Questions of faith for semi-egalitarians

Questions of faith for semi-egalitarians

USA Today has an editorial written by David P Gushee in which Mr. Gushee challenges complementarians that they are actually semi-egalitarians and they should be willing to openly acknowledge this.  Gushee says that he writes about this issue as a moderate evangelical Christian.

Gushee writes that there are many theologically conservative Christians who accept Sarah Palin as the Republical vice presidential nominee.  Yet at the same time:

…at the local church level many congregations would not accept Palin or any other woman even as associate pastor, or deacon, or youth minister or Sunday school teacher in a gender-mixed classroom.  The most conservative would not consider it appropriate for her to stand behind a pulpit and preach a sermon, or teach from the Bible, or lead a praise chorus, or offer a prayer, unless her audience consisted entirely of women or children.

He notes that even CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) who Gushee calls “an influential advocacy group” and who are against women teaching men in the church, have no problem in allowing for a woman to serve as vice president of the country.  CBMW has replied to the article welcoming Gushee’s questions:

Dr. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and challenges complementarians with many questions in the September 15, 2008 issue of USA Today.

CBMW writes:

While we are honored that Dr. Gushee considers CBMW “an influential advocacy group” on gender issues, we don’t claim to represent the “evangelical voting base,” or even all complementarians.

It certainly is a fact that CBMW does not represent all complementarians.  There is a group called Vision Forum who were formerly associated with CBMW from its beginning, but who have since separated themselves from CBMW now calling CBMW in actuality semi-egalitarians.  Vision Forum has written that Dr. Gushee is “spot on”.  In an article regarding USA Today’s editorial, Doug Phillips writes this about CBMW:

It is our view, however, that they have erred by overtly embracing an egalitarian perspective of the roles of men and women in the public arena.

Vision Forum’s position is that allowing women to lead in society even outside the church is a violation of the scriptures.  Their belief in male representation goes so far as to state that it is against God’s law to allow women to vote.  I was involved in 2007 in helping Midwest Christian Outreach document Vision Forum’s strict position on women.  Don Veinot, president of MCO wrote an article on the research for his Journal article titled “Who will be First in the Kingdom”.  One of the key articles that was examined on Vision Forum’s web site was written by Pastor Brian Abshire.  It was titled “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation”.  Here Pastor Abshire states that American Christians destroy their own credibility when they allow women to vote:

Until the twentieth century, Americans almost universally held to this doctrine of representation in some form or the other. The reason why women were not allowed to vote had nothing to do with women being considered “inferior” or “too emotional” (these values arose during the Victorian era and were themselves theologically and socially deviant) but rather because the husband and father was ASSUMED to represent the family to the broader community. By definition, there could only be ONE representative of the family just as there could only be ONE representative of the Human Race to God!

However, by the end of the 19th century, American Christians had largely stopped thinking in theological terms. Instead, an emotive, subjective religious “experience” (called Pietism”) emphasizing individual conversion replaced the comprehensive Christian worldview of the Reformation. As Christians failed to think biblically about all of life, they were unable to withstand either the new philosophies gaining ground in the universities or deal effectively with the changing social conditions of the Industrial Revolution. By the 20th century, American Christians saw the “height” of Christian activism as banning alcohol while at the same time affirming a woman’s right to vote. Both ideas were unmitigated disasters; God has not allowed the civil magistrate to outlaw wine and God does not allow women to vote (cf. 1 Tim 2:11ff). But by ignoring God’s law, American Christians both destroyed their own credibility (the Prohibition era is STILL a matter of public ridicule and repealing prohibition set the legal precedence for pornography, sodomy and the acceptance of other moral failures) and the integrity of own families.

In regards to a woman’s right to vote; if husband and wife are truly “one flesh” and the husband is doing his duty to represent the family to the wider community, then what PRACTICAL benefit does allowing women to vote provide? If husband and wife agree on an issue, then one has simply doubled the number of votes; but the result is the same. Women’s voting only makes a difference when the husband and wife disagree; a wife, who does not trust the judgment of her husband, can nullify his vote. Thus, the immediate consequence is to enshrine the will of the individual OVER the good of the family thus creating divisions WITHIN the family.

The original Vision Forum article has since been moved or taken off of VF’s web site, but discussion on this theology and a subsequent letter from the author of “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” is documented on Don Veinot’s blog at “Examining the Premises of the Patriarchal Promises“.

In his USA Today column David Gushee lists 5 questions of faith for complementarians who support Sarah Palin as a political leader.

Questions of faith

Never have conservative evangelicals positioned themselves as staunch advocates for women’s leadership in political life — until Sarah Palin.

It seems only fair to ask these evangelical leaders to think a bit about the implications of their support for Palin. And so I ask them these questions:

  • Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States? Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God’s plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life? Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?
  • Would Palin be acceptable as vice president because she would still be under the ultimate authority of McCain as president, like the structure of authority that occurs in some of your churches? Have you fully come to grips with the fact that if after his election McCain were to die, Palin would be in authority over every male in the USA as president?
  • If you agree that God can call a woman to serve as president, does this have any implications for your views on women’s leadership in church life? Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?
  • Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family? If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?
  • Do you believe that women carry primary responsibility for the care of children in the home? If so, does this affect your support for Palin? If not, are you willing to change your position and instead argue for flexibility in the distribution of child care responsibilities according to the needs of the family?

The nomination of Palin offers conservative Christian leaders the chance to rethink an archaic theological vision that wounds millions of devout Christian women and restricts the full exercise of their gifts. This is an unexpected gift from presidential candidate John McCain to evangelical Christianity. May Sarah Palin flourish in her new role, and may she open many new doors for evangelical women in America.

While CBMW has responded to the list of questions, Doug Phillips (Vision Forum) rightly discerns that  CBMW has failed to answer question number one presented by Dr. Gushee:

Also, I think it is important to begin by observing that our friends at CBMW have not provided clear answers to several key points raised in the five questions by Dr. Gushee. The question was asked: “Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?”

No answer is given by CBMW. Yet it seems clear that this is exactly what has happened. At this point, there is no clearly distinguishable difference between the feminist understanding of male/female distinctions and civil leadership and the position of CBMW. As to their view of the jurisdiction of the state, both are full-blown egalitarians. If substantive differences exist between the two positions, they are not immediately apparent, and the burden of proof is on CBMW to explain to us what they are.

Doug Phillips writes about the biblical problems of embracing an egalitarian worldview outside the church:

It is our view, however, that they have erred by overtly embracing an egalitarian perspective of the roles of men and women in the public arena. Furthermore, we would argue that the position they are presently advocating: (a) utilizes theological arguments in direct contradiction to arguments used by CBMW in the past to defend the complementarian worldview; (b) that the same arguments they are using to deny that the principles of complementarianism apply equally to all three of the jurisdictions (family, church and state) will soon be used to undermine complementarianism in the local church; and (c) that their legitimization of a mother of young children to serve as president of the United States undermines, if not altogether destroys, their view of complementarianism in the family because of the absurdity of the claim that a woman can lead a nation as chief executive and still properly prioritize her non-optional, biblically-required duty to serve as a helpmeet to her husband.

Dr. Gushee is right in that it is time to rethink “an archaic theological vision that wounds millions of devout Christian women and restricts the full exercise of their gifts.”  There must be consistency.  It is biblically inconsistent to allow women to exercise authority over men in the realm outside the church and then claim that women cannot exercise authority in the church because of creation.  Either it goes back to creation and involves every area of society, or it does not involve creation.  Which is it?  It is inconsistent to say that a woman taking authority over men on a discussion board is not allowed to do so if the discussion board is under the authority of a church, but she can run an identical discussion board if she works for only a “Christian organization” that does not claim to be a church.  The world has seen our inconsistencies.  Non-Christians have seen these inconsistencies and have judged the Church for playing fast and loose with the “law” about women.  It is time to rethink whether we have misjudged Paul on a couple of hard passages of scriptures that have elements that are difficult to understand and have caused people to take a stand that even removes a woman’s ability to vote.  This is now our opportunity to be consistent.

25 thoughts on “Questions of faith for semi-egalitarians

  1. Gushee asks:Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family? If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?”

    Boy, this question cuts to the heart of it. If her husband is her authority then, in effect, HE will be VP our our nation… unelected…according to the doctrine taught by CBMW.  

    How does CBMW respond to this question?

  2. Another reason CBMW has been inconsistent is because some of their contributors, such as Russell Moore, have been publicly advocating more Patriarchy. He has written that complimentarianism  is too wimpy.

    And Don, you are right. If they are going to use creation order to prove hierarchies, then their support of Palin is going against their own teaching. Palin says she is a Christian and Christians do not have realms of civil and spiritual. They are Christians all the time.

  3. Sorry to be a blog hog but I have to ask one more question. How would CBMW feel about Palin leading a prayer group or bible study with her male staff?  Could she be VP but not lead a bible study in her own office?

  4. Lin,

    It will be interesting to see how CBMW responds to that question.  So far they have said:

    This helpful question raises a complex issue requiring specific application of the principles expressed above.  Gender Blog is pleased to be part of this dialogue and plans to address this question in the near future.

  5. Lin,

    You asked: 

    How would CBMW feel about Palin leading a prayer group or bible study with her male staff?  Could she be VP but not lead a bible study in her own office?

    Excellent question!  I would think that she would not be allowed to teach a mixed group.  CBMW does not allow women to lead mixed bible studies even in their own home unless they are just facilitating and not actually teaching and leading.  If she was “leading” the study, she would not be allowed.  Now how do you tell a VP of the US what they cannot do in their own office when they are the authority?  More good questions that they will have a hard time answering.  Perhaps they will just avoid the questions.

  6. “It will be interesting to see how CBMW responds to that question.  So far they have said:
    This helpful question raises a complex issue requiring specific application of the principles expressed above.  Gender Blog is pleased to be part of this dialogue and plans to address this question in the near future.”

    LOL. It should not be complex as they have been touting this stuff for 25 years yet they cannot directly answer the question? They must have a committee working on this one. Or perhaps they drew straws. :o)

    They need to be careful or we might just see a rush of comp wives running for office!

  7. One has to admit that Phillips and the radical fringe element of patriarchy are at least consistent with their dogma.

    CBMW however, is caught between a rock and a hard place.  How does an organization shoot for consistency when many of its adherents firmly believe that America was founded as a Christian nation and it is therefore desirable that it be governed in accordance with their interpretation of scripture?

    Fortunately, the architects of the U.S. constitution ensured that all may freely practice whatever brand of religion suits them, but that none of them would ever be allowed to establish public policy.

  8. As I’ve said before, the “extremes”– whether patriarchy, hyper-Calvinism, or radical Islam– are the “honest” positions because they take their teachings to their logical conclusions.

    What CBMW is experiencing right now is what has been called “cognitive dissonance.” They are finally faced with two mutually exclusive convictions and are trying desperately to reconcile them with more additions to their Christian Talmud.

    And, at least we all get to watch as male supremacists vie for preeminence. Very entertaining.

  9. I am so grateful I live in a nation with religious liberty and NOT a so-called Christian nation, as the question would then be, who gets to define the Christianity of the nation? 

    The state by its very nature has coercive power and to have that power endorsing some specific religion denies the free choice even of that religion.

  10. On CBMW and particularly Grudem, they/he claim that the “women” verses are clear, and the question is whether to obey or not.

    However the verses are not clear, and this intellectual dishonesty gets them in trouble, as it should.  But a byproduct of their claim is that SINCE the verses are supposedly clear, the interpretation of them needs to be consistent and supposedly have been since the beginning of their group. Hence they are VERY sensitive to a claim of inconsistency; as they know such if demonstrated is self-repudiating.

    And now they find that both sides (the egals and the more non-egals) are pointing out their potential inconsistency.

    I myself do NOT see them as inconsistent, GIVEN their interpretive choices.  However, the very idea of interpretive choices is somewhere they do not want to go, as they know they will then lose.

  11. “I myself do NOT see them as inconsistent, GIVEN their interpretive choices.  However, the very idea of interpretive choices is somewhere they do not want to go, as they know they will then lose.”

    Don, Now I am really confused. If they use creation order as a basis for hierarchy, how could they NOT be inconsistent about Palin?

  12. Putting on the CBMW hat as best I can:
    “Because the Bible does not use the supposed creation order to discuss society order, neither should we.  In society it may be the case that men are desired as leaders as a general statement, but they are not always requiired.  However, the creation order IS used when discussing family and church order.”

    Note that I do not agree with this argument, as I do not accept the supposed creation order.  But this is what I see CBMW as saying.

  13. Have any of you seen “The Truth Project” series of lectures? The premise put forward there is that God has ordained a number of structures in our world – marriage, family, church, business, government – and that the rules for one can’t be superimposed on any other. In that “world view”, it would be perfectly acceptable for Gov. Palin to be VIce President but still be kept silent in church (I don’t mean to suggest that TTP takes that position, only that they allow for separate rules in each institution), and be under the leadership of her husband in the home (which I am not necessarily sure isn’t the arrangement in the Palin home.) I’m not going anywhere with this – I Just thought it an interesting perspective.

  14. “Because the Bible does not use the supposed creation order to discuss society order, neither should we. In society it may be the case that men are desired as leaders as a general statement, but they are not always requiired. However, the creation order IS used when discussing family and church order”

    But this position is not consistent from a creation order standpoint because of Deborah and others since Israel was a Theocracy. Civil and spiritual were not separated in Israel. So they really are not being consistent when they use creation order.

  15. Creation order also implies created for different purposes.  If this is so that women were not created for leadership but only created to follow the leadership of men, then it wouldn’t matter what realm the leadership is in – it is outlawed by creation.  Once again CBMW has problems.  The “law” is either from creation and covers all aspects of life (there being no “church” in the garden), or we have misread Paul.

    The problem is that we have come to see the value of women and it would be difficult if not impossible to go back to a place where women’s opinion was not valued even enough to allow them to vote.  IF CBMW’s position was consistent, it wouldn’t take so much work to try to explain how a woman can be a VP but cannot be a bible study leader in her own home.  This is beyond inconsistent.  It is irrational.  If God cannot speak through a woman to teach the truth from scripture, then how could he speak through a woman VP or a woman president?  If God doesn’t speak through women, then why on earth would we allow them to teach other women and children?  Let’s just do away with women teachers all together and have only men.  This is the consistent position.

  16. I agree that this aspect is inconsistent, but it does not seem so to them, this is similar to how CBMW responds: “Judges is not a book to derive doctrine, it was a time of ups and downs.  It does not say that Deborah taught men or ruled men.  Picking Deborah was a rebuke for the absence of male leadership.”

    In other words, they see her as an exceptional case and work to limit the implications within their worldview.

  17. Where does God say that Deborah as a Judge or Huldah as a Prophet were picked because there were no male leaders?  Does doesn’t say this.  Huldah was picked even though Jeremiah had been a Prophet in Israel for 5 years.  The book of Judges says that the LORD raised up judges for a purpose:

    Judges 2:16  Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them.

    The purpose was not to show that there were no male leaders.  This is foreign to the text.  In fact this is the one verse that was the final straw for my Pastor that caused him to accept women in ministry.  He reasoned that if God was the only who installed the Judges per Judges 2:16 and he chose to install Deborah, then Deborah was a valid Judge to deliver Israel just as were all the other God-ordained Judges. 

    The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says this about the judges:

    The shophetim were not judges in the usual sense of the term; but were heads or chiefs of the Israelites, raised up on extraordinary occasions, who directed and ruled the nation with sovereign power, administered justice, made peace or war, and led the armies over whom they presided.

    Deborah did indeed rule with sovereign power as God raised her up for that purpose.  To state a purpose of Deborah that is not stated in scripture (that she was only there to put men to shame since every man was unavailable), we do a great disservice to the scriptures by adding to the scriptures. 

    God always has reserved men for himself.  Elijah thought he was alone but there were 7,000 others that the Lord reserved for himself (Romans 11:3, 4).  To say that there was not even one man in Israel that was godly, is to say that God could not raise up one of the men that he had reserved for himself.  That makes God much less Sovereign that he truly is.  My Pastor has stated that the one who God raises up, is who we are to accept.  If God can choose a woman, then we are not to reject God’s choice.  Who are we to tell God what he can and cannot do?

  18. Yes, I know.  But this is what Grudem’s EFBT says.  I see it as man’s tradition negating what Scripture teaches.  This is a part of why they do not see themselves as inconsistent.  Standing outside, WE can see it, but standing inside, they cannot see it.

    As R. Groothuis points out, there are NO exceptions in God’s choices; God does not make a rule and then make an exception. 

  19. In my understanding of the OT Covenant, there were three official positions of spiritual leadership for the nation: The Prophet of the era, The Judge of the Nation, and the High Priest. The High Priest and the Judge were equal in authority although operating in different spheres. The Prophet was the highest or most authoritative as that person would be led of God to appoint a High Priest or The Judge of the Nation. Deborah in effect as well as I think two others in history, held the positions of the most authoritative leadership in her time.

    Sometimes, people confuse her position with that of the local civil judges. But they were never named in Scriptures, just referred to. It was The Judge of the Nation that was chosen by God and named in Scripture, that assisted the civil judges in cases too difficult for them.

Comment to join the discussion

%d bloggers like this: