“Why are all the elders in your church male?” This is a question that you will get if you are complementarian. I have written on what I believe the Bible teaches on male and female relationships in the home and in the church in two e-books available from our publications page:
1. Marriage at work
2. Male and female leadership roles in the church.
In both documents I argue that men and women are equal but different, that there should be mutual submission but also that this is in the context of male headship in the family and that church leadership is meant to reflect the model in the home because maŕriage provides us with a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.
I have also argued that we have to work harder to ensure that how marriage and church life functions in practice reflects both the equal and different, male headship and mutual submission dynamics.
However, I have been wondering whether we need to work hard at taking our thinking a little/ or maybe a long way further back. Here’s my issue. There is currently much controversy around the question of gender re-alignment and gender fluidity. There is a lot of pressure at the moment to see gender as something that we can self-identify disconnected from a person’s physical sex at birth. In fact, the implication is that our physical anatomy is a matter of accident and disconnected from who we are. We can choose to live as male, female or a-sexual and if we should so wish, then we can arrange for our physical sex to be changed by an operation.
Now, evangelical Christians are generally speaking opposed to this because the Bible teaches us that God made us male and female. However, I am not sure that we are properly equipped to engage with the full implications of this debate because at some level we have increasingly accepted that gender roles are interchangeable, that there is no real difference between men and women beyond physical anatomy. We have (rightly) abandoned sexist stereotypes but we are not sure what to put in their place. This resulted at one level in an inability to really get to grips with why men and women might have different roles within the church and a discomfort caused by the sense that it was somehow unfair to suggest that some responsibilities might be shaped not just by gifting but also by gender. Now, we struggle to engage at the next level of discussion because we don’t know how to distinguish between men and women beyond physical differences, we don’t really know how to engage with the current debate about transgender and gender fluidity issues.
So how are we going to step back from this:
Theologically if we disconnect physical anatomy from personal identity including gender, then we risk Gnosticism. So a first step towards this is to recognise how the phyiscal, emotional and spiritual join up. We need a right Doctrine of Creation and that needs to follow into our Doctrine of Humanity so we will need to look at this in more detail when we begin to look at Being Human.
Secondly, I would suggest that we need to talk positively about what it means to be male and female. We need to trace what Scripture says about this.
Thirdly, getting our understanding of gender right may involve challenging dominant economic and social assumptions about how some roles and qualities are valued more than others.
So, these are just some opening thoughts. I’m open to further comments and questions. Get in touch via our contact page