I take care of my own tech problems but occasionally I call tech support. Once I’m outed as a middle-aged woman, I’m always pigeon-holed. Invariably I dash tech support’s preconceived ideas about middle-aged women.
Jesus has perpetual appeal in this; he always dashes preconceived notions of who he should be and how he should act. The Pharisees embroiled him in debate but it took a sharp turn when Jesus responded with a category-smashing, liberating statement for humanity: “… are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:23b, 24).
When asked “where I am” on the complementarian /egalitarian debate in the church, though I’m weary of the topic, my conscience won’t let me ignore it. Through my brushes with male chauvinistic attitude (from both genders) and with the power-hungry, I’m aware that churches persist in judging by appearances and not with right judgment. I’m convinced the church needs every adult, male or female, who is willing and qualified as teacher or church leader. This reawakens me to the urgency of “smashing categories.”
Why now? The problem is the numbers: they don’t lie. Young women and men believe church is irrelevant to any world they occupy. They are right. Women are allowed to do anything, until they walk into church (granted, not all churches). Young women tell me they see the flaws in the “Christian womanhood” model. You’d have to be blind not to: no one can live up to it because it is a fabricated ideal.
Galatians 3:28 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The church has dealt with the Jewish/ Gentile rift and it no longer supports slavery. Yet, females are still barred from particular church roles (even though the Bible is shot through with women leaders such as judges, prophets, apostles, and more). The simple consequence is that churches are anachronisms when it comes to women.
There are two main currents which herd women away from leadership in the church. Neither of these two currents is a Christian injunction. The church’s health is not benefited when either current is promoted. The currents are often promoted in ignorance, or on a kind of unthinking “auto-pilot,” or a combination of both.
The first current is gender tendency. Churches which make gender tendency prominent submerge individual distinctions. Gender tendencies are either promoted openly or implied as the preferred “way to be.”
The second current is that churches fuse (consequently confuse) the early Christian era and culture with the current one.
1) Tendencies (& Abilities)
There is nothing in scripture to support that idea that God has delegated gifts, vocation, and talents according to gender. More women than men like to cook: this is a tendency. (It happens to be a tendency I lack.) There is nothing scriptural or godly for a church to encourage people to conform to “typical” gender types.
Beyond that, there are also gifts and abilities unique to people. A male chef may be extremely talented: that’s his gifting. It’s how God made him.
There is nothing holy or humble about keeping your gifts hidden or repressed. Repression takes on expressions—one of which is depression. If your love is teaching, you should be able to teach (male or female).
Doing what you’re outfitted to do well is a form of worship: don’t shoehorn yourself in—or stay away from— what you do best. Whatever your strengths, they should be encouraged by the church. But if not, don’t wait—you just may need to blaze a trail.
2) Era & Culture Fusion
A) Cultural Differences
It’s unfair to me that in some cultures I’m not called by my first name, but by husband’s first name. It’s also unfair that my husband is treated better than I am. But, while in foreign culture, it becomes my cultural reality. I must accept the non-western culture in its own context on its own terms and accommodate it outside of home.
However, when I return to my own culture, I would be extremely weird to insist on retaining the foreign culture out of some twisted sense of loyalty. Similarly, the culture of the 1st century was different from the dominant Western culture; it was different, not better.
The point is simple: To force the culture of a different time and place into our Western culture is both unnecessary and strange. And, it’s lethal for a church to ignore the “local” cultural reality.
B) Era Differences
People don’t change, times do. My grandmother could kill and pluck a chicken, I never have. That doesn’t make me a better (or worse) person.
Schooling (literacy) and a middle class is relatively new historically. For women, universal schooling is even newer. Today, more American women than men have graduate degrees.
Little wonder we lose our way if we drag standard practices of the early church (which was very superstitious and mainly unschooled) into this century.
A different era requires different (and changing) demands. When a preacher or a writer fuses the era and culture of the Bible with ours, it’s not warranted, nor right.
What the Church Most Needs
Everyone is unique—uniqueness defies stereotyping. Creating a categorical rule from a biblical passage is deleterious, it relegates women to non-people—an anti-Christian perspective. It’s not only wrong but in practice, it is harmful.
People rightly sense that the dominant message regarding women isn’t applicable; to reverse the clock is to live in a fantasy world. Customs are time/ place-specific, and serve society. While customs change, truth doesn’t. Complementarianism is not a truth of Christ. Blocking women from leadership has no basis in truth: this custom no longer fits our society.
Christians are tired of bridging opposing worlds—to commend one custom outside of church but to uphold its opposite inside the church. Happily, if the church navigates our cultural current, the incongruity can be easily put to rights.
It’s a win-win for the church: it can only be strengthened with additional good, godly collaborators of either gender. When we bring out the best in each other, male, female, young and old, in the resultant “rising tide, all boats are lifted.”
I have long since finished with making anyone an idol. My life is in Christ, the Head of the Body, the Eternal Lord. Only Christ is life-invigorating, liberating and category-smashing Truth.