Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wear the Pants: Questions for a "Genderless Society," Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the new Dockers "Wear the Pants" ad campaign that is raising some good dialogue (and quite a bit of controversy) talking about gender roles in our society. I talked about my background in a home and faith community where gender roles were pretty clearly laid out. Today I want to talk about my conversion from complementarianism to egalitarianism.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not an expert on the subject, but I do have a story to tell.

I left home and went to college about 45 minutes down the road at Grace College, where I met my wife, Luanne. Grace was a very conservative place, from its rules (no dancing, no drinking, no smoking, curfew at midnight) to its theology (biblical innerancy; six 24-hour days of creation within the last 10,000 years; dispensational eschatology). We were taught that these things were not negotiable. They simply were the way things are. The distinct impression I had as I went though my years at Grace was that people who believed differently were simply not right.

As you can imagine, Grace Brethren doctrine on women in ministry was strictly complementarian. Women were considered wonderful creations of God, totally equal with men in everything except roles. When it came to what women were actually allowed to do, there was a limit. Teaching men was not allowed. Preaching. Being a church elder. Being a senior pastor.

It must be said that there are a lot of wonderful, sincere people who teach and believe this doctrine. It's not exclusively a Grace Brethren thing at all, and those who support this view of women do so because they genuinely want to honor God and obey His Word. There's an organization called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Their website is very persuasive, and many of my friends simply can't disagree with the CBMW's teaching.

I may have had my doubts about gender roles as a teenager or young adult, but they sure didn't keep me up at night. I didn't really have to worry about it, after all. And I still remained somewhat suspicious of women who had become preaching pastors or senior pastors (my Aunt Mochel, pastor of Christ Crossman United Methodist Church, among them). I just lumped them into a category in my head that was marked "liberal." Things seemed pretty black-and-white to me back then. Scripture was clear, right? Paul didn't allow a woman to speak in church. Women had to submit to their husbands. Sure I noticed things like the fact that men were instructed not to grow their hair, and women were instructed not to cut theirs. But our churches didn't emphasize those things. And there were the apparent contradictions between what we would allow missionary women to do as compared with women in the U.S. Plus, a lot of times women did the exact same job that a man would have done - but were not given the title, the pay or the honor that a man in the same job would have received. There were lots of women "Directors" of Children's Ministry or Worship, but no pastors.

Fast forward eight years. In 2000, I joined the staff of Peninsula Covenant Church in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had never heard of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Little did I know my world was about to open up like never before. Many things were new, like the fact that they didn't have a doctrinal statement for me to sign. (I remember calling my parents... "I don't know what they believe!") They also did strange things like baptize adults and babies and ::gasp:: ordain women.

The more I discovered about the ECC, though, the more I fell in love with it. I had been pretty skeptical of denominations up until then. But I went to the Midwinter Conference in Chicago in 2001, and - as my friend Zanne would say - I "drank the Kool-Aid." I was welcomed and accepted. I was wanted. I found that even with my doubts and questions, I could pursue my ministerial credentials within the Covenant.

I think the first thing that changed in me was that I wanted to be an egalitarian. I wanted to believe that women were free in Christ to pursue all areas of leadership. But even as I shared with my licensing board that I was just gonna have to be "in process" on this one, they accepted me and let me be in process. I loved that.

I began to read. I read Called and Gifted, the ECC's booklet on women in ministry. I read the paper that was adopted in 1981 that affirmed the ordination of women in the ECC. (We began to ordain women in 1976.) I read books like The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth about Junia by Rena Pederson. I read Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry by Stanley Grenz.

I began to live like I was convinced, even though in my heart of hearts, I still had reservations. I studied the work of Christians for Biblical Equality and grew even more convinced.

And then I ran across the book that changed it all for me. John Stackhouse's Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender. Dr. Stackhouse is one of my favorite speakers from Mt. Hermon, a great blogger and professor at Regent College in Vancouver. In his book, he describes a journey not unlike mine, of first wanting to believe, and then becoming convinced that women are indeed free to serve in all areas of ministry - as they are called and gifted.

His argument is developed over the course of an entire book, and I'm going to try to condense it to a paragraph. It's based on the idea that scripture was written in a particular time and place for a particular people. At the time of Paul's writing, for instance, it would not have been socially acceptable for women to be preaching and teaching as freely as men. It was appropriate for Paul to tell women to be silent in church. In fact, it was needed for the sake of the gospel... To not be a stumbling block to the world around them. The Church, Stackhouse argues, was actually a progressive place as far as women's rights were concerned. Jesus Himself served alongside women. It was women who were the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection! Priscilla taught and served in a leadership role with her husband Aquila. But although the Church understood that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," that would have been a major hurdle for the pagan world to leap over. And so, for the sake of the gospel, women gave up their rights.

In 2009, however, it is a stumbling block to the world when women are NOT in leadership. It makes the Church look backward and oppressive and hostile to women. For the sake of the gospel, we must now welcome women to all areas of leadership. Society has progressed, as God knew it would, and Paul's proclamation that "there is neither... male nor female" can finally be lived out as God intended it to be lived out!

When women are more free in the business world than in the Church, the gospel is hindered.

And the Church doesn't get that and continues to try to honor God by boxing women into roles that society had them boxed into 2000 years ago. I know it's sincere, and I have come to believe that it is misguided.

I remember that in the summer of 2008, as I let this all sink in, I was finally convinced... deeply convinced in my soul. I didn't have to do mental gymnastics anymore. It was a wonderful feeling.

And I'll never forget Midwinter 2009, the opening sermon by Judy Howard Peterson. I heard one of the finest sermons I've ever heard - Some of the finest teaching on God's Word. I remember thinking, "This is so right."

I'm grateful for the journey I've been on and the chance to share it with you.

I may be convinced that women are free in Christ to pursue all areas of leadership within the Church, but I still have lots of questions and issues to deal with. Like what exactly is masculinity? I've wrestled with that one - especially in light of my "conversion" to egalitarianism. I'll write more about those issues and questions tomorrow.

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