God’s command? Or is humanity collectively in view here?

I am not prepared to push beyond the text, and impose this as commanded to all individual human beings; that each and every single person must have a spouse and produce children. Marriage was prescribed for the benefit of humanity, but is it a requirement of all people? We as humans are better off as image bearers in community, but does that specifically require the community of marriage? In other words, is being unmarried the same as being “alone”?

In the New Testament, there is a bit of tension on this front. In a unique passage, Paul gives his own personal advice on the subject: “ To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.” (1 Cor. 7:8, throughout 1 Cor. 7, Paul specifies that he is giving his own opinion, not binding divine commands) It seems there is, according to Paul, some advantage for Christians in remaining unmarried. Paul honours singleness. However, 1 Tim. 3 (which many say isn’t actually by Paul of course, but both texts are accepted as canonical) we read that

Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

Not a popular passage among egalitarians or singles, since on the surface it certainly seems to insist all bishops must be males who are married and have well behaved children. So do we conclude singleness is good, unless you want to lead? But that would obviously be problematic for Paul, who was unmarried. The marital statuses of many of the apostolic community is shrouded in mystery. Peter had a mother in law, and Philip had daughters. There is some consensus that there are married couples in the leaders listed in Romans 16. But it is quite difficult to ascertain exactly what the Apostolic community envisioned with regard to marriage in the Church, and how it played out it the formative years of the Christian community. There seems to be honour given to both singleness and marriage. Paul assumes marriages will take place. Some (or perhaps even most) Christians will marry, and likely have children and ought to conduct themselves in the context of marriage in ways which reflect Christ (how the remarks like those in Eph. 5 are best interpreted is a discussion which I am fairly sure will come up in the future). But Paul makes significant room for singleness as a viable, or even preferable way.

So, what do we do with that in the here and now? The Christian cultural bubble seems to prefer marriage. There certainly seems to be a significant push on young folks in the Christian community to “pair up” and make babies for the glory of God. The “family values” ideal of dad, mom, 3 kids, a house, a dog, a minivan, etc. has become assumed as the vision for Christian life. Those who remain unmarried sometimes receive some funny looks and strange questions (“when are you going to settle down?”, “haven’t met the right person yet?”, etc.) There is pressure in Churches to build ministries to young families. But how many ministries to young singles exist? And are the ones that do exist mainly focused on creating opportunities for singles to meet potential spouses? I suspect that part of the reason I was called to my current pastoral role was because I was married and expecting a second child when I interviewed. A young family man will attract the young families to Church. But this of course denigrates singleness. We certainly wouldn’t consciously exclude singles, but what part do they have in the overall vision of the Church’s mission? (Also, it’s bizarre that folks in the congregation I pastor emphasize young families, when our building is located in a neighbourhood which is mostly made up of folks who aren’t young families).

Also, it’s worth asking, is there a double standard? Are single men finding a different experience from single women? I’d certainly be curious to hear the experiences of both sides on this front. Are single women honoured in their singleness or is it viewed as strange? Do men receive similar pressure to find a nice girl to build a family with? The demographics of my own congregation suggests that singles are not flocking to Church (at least not this one). We have a few, but they are far outnumbered by married couples, widowed folks, and even by divorced people. The number of never married folks is a very slim percentage here. Is that because of the assumed expectation of marriage?

So to summarize and suggest some ideas to cover in our conversation:

1. What assumptions do we see at work regarding the relationship between Christianity and marriage?

2. Can we establish a biblical foundation for honouring singleness in the Church?

3. Has the Church over-emphasized the ministry to the young families demographic?

4. Do we see a conscious or unconscious bias toward having clergy be married?

5. Is there a difference in the experience of men and women towards singleness?

Which Authority: My 2 Cents

I am inclined to echo Hannah A’s question:

It seems to me that the question under the question is this: Where does a man in pastoral leadership derive his sense of authority? Does he see it as stemming more from his maleness or from his office?

If the relationship between pastor and maleness is like thumbs and fingers (all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs) then a female challenge of any kind is a double insult, since she isn’t a pastor, and disqualified from becoming so. But can’t a challenge from a male be depicted the same way? Does the usuper role still apply to male members of the laity?

But even if authority comes from the office regardless of gender, a challenge can still be threatening. In egalitarian congregations, laity, or educated/trained but non-ordained persons can still play the role of child, seductress or usurper.

I would also echo the concerns about pastoral authority and ecclesiastical tradition. I am part of a denomination in which the rigour of the ordination process has been challenged by some. Also, the “authority” of the office of Pastor is somewhat limited in many contexts. Baptists lean heavily towards congregational governance, and tend towards a preference for consensus than leadership. This is of course a double edged sword. We also have had ordination open to women since 1947. Of course, local church autonomy means views on gender roles are non-binding (i.e. individual congregations and pastors can be complementarian if they choose, without consequence). In some of our congregations the office of pastor in invested with considerable authority. In others, not so much (I even had a colleague who was ordained, but not allowed to attend deacons’ meetings).

I admit I struggled with the article (as I do with much of TGC’s material). The whole tone and content of it seemed completely foreign and strange to me. The whole notion of women as a threat was something I just didn’t (and still don’t fully) know what to make of. I wonder how common this is in other traditions and congregations?

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?

 

* * *

 

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.