Gender and Theology: “We all bring something unique to the table.”

One of the strategies late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. used in his non-violent protests for racial equality was insisting that 20% of the people participating in the demonstrations be white. That was a new concept to the black community since, as the object of racism, they were accustomed to fighting for their own rights, but Rev. King emphasized that all races of people were needed for the advancement of racial integration.

When it comes to any kind of discrimination, it is not one group against the other; rather all people are needed to fight for reconciliation and for equality to be brought forth. Here, in the 21st century, we are still fighting for the equal rights of women in the home and in the ministry of the Church.

When it comes to gender and theology, there are two main views in the church: egalitarianism and complementarianism. Egalitarianism (from the word ‘equal’) supports the equality of men and women in all areas of ministry and leadership. Complementarianism (from the word ‘complement’) is the view that men and women have different roles and responsibilities based on their gender.

In the church we often see women fighting for their rights, however, shouldn’t people from both genders be fighting for equality? With this in mind, we have asked some men to tell us their thoughts, concerns, feelings, and convictions, on egalitarianism, gender, and the church, and see what they have to share with us from the male perspective and welcome them to the table of reconciliation.

This week, we interviewed Steve, a minister in an egalitarian church, and he shared some important thoughts with us.

What is egalitarianism?

The attitude of equality (the same worth/value) among a group of two or more people.

When did you learn about the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism? Why did you decide to become an egalitarian?

I didn’t even know the term “complementarian” until looking it up just now. I have been aware of the term “egalitarian” for at least 30 years. I decided that this is right simply because the value of a person is never determined by their role. We’re all unique, that’s what gives us value and worth.

What does the Bible teach us about women and men, and their roles in the Church? At home?

No exceptions; all are included who want to be!

Are there particular stories of women in The Bible that speak to you? Do you think The Church pays as much attention to the stories of women as they do, per say, the stories of Jesus, David, or the Apostle Paul?

I love that Jesus’ best post-resurrection moment was confirmed in a name: Mary.

No, of course we don’t give as much credence to women in the bible—a basic failure of the church’s polity and focus. It’s egregious how the church has demeaned women historically; a thoroughly anti-biblical habit.

Why is Egalitarianism essential to the Church? Do women bring something unique to the table that men don’t? Do churches that don’t support an egalitarian theology miss out on anything by not letting women lead or have a voice?

It’s never about a person of one gender or another bringing uniqueness to the church; it’s always individual worth, gifts, temperament, personality, etc. that add to the good of the whole. We ALL bring something unique to the table.

I don’t like any broad label that suggests men or women have more or less of anything. I say that because I know women who are more manly than some men, and men who are more womanly than some women—in every way that might be judged. We’re foolish and less than we should and could be by rejecting ANY voice. We shouldn’t reject a message just because we judge the messenger (positively or negatively).

Why do you suppose some churches have a hard time embracing egalitarianism?

The reality is that we’re all simply what we’ve been developed to be—by “chance” of birthplace, family and community context, etc. Some people can’t help their ignorance and cultural limitations if the diet of their mind and soul has been neglected. This is true for individuals and groups of people.

How does a church properly construct egalitarianism within the Church in a healthy way?

We each listen to the other. There is a sense of individual worth that causes me, you—all—to want to create an environment where honesty and openness are never just tolerated, but always wanted!

Do you think even within an egalitarian church system, women can still be oppressed?

Anyone can be oppressed! Every generation seems to need someone to look down on. But this can be changed. Common decency and respect can prevail. Disparate [distinct] voices can be equally honored if they’re used respectfully, tactfully, lovingly, and kindly.

What are some ways in which men can help raise awareness and help support women to bring egalitarianism to the Church?

Men can and should be encouraged/taught to shut up and listen. Men can and should be taught real respect—versus pretend tolerance. Men can and should be given chances to be who they really are—not always the leader, not always the strong one, not always with “special” expectations of anything…except who they really are.

What is an effective way that an egalitarian can communicate their conviction to a complementarian without being a jerk?

Simple phrases gently applied are the best tools: “I don’t agree.” “I see that slightly differently.” “Do you realize how that might feel or be heard by…?” It requires simple, direct, gentle, sincere, loving honesty. Silence is the greatest killer of hope.

Is there anything you would like to add that I may have missed?

This is possible! But it requires the simple, humble people of God to be dedicated to the hard task of correcting ancient, historic, deep seated wrongs in our habits, thoughts, and practice within the church.

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