Comple-galitarian?

Boxing Well, hello there. I'll just say it. It feels like we're in a boxing match.

What with the heated debates between complementarians and egalitarians and all. Everything seems to be getting more black and white, the sides appear to be growing more entrenched and resolute. 

Hear, hear! We have the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in this corner and the Christians for Biblical Equality in the other. And . . . a well-placed right hook from CBE, cutting into the CBMW’s usually well-maintained defense. This could be a bloody battle, folks!!

And it can be. I'm not speaking of the organizations mentioned specifically, but the people that are oftentimes found debating one another online and otherwise. Sharp words, sharper-edged feelings, better-constructed arguments, each side lining up the people in their corner. Each fighting for what they say they believe is right, for the “God-ordained” role of women in our homes and churches and workplaces and social settings. And I wonder.

Where is the rabbi from Nazareth in all of this? You know, the one whose death and Resurrection turned the world upside down—and somehow, right-side up at last? Where is the reconciliation the gospel makes possible?

Allow me to tip my hand.

Several years ago I was sitting in a Synergy Women’s conference for evangelical women when well-respected speaker and author Carolyn Custis James proposed a different solution, a third way. It was baffling to all of us who are used to sharp arguments and well-refined positions. To anyone with a seminary degree, for instance.

Perhaps there is a third way, she said, and it is the way of the gospel.

My friend and I discussed it later; at the time we felt like it might just be . . . a cop-out. Maybe Carolyn just didn’t want to take a position? It felt like this third way was impossible. We couldn’t see how it was tenable. How in the world could it work?

Until . . .

Other women begin to speak of a new way. People like Halee Gray Scott and Sarah Bessey and Christine Caine. Not only that, I saw women getting on with ministry and life and being faithful with whatever was put in front of them. I remember distinctly an older woman sharing: "Jesus has already set women free." And I realized something about this battle that I have been slow to articulate for fear of backlash. I realized that I simply don’t fit into a preconceived category.

I am coming clean, just in time to finally get this book Reclaiming Eve into this big evangelical conversation, into an arena stacked with boxing gloves. But right here, right now, I want to take the gloves off and pick up a spirit of grace and authenticity.

I don’t identify as a complementarian. I suppose you already knew this, but there it is. Complementarians come in many different stripes, but I have found that most of them don’t approve of my mutually-submissive marriage or the fact that I have served as a pastor and now work part-time as a chaplain. Still, I believe so strongly that men and women do complement one another. I don’t feel the need or the desire to act like a man; I want to live out what it means to image my Creator God as a female.

It would be easier, of course, to identify me as an egalitarian. But the truth is, I’ve never self-identified that way either. I believe that practicing equality is an outrageously beautiful mark of the kingdom, but that it actually flows from reconciliation. The bottom line is this: because of what Jesus has accomplished, I believe the gospel makes gender reconciliation possible.

When the Spirit begins to convict us of the need to see our brother or our sister through a lens of redemption and renewal, we stop being afraid of one another. We can stop viewing women as dangerous, men as wild, and each other as the enemy. (May I suggest that when the gospel begins to reconcile men and women we may even read the Scripture differently?) When the Spirit  prompts change, freedom, and new ways of being and relating, justice rises. And heart change leads to the opportunities God intended for women all along. Dallas Willard says it better than I can:

It is not the rights of women to occupy "official" ministerial roles, nor their equality to men in those roles that set the terms of their service to God and their neighbors. It is their obligations that do so: obligations which derive from their human abilities empowered by divine gifting. It is the good they can do, and the duty to serve that comes from that, which impels them to serve in all ways possible. Women and men are indeed very different, and those differences are essential to how God empowers each to induce the Kingdom of God into their specific life setting and ministry. What we lose by excluding the distinctively feminine from "official" ministries of teaching and preaching is of incalculable value. That loss is one of a few fundamental factors which account for the astonishing weakness of "the Church" in the contemporary context. -How I Changed My Mind on Women in Ministry

And so, here is where I stand. I can do no other. We hold in our hands the power of the gospel, the light of hope for this world, the only key to building his victorious kingdom. We have hope that overcomes addiction and broken relationships and shattered dreams and empty bellies longing for food, bodies longing for a healing touch, for the hands of Jesus. We are to be on the side of global biblical justice, of wholeness, of eternal hope.

Might I suggest a question that might guide us in the way forward? Not “which side are you on?” But “What does the gospel make possible for women (and men)?”

How we answer may well determine whether the Church has the increasing power to advance against the darkness with hope, healing and reconciliation at its heart. I may not fit easily into a label (and maybe you don’t either), but in Jesus we are to move forward, to continue believing that gender reconciliation is possible. And that it starts with us. You and I, participating and praying: May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Your turn: Do you fit into a category or label? What do you believe the gospel makes possible in male/female relationships?