Gender and all that – my half-formed thoughts on a page

14 May

I’ve been struggling for some days with the expression of this. This place of frustration because you so want to do some research and you have to wait for bureaucracy, this place of frustration because you wish Christians – and not just inter-church murals! – would relate to each other outside of theological niceties and interact as people and understand the image of God that is naturally and fluidly in each of us, this place of frustration because you want to say something and let your intellectual thought process go on but you’re afraid of stepping on toes.

Anyone’s toes really. I’ve had these thoughts on gender and sexuality and what is permissive and what is profitable and leadership in the church and relationships – can you see how I might step on anyone’s toes? And I don’t have a side to which I belong – I cannot say to you ‘Ok, I’m a liberal and if you’re going to be offended – stay clear’. I think I’m pretty conservative – but then conservatives are a weird breed and who knows how they (we?) might judge me?

There has been a lot of debate in Biola – a campus I am fairly familiar with through students – on sexual orientation. In my research on social science research projects and ethics, I came across a rather disturbing forum and a train of thought which I am itching to write about and parallel to current arguments. I like predicting people’s reactions and I am usually a fairly accurate guess. And I think they would react with horror that I could ever posit two things such as what I hope to and say that they were similar with good humanitarian ground. However, I think I will. And I’ll make my disclaimers known in good thesis statement fashion 🙂

Today however, I think I’ll stick to A TINY smattering of the oh-how-I-hate-calling-it-that egalitarian-complementarian debate. Actually, quite a few of the debaters are ranting against the terms. It doesn’t really have to be one or the other and a couple can well be equal as well as complementing to each other.

But for what it’s worth, before I even go into some of my ideas, I think that two people are purposed to come together and interact in the special, unique way that God made them. That’s why he only ever called you to one wife or husband – e designed us pretty neatly and uniquely, and he purposed us too. And some of us intellectual or regimented or well, seriously, more anal types need to realise that that is how God’s going to make it work. You go into it with no guarantees except that God called you both to be together, and there’s no changing that.

God could then overhaul your lives entirely. Speak to one or both of you, redefine your calling, or ask you to act on that instruction h gave you when you were 10 and you forgot all about. God could change your physical circumstances, or your mental even! And it is silly – and I often make this mistake, as a single – to think that it’s possible to get all your shots in order before the big day so that your life is sorted for the rest of eternity. I, of all people, should know the answer is ‘Never’ to the question: Since when has the Lord ever made things that easy?! Provision, yes. Love, yes. But trivial and easy lack of challenge – no.

Neither husband nor wife can take a decision FOR each other – unless that couple decides to do that equally and unequivocally for each other, and they take no decisions for themselves. It can’t be one partner taking every decision for the other, unless that is mutual. That undermines the value of each person that God has placed within them. If it were mutual – wow, what a testimony; but also man, that’s going to be hard! Hierarchy goes against the verses that speak of mutual submission and considering others better than yourself. You lay a claim to that authority OVER someone else (Mark 10:42), you immediately destroy the model of servanthood and leadership that God provides.

Paul’s use of the term ‘head’ is a rather complicated thing – no? It strikes me that over and over again, he overturns the image we have of a ‘leader’ in our heads. He makes it instead evident that the leaders are called to lay it down – him saying that to a culture of patriarchy would have been a pretty radical thing. Perhaps he was asking those husbands who had, as their culture dictated, held all authority until then to lay it down? He’s doing a pretty radical thing in the Corinthian church too when he asks women to be silent – women who’d never learned the language the Scriptures were taught in and sat to another side to gossip… Well, suddenly, they needed to shut up and listen. Women who came from a temple culture of matriarchy and female worship – Corinth. And then he kinda turns it upside down for the men in the political and male-dominated city which then became a pretty central spot for Christianity – Ephesus.

He compares the men to Christ, he uses the term ‘head’ in the same way he used it for Christ – and then he says, go do that. I think there is something to that model of headship. And I – personally – don’t think it defines bottom-line decisions but giving, and nurturing and making sure the other is benefited, can grow and can reach their full potential and glorify God best. I’ve been reading a few articles by NT Wright (<3) and Gordon Fee, Tim Keller (who is complementarian but one of the most egalitarian ones, apparently) and also Piper and Grudem, who are on the other side. Piper, however, is very nearly egalitarian too or seems to have become, in his later writings. And almost all of these people have constructions for how the verb ‘submit’ is not repeated with the word for women, but rather remains in the first injunction to both and then is extended to the next clause. Quite a few details like that.

*On a side note – I picked all men for my list of exegetes, intentionally, to avoid any accusation of bias :). It would be kinda cool, incidentally, to see an argument by all-women exegetes to explain this position (or even another topic) and even cooler to see a guy do it 😀 Okay, aside over.*

Bottom-line – there are two theological positions on this – both very clear, and both with a measure of persuasiveness. And I think that in reality, in the practical outworking of life, it will be up to the couple to choose to work their family in the way that serves and produces fruit for God best. In a way that makes use of the giftings of the husband, wife, and children not in any way that reduces the wife’s or the husband’s gift at all. I think I personally might need to remember that in pursuing my calling and my giftings to the exclusion of my husband’s – if that ever happens 🙂 – I have a very high degree of answerability and even blame before God for those things that my husband might miss out on. And I pray I have a husband who thinks likewise!

However, it could be hard if the man or the woman wants to be the authority and grasp for it consciously – it could be hard in that there will be pride on both sides and hurt and ineffectiveness.

TBC…

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