Monday, August 13, 2012

The Glass is Half Empty

The glass if half-empty because both sides of the “women’s roles in the church” argument are wrong. More on that later; it’s more helpful to start by introducing the boxers in the ring:

Aaaaaaand in corner one it’s the Complementarians!!!! (Okay, I’ve never watched a boxing match in my life and I don’t even know how to pretend to introduce Complementarians—comps for short—as a contender for the featherweight championship.) Comps, also known as the traditionalists or the hierarchialists, believe that while men and women are equal in personhood, they have different positions to live out—roles that are more traditional, by some definitions hierarchical, and in function complement one another). Simply put: the personhood is equal, but their positions are not.

Aaaaaaaand in corner two it’s the Egalitarians (I’ll probably call them the Egals or Eagles). Even more simply put, egalitarians believe the Bible supports that men and women are both equal in personhood and position.

It’s important to be clear on terminology and who exactly the two sides are. Complementarians don’t hate women; egalitarians don’t hate men. Both sides have far more in common with one another than they have differences. For example: both sides are Christians; both sides look to scripture as the inerrant word of God; both sides believe they have interpreted scripture in a God-honoring way that illuminates the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Both sides are made up of fallen human beings who make mistakes and whose entire thought-process are inextricably linked with the culture they live and in which they grew up.

As is often the case, there are two opposing views and a full gamut of grey between them. There is also an area of black which I will not go into except to use it as an example of complementarianism gone wrong: that is when Christians advocate male dominance over women. Those beliefs are hurtful, unproductive, and unbiblical in a big way. Those who believe that dominance to be Biblical cannot be censured strongly enough for an uncritical and shallow approach to their faith.

The two sides I’ve researched both have rational interpretations of the scripture, but both have their weaknesses.

Complementarians lack direct scriptural support for many of their beliefs and must draw inferences from things like the order of creation and words left unsaid (Genesis account in particular). Proponents of this view often ignore the exceptional gifts women have (and have often been used in missions)which include leadership, teaching, and prophecy.

Egalitarians, who do have more direct scriptural support, also have to do some backbending to avoid other scriptural verses (I’m looking at you I Corinthians). Proponents of this view tend to ignore that there are inherent differences in men and women that go beyond biology and that support the chronological order of God’s creation of humankind.

Both sides have to rely on some things being cultural and not others, discerning which commands can be directly applied and which must be traced back to their roots to be understood at all (head coverings, for obvious instance).

So the glass is half empty.

And so, half full.

Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. They are right to search the scriptures. They are wrong to focus on an issue like this instead of unity, service, and justice. They are right to aggressively test their sisters and brothers’ interpretation or apathy. They are wrong to demean the other side’s intelligence, their reading of scripture, their biases. They are right to be inquisitive. They are wrong to be divisive. They are right to seek answers. They are wrong to think they have the answers at all, that their reading and reasonings have come to the right conclusion where others have failed.

Half empty, half full— I think it’s probably more important what’s inside the glass (I’m praying for a non-alcoholic Shirley Temple, which are baller).


  1. I find this a very interesting discussion. And even though I belong to a much different church than you (and one that has its women wear headcoverings...and even the strictness of this, varies in degrees depending on the individual, the church, the region...), this is a topic that I have thought about and studied about and prayed about a lot. And the key is that we cannon chose to ignore scripture, as you have pointed out. ALL scripture was given to us for a reason. And we all tend to have our personal biases in our head and hearts as we seek to interpret scripture. I am enjoying reading what you write as you process this for yourself.

    1. Thanks for reading! It's encouraging to hear from other people who are interested in the issue - I think it's a topic rife for study, but I find a lot of people are uninterested.

  2. Half Full! Amen Sister! It is so much more important to look for commonalities on our way. So many are so sure that they possess THE ONLY VIEW that they miss the mosaics along the path of life.