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.
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.
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.