Maybe “Schism” Was the Wrong Word

Maybe “Schism” Was the Wrong Word November 27, 2013
Sarah Cunningham

My post from last Friday continues to generate passionate responses from all sides. I’ve gotten positive and negative feedback, both publicly and privately. The most challenging and yet generous response has come from one of my closest friends, Sarah Cunningham. Sarah is a fellow author, blogger, and event producer — we’ve worked on stuff together in the past, and we’re currently planning two events together.

Over the past few days, Sarah and I have talked at length on the phone, exchanged lengthy emails, and traded dozens of text messages. I asked her to write a guest post for this blog, and she suggested that we do it in dialogical format instead. So we started a Google Doc, but after about 2,200 words and another passionate phone call, we deleted the entire thing and started over. Where we ended up was the Sarah would state her presupposition, and then pose a series of questions/statements, to which I would respond.

Before I get to that, however, I want to say that everyone should have a friend like Sarah. She has been very tough on me in these conversations — she fundamentally disagrees with my position — but she has relentlessly stated and restated her love for me, respect for me, and friendship for me. I feel the same about her.

That being said, here is our dialogue.

Sarah: My presupposition is this: I think it is possible to be raised in a complementarian church and still be affirmed and treated lovingly and well as a woman. I believe this because it was my experience.

Tony: I would never want to imply that your experience is invalid. Of course, you and I have have met many, many women over the years whose experiences in complementarian churches and ministries were terribly damaging. And I want to be clear about two things: 1) I also think it’s possible to be raised in a complementarian church and be affirmed as a woman, but 2) I am talking about a bigger system of marginalizing women’s voices, bigger than any one congregation.

Sarah: How can a person of faith take a position in which they declare any person, group, or circumstance hopeless? (As long as there is Jesus, there is hope?)

Tony: By advocating for a “schism,” I am not saying that people on the other side are without hope. Not at all (and I’m sorry if I led you and others to believe otherwise). There is hope for every person, the hope that was incarnated in Jesus Christ. Schism is a sharp word, a harsh word. Maybe it was too harsh. On the plus side, it provoked a great deal of conversation on both sides of the women-in-the-church issue. On the minus side, it has caused consternation among you and others.

By calling for a schism, I was trying to make a point that something severe needs to be done. I think that the arguments for women’s full inclusion in every aspect of ministry have been in the public square for many years — my own denomination ordained women beginning in 1851. Anyone who is not paying heed to those arguments is willfully ignoring them.

In one comment, I referred to schism as “the nuclear option.” But now I think that language is too strong, especially after listening to your story.

Sarah: Even in cases where you feel dis-fellowshipping might be justified, it doesn’t mean that is the only or best (or most Biblical/Jesus-inspired) response. God’s grace and relationship is not brokered based on performance. Unmerited favor and self-sacrifice was the way of Jesus. I believe there is merit in trying even when situations may appear hopeless and even if it appears we’d get nothing in return.

Are you confident breaking relationship is not only the right choice for you, but it’s the right action to encourage of everyone reading…regardless of circumstance? Take people like me who had loving complementarian fathers who persistently affirmed them. Should women stop taking communion with their fathers? Really, Tony? Jesus took communion with Peter knowing he would soon deny him and with Judas knowing he would soon betray him. But women raised in complementarian settings can’t take communion with their fathers? Really?

I’m guessing that it’s true that some women, indeed, cannot take communion with their complementarian fathers. That’s a principled stand that some make. Just like others cannot take communion with their Missouri Synod Lutheran or Roman Catholic fathers, because those denominations have a closed-table fellowship. It’s not always possible to have table fellowship with those we’d wish.

Sometimes issues of principled justice demand us to take action that will lose us friends, even family. Famously, brother fought against brother and father against son in the Civil War, because some thought that ending slavery was more important than familial peace. Famously, many of Martin Luther King’s White supporters told him to back off, to be more patient, to stop the marches. And many of his Black supporters told him to stop speaking out against the Vietnam War, because it was hurting the Civil Rights cause.

Of course, this is not the Civil War, and I’m no MLK. And where I think I overshot my target was asking others to make sacrifices that are clearly more dire than any I’d have to make. No, Sarah, I wouldn’t ask you to not take communion with your father. But I would ask if, in quietly taking communion at his church, you are complicit in that church’s marginalization of women, and if you are subtly teaching that lesson to your sons. But only you can answer that question. I can’t, and I have no right to.

Sarah: I acknowledge that abuse and dismissive behavior occurs in both conservative and progressive contexts. But when someone has a mostly positive experience that does not — for example — feel like slavery to them, don’t you think there might be a more proportionate response than breaking fellowship? E.g., Since turning 18, I have worked at or attended a total of 3 churches: one non-denom, one Free Methodist, and one Wesleyan — all of which permitted women and me to preach (some with more regularity than others). I also sometimes get the opportunity to speak at other churches and conferences as a result of my books. I am able to be true to bring the things God stirs in me to expression, respectfully demonstrating I think there is valid reason for me to do so, while still validating the SBC tradition and other complementarian churches’ place in our shared church.

Tony: And I guess this is ultimately where you and I disagree. I guess I can “validate the SBC tradition” (even though its tied to slavery), but I cannot validate their current practice. I think it is unbiblical and out-of-step with the gospel.

So, let me reconsider my stance from last week. I recant my use of the word schism. In fact, as I implied in that post, I don’t even think that schism is really possible in the current church, at least in the historic sense, simply because there is no one, monolithic entity like there was in the 12th or 16th centuries. Calling for schism today is basically moot. Nevertheless, that word seemed to harsh to many readers, so I suppose it was.

While I don’t want you to skip Thanksgiving dinner with your family over women pastors, I would like us to collectively suffocate those churches and ministries that marginalize women. I’d like to deprive them of oxygen by depriving them of people. Because I think that in the coming years, men and women who value equality will leave churches that do not. People will leave, because they will find those churches to be so out-of-step with what they know in their hearts to be true.

Sadly, I worry that those people will leave these churches, and they won’t find their way into accepting, egalitarian churches. I fear that they will give up on Christianity altogether, as so many already have.

In the end, this: Women are not ontologically inferior to men. That’s what complementarians teach. Try as they might to argue otherwise, that’s their message. That message is not of Christ, and I want to eradicate that message from Christianity. I’ll do what I can in my spheres of influence, and you do what you can in yours.

Much love, and happy Thanksgiving.

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  • John D’Elia

    Tony, I love you and I appreciate your ministry of candor. And as much as I didn’t like the proposal for schism, none of that has changed. Thanks for this post.

  • JoeyS

    I really appreciate the candor of these conversations.

  • shawnsmucker

    Great conversation.

  • scottf

    Tony, can you please reference several middle-of-the-road, reformed, complementarian evangelicals who explicitly teach that women are ontologically inferior to men? If you say that is what complementarians teach, then you need to prove that. It is one thing to infer, it is another thing to teach.

    • gimpi1

      Quick question, how is inferring something not teaching it?

      • scottf

        Infer vs. Imply

        Because in this case the inferring is done by the reader who might be incorrect.

        I might infer from Tony’s post on misogyny that Tony teaches the value of pornographic material, but I could be wrong. I would not say that Tony teaches the value pornographic material unless he actually teaches that. Many inferences are wrong.

        If using the right word (e.g. schism) is a big deal, then you need to prove that complementarians teach that women are ontologically inferior or that this is an inference that someone has made and a misrepresentation of a teaching.

        Would appreciate references for that statement.

        • gimpi1

          OK, I get it, thanks.

          From my perspective, I don’t know how you can have “middle of the road” complementarians. Separate but equal and all that. However, I can see how the eye of the beholder could enter into the equation.

          • scottf

            Middle of the road is an expression used for ‘run of the mill’ or ‘average’.

            • gimpi1

              I understand that, Scott. Remember, separate but equal was the middle-of-the-road position in the south before and during much of the civil rights movement.

              To me, there’s nothing middle-of-the-road about complementarianism. I just don’t see how “the radical idea that women are people” and any complementarian beliefs can co-exist. Because if I have limits placed on me that men do not, I’m not equal, no matter how many times those limits are called “protection” or “privilege.”

              Many white southerners really believed that the Jim Crow laws somehow “protected” black people. They believed segregation was bible-based. They could site chapter-and-verse. Those beliefs were wrong. I don’t see any difference between that and todays complementarinism beliefs. That’s my “eye of the beholder” position.

              • scottf

                No intellectually thoughtful complementarian teaches that role distinction is for anyone’s protection or privilege. The reformed position has always been that gender is God-given and roles are God-assigned.

                Heck, I don’t want to be a good leader, but God calls me to lead. Heck, my wife doesn’t want to be a good follower, but God calls her to follow. And she follows far better than I ever lead and we both are called to be followers of God. Does this make my wife inferior, unequal or of less value?

                • gimpi1

                  To me, yes it does. I can’t regard someone as my equal and demand that they submit to me. But I’m not a member of your faith. If you and your wife are happy, I’m happy for you.

                  In the past, however, women certainly were regarded as inferior, unequal and of less value, If you don’t regard your wife that way, why do you think God calls you to do this? As an outsider, the first question in my mind is why the heck would any God worth its salt set up such a cockamamy system?

                  The complementarians I worry about seem to want to force my husband and I to live as you do by, for example; stripping me of my right to vote, insisting I change my name when marrying, putting all shared property in my husband’s name, allowing him to legally hit me, confine me, or forbid me from working outside the home. I know they are a minority, but they seem to have way more influence than their numbers would account for. They make me distrust the whole idea, perhaps more than I should.

                  • scottf

                    Really appreciate your candor and openness.

                    I don’t think you understand the complementarian position. (Non-radical) Complementarians do not teach that men demand women submit to them – this is what God anticipated men would do and thus would be a fulfillment of Gen 3:16b. God asks women to submit (follow) to their husbands.

                    Imagine you were an employer – perhaps you are. Do you consider your employee ontologically equal? I would hope so. Should they follow your lead? This doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?

                    • gimpi1

                      I have been both an employer and employee. I certainly regard any employees as my equals, though many employers don’t. (Wall-mart, anyone?) I have expected employees to follow my lead, and I have followed employers lead. However, when an employer of mine was about to jump off a fiscal cliff, I jumped ship, and found another job. I take my marriage more seriously than that.

                      I certainly don’t regard my husband as either an employer or employee. I value him and he values me as far more than our financial or economical contribution to the relationship. So, I’m sorry, but regarding a marriage as similar to an employment contract does seem unreasonable to me.

                • I think what you mean is “a” reformed position of which you are a part believes that there are male/female roles, because there is a lot of variety under the Reformed umbrella and so there isn’t “the” Reformed position on it at all.

              • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

                I hear what you’re saying. There are drawbacks no matter how we respond. The idea that complementarians don’t affirm “women are people” is not true to my own experiences (which clearly do not reflect all experiences).

                • gimpi1

                  I admit I find the whole thing confusing at best. How someone can believe that “women are people” and say that women can’t, for example, teach or speak out in church baffles me. To me, it’s not consistent.

                  Again, I’m not a Christian. So it goes without saying that I’m not a King James only Bible believing Southern Baptist. I don’t really have a dog in this race. However, I do try to understand other viewpoints, even when it gives me a bit of a headache;-)

                  • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

                    Oh I hear you. If I were a non-Christian looking in on 50k denominations, everything they believe, and the way they interact with each other at times, mannnnnn is it fair to use the word “confusing”.

                    I hope all our messy, diverse efforts in attempting to teach the gospel and live it ultimately point people to Jesus. Because sometimes our institutions, regardless of where they lie on the religious spectrum, are a poor beacon of hope minus that.

                    I appreciate your candor.

                    • gimpi1

                      Do your “messy, diverse efforts in attempting to teach the gospel and live it ultimately point people to Jesus?” Wow, that’s not a question I can’t answer.

                      As an outsider, I find the messiness distracting. I know there’s a core message, but from the perspective of actual time spent on that core, verses time spent on peripheral, divisive and off-putting issues like marriage equity, gender-equality, militarization and such, the peripheral stuff seems to take up far more energy and time. Perhaps that’s just human-nature. We always look harder for what divides us than what unites us. Is that part of what Christians refer to as being “broken?”

                    • Russell Snow

                      I see the schism as between those who believe the Bible and try to live by it and those who enjoy the fun parts of the church but are ashamed of the Bible. It causes a lot of pain to people when they get ridicule from the world for being Christians. So they try to “fix” things. I think it would be best if those who do not think they will be eternally damned for leaving the church would go ahead and leave. Why should they bother to stay?

                    • gimpi1

                      I think you’re mistaken, Russell. Again, I’m an outsider, but from what I have seen, people such as Tony Jones believe just as strongly as you do, they just believe different things. Your comment seems to imply that there’s some sort of unity on just what the Bible means. There isn’t.

                      Mr Jones has no stamp on his forehead that states he speaks for God. Neither do you. His beliefs have led him to interpret some Scriptures in one way. Yours have led you to interpret them in another. He’s trying to “fix” a wrong he sees, according to his interpretation. So are you.

                      Again, if you care about your “witness” I suggest you consider this; your rather strident, attacking, condemning approach towards your fellow-believers is off-putting. If you condemn people who basically believe the same as you, how can those of us on the outside expect to be received?

                    • Russell Snow

                      You should never join a religion or church for any reason other than it is the truth. There is a good reason I am harder on “fellow believers.” As Paul said,

                      12 For what [have] I [to do] with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” [1Cr 5:12-13 NKJV]

                      To an outsider all I would want to say is that God will judge you, you will be condemned but His love and mercy has given you a way out. So I really don’t care what an outsider thinks of me or the church. I only care what God and my spiritual authorities (pastor, elders, members of my church) think.

                      There is another class of people out there besides believers and non-believers. These are the people who claim to believe but their doctrine is so far out of the truth that they are apostates. Paul, Jesus, Jude, the early church fathers were all very harsh in their treatment of them. Go read Jude, or Galatians. They need to be driven out of the church.

                      In social movements there is strength in numbers, but with God, there is only strength in God. So, since you do not believe in God, I hope I put you off from joining the church. Should you come to Jesus, I welcome you with open arms. And if you operate from the standpoint that “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. ” Rom 3:4 I welcome your rebuke and instruction.

                    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

                      I think there’s something really beautiful and insightful about your observation and I hope all expressions of the church take it to heart.

    • No complementarian worth his salt would actually say that so plainly. But it is indeed what they are teaching. When one says one group is free in Christ to respond to any of God’s callings because they have blue eyes, but another brown eyed group will have to submit to the blue eyes decisions about what they can and cannot do ….. they are talking superiority and inferiority according to life long unchangeable physical attributes.

      • scottf

        You sound like a southern fundamentalist talking about ‘callings’. There is such a thing as an office of elder, bishop, pastor, etc. – which have as prerequisites the desire to hold it and the listed qualifications. But a calling to something other than salvation or apostleship is merely non-Christian conjecture.

        • matybigfro

          It’s one thing to say one person is an eligible for or
          awarded a position/role/office on the basis of their qualification, skills or
          experience and completely another to say that person is unsuitable/ineligible
          or inferior on the basis of their sex, no matter what double speaker,
          intellectual/theological/philononsical hurdles you employ to explain this to
          those outside of your narrow view see it simply as a judgement of inferiority.

        • 🙂 not sure if there is a question there. When I was a new Christian 40+ years ago I walked with fundamentalists. Eventually the Lord “called” me out of their teachings.

          The five fold ministries (Eph. 4) are life long services to which God will call, equip and direct a person toward. A part of this discussion is that those who believe in gender hierarchy wish to prevent women from heeding those types of callings from God and reserve those ministries for men only. The damage this does for those women (and for those who would benefit from their ministry) who are being called by God and who listen to this teaching is unspeakable.

          The works of overseers and deacons (ministerers) is temporary and is about serving in temporary works only though they are still important works that should include both men and women. Those who equate them with the calling of shepherding run the risk of putting people in a ministry that God has not called or equipped the person for. Churches should not think they can ‘call’ people into pastoring/shepherding. Church leaders should rather prayerfully acknowledge those whom God has called.

          • scottf

            Where do you get the idea that God ‘calls’ people to ministry? You can’t just make this stuff up. A verse, a passage, some logic…..

            • Awwww, I finally see your beef. 🙂

              This is found more in the OT than the NT. But the New Covenant being built upon the old, has not abolished God speaking to individuals about what He wants them to do. Sometimes, this is personal conversations with God, sometimes prophetic prayers of another. God always confirms.

              Perhaps, you do not believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in people’s lives. But that was one of the major accomplishments of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is why Jesus told them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. Acts 2 (whole book really) Jn 14:15-18 , Jn 16:5-11

              • scottf

                Of course, the Holy Spirit is still at work in people’s lives but he doesn’t contradict his revelation. Even if you believe that God speaks to you audibly today, he cannot go against his written word. If he lays out qualifications in one place, he is a God of error and contradiction to ‘speak’ to you otherwise in another.

                • Absolutely right Scott. And thankfully, there are enough instances within the whole of Scripture to see that God has not laid out any restrictions on the Holy Spirit gifting and using women. After all it isn’t about human gender but about the power of the Holy Spirit.

                  And you stated a point of logic that you should follow. God does not change His mind about what is righteousness and truth. If God had indeed deemed it improper, unrighteousness or sinful for women to lead, teach, preach, etc. then God would have never ever chosen, ‘called’, or directed a woman to do any of those things. Since it is quite obvious that God has indeed done this in the OT (and actually in the NT also) then anything we think we are reading in the NT to say that God has now restricted all women from doing so has to be our error of interpretation.

                  Jesus came to set us all free from bondages, to heal us, to empower us, to become like Jesus, to do the works of Jesus.

  • Thanks for starting and sustaining this conversation, Tony, and for speaking boldly enough to shock some people into taking a deeper look at the issue.

    In the big picture, schism probably isn’t the right word (especially with the connotation of declaring condemnation on others that is inferred in some Catholic/Orthodox lines of thought) but it’s very accurate in certain contexts; e.g., Church of Christ and SBC. The thing is that the declaration of schism and condemnation already exists from the hard-liners in those denominations; put a woman in the pulpit, and they withdraw fellowship and declare you apostate. It’s much less about the egalitarian side shutting out the other side than it is simply declaring we’re going to do things the way we believe Christ would have us. If they choose to shun us, then that is their problem to deal with.

    Have a great Thanksgiving, Tony, and I look forward to keeping this discussion up after the holiday. May God bless us all.

    • Well, since Sarah didn’t respond to anything I wrote, I’d like to ask her: how long do we tolerate women being relegated to a second-rate citizenship, and why is it wrong for us to say, “enough is enough” and simply walk away? Perhaps this is a situation that falls under Jesus bringing a sword and not peace. Those of us that support women’s equality in the church have already been waiting a very long time; to use Christian unity to prolong that wait is a bit disingenuous, and somewhat dismissive.

      I am grateful to you for being able to tackle a very tough topic so compassionately, Sarah. But… the idea that we need to correct complementarianism in some way is a bit like the Islamic claim that they made life better for women than it was before Mohammed. Inequality is inequality, no matter how loving it may seem or how compassionately we wish to paint it.

      When will it be, or can it ever be, time to give up this dialogue and go our own separate ways, Sarah?

      • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

        Eric, I apologize for missing your comment earlier. I am trying to follow and respond via my cell as we are on the road for the holiday.

        I have no doubt that your experience and judgment may lead you to a different conclusion than I. I am trying to search my heart, listen to diverse perspectives, and respond to God’s stirrings in me best I can.

      • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

        I am responding in two parts bc I keep losing coverage. I don’t know who gets to determine when Christians across the board should split from each other on any issue. Who can assess when hearts are hardened and no other path to growth can be found? I see so much progress. I exercise faith. And I pray for mercy.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Eric, Thanks for your comments. I agree that it wouldn’t be fair to plead with Tony not to schism if I stood by as conservatives sidelined people like him. I do ask evangelicals to make space for my more progressive friends’ voices every bit as fiercely. I think this issue requires bravery and humility of all of us on every side. I don’t do this perfectly, but I hope to try to rise to that challenge for my part in this.

      • Thanks for replying, Sarah, and I can appreciate your irenic spirit in this issue. But, I still haven’t seen anywhere in this conversation is why I or anyone else should continue to follow Christ in a church setting when it seems both sides of this issue are doing nothing more than saying, “Let’s think about it and discuss it some more.”

        I’d much rather hang around people who put loving one another before a rule that is likely spurious and pseudepigraphal. If that means I have to walk out of the church, so be it. It’ll just wind up being another piece of evidence that I’m seeking a different God than what I’ve been sold by those “fine, upstanding Christian men” I’ve heard all my life.

        Be careful on the road, and enjoy your holiday, Sarah. Appreciating those we love, and those who love us is what this holiday is really about. when we get that spiritual refreshment, then it’s much easier to work at loving everyone else.

        • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

          Some of that pushback is similar to Tony’s. And I am listening and continue to consider. I do think there is more I can do.

          It is also difficult because I can’t collect all my experiences and points of hope and upload them into another person’s conscience. Not can you do this for me.
          But I can acknowledge that the right response for you might be different from mine. As your “ontological equal”, I just happen to think I see some footholds of hope where I and those are willing can put their feet and I believe that too can be a valid response.;)

        • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

          Tony has raised some of the same pushback. I am listening and I think there is more I can do.

          It’s difficult because I can’t collect all my experiences and points of learning and upload them into your conscience. And neither can you do that for me.

          I respect your right to respond differently than I do. But I believe I see footholds of hope where I can place my feet so at least for now, this is where I land. I am not asking you to do what I discern to be right but as your “ontological equal,” I am suggesting my response is also reasoned and valid.;)

          (And yes, maybe idealistic.) 🙂

          • Your response is certainly valid, Sarah, but it serves to illustrate that there just isn’t one “biblical” response to this issue. For people that respond the way you do, there is definitely hope for finding a common ground for growth and change one day. But hope in a dialogue doesn’t necessarily translate to hope for change in practice, especially on an issue like this. Even Richard Beck mentioned that there is a point in time in his mind where he will have to walk away and try to start a new congregation that will acknowledge the equality of women in their practice.

            What it all boils down to is that no matter how well we can dialogue and agree to disagree on this issue, I seriously doubt that either side will ever be willing to move towards the middle in matters of practice. If all we can do is lovingly agree to disagree, then there’s not really anything changing in the lives of the women that are being held back by the traditional faction. At some point, we have to say enough is enough and go our separate ways.

            • What would the middle look like? Would it be that women get used part of the time, but with male supervision? How about women being allowed to use their gifts and calling but not ever ordained and never paid when such is done for the men? But the men never have to change anything.

              I don’t think there is any real middle, because men have no need to restrict themselves.

  • “Women are not ontologically inferior to men. That’s what complementarians teach. Try as they might to argue otherwise, that’s their message.”

    This is what people like Tim Keller, C. S. Lewis, St. Paul teach? It seems that it is completely possible to value male and female “gender roles” equally (and teach this) without necessarily implying ontological inferiority for either one.

    • Yes, that’s correct. That’s what they teach.

      • illuvitus

        No, Tony, that’s not what complementarians teach. You can’t even understand the thing you oppose.

        Do you think Jesus is inferior to God the Father ontologically because He submitted to the Father’s authority?

      • Amy

        No Tony, that’s what you *think* they teach. You’re dead wrong.

      • Mark Kirschieper

        Now, I’ll need to defend the Apostle Paul. There appears to be a very widespread misunderstanding regards this issue, within Christendom. Paul does not teach the ontological interiority of females, in the NT. I’ll bite…Let’s pretend I’m from Missouri; using the NT, can someone please “show me”…

    • I am aware that gender hierarchalists try very hard to do just that. But when women are relegated to the back of the ‘bus’, that is the message that comes across. Eventually, some get fed up with it. And more so, when they try for many years to be compliant and submissive and quiet and find it so demeaning, so unfulfilling that they want to just leave churches altogether. Though I’m not doing that, I get that. Do you? Try walking a mile in the shoes of a woman called of God to teach, preach and speak forth God’s Word, constantly being patted on the head and told to be quiet.

      • There’s no doubt that complementarian theology has been used to dismiss and demean women, and this is of course inexcusable.

        I just wonder if we’re painting with too broad a brush stroke by stating that all those that teach a form of complementarian theology view women as inferior in some way, instead of simply different. I’m just not convinced one logically follows the other (at least not yet).

        From what I know of Keller’s ministry, for instance, it seems that women do not feel abused there or talked down to.

        Grace and peace to you, and happy Thanksgiving!

        • I agree that often we do paint with too broad a brush. As well, it does totally depend on what any particular woman feels she is to do and be in the universal Body of Christ. Many women are fine, not serving in any other way than being wives and mothers. As long as their husbands are not too demanding, it will probably work for them.

          But for those women who have a calling, being kept from that calling keeps them stuck. Also, years later when they find out that this was all a wrong teaching that held them back, they can get very angry, with good reason.

  • Sarah, it’s nice to know you feel the call to stay within your tradition – perhaps to challenge the comfortable. Many of us can no longer do that. Fight, flight, or freeze applies here, I think. Many of us who flee find a warm, uplifting and supportive community who live out true egalitarian systems. For some us flight was the only option.

    Peace to you and those challenging the paternalistic tradition. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Rollie, thanks for that. It needs to be said. I think that is part of what is coming out of Tony and my conversation slowly. There is more than one valid response and we can’t project our own choices onto everyone else. I hear that feedback and am grateful for it.

  • Ray

    Tony, I applaud your open mindedness here. And Sarah thank you for weighing in. Your very act here is proof that respectful dialogue is a way to move forward instead of “schism.” Let’s all learn from this.

    But the word “schism” is not the part that bothered me. It is the attitude and spirit behind the word. I see this again somewhat in the desire to “suffocate those congregations” & “deprive them of people.”

    I’m an egalitarian too & totally get this impulse for justice. I get frustrated with misogyny and I pray for great change. But the above attitude is kind of the opposite of incarnational engagement, isn’t it?

    You know, I didn’t always hold this position. It’s been a journey of grace. How could I then turn around and, with an attitude of having arrived, not show the same grace & patience that was afforded me? Isn’t this just as much about the gospel as justice & dignity is?

    As the civil rights activist William Campbell concluded in Brother to a Dragonfly: “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.” (I highly recommend this book in speaking to this very issue).

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the humility you demonstrate by allowing room for others that you would’ve once needed for yourself. That’s big.

  • Amy

    Do you still think that comps are “less Christian” than you, Tony?

  • karlkroger

    I continue to wrestle with whether I want to enable or stifle fundamentalist churches. Or just do my thing?

    In practice, I probably do all three.

    I wonder how you’d respond to people of color who would want to suffocate all white churches, because they’re probably racist in some fashion?

    Or should the pacifists of the world seek to destroy the Christianity in America, as it as clearly signed onto violence?

    Pick your issue, somewhere or another, all of us are failing.

    • Shannon Montgomery

      “Probably” racist is very different than demonstrably, historically, and continuously racist. Stanley Hauerwas would suggest that the Christianity in bed with American jingoism isn’t actually Christianity at all.

      But what I find most telling, Karl, is that the complementarian churches are most likely to be the *same* churches that have at minimum a racist history (SBC), in practice a quiet racism… and also a marriage with the current incarnation of Manifest Destiny–America as a Christian nation fighting (yes, *fighting*) the infidels over in the Middle East.

      If you want to say that we’re all failing–and that’s probably true–you need some other example… because these three are all of a piece.

    • Rodnoc Condor

      Karl you are right we are all failing somewhere or another. The difference is that I do not try and make my failings the word of God nor do I look to have my failings legitimized by the church.

  • Reggie

    “that message is not of Christ” right because Christ DIDN’T choose twelve male disciples.

    • RelapsedCatholic

      Christ was a first century Jewish rabbi, we are not. The Jews themselves have embraced female rabbis, why should we lag behind? You also severely gloss over the role of women in his ministry. Wherever Christ went, women were there helping him spread the good news.

      • Reggie

        You used a good word, “role”. Just as Christ had his disciples playing one role and the women helping elsewhere. complementarians believe the same thing. Men have roles as pastors and women have roles as helpers. I don’t see how that’s different from what Jesus did.

        • Actually, lot’s. Jesus died to lift us up to do the works that He did, all believers. And Christ suffered death so that we could all be healed and set free from bondages. Those who believe in the concept of 16th century roles, do so in order to justify putting women in a new bondage that was not even present in ancient Judaic times.

          John 14:12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

          Jesus read the following in the temple…..
          Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
          Because the Lord has anointed Me
          To preach good tidings to the poor;
          He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
          To proclaim liberty to the captives,
          And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

          • Reggie

            Wow. Way to sidestep the point that Jesus had twelve male disciples and women helpers. I don’t know what part of “different roles” you don’t understand. There’s no difference between what complementarians do and what Jesus did in his earthly ministry.

            • I think you may be giving the first 12 disciples a different importance than Christ did. The first 12 mapped to the 12 tribes and laying the foundation for living in the New Covenant that Christ ushered in. It had nothing whatsoever to do with men versus women. Those who want to assume what was not said, and claim that therefore all apostles and leaders have to be men because the first 12 were men, then have to bring in the rest of their similarities. Then all apostles would also have to be only Jewish men within a certain age group and a certain area of Israel. Of course that is unworkable, because that was not the point.

              • “Men have roles as pastors and women have roles as helpers.”

                This is really inaccurate also. Neither statement is made anywhere in Scripture. One has to read it into something. Even then it is a stretch.

                • Reggie

                  So what is your understanding (and I’m asking this very sincerely) of 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 14:34-25 as well as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 3:2,

                  • It is night here and has been a busy day. Not sure I’ll be able immediately to address all of these. Here are some short thoughts for you to consider. Will try to get back to this.

                    perhaps a more thorough reading of 1 Cor. 14 will show that tongues speakers and those who prophecy were asked to be silent as well. But most of us notice the context there is that they are to only be silent or quiet regarding speaking when there is no interpretation and allowing others to share their gifts as well. In a similar way, women/wives were only to be silent regarding their spoken questions to their husbands during the meeting. They should rather ask them at home.

                    Similarly, 1 Timothy is about believers (men and women) who got into disputes over subjects they were
                    not well informed in. (sound familiar?) vs. 1:3-7 Certain of the men involved were openly rebuked. vs. 1:19-20. The rest were admonished to stop fighting (men specifically – 2:8 ) And the women involved
                    were to Learn! This learning was to be done in the manner of a student with quietness (same word in 2:2). They were to be learners and not seek to authentein. Authentein has been a difficult word to translate as
                    it was only used once in the NT. But it generally had to do with domination or taking authority that did not belong to one.

                    None of these Scriptures had anything at all to do with women teaching the truths of Scripture in the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

                  • strange, I thought I answered this. 🙁 Been a long day.

                    A more thorough reading of 1 Cor. 14 will show that tongues speakers and those who prophecy were asked to be silent as well. But most of us notice the context there is that they are to only be silent regarding speaking when there is no interpretation and allowing others to share their gifts as well. In a similar way, women/wives were only to silent regarding their spoken questions to their husbands during the meeting. They should rather ask them at home.

                    Similarly, 1 Timothy is about believers (men and women) who got into disputes over subjects they were not well informed in. (sound familiar?) vs. 1:3-7 Certain of the men involved were openly rebuked. vs. 1:19-20. The rest were admonished to stop fighting (men specifically – 2:8 ) And the women involved were to Learn! This learning was to be done in the manner of a student with quietness (same word in 2:2). They were to be learners and not seek to authentein. Authentein has been a difficult word to translate as it was only used once in the NT. But it generally has to do with domination or taking authority that did not belong to one.

                    Also, When one reads 1 Tim. 2:11-12 in context with what was being discussed in chapter one, and pays attention to the grammar and original languages, then one can see what I just wrote. When a person takes the words as a stand alone, then one can make it say anything that sounds good. Part of the grammar of 1 Tim. 2:11-12 is that “Let a woman Learn!” was the primary point and subject. Everything else is subject to that statement. IOW the learning in quietness and submission, must also include not teaching while learning, and not dominating (perhaps the teacher) while learning.

                    The NT Timeline Bible lays this out clearly in outline form. If you can find it online, this is spelled out on page 780.

                    I’ll have to come back to this if I can remember it. This should give you something to think about.

        • RelapsedCatholic

          I think complimentarians raise discipline into dogma. This was simply how his ministry functioned, not a core belief and universal truth. It was appropriate for his day and time. While I know where you are coming from, I am unable to understand why they choose to stay there.

  • Scot Miller

    I used to say that I was a Southern Baptist because I was shaped by that tradition, and that tradition was in need of forgiveness and reform. I was who I was because of that misogynistic, slave-holding tradition, and I wanted to somehow be a part of the redemption of such a fallen and sinful tradition. But it is tiring to beat one’s head against a wall. Now that I am a member of a Disciples of Christ congregation, I say, “I used to be a Southern Baptist until I became a Christian.”

    • Russell Snow

      I was raised DOC and went to the Baptists. I used to be DOC till I became a Christian. When a denomination can have pastors who deny the resurrection, you have to ask yourself, “what is the point?”

    • Morton

      Ahhh, the DOC – the dead liberal denominational side of the Restoration Movement. 75% drop in membership since its inception in 1968. Probably won’t even exist in another 25 years. People want to see & hear the Gospel in churches, not a social agenda.

  • This was a great discussion – thanks for having it and for posting it. I appreciated Sarah’s perspective and agree. I think there is still a value to having more progressive Christians speaking at and worshiping with churches that believe differently, because we can develop relationships and begin to effect change that way. I see it happening.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      I could not possibly agree more, Kristen. Well said!

    • Morton

      Be careful Kristen, it just might be YOU that begins to change, as you actually see and study and understand Scripture more fully. The Holy Spirit is kind of sneaky that way!

  • Really grateful for this conversation. Thanks, Sarah, for bringing such insight, wisdom, and grace. And thanks, Tony, for being you – passionate, convicted, and so profoundly supportive of women in ministry. You have been a huge champion of mine from the beginning, and I’m grateful for that.

    A few scattered thoughts:

    1) I’m a proponent of an Open Table…like, totally open. And so I wouldn’t think twice about breaking the bread of communion with my complementarian brothers and sisters. The bread and wine are the gifts of God for the people of God and I am quite certain I have no business deciding who gets to come to that Table. God invites. People I don’t like tend to show up. None of us are worthy. That’s the Kingdom. (I realize not every denomination supports this view of communion. I sit it out in the Catholic church, for example.)

    2) Here’s where I think things get SUPER tricky in the gender conversation. For those of us who support full equality, there usually comes a point in our thinking where we decide that this is a justice issue. It’s about the basic dignity and equality of women. At that point, it becomes really, really hard to see complementarians as people who are (in most cases, I’d say) simply committed to obeying what they believe the Bible teaches to be true about gender instead of misogynists using the Bible to keep women down. In other words, our minds have made the shift from “they’re OBEYING the Bible based on their interpretation” to “they’re USING the Bible to oppress other people.” And so we file the discussion into the same category we’ve assigned to the discussion surrounding slavery in the 18th and 19th century.

    I think it’s important to consider the slavery discussion, particularly because some of the very same biblical passages referenced to support slavery are being referenced today to support hierarchal gender roles. And I think it’s helpful to appeal to justice and dignity and equality as well. But where I’ve seen the most change, the most progress, is in conversations that begin with two assumptions: 1) that both parties take the Bible seriously, and 2) that both parties value women. When we start with these two presuppositions, we can then appeal to them when we’re making our case. So, I can say, “well, if we take the Bible seriously, shouldn’t we consider some of these passages in context?” or, “if we really value women as equals, shouldn’t we address this inequity?” It just seems like the conversation is more productive when we start by assuming the best in one another…even if we go in with our suspicions.

    3) I have been SUPER encouraged lately by the progress I’ve seen within evangelicalism on this issue. SUPER encouraged. And I’d like to think I’ve got an ear to the ground on this. Things are changing….quickly.There’s a ton of momentum in favor of egalitarianism right now. So, in my mind, this would be the worst time to call for a break in the conversation.

    4) I do think that many evangelical women who feel called to ministry may need to leave churches that limit opportunities for women in favor of Mainline churches that will embrace them and their gifts. And I get why people leave evangelicalism. I kinda sorta have. (We go to a Methodist church in town, which, this being the rural south, is still pretty conservative.) I just think each person and each family has to navigate this for themselves. The decision to leave a church always looks easier from the outside. When your most important relationships are grounded in a community, it’ not easy (and it’s not always wise) to pack up and leave, even over justice issues.

    Just some thoughts! Thanks for the conversation!

    • One more quick thought: I think it may simply be easier for those of us who were raised complementarian to have empathy for that position. Since Tony doesn’t really *know *any complementarians, it’s easier for him to just dismiss them and it’s harder for him to understand where they’re coming from.

      • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

        Well said, Rachel. Tony’s take makes sense to me based on his vantage point and experiences. Those of us raised there are naturally going to have different perspective and more fuel to endure with frustrations…

      • Thanks, Rachel, and everyone else who’s commenting. Actually, I do know some complementarians, but not many. I live in the progressive North, it’s true.

        Nevertheless, I wasn’t dismissing people. I was taking a theological position. Sarah humanized it for me.

        • Oh I know, Tony. I think it maybe just came across as dismissive. That you’ve opened it up for further conversation shows you’re still really open to dialog.

          (Or maybe that you’re not “man enough” for a true schism. I kid, I kid.) 🙂

          • Well, that comment is pretty good for a …

            Oh, nevermind.


            • Hahahahaha! Oh my gosh. You and I NEED to talk about that at some point. What a nightmare.

              • You’ve got my number! I’d love to hear about it.

                Happy Thanksgiving, friend.

                • Susan Preece

                  Thanks for the interesting, thoughtful dialogue. Truly your sharing leads to changes in thinking that will lead to greater change. I am left with wondering if we cannot argue: people of color are not ontologically inferior, divorced people are not ontologically inferior, even homosexuals are not ontologically inferior. We must take one battle at a time……but this is still progress. THANK YOU.

    • Brett FISH Anderson

      Really enjoyed these Rachel, think you have some great points here – appreciate your involvement and focus in this conversation…

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      I think it’s important to hold onto the parallels with other justice-issues history has resolved as well. And I too am SUPER encouraged to use your words.

      I appreciate your voice, Rachel.

    • I especially agree with your fourth statement. It’s not always easy to leave the community or denomination you’ve grown up with because of one issue, even if it’s a cause you take very seriously like gender equality. My denomination is currently processing the question of whether or not it will allow women’s ordination. Several women are already serving as pastors of churches, but they are not being given their rightful title (and equal pay) because they are not “ordained.” It may be tempting to say, “screw this, this is unfair, I’m getting out of here.” However, the voices I see rising up in favor of women’s ordination, the Divisions I see recommending women’s ordination to the World Church, and the women pastors, including my own, that I see serving God everyday passionately and with full abandon, they encourage me to stay and work for gender equality in my church, for them and for all of us.

      • Great thoughts, Rubi! And there’s something really exciting about being part of the change within a denomination like that. Cheering you on!

    • Rachel, while I don’t share your theology on this, after reading this I’m thinking it would be great to have coffee and talk more about this – maybe someday…I too think the discussion is worth having, and there’s only so much to be done on a comment thread. That goes for everyone on this post – I appreciate all the efforts to speak the truth in love.

    • scottf

      Thanks for your thoughts, Rachel. You are clear and straightforward in your approach. Can you describe to me what you mean by feeling called to ministry? I don’t wan to be pedantic here, but can you list a character from Scripture who was called to ministry? If we both take the bible seriously, what is the biblical basis and example for this feeling?

  • i appreciate this a great deal, sarah and tony.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Thanks, Suzannah. That means something.

  • Brett FISH Anderson

    Sarah, i really appreciated your voice in this… i’m not a big fan of labels so wouldn’t know where to lay my head once we start talking camps and sides and all of that – just trying to follow Jesus and love people along the way but just your humility and openness to stories bigger than your own feel very refreshing… and Tony, enjoyed that you created the space for this discussion and invitation to Sarah to share her disagreements with some of the stuff you hold strongly to, and your willingness to admit you might have used a wrong word – tried one of these dialogue posts on my blog on ‘tolerance’ the other day and totally smiled at the ‘deleted the whole thing and started again’ bit cos ours could definitely have gone that route – touched on some good truth towards the end but definitely an art that needs to be defined – this one feels quite helpful though…

    all the best to you both
    keep on growing the kingdom together
    love brett fish

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Thanks for your encouragement.

  • jtheory

    I think we might be looking at more of a Hatfield and McCoy situation than a Civil War situation if we choose schism. I am thankful you’ve backed off from that word. What I’d like to see is a continual heightening of the principle of equality by those privileged to be able to, both in word and deed. I hate to Jesus Juke this, but I think it’s applicable, that when Christ came he didn’t try to take down the oppressive Roman system, but with His disciples walked and talked a better less oppressive gospel to those around them. He even convinced one of the Pharisees (Nicodemus) of His Gospel. We see Him continually change hearts with His quiet passionate love and dialogue that was willing to humanize even the worst oppressors.

    It’s also key to note that all the schisms that happened in the past, even Luther’s were forced. He left for fear of being put to death for his standing against the Catholic teachings of the time.

    Until i see men in these complementarian or patriarchal churches literally threatening to kill me for standing against both I can’t see any good in breaking fellowship with them.

    I think there’s still room for talking, for dialogue, for never giving up. No one is beyond the hope of change, but if we all leave then who is going to model the better alternative to them? And what about the children who still have hearts willing to change, what about them? They will grow up in a system and community that brainwashes them into harmful realities that have no one saying “this is wrong, think of it this way.”

    My own story mirrors that a little. My dad and mom raised me to be able to question and not just accept what I was being taught. They did this by allowing me to go to Fundamentalist Baptist schools, where I was taught KJV only, and christian rock is of the devil, etc. but when I came home my Dad would help me deconstruct what I was taught, keeping the good and throwing away the bad. This also helped me to humanize these people not as demons, but as human beings. Fighting against principalities and not flesh and blood. Schisms fight against flesh and blood.

    And I hope you take the time to read Sarah Cunningham’s post today about Daryl Davis. I think it speaks deeply to this whole conversation. I want justice now, and peace now and equality now just as much as you, and I even work towards that and support the denominations that do promote it, but I also see much good in continuing to fight for and dialogue with the people who disagree with it. Fight for changed minds and hearts, cause they deserve that hope, as well as the people they abuse deserve the hope of not being abused by them anymore.

    Just some thoughts. Let’s not cut off an arm of Christ’s Body before it’s truly too frostbitten to use anymore. If any cutting happens, let them do it. But let’s pray it never happens.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      I appreciate several things you said here and am pondering your reference to the ‘force’ behind Luther’s actions. Worth thinking about. Thanks for contributing.

      • jtheory

        thanks Sarah 🙂

      • If I may, since I stand in the Lutheran tribe, the force behind Luther’s actions was the Roman church excommunicating him. He didn’t choose to leave. He physically left the area and hid at Wartburg, yes, because they were trying to kill him. But he didn’t leave the church of his own accord (ie. he wasn’t calling for schism. He was calling for the church to return to Scripture.). His statement, when asked to recant, is that unless He could be convinced by Scripture and plain reason that he was in the wrong, he could not go against his conscience.

        It’s a bit ironic, really – one of my responses to Tony’s original schism post was that it invoked Luther, Calvin, etc. While Calvin and Zwingli certainly were more schismatic, Luther wasn’t. He wanted reform, not separation. My response was that actually the Roman church created the schism of the Reformation by excommunicating Luther rather than continuing the dialogue. And one thing that grieved me about the schism post was that Tony pronounced complementarians anathema, just like the Roman church did to Luther. Not the other way around.

        That said, I understand that Tony can be feeling much the same as Luther. I hope this isn’t putting words in your mouth, Tony, but it makes sense to me that you could agree with Luther’s stance – unless convinced by Scripture and plain reason, you can’t go against your conscience. I maintain the same stance. So here’s the crux of today: what happens when two people/groups take that same approach, disagree, (and here’s the difference from the 16th century) but aren’t in an unequal power relationship?

        • driz

          “He was calling for the church to return to Scripture.”

          Which, in effect, is calling for a return to love.

          Today, we know that women can lead as well as men, if not often better. We can no longer hide behind an archaic scripture reference that belies some of Jesus’ closest friends and confidants (women). The largest war machine on the planet is led by a woman (not sure if that helps or hinders my position, but it’s an interesting tid bit). Woman comprise almost half of today’s workforce. Many Fortune 500 companies are now led by women, and that number is growing.

          Young women desiring to lead are leaving ecclesial tribes that deny them their natural gifts. Denying leadership to women is not love. It is not Jesus. It is slavish addiction to an archaic, socially-based religious norm that, by every known metric, has shown to be long outdated, and just plain wrong.

    • It rather depends on what the woman wants, and whether or not God has called her to any particular ministry service. If a woman has a calling to teach, preach or lead in ministries, to not be allowed to participate in that is like a living death sentence. It is like not being able to breathe. It is like a gifted swimmer never being able to get in the water again, like a singer never being allowed to sing again. Would you actually think that is OK?

  • Hi Tony and Sarah, thanks for the openness and vulnerability. I had written a huge long post in response to the schism post, but deleted it since I’m not sure I would have been doing anyone any good by posting it. I feel compelled to respond to this post partly because I can do so briefly, and partly because it’s such an open, honest, and thoughtful post and I want to respond in kind.

    I feel compelled to address this statement: “In the end, this: *Women are not ontologically inferior to men.* That’s what complementarians teach.”

    I’m a complementarian and absolutely affirm your bolded statement. I have to, as strongly and as humbly as I can, disagree with your assertion that that’s what (all) complementarians teach. I disagree because I think you confuse vocation with worth. The teaching that the pastoral office isn’t open to women does not make them inferior. (That’s not to say there haven’t been those who have treated them as inferiors; I’m speaking strictly from Biblical principles. The office isn’t open to most men either.) That is to say, I believe Gal. 3:28 and 1 Cor. 11:33-34/1 Tim. 2:12-14 (and Titus 1:5-9, etc.) are true at the same time; they’re not contradicting one another because they’re not speaking about the same thing. Gal. 3:28 is about identity in Christ and value before God. 1 Cor. 11/1 Tim. 2 are about God-given vocations of service.

    Please hear me: I’m *only* speaking about the pastoral office, not about speaking at conferences, music leading, etc. (Again, keeping vocations properly distinguished.) My “flavour” of complementarianism only speaks to the pastoral office. Painting all complementarians with the same brush is too broad a stroke. I join your quest against those who do see women as inferior and close many vocations to them that Scripture doesn’t close, but I cannot agree that all complementarians see it that way.

    I guess I’m simply affirming Sarah’s experience in this, and would ask you to re-think this attitude: “Try as they might to argue otherwise, that’s their message.” If you are framing my position for me, and nothing I say will convince you otherwise, then there’s just no dialogue to be had, is there? (Which, I guess, is where the “schism” post came from in the first place…)

    I’m asking you to consider that you’re making a false equation here based on a straw man, and to evaluate complementarianism not the *abuses* of it, but only on the Scriptural qualifications for the pastoral office in conjunction with the clear Scriptural teaching about the absolute equality in worth and identity of all people before God in Jesus.

    Again, thanks for the civility in this post, and thank you, Sarah, for pushing back gently. Thank you for contending for the faith with gentleness and respect. 🙂

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Thanks for being vulnerable enough to come here and share your heart. You hearing what is being said here, and others having the opportunity to hear you, is part of the long journey we all share. Lord give wisdom to us all.

      Thanks so much.

    • jtheory

      I grew up with a very similar complementarianism in my family. My dad was cool with female associate pastors, and teachers, but did not feel right about female head pastors. I’ve since come to disagree with his stance, but I can say in action and deed he stood up for the rights of women every day. That we chose to leave a church with a female head pastor wasn’t indicative of his true heart towards women, but simply his misunderstanding of scripture (my personal opinion mind you).

      I think it’s way too easy to conflate comps and patriarchal believers with way worse belief systems. The truth is it’s usually the loudest ones that think the worst things. The average one, like you, are actually very affirming of women despite what they believe about certain things.

      • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

        Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for joining us. I think Philip Payne does a good job of addressing the issue of roles here:

      But you should really check out his entire book, “Man and Woman, One in Christ” for a more detailed look at the specific passages you mention.

      I also address them in my Mutuality Series here:

      One way to help people understand it is this:

      Let’s say a man and woman apply for a ministry position. The woman is more qualified, a better speaker, has more experienced, and comes with better references, but the man is chosen for the job because he is a man. Can you understand how these actions would suggest the ontological inferiority of the woman? It was her gender, and nothing else, that disqualified her from the position.

      Thanks for weighing in !

      • Hi Rachel, and thanks for your reply.

        I will check out those resources; I’ve done a lot of study on this myself, and always like to seek to better understand the varying positions.

        Re: your example, I can certainly understand the optics of that. I hope you don’t see that as nitpicking because that’s not the intention – I’d like to drill down into the example to respond in three ways.

        First, for me, it would depend on what the ministry position is. I know “ministry” is used in a variety of ways. I’m only talking about the pastoral office. In that narrow sense only, I would suggest that the process of “post a job-apply-interview-hire” isn’t the best one for the office of pastor. Descriptively in the Bible, people didn’t apply for eldership. They were appointed/called/cast lots for, etc. Narrowly speaking, not one of the prophets of the OT and the apostles of the NT even wanted to do the job. God called the least qualified, in human terms!

        Secondly, re: qualifications, prescriptively in Scripture, the qualifications for eldership are clearly laid out. So to respond further, I guess I’d need some clarity about what you’d consider are better qualifications. But my point is that we must begin with Scripture’s prescriptive qualifications for the pastoral office, and only after those are met should we consider other more “human” qualifications.

        Thirdly, I still maintain that the office of pastor not being open to a woman is not the same thing as considering her ontologically inferior. It’s a question of God-ordained vocations. (I will avoid the word “role” for the sake of Payne 🙂 – I think vocation is a different and better concept anyway…). I believe our discussion needs to only be based on understanding and applying Scripture, and I maintain that Scripture makes it very clear that a woman deserves the highest honour and respect – that she is absolutely not inferior in any way to a man – and yet also is clear that the pastoral office is only open to men (unless men forsake their God-given call to servant leadership…which is another issue that we certainly see in homes…). It’d be great to have some serious discussion/dialogue about the understanding and application of Scripture, because I think you’re making a leap that Scripture doesn’t make, and I would love to talk about that.

        Thanks again – I’ll give your series a read over the next little while too – would love to have more dialogue on this.

        • anselm13

          If by all measures (your’s included) the woman were more suited to the job, her gender would disqualify her because of your take on Scripture’s prescriptive qualifications. I think this would make gender the primary nonnegotiable qualification and if inferior can be said to mean situated below another or of lower rank, then it would seem this denotes an ontological inferiority.

          • Thursday1

            You’re thinking like a 20th century meritocrat. Those are not Biblical categories.

          • All the Scriptural qualifications are needed. That doesn’t make gender the primary one, but simply one. If a man has all but one qualification, he shouldn’t serve in that office either.

            There is much more to be said on this, but your last point is a very important one that I haven’t seen addressed much yet, because it deals with the nature of the pastoral office:

            “if inferior can be said to mean situated below another or of lower rank, then it would seem this denotes an ontological inferiority”

            I don’t think one can define inferior that way at all. And, the pastoral office isn’t about rank. And if it is, it’s actually of a *lower* “rank”. It’s an office of *service*, not one of prestige and power. The only authority it carries is that of God’s Word. That some (ok, many) have abused the notion of the office to mean something other than service doesn’t mean that’s what it is.

            Again, just going back to Scripture on this: there’s a very close relation to the household and the church. Men are called to be servant leaders of their families if they have them, and some men are called to be servant leaders of the church as spiritual fathers. That doesn’t increase their value in God’s sight, or in anyone else’s. They are to lead by *serving*.

            So I think this very important point is not just of the definition of “inferior”, but of the pastoral office itself. If the office is somehow seen as “better” or “elevated” above others in Christianity, then I can see why this is framed as an issue of superiority vs. inferiority. (And to be fair, I know this is how it is framed in many circles.) But it’s my position that that’s a wrong understanding of the nature of the pastoral office.

            I simply can’t state it strongly enough: women are not, by their very nature or by any other measure, of lesser worth than men. Vocation has nothing to do with ontological value. I think this whole discussion is a result of a conflation of categories, making a vocational issue an issue of identity and worth. They’re not the same thing. Our identity in Christ is not defined by how we are called by God to serve each other, but solely in his love for us.

            So for me, if we were to have the discussion on the level of both descriptive and prescriptive Biblical witness, that’s one thing. But it seems to be happening more on the level of ontological value, which I just think leads us to judgments based on what people have done rather than the Bible. (True, that presumes a certain view of the Bible, too, but isn’t this enough of a mess without that element? 🙂 )

            • Most of this is extra Biblical thinking. IOW you are bringing predetermined values to Scripture trying find something that looks like it fits.

              You say that rejecting women based on their femaleness is not valuing them as inferior, but what else can it be. They cannot change their femaleness. Same thing with the black issue. At least in the 1800’s they were plain speaking that blacks were born in their opinion, for slavery and subjection to the race that was superior. Gender hierarchalists are saying the same thing to women, but trying to claim that women’s subjection to men for life does NOT mean they are inferior. But what else can it be?

              This is not what Scriptures actually say. It is what is being read into Scripture in order to support predetermined concepts.

              • Hi tiro, and thanks for the reply. I have to say I’m not sure I follow your logic. Are you saying that Scripture doesn’t consider women ontologically inferior? If so, I agree!

                But I’m guessing you’re also saying that Scripture doesn’t prohibit women from the pastoral office. On that I cannot agree.

                And again, I’m just not sure how to be more clear than this, but I will try again: precluding women from the office does not equal viewing them as inferior. Scripture also precludes most men from the office. That doesn’t make them inferior. To equate those two things is a conflation.

                You (plural – I know this is your first post to me personally) keep using the language of superiority and inferiority. I’m trying to honestly understand that, but I admit I’m having trouble equating them here. True, they can’t change their femaleness, but that’s not the issue. To me the slavery issue is a red herring, as is the whole concept of male superiority. It’s completely backwards from the Scriptural notion of headship and leadership, which is one of *servanthood*. I don’t believe women were created to be serving a superior gender. Scripture doesn’t teach that. That’s not what the pastoral office is about.

                It seems clear we won’t agree on this, but again, I’d like to discuss it from the Scriptures. You are telling me that I must condone the slavery of the 1800’s if I condone the prohibition of women from the pastoral office? That it can be nothing else? Sorry, but I can’t buy that. It can be something else, for sure: what Scripture itself says. We are not un-equal before God. Following God’s directive for a male-only pastorate is not the same as the wholesale rejection of women as inferior in their very nature. God doesn’t view women as less than men, and neither do I.

                I’m being charged with eisegesis; I can only respond that I hold no pre-conceived notions on this, and that I’m trying my best to exegete Scripture faithfully here (and everywhere). If anything, I wish egalitarianism was the Scriptural teaching – it would make things a lot easier in our cultural context! But I have to take the stand of my theological forefather – unless I can be convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is bound to God’s Word. I’m happy to deal with the Scriptures. I’d be fine with digging into 1 Cor. 14, 1 Tim. 2, and Titus 1, as well as all the rest.

                Most of this is extra-biblical, as you say, because there’s been very little engaging the Scriptures here, but dealing with philosophical and sociological principles. And my guess is because many feel the issue is settled. I for one would like to continue the hermeneutical and exegetical discussions.

                That’s enough for now – I’m likely becoming overbearing. I apologize if that’s the case; I just think there’s a lot more still to talk about.

                • Thank you for the dialogue, Michael.
                  Let’s first talk about the pastoral ministry. Eldership/overseeing is not the ministry of pastoring. According to Eph. 4 the calling and ministry of shepherding is a life long calling. God gives, blesses the Body of Christ by sending these people (no division between men and women) to help build up the Body until we all come to unity and faith and to help us mature into the fullness of Christ. They are to help us
                  all to do the works of Christ that Jesus said we would do. Jn 14:12 The job of the leaders of churches is to
                  recognize those who have such a calling on their lives and it may not be a person who desires to be a pastor. It will be one who does (is doing already) the work of shepherding God’s people. We don’t have enough of those people, both men and women, serving in churches as pastors.

                  The works of overseers and deacons (ministerers) is temporary and is about serving in temporary works only, though they are still important works that should include both men and women. Those who equate them with the calling of shepherding run the risk of putting people in a ministry that God has not called or equipped the person for. Churches should not think they can ‘call’ people into pastoring/shepherding. Church leaders should rather prayerfully acknowledge those whom God has called.

                  It is my view to agree with Paul that it is OK for any person to desire to do such a work. And that is what it is, a spiritual service. The qualifications are a list
                  of inner characteristics not physical characteristics.

                  The faithful saying is that anyone (tis – inclusive) who desires to do the work (ergon) as an episkopE
                  (oversight/overseer), desires well.

                  An overseer must then be:
                  blameless – irreproachable
                  a ‘one woman man’ (grk – mias gunaikos andra) an idiom for faithful
                  temperate – abstaining from drinking or at least only
                  moderate use
                  sober minded – self controlled, sane
                  of good behavior – (kosmion) decorous, seemly, modest
                  able to teach
                  not given to wine
                  not violent
                  not greedy for money
                  not quarrelsome
                  not covetous
                  one who manages their own house
                  having any children in submission

                  None of these personal characteristics are gendered or can only be done by one gender. There is no hidden requirement for men only. That has been read into this
                  section for way too long. And the damage to the Body of Christ has been great IMO.

                  I don’t expect you to just accept what I have said, but I do hope that it will give you something to think about.

                  • Hi tiro, and thanks for the discussion. I want to sink my teeth into this, and respond more fully, but I just don’t have the time right now. So I’ll have to allow a much shorter, inadequate response to suffice for now.

                    In short, you’re right, I don’t accept your take. 🙂 But I do appreciate the discussion being centered on the text and not solely on sociological issues.

                    Shephering/pastoring is directly a duty of elders as is clear from 1 Peter 5:1-2. Peter exhorts the presbyterous to poimanate! Shepherding is what elders do. Scripture uses those titles interchangeably – elder, bishop, overseer, shepherd & teacher. They are absolutely related, and all of the titles in Eph.4:11 are related to that same office of elder. There’s no indication the text that shepherding is a life-long calling. That’s just not there.

                    Re: 1 Tim. 3, I do agree there’s no hidden requirement for men only. It’s not hidden; it’s in plain sight. 🙂 Very briefly, your take on verse 2 doesn’t square with the plain reading of the text. “Husband of one wife” suggests faithfulness, sure, but that’s not all it suggests. It’s not a gender-inclusive term; Paul uses “aner” specifically to refer to a male. If Paul has both sexes in mind, why not say, “someone who’s faithful to a spouse”? If Paul only has faithfulness mind, why not say, “one who is faithful”?

                    “None of these personal characteristics are gendered or can only be done by one gender.”

                    I suggest that every single one of these personal characteristics are gendered in the very words used.

                    Every single adjective and verb referring back to “tis” is masculine, making it clear that “tis” is intended as a masculine referent. Since Paul had a choice of genders in the words themselves, it’s abundantly clear from the text that Paul has males in mind.

                    (You’re familiar with Greek, so I’m not writing this next part for you but for those reading this who may not be…) In English a word like “good” takes the same form no matter what the referent is, male, female, thing. In Greek, the adjective matches its referent noun in person, number, and gender. All the adjectives (and verbs and participles that refer back) in this list are 3rd-person masculine singular. That’s not just patriarchal language that we are free to dismiss, especially when considered in conjunction with all the other texts that talk about the office of elder.

                    The bottom line for me is that I believe it takes more eisegesis to make these texts inclusive than the other way around. That seems to be fundamental disagreement of ours: you say it’s eisegesis for me to read “male-only”, I say it’s more eisegetical than not to read it inclusively. Probably doesn’t help us reconcile things in the long run, but at least we’re clear on where we stand. 🙂

                    Wish I could say more, but other tasks are pressing. May God guide us all always in His truth.

                    • “tis” literally and absolutely means anyone. Greek words treat gender endings differently than English. “Tis” is not masculine when it refers to a male and feminine when it refers to a woman. That is because the word itself is inclusive and refers to ‘anyone’ meaning anyone whether male or female. If it were to be exclusively male, it would be aner and not tis. And when gender is inclusive or unknown it always defaults to using masculine endings.

                      The idiom regarding faithfulness has carried forth to today and we say he, she or they when gender is unknown. They are a one woman man, which still defaults to the masculine when gender is unknown. That is English. In Greek when the gender is unknown which would be shown in context, which it is by using tis, it is still “one woman man”.

                      It is fine if you do not get this or choose to. It does not pertain to your life. You can go on doing what you are doing no matter. But these things matter for those chained, bound and constrained by human reasonings into a smaller spiritual reality and choices.

                      Happy Thanksgiving. I’ve much to do, and too little time. 🙂

                    • Michael, you claim that the bottom line is that you need more “proof” or logic to believe in the inclusiveness in these and other Scriptures. My understanding is that, as nicely as you may put it and however pleasant a man you are in real life, you are in the position of claiming and protecting your primacy in the Lord. Women have no standing (coming from under) nor desire to claim primacy, but many are discovering true equality of person in Christ. Just because of this positioning you are going to have a horribly difficult time wresting the understanding of true equality from the spiritually free woman in Christ.

                      Try restricting again the black man. Heck no. He’ll go elsewhere to live joyously in his new found freedom. He can get a job for pay, own property of his choice, get an education, and maybe some day he can be a congressman or even President. 🙂

                      Once a woman sees this in Scripture, you’ll never stuff her again in that sweet little box.

            • anselm13

              If a person is prohibited from serving as pastor by gender, it still seems reasonable for me (a man) to understand why this would make her feel as though she was ontologically inferior (if not of lesser worth, then inherently less capable). We can quibble on the meaning of inferior, but when I read the definition in webster’s, I can understand why the term could be found applicable.

              Unless this prohibition is arbitrary, there must be some reason for it and I’m not surprised a woman would infer the reason has something to do with her being less capable of serving as pastor. Try as you might to soften it (and I do appreciate your tone), can’t you at least recognize why your attempts to do so might fall flat for a woman who thought she was called to be a pastor?

              • It is an interesting point as well, that if indeed the ministry of pastoring were to be limited to men only, why would the word describing that ministry by poimen or shepherd. Both men and women were shepherds. Why not choose a word that described a work only men did.

          • driz

            Well said. There is simply no support for excluding women from any kind of spiritual leadership (except an interpreted passage of scripture).

            The same logic was used by slave owners quoting Paul, as recently as the early 20th century. The same logic is used by those oppressing gays, not just from ministry, but from simple fellowship, based on the interpretation of one man’s OT-based opinion, written 2000 years ago.

            This isn’t love. This doesn’t look anything like Jesus

      • Thursday1

        The woman is more qualified, a better speaker, has more experienced, and comes with better references, but the man is chosen for the job because he is a man. Can you understand how these actions would suggest the ontological inferiority of the woman? It was her gender, and nothing else, that disqualified her from the position.

        This is modernist technocratic and meritocratic thinking, which is utterly alien to Biblical modes of thought. It is no wonder that a complementarian like John Piper also wrote a book called “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” Bringing modernist assumptions to Biblical interpretation is totally inappropriate.

        There actually was a response to you over at Richard Beck’s blog:

        “Is it possible that excluding women from positions of leadership is not oppressive in itself–but that excluding women from leadership in a mobile meritocracy is indeed oppressive? It may be that in another culture, or in another century, we could cast lots for a leader and restrict that role to men without implying that anybody is inferior. But in our culture, in our century, the very fact that we are trying to find the most “qualified and gifted” person means that we must be open to including women in leadership. Just a thought. My question is whether it is some combination of our culture’s assumptions, and our churches’ practices, that seems so deeply oppressive. Did all-male leadership always seem this oppressive, in other cultures and in other centuries?”


        • Actually, there have always been women leaders both in the Biblical narratives and in our cultures themselves.

    • PhantomRepublic

      Love the article, and while it does not apply to me directly, the last paragraph certainly did:

      “Sadly, I worry that those people will leave these churches, and they won’t find their way into accepting, egalitarian churches. I fear that they will give up on Christianity altogether, as so many already have.”

      I was raised to be a very devout Pentecostal, and I most certainly was – even though my physical change into manhood forced me to reconsider everything (I discovered … to my horror … that I wasn’t attracted to women “as designed”). I had to make a choice between my own holistic well-being or the psychological fallout that remaining in a tradition in which I was condemned from birth (or at least from puberty) would have certainly provided. I chose sanity.

      Accepting a world of scientific principles certainly eased a lot of pain, but it did nothing for me spiritually. I mourn the loss of that even today in my fortieth decade, but I cannot and will not “break bread” with those who would consider me God’s Little Mistake to regain the richness of that previous experience. My life is certainly more important. I hope only that the youth of today (of all genders, races, and orientations) can enjoy the fullness and richness of a spiritual community without the ugly bigotry that has thrown so many from the table in centuries past.

  • First, what a great post – thank you to the both of you for sharing and modeling what disagreements amongst friends can look like. Seriously, it’s this spirit of dialogue that drew me and kept me to people like Tony. Much respect to Tony and Sarah.

    Second, wow, Sarah, as one who has spent time in a number of different types of evangelical circles (some likely very similar to yours), I honestly do not remember the last time I’ve heard a woman express a positive attitude in a complementarian context. I know many who are hanging in there or overcoming their hurt but your take is refreshing. Thanks for sharing that.

    Lastly, I too am praying, working and hoping that women continue to serve in leadership capacities in today’s Church – grateful to you friends for this post and many of these comments and the work being done.

  • Lynn

    Been reading along. For what it’s worth, I’m a woman, raised evangelical in complementarian churches, since deconverted. So here’s my question: why THIS issue, Tony? Why is this particular issue worthy of schism or revolution or whatever you want to call it? Frankly, as a woman who left the church (and did encounter some pretty crappy often-unconscious attitudes and, I think, actions as a result of those attitudes)… I have to tell you that gender roles were NOT the reason I left. It was much bigger than that–it was about inequality and prejudice and frankly hate on many levels. As a woman, I feel like my concerns about how I got treated in the church are no more important (and perhaps were LESS hurtful and problematic) than a whole host of other issues. What about schism over LGBT rights? What about schism over how people with mental illness are treated? What about schism over still-problematic approaches to race? What about schism over poverty? From my point of view, women aren’t the most oppressed class of people in much of the church (to the degree we can even say anything about “the church,” which really we can’t…. so I guess I’ll just say in my experience attending a small handful of complementarian churches and complementarian Christian schools). And I get to say that because I am a woman, who WAS impacted by crappy gender attitudes in those settings.

    • Lynn

      By the way, this (the question about why THIS issue, the gender roles issue) was a real question. Can be rhetorical, but if you have a desire to respond and would like to dialogue around this, that’s awesome too.

      Here’s the thing: your call to schism post gave me mixed reactions, as a woman. On the one hand, it was great to see men allies speaking out. On the other hand, though, there was a bit of uneasiness.

      In thinking about that uneasiness, I’ve realized what it is. Here’s the deal: your call to action was about us, about women, and you called for some very concrete steps, asking people–including us women–to take certain steps. You called for a movement or revolution of sorts. But did you consult with women leaders about these steps for action, before calling for it? I honestly really appreciate this particular post and that you had Sarah’s voice on this post. That is awesome. I also wish you had featured more women’s voices, more guest posts by women leaders, before asking a large group of people–including us women–to do certain things, on behalf of us (women).

      Maybe you did consult and just didn’t post it on the blog. Maybe my uneasiness is simply my lack of knowledge. It’s just I can only go by what I saw here. And, forgive me, but I’m going to put this very bluntly because I think it’s necessary to do so to be clear on what I’m saying here: what I saw here was a man in a position of leadership within the Christian faith community, a man with a platform to speak, prescribing action for a group of people for an issue related to a group of people to which he does not belong.

      My knowledge of historical rights movements is limited, but the ones I can think of…. they were led by the people who were discriminated against, themselves.

      And I think there already are women leaders on this issue. I’m not attending an organized church at the moment, but I have been doing a lot of online reading in the progressive and post-evangelical or questioning evangelical communities. Women are already leading on this.

      So I wonder if maybe a different approach could be taken. I wonder if asking those women leaders what steps they are taking, what’s been effective for them, and how they want their men allies to support them would be good. I wonder if using your platform (blog) to feature women’s voices and ideas about what’s working in advancing women’s equality would be good.

      I may be oversensitive to this issue, because the other thing I see sometimes in the faith communities (not just Christian, but including Christian) is a lot of speaking for, and prescribing calls to action on behalf of, people with mental illness. And as someone with a diagnosed mental health challenge, who works in the public mental health field, who has done some advocacy and policy work in that field… I’m sensitive to allowing people to speak for themselves, and to decide for themselves how to transform a system. I sort of think that IS how to transform a system…. to let the marginalized voices be heard for themselves. That’s what it’s all about, right? So maybe that applies to the process of making reform happen, too, as much as it does the end result.

      Anyway. If I’m off base, I apologize. Without hearing from you I don’t want to criticize, so please take this in a spirit of food for thought, and know that I understand I can’t get inside your head and don’t know much about where your post came from and what happened off-blog.

      Best to you and the Christian faith community.

      For the sake of transparency: I’m an atheist / agnostic (in the sense of my definition of God or the divine I think looks pretty different from most Christians’), but hoping to see the Progressive Christian movement reach a point where maybe I could find a brick-and-mortar church home where much of these literal interpretations of the Bible have been rethought to a point where I can genuinely join in a church. (Because I love the Bible and a lot of the language and symbols in Christianity, and do find nourishment in the Bible). So, for the sake of transparency, that’s my interest in the issue and in your blog.
      Again, best wishes to you. Thanks for featuring Sarah’s voice on this post.

    • Lynn

      Well, shoot. Had a long heart-felt follow-up to this post typed out, but it’s not showing up. Sigh. Trying again: Tony, I appreciate you being an ally for women in the Christian faith. I know I can’t get inside your head, know your motivations, or know what may have happened off-blog before writing your schism posts. So please accept this as offered in a gentle spirit as food for thought…
      The reason I asked the questions above (about why women’s equality in particular being your cause) is because frankly and clearly, your original schism post left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, gratitude for speaking out as an ally. On the other hand, a wondering why I was seeing a male leader in the Christian community prescribing actions for change–actions that women would have to participate in and would impact them–without, seemingly, consulting women leaders in Christianity.
      There are women already leading on this issue–perhaps using your platform to feature them on what THEY recommend for change, asking them what steps they are already taking, and how their male allies can support them, is something to consider. The cause you are advocating is for women’s voices to be heard, for women to be allowed to lead… perhaps then hearing women’s voices and allowing them to lead is as important in the process of change. Maybe the process is just as important as the end result. At least in the world I work (mental health advocacy and policy), it is…. we’re working hard at creating platforms for people with mental health challenges to speak for themselves, and prescribe steps for improvement, themselves.
      For the sake of transparency, my interest in this topic, your blog, and the progressive Christian community in general is because I was raised in the Christian faith–left it–recently started re-searching and re-learning. I’m hoping to see the progressive Christian community emerge to a point where I’ll one day find a brick and mortar church home again, but right now my understanding of the Bible is very different from most churches, even as I understand it all now Mainline ones, so I’m watching and hoping. Casting off the fundamentalist literal interpretations of scripture is one step I’m looking at closely in the progressive community.
      Best to you. Thanks for Sarah’s voice in this post, really appreciated that. Thanks for all you do.

      • AmyS

        I was seeing a male leader in the Christian community prescribing actions for change–actions that women would have to participate in and would impact them–without, seemingly, consulting women leaders in Christianity.
        There are women already leading on this issue–perhaps using your platform to feature them on what THEY recommend for change, asking them what steps they are already taking, and how their male allies can support them, is something to consider.

        Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Seba

    Perhaps we should consider that those who minister are “called” by God as opposed to “groomed” by our egalitarian or complementarian proclivities. Do we actually think that the conviction of either camp overrides God prerogative?

    Does God call less women in a complementarian community? Does God call more women in an egalitarian community? Do we think too much of ourselves?

    The call is not a “constitutional” right to fight for and we should not treat it as such. If God only called men in an egalitarian congregation to lead, on what basis would we cry foul? If God called a woman to lead in a complementarian congregation, to whom would we object? I am not trying to silence a worthwhile conversation but trying to reframe it with 3 considerations:

    1) Ministering is not a “right” to be protected or given, it is a call by God.

    2) Our communities are not the source of that call so lets stop acting like we are helping God along, either way, with an allegiance to either side of this issue.

    3) Let’s retire the phrase “out of step with what is we know is true in our heart.” Our “heart” is not the source of truth. On this side of heaven, we have a terrible time distinguishing between our heart and our flesh. Especially on complicated manners.

    And lastly, I say this with tears as I type, stop asking for churches who feel they are being to a truth beyond them to be suffocated because the culture will reject them. Is your doctrine that pure? Mine isn’t. I can’t wish such a thing on anyone who worships Jesus Christ.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      I appreciate you participating in this discussion. I can’t follow all your logic, but I do believe the validation of myself or any other man or woman who attempts to speak for God belongs to God. He doesn’t require denominations to pass amendments to do his bidding nor does he require schism to elevate a woman.

      • Nancy Le

        totally agree, coming to the realization that one only need Jesus’ validation, ultimately is what matters, but it does hurt when you are denied the privileges of ordination, baptizing people, or serving communion solely on the basis of your gender being not male, I also think, theologically, this is unbiblical, but yes, God can do as he wishes in the midst of all circumstances, including elevating a woman, but when it is so difficult, sometimes it can feel hopeless, even though it is not, in reality in Christ, ever hopeless, but it sure is sad

  • Guest

    One thing

  • GodsOwnDNA

    One thing that I think gets overlooked in these discussions is the effect of culture on how we interpret the relevant portions of scripture. John Stott puts it really well in his book contemporary christian, where he says that a missionary is to be “imaginative” in applying the word to the world. Very often we tend to push our own cultural assumptions on others in the name of the gospel. And complementarian assumptions atleast in the US have more to do with culture and societal traditions than the gospel. In my own country, India, arranged marriage within christian circles (arranged by the parents) is peddled as being more “biblical” than one in which the couple decides to get married of their own accord. Saying that a complementarian understanding of the text is a better one may be based on exegesis, but it betrays a sense of cultural elitism.

    • Russell Snow

      The culture that the Bible offends the most right now is our own.

  • Ianhimself

    Interesting thread this, with some very gracious and very real posts. Speaking as someone who has been disengaged from church life for about 15 years, having previously been actively involved in the leadership of a church that was moving from a ‘male headship’ theology to a ‘in Christ there is neither male nor female’ understanding, in many ways I find it discouraging that the discussion is still going on’! But clearly it is, and positions seem to run deep.

    Tony’s ‘they view women as being ontologically inferior’ comment is simple, stark statement of fact – I have never, for example, head a sermon on what men can do to complement the ministry of a woman who fills a role from which he is excluded because of his gender. No interpretation other than that of an (albeit perhaps subconscious) understanding of women as being ontologically inferior can be found for this.

    However, Sarah demonstrates in her position and understanding a deep and beautiful understanding of grace …. The heart of this crazy, maybe even self sabotaging heartbeat that in the end is all that we Christians can offer to the world. And so rarely offer to ourselves. And offer even less to those whose expression of faith looks and feels a little different from ours.

    And so Tony, maybe this is yet another area in which us men should be championing a woman’s right to choose, and be humbled by the beauty and self disregarding nature of her choice

  • jtheory

    on a lighter note, i can definitely agree with you Tony that we all need more friends like Sarah.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      You guys. Please know Tony’s friendship is a gift in my life. I echo him in insisting I wish you all friendships with people as brave and schismatic as he is. It has brought much good to me.

      • jtheory

        i wanna know tony better and be his friend. it’s hard because i have these questions and concerns via another friend that i feel like aren’t getting answered or heard, and so i don’t know how to approach that friendship without working through those things first. it’s an unfortunate block. Maybe someday.

        • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

          Yeah there’s a lot of tension out there. I suspect as long as bold ideas are being traded, there will be fierce disagreement and frustrated exchanges. I am always hopeful we’ll all discover better ways of communicating and understanding. I hope you’ll keep coming here and interacting and see what you can offer as well as draw from the conversation. I appreciate your participation.

  • Suegirly

    My denomination has not “willfully ignored” the arguements. They have listened…they have studied scripure….and have determined from scripture that ordained ministry is not a vocation that God has given to women. There are many, many Churches available for people in my denomination to go to if they do not agree with this. And yet, the women of my denomination choose to stay because we believe this is doctrinally correct. Why do you have a problem with this? I just don’t get it. Are you so uncertain of your own convictions that you feel the need to attack others?

    • driz

      I’m guessing that most of the people who have made this decision in your community are over 40. But try telling most 20 y.o. women that they can’t be a minister of Christ (oh, and don’t forget that head covering). They will be out your tribal gates faster than you can say mottled misogynistic manliness.

      • also remember that it is many men and women over 40 who have been the pioneers of the 19th and 20th centuries to bring us these truths. Crazy that bondage becomes so normal. Look how long it took us to stop marginalizing those of different races. And that didn’t happen without a fight. Reason and truth did not free the black man or stop the derision of other races. Sadly.

        • John L

          Tiro, you have moved straight to the heart of the problem.

          We have lost the contemporary courage to admit that some of our ancient scripture may be more a product of its cultural terroir than timeless Spirit. Paul said “slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear” (Eph 6:5). He said “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” (1Pet 2:18) He said “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.” (Col 3:22).

          Paul’s words are a product of an ancient culture where slavery was common and acceptable. And even as recently as the mid-19th century, theologians and well-meaning Christian thinkers were using Paul’s NT words to justify slavery.

          Today, Paul’s scriptural words to slaves remain unassailably clear and unambiguous – yet we no longer follow his admonitions. In Spirit or in letter, his words no longer apply in any conceivable way to our culture. These scriptural passages do not speak to us today.

          Today, there are 30 million slaves on the planet. We don’t counsel them to “obey, fear, and honor” their captors. Today, we counsel slaves to flee their captors, and we do everything within our power to release the slaves and bring captors to justice. And I think that many of us would say we do this because of Christ’s heart that sets captives free, both physically and spiritually.

          We must find the intellectual courage to differentiate between timeless truth … and scriptural elements that no longer apply in contemporary culture. I suggest that NT
          restrictions on women and ecclesial leadership is, like NT-era positions on slavery, a culturally-saturated idea that no longer applies to our better understanding of gender, leadership, and Christian spirituality.

          Here’s the thing. If we could point to sound ontological, spiritual, psychological, communal-ecclesiastical, or even physical reasons why women should be restricted in
          leadership, then Paul’s directives would resonate well with our broader considerations. But the opposite is true. Just as Paul’s advice to slaves is today a historical relic, so his view of women is today a discordant and archaic metric of female attributes, disposition, ability, character, wisdom,
          and insight.

          It took roughly sixteen centuries before small groups of Christian leaders, first Spanish and then English, mustered the courage to say “enough! stop using the Bible to justify the enslavement of human beings”. And then it took another three centuries of courageous leadership to create a world-culture of anti-slavery. This, alas, may be one of the finest definitions of spiritual leadership: those with the courage to stand against the religious status quo, when that status quo is clearly inequitable, even nonsensical.

          It’s time to step up and start walking hand-in-hand with women as true equals in all leadership forms. Women comprise almost half of today’s workforce. The largest war machine on the planet is led by a woman (not sure if that helps or hinders my position, but it’s a damn interesting fact). Many Fortune 500 companies are now led by women, and that number is growing quite fast. Numerous studies (McKinsey, Rand, Frost & Sullivan, etc.) show that women – in many key metrics – lead more effectively than men.

          Recognize that religious institutions may be able to keep 40+ y.o. women happily engaged with churchy stuff, but the 20 y.o.’s who desire to equally minister …. are leaving
          those churches at an accelerated rate. Not unlike Paul’s words to slaves, these women no longer resonate with head coverings, keeping silent, or being subservient to an archaic, culture-bound view of gender-specific leadership.

          Those whose leadership models fail to grasp the difference between time-bound Biblical culture and timeless-universal-incontestable Spiritual reality will wither and die. Younger women will find new and younger, more scriptural-culturally discerning communities to lead and serve.

          • Thank you for the reply John L.

            There are also some of us ’40+’ (in my case seniors) who stay not only to obey God’s calling, but also to give courage and hope to those younger. Those who step before rightfully do so to build up the Body. It is not for ourselves we do this. Our joy is in freeing others to rush into the loving arms of our Lord to see what He would have us to do. It is not so much that God needs our help but I believe it is set up that way for our humility and maturity and for the joy of working along side the Holy Spirit. I hope I don’t disappoint too many to say that there is nothing that replaces that, not even a husband or children.

            For those who think women do this without searching the Scriptures properly, let me say this. When God first called me to speak forth His Word, and brought me amazing confirmation, I still argued with Him. Finally, when I could resist God no longer, I demanded (scary thought) that God show me this is right in the Scriptures. I knew it would be a battle though I didn’t know how much of one. God faithfully showed me very clearly in Scripture that women ministering via the Holy Spirit to lead, teach and minister God’s Word was not a new thing. And it is God’s choice, not ours. God knows who is the right person, the person He formed in a mother’s womb for the jobs at hand. Those years of arguing were about 42 years ago. And I have never regretted obeying the Lord in this or anything else.

  • kenhowes

    Tony, have you noticed that the churches whose membership is dropping like a rock are the churches that DO ordain women, and that the ones dropping the fastest are the ones that most fervently embrace the “progressive” agenda? The Episcopal Church; ELCA; PCUSA; UMC; UCC. By contrast, the membership at LCMS and SBC remains about level. The conservative church bodies aren’t growing, but they’re not collapsing, which the liberal “main line” churches are doing. In 1970, the Episcopal Church had 3.6 million people. LCMS had 2.7 million. About 200,000 ceased to be in LCMS simply because it spun off two of its districts, in Brazil and Canada. Those people aren’t really losses at all, because the church bodies they formed remain in full fellowship with LCMS and do not differ from LCMS in anything except nationality. About 100,000 left because of the “Seminex” blowup. They wound up in ELCA. That would leave about 2.4 million. And what’s LCMS’s membership now? About 2.4 million. In other words–holding its own.

    On the other hand, ELCA–which in 1988 received those roughly 100,000 people who’d left LCMS a decade before that–is watching people streaming toward the exits. Projecting the trends of the last ten years forward, ELCA has maybe another fifteen years before LCMS replaces it as the largest Lutheran body in America. (Some cynics would say that LCMS is already the largest Lutheran body in America because ELCA isn’t Lutheran any more; that’s still a bit of an exaggeration, because ELCA is still formally Lutheran and there are still some faithful Lutherans in it, but only a bit.)

    So you have things exactly backward. It’s the churches that agree with you that are dying, and the more they agree with you, the faster it’s happening. Today the United Church of Christ has fewer members than the Congregationalist churches (predecessors of the UCC) had in 1800, despite having picked up the German Reformed back in the late 1950’s. They’re the most liberal major Protestant denomination, and they are virtually evaporating. I grew up in a city that had three Congregationalist churches, with about 2,000 total members. Today there is a single Congregationalist church, the one that back then had 1,200 members, with a membership today of about 200. Liberal Protestantism is dying. The city at that time had one Lutheran congregation with about 1600 members. Today it has two Lutheran congregations with a total of about 1200 members. That’s a loss of about 25%, but given that the city as a whole has lost about 30% of its population since then, that’s about holding their own.

    • j_handey

      Actually, that’s not true at all. The “conservative” denominations are now largely experiencing the same decline rates as the mainline. At the most recent Southern Baptist conference in 2013, the convention’s own research showed that it was approaching Methodist rates of decline. The second-largest religion in America is ex-Catholics. There’s something a lot bigger than “icky girls got too close to the altar” going on here.

      This whole “Rush Limbaugh churches prosper while liberals decline, neener neener neener” thing has been pushed hard since at least 2000. But it’s ignorant of broader sociological factors, such as Robert Putnam’s work showing that virtually all voluntary associations, not just churches, have experienced significant declines in membership in a consistent trend over the past several decades. I personally keep going back to Michael Spencer’s “The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism” and am floored at how prophetic it was.

      And even if it weren’t prophetic… isn’t there more to religion than market share and statistics? You know, like the Kingdom of God? Jesus never promised that his followers would have SUVs, eternally rising housing values, and comfortable lives – no matter what many of his self-appointed spokespeople claim. In fact, he pretty much said the opposite. The witness of the Bible as a whole tends to agree. It’s not a badge of honor to be well-regarded by a sick society.

      • BT

        For support see Rodney Stark, “the churching of America”

      • kenhowes

        What numbers do you have for LCMS? And “Rush Limbaugh” is your designation, not mine. LCMS is a Lutheran church that stayed Lutheran while ELCA abandoned its confessions. You are generalizing; I was specific. Yes, churches as a whole have declined. But by far the most precipitous declines have been in the liberal “main line” churches. It’s no accident that the worst decline is in the UCC, with the Episcopal Church right behind it, and UMC, ELCA and PCUSA suffering serious declines though not quite as catastrophic as the first two. Projecting membership losses in a straight line of the average of the last ten years forward, ELCA becomes smaller than LCMS some time in the late 2030’s, both by that time being down to a little over two million members. Right now ELCA has a little over four million, and LCMS has about 2.35 million.

        As far as numbers, you’re right; they aren’t the most important thing. However, Jones’ suggestion that the more conservative churches are dying while the liberal ones will thrive is completely off, and that’s what I was contesting.

        If you want to talk the theology of all this, I’m perfectly willing to discuss that. ELCA, and most of the LWF churches, along with most of the Council of Churches, have subordinated theology to political, academic and social fashion, often overriding their leading theologians to do so. The two most notable examples were the LWF’s approval of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and ELCA’s actions in the last few years concerning homosexual conduct. They have become political institutions.

        Again, I agree with you that the “prosperity gospel” preached by many popular preachers is a false gospel, something not to be found at all in the New Testament and propped up only by some very selective reading in the Old, largely from Psalms and Proverbs. The “prosperity gospel” preachers ought to spend a little time in the book of Amos to see what God says about wealthy people oppressing the poor. Would you also agree that liberals who preach a “social gospel” that calls for government to take wealth from the rich to give it to the poor, taking its own cut along the way, are also misrepresenting Scripture? That “social gospel” is as bad a misreading of the Sermon on the Mount as the “prosperity gospel” is of the Wisdom books.

        Oppressiveness on the part of the rich and envy on the part of the poor–and violence in either cause–are equal and like evils.

    • driz

      That’s not the same data I’m seeing. In the younger demographic, ALL western institutional Xn churches are hemorrhaging women.

  • jobeob987

    What is being marginalized here is scripture. Contentment is knowing there are trees we can never eat from and having gratitude anyway. Satan’s way is to take away that contentment. With that, he takes away gratitude and with that our power and joy; making sin inevitable.

    • driz

      Maybe some scripture was influenced more by culture than Spirit.

    • I suspect that the Scriptures that are being marginalized are the ones that show women in leadership, teaching and preaching freely the Word of Truth. Instead a horrific demeaning of what is feminine is inserted and read into other Scripture that do not have that as their inherent meaning. But because it has been preached so long by so many the pain of it has been considered to be right.

  • Anjel Scarborough

    Very grateful for a civilized discourse on this difficult and divisive topic. Sarah, I respect the traditions you have received from your upbringing and the nuances you have experienced in complementarian churches. You’ve reminded us all to see beyond black and white thinking.

    I will show my cards and admit I was not raised with a literal view of the Bible. My parents left the American Baptist Church when I was an infant over their biblical literalism. We eventually found the Episcopal Church and it is in that tradition where God called me to serve as a priest. While we still face misogyny in the Church, it is merely a reflection of the patriarchy of our culture and that of the cultures which gave us our sacred texts. For every passage cited by a complimentarian, there are others which lift up women as equals – most famously Paul who said, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave or free, nor male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus.”

    I serve an inclusive congregation. My pastoral care has been to women, addicts, disabled and mentally ill and LGBT people who have received the message from literalist Christians that they are “less than.” Less than men, less than straights, less than because of bad choices, less than human, less than because they are sinners (as if those judging aren’t sinners but that’s a whole other post), etc. I have seen first hand the spiritual damage wrought by biblical literalism justifying the privileged class (straight, white, male, able bodied, attractive). The way I read the gospel tells me that Jesus didn’t come to affirm the privileged class in their comfort.

    Complementarian churches hold an interpretive hermaneutic which serves and affirms male privilege and reinforces rigid gender roles which can deny women and men the ability to see and express their God given gifts and graces.

    Thank you Tony for standing with women (and others) on the issue of equality as justice making. We may be able to accomplish this work without schism and I favor continued dialog. However, staying with and financially supporting churches which promote injustice through proof-texting the Bible is a moral decision individuals must make for themselves. Thankfully, there are many mainline expressions of Christianity (including where I serve) which provide an alternative.

    • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

      Thanks for sharing. I hear your heart. And we need more voices working against attitudes that declare others “less than”. Blessings!

  • jpcarson

    I agree with Tony’s observation that “schism” is
    no longer an operative term in Christianity, not with about 35K strands of
    Christianity present.

    Our human condition has changed more in past 100 years than
    previous 100 centuries. We face existential challenges never pondered by
    previous Christians.

    For instance, my parents had 5 children and we are all still
    alive and healthy 55 to 62 years later – unheard of in any other place and time
    but ours, where it is almost commonplace. I, just as others reading this blog
    have about 100 energy slaves at my disposal (i.e. take 2500 calories/day,
    multiply by 100, and that is how much energy gets expended on my behalf daily
    in America). That is why I’m not all that “old” at 59 – all those
    energy slaves (together with clean water and food) means my body has not been
    exposed to many years of hard physical labor. In almost all places and times,
    if you were still alive at 59, you were old because your body was worn out for
    hard physical labor.

    So gender roles in previous times, driven by harsh realities
    of survival, are mismatched to current, rapidly changing, reality. So where is
    God’s will in this – presuming there is a God who cares about us and about
    whose will on earth we should care – a presumption increasingly questioned or
    denied in modern society?

    As I see it, for mankind to have much chance of reaching
    year 2100 more or less intact, we need to change our stripes – the traits –
    including being highly erotic and acquisitive – that made us the planet’s most
    successful species in its 4.5 billion year history are now, like in a Greek
    tragedy, destroying our home planet’s ability to sustain us.

    Now, back to “schism”?

    Joe Carson, PE

    President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers

    multiple-time “prevailing” federal and nuclear
    safety whistleblower

    someone who was born on third base and thought, when
    younger, that he had hit a triple.

  • BT

    For me, being married to a future pastor, I have to draw some lines if I’m to live out that commitment.

    I’ve centered on this: if you are following what you believe the bible demands of you in good faith, treat women with respect and hear them, we can be good friends. Just give me the same room to follow my conscience that I give you. We can agree to disagree even though I think the system overall has very bad consequences for women.

    Fine. We disagree. I think we both can put on our big boy pants (or big girl pants, either way) and go forward.

    I won’t go to your church though unless we can at least have this conversation. If my wife AND her gifts AND her calling (in other words ALL of her) is not welcome, neither am I.

  • driz

    Religion marginalizes women. It’s one of the reasons younger women are abandoning institutional religion at an accelerating clip. Not long ago, I saw a conference of “Christian world leaders”. Something like 2 of 16 speakers were women, and no women on their board. Pathetic and tone deaf.

    We have suffered a profound loss of potential by our roadblocking of female leadership and energy. The good news is that increasingly more women are realizing that they don’t have to put up with spiritualized misogyny. Religious organizations that continue to devalue and isolate women will wither into obscurity.

    • Digger

      The best Christianity marginalizes everyone except Christ. Equality is not why were here; it is to glorify God. I have suffered no loss; I count it all gain when I see that God has given me salvation. The good news is Christ, and Him crucified.

      • Sarah Raymond Cunningham

        I count the good news as Christ too, friend. But the Christ I find in the Bible doesn’t appear to push people to the margins, but draw them into belonging.

      • driz

        “The good news is Christ, and Him crucified.”

        Sadly, in many religious communities, women are not allowed to preach this, to teach this, to minister this, to remind us of this story. If it is truly the good news of unconditional love, then why all the conditions? Love wants to be free, not just embodied in male leadership. Such limitations, my friend, are the opposite of love. It’s time to break free of a 2000 year old, culturally-based idea.

      • driz

        “The best Christianity marginalizes everyone except Christ.”

        You have it backwards. I suggest a closer reading of Jn17. The best Christianity is that which loves unconditionally, all people, all the time, no excuses, no social-based restrictions, no religious marginalization.

        The best Christianity opens “the full measure of joy” to everyone, “so that they may be one as we are one.” No gender conditions, no ancient social conditioning, no ecclesiastical footnotes. “So that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” That’s the Jesus I know.

        The world marginalizes people. The world’s systems marginalize God’s glorious creation. Jesus said “no” — you are not slaves and captives to a dead and dying system, you are absolutely and truly free. Now “the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

  • Prester John

    This is such a fascinating conversation. I was raised in a SBC church and my parents said they were traditional/complementarian. But the reality was that my father deeply deferred to my mother on everything and neither of them ever considered making major decisions without each other. They sent me and my sisters to college for real degrees and expected us to get real jobs. So are they really the complementarians they would claim? The reality of people’s lives and what they say in public are often very different things. Talking about this in any objective way is nearly impossible.

    • It sounds like they are using complementary as the dictionary defines and not the redefining patriarchal definition.

      • Prester John

        Thanks for responding. Words can be so slippery, and, dare I say, meaningless, unless they are backed up by action.


    I see both sides of the question and discussion here and have to add my two cents. Sorry. As a converted Catholic, who has often walked out of Mass because of horrible homilies about gays and gay marriage, I think we need to think more in terms of “both/and” as R. Rohr would say, and less in terms of “either/or.” This discussion is promoting dualistic thinking which has never helped anyone in this world. Ever. It is possible to stand with two feet in the Catholic church–as a progressive, radical, Christian woman–and not leave. I didn’t say it was EASY, just possible. I try to spread the word about the gifts and power of women in several ways: through easy conversations after Mass, through blogging on, in my own blog, and in prayer where I am open to the Holy Spirit. When I came into the church my husband said, “Honey, that church has done so much harm over the centuries. How could you?” I replied, “Men have routinely abused and hurt women over the centuries and I am married to one.” I could.

  • linda

    tony, i thought you were coming around to a more moderate and generous view until you said, “I would like us to collectively suffocate those churches and ministries that marginalize women.” collectively suffocate? i find your language truly disturbing. jesus doesn’t suffocate anyone. he is about redemption not squashing the life out of people. how do you square this with “they will know us by our love for one another”? the only way women will gain full equality in the church is by our following the leading of the Holy Spirit–not by trying to do God’s work in our own feeble strength & ways. have you forgotten that the weakness of God is stronger than all the strength of man?

  • JoeS4

    I can’t be the only one who sees the irony in a man dogmatically telling a woman she should feel oppressed even when she doesn’t.

    Looking at all of your articles, you have taken positions that are clearly and unmistakably unbiblical. Assuming that your faith is genuine, but you are misguided, I would ask you to consider whether you are allowing secular political ideology to take precedence over your faith, or whether you are more interested in the approval of the world than you are in obeying God.

    I’m not naive about this conversation. But when someone claims to be a Christian, I try to take them at their word. The same question always arises when dealing with “liberal” theology: if you choose to reject those things in the Bible that you don’t like, what basis do you have for accepting the parts you do like? If the same people who wrote down what Jesus said preached things that you consider unacceptable, why do you believe anything they wrote?

    The Bible should make you uncomfortable. It should be at odds with the world. The argument that Christianity must be “relevant to modern times” by conforming to the likeness of the world is completely at odds with what Jesus taught.

    We have been told about the end times. We have been told that many would fall away. We have been told that people would not endure sound doctrine. We don’t know the day or the hour, but we can see clearly that what was prophesied is coming to pass. The threat that people will leave the church if it doesn’t make room for their sin and rebellion is hollow to those whose faith is rooted in the Word of God. Jesus went to the cross alone.

    We are to be in the world, but not of the world. We are not to be conformed to the likeness of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Jesus said: narrow is the path, and there are few who find it. Wide is the path that leads to destruction.

    It grieves me greatly that people are being lost because of the world’s deception and the lies that are now constantly being fed into their minds by the evil culture we live in. But if we do not speak the truth, there is no chance that they will be saved.

    The Word of God is sharper than a two edged sword. All of the objections to the Bible that are raised by skeptics and “liberals” are answered within the text itself. The truth is there for anyone to find, if they are genuinely seeking it.

    • driz

      What is secular-political about men and women sharing equality in spiritual leadership? Paul’s restrictions on women are as archaic as his instructions to slaves. Neither apply today, in any way. If someone could offer objective reasons why women are not suited to religious leadership, I might be persuaded otherwise. I see nothing but positive, affirming, objective reasons for women and men sharing in equal ecclesial leadership roles. It took sixteen centuries for “the church” to recognize that Paul’s directives to slaves no longer applied. I hope it doesn’t take that long to recognize that gender has absolutely nothing to do with leadership ability, depth, clarity, maturity, wisdom, grace, and effectiveness.

      If all you got is “Paul said so” — then I suggest you go find some slaves somewhere and tell them to behave. That shouldn’t be too hard as there are 30 million of them on the planet today.

      • JoeS4

        My response is to repeat what I said above: “All of the objections to the Bible that are raised by skeptics and “liberals” are answered within the text itself. The truth is there for anyone to find, if they are genuinely seeking it.”

        • John L

          Um, Jesus was a flaming liberal who railed, in love, against the inbred cultural-religious establishment of his day. He asks us to be like him. And, yes, I agree — the truth is there. And the truth is that our religious knowledge, our churchy rules and regulations, our cherished prophecies and unknown tongues — they are all passing away, just as Paul’s culture-bound words to slaves have passed away into historical obscurity, and just as one day 3000 year-old gender rules will no longer define human leadership.

          I think one of the root problems with this issue is the male gendered “God”. Until we abandon this image of God as an anthropomorphic male being … until we replace that sexual-human-rooted image with an unutterable, transcendent, entirely awe-based inspiration of unconditional, universal, gender-free, perennial Spirit of pure love, religious men will continue to marginalize, placate, underestimate, and, frankly, bully women into submission.

          JoeS4, your exegesis is the exact variety used by theologians supporting slavery throughout religious history. In the beginning of that particular enlightenment, only a few people had the courage to do what is right. We, today, need the courage to do what is right.

          Head coverings and keeping silent, or equal partners? Your choice.

          • Guest

            Your statements are those of a secular, ideological, political and social activist. They are not spiritual or theological in nature. One who claims Jesus was a “flaming liberal” does not know Him. He had no interest in politics or government. His Kingdom is not of this world.
            Your statements about slavery show that you don’t really know or understand what the Bible says about that issue, and more importantly they sound just like a secular, political liberal who ties every subject to race in an attempt to create an “I Win Button”.
            When it comes to what Tony Jones has written, it is his advocacy for gay marriage that is most blatantly unbiblical. His for-profit “conferences” bear the distinct scent of a money-changer in the temple. And the tone and spirit of his writing shows no presence of God.
            In general, people like yourself are attempting to twist the Bible into something that suits your worldly, flesh-centered, modern day cultural preferences. You are not interested in truly understanding what it says, and you certainly are not interested in obeying it. You’re approaching it like a lawyer, trying to make it say what you want it to say, and failing to do so you reject it.

            • driz

              “Your statements about slavery show that you don’t really know or understand what the Bible says about that issue”.

              Paul said “slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear” (Eph 6:5). He said “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” (1Pet 2:18) He said “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.” (Col 3:22).

              So how do you apply these passages today? When you encounter a person in slavery, what is your response? What role do Eph6, 1Pt2, and Col3 play in today’s world? How would YOU apply Paul’s words to slaves in today’s world? If you can show me how these words apply today, you have a good chance of changing my core understanding.

              As for Jesus being apolitical, I agree. I was responding to JoeS4 politicizing Spirit. Nevertheless, in practical terms, speaking truth over power and wealth, giving help to the poor, attending after the homeless, giving voice to the marginalized, sharing all things in common, giving up material security in exchange for spiritual freedom, modeling free health care, showing radical and unconditional love to all people regardless of race-creed-tribe, and sustaining a form of revolutionary conscientious objection against the most powerful institutional religious leadership of his day … in practical terms, these are generally behaviors characterized today by those with progressive-leaning politics. So while we agree that Jesus was apolitical, from a political perspective, the behavior he modeled looks vastly more progressive than conservative.

            • driz

              By your lack of response, I’ll assume you concede that

              1. There is no way to apply Eph6, 1Pt2, and Col3 in today’s world.

              2. That Eph6, 1Pt2, and Col3 (et al) are products of a time-bound culture, and not timeless spiritual truths.

              3. Hence by definition the NT is a collection of writings that are sometimes not applicable to 21st century life, and that just as Paul’s view of slaves are no longer applicable, so his culture-bound view of women’s abilities and spiritual standing no longer apply today.

  • Thank you for this follow-up article. After reading the initial article on schism, my response was “YES! Finally! Someone who is willing to draw a much-needed line in the sand!”…but then I started reading the responses to it. And my reaction was “oh, they have good points too about how a schism could be damaging and even unbiblical”… So I am left in confusion and with many, many questions (which seems to be where many people are, so I’m in good company). My biggest questions:
    1) How much do we ground this conversation as an issue of justice? Because if this fundamentally a justice issue, our response will necessarily look different than if this is fundamentally a question of how to best embrace each other’s gifts and strengths. Is this fundamentally about devaluing women? Or fundamentally about better understanding each other?
    2) How much should our personal experiences affect our actions in this discussion? Sarah Cunningham and RHE both shared stories of being affirmed by complimentarian congregations/families/etc. and how those experiences allow them to remain in better relationship, but my experience (and many others) are negative encounters with people who dehumanized and stole dignity, making positive relationships much more difficult. When thinking about this issue from a wider perspective, how much space is there to validate both types of experience? And is it possible to COMPLETELY validate both experiences simultaneously, or does remaining complicit in complimentarian practices–even among those who affirm respect for women well–neglect to understand the full failure of these same practices in the lives of other women?
    Once again, I am very thankful that this conversation is happening. That it is happening in more places. That it is becoming more important. And that people are making space for each other. But I do believe I am more confused than ever.

  • “In the end, this: Women are not ontologically inferior to men. That’s what complementarians teach.”

    No, that is NOT what they teach. You, sir, are a slanderer. Maybe you ought to take a break from blogging until you get over your insufferable know-it-all ignorance.

  • newenglandsun

    “Women are not ontologically inferior to men. That’s what complementarians teach. Try as they might to argue otherwise, that’s their message.”

    I don’t consider myself a complementarian personally but I have spoken with complementarians and this is NOT what they teach. They believe that the two genders complement each other.

    I guess I would technically be more of a complementarian egalitarian. Simply throwing this argument out and insisting that this is what complementarians teach though is detrimental to Christianity in general.

    Arius focused on John 14:28 and used that text to argue that Jesus was ontologically inferior to the Father and broke the Holy Trinity up because of this. Even though Arius’s position on the subordinance of the Son to the Father was accurate, it was drastically over-emphasized. There are complementarians who commit this atrocity as well but most complementarians believe in self-sacrificial love between the husband and the wife the husband acting first.

  • Richard

    I disagree that breaking fellowship is the step forward, FWIW I think the paths the Church of England has trod is admirable.