Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Egalitarianism or Complementarianism

The following is my reply to my community regarding a discussion we had last night regarding women being submissive to men and exactly what we are to do with the whole issue of "women's roles".

I think the debate and questions we were discussing last night is difficult at best. I don’t think it is difficult from a standpoint of “Biblical Authority”. I think we all believe the Bible is profitable for teaching, training and edification...among other things (2 Tim 3). I also think that we are unified in the understanding that the Bible can’t be taken literally in every instance since the Bible is a collection of poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.), private letters (Timothy, Philemon, etc), public letters (Galatians, Ephesians, etc.), books of history (Pentateuch, etc.), etc. For example, the very fact that any female speaks inside the church building and no man openly rebukes her for it is proof that that we don’t take I Corinthians 14 literally when Paul writes:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

I think this issue becomes difficult because of the ways in which the primary operational definitions have been molested for the purposes of control, domination and other forms of evil. Therefore I think it would be helpful if we establish, through Biblical example and texts what is likely meant by the teaching of the “husband being the head of the wife” and the “wife being required to submit to the husband”.

I like that Melea began in Genesis (which is never a bad place to start). Part of the curse of the fall was indeed that Eve and every woman to follow her would be ruled by their husband. That is found in Genesis 3:
To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The Hebrew word that we translate into “rule over” is “mashal”. The meaning of that word is not just to reign over, have dominion over and govern over, but this word is one spoken with emphasis. I think it is safe to say that we all have seen evidence on micro and macro levels where this curse has come to pass and in many cases continues on today.
I think this is important because of what Jesus is in relation to the fall of man. More importantly we should ask who Jesus is in relation to the fall. Jesus came to restore everything lost in the fall. The primary thing we typically consider is that we can again be restored to God and His presence for all eternity but the presence of God wasn’t the only thing humanity lost in the fall of man.

We lost the intimacy shared between the male and female. Prior to the fall they were “naked and unashamed”. That was destroyed in the fall and more specifically with the curse of God listed above. That is important because we know that we are cursed from the fall but we also know that we are called, by our lives being firmly rooted in the new reality of the Messiah, to a new life and a new standard. In the kingdom of God, that Jesus proclaimed more often than he discussed love, grace or prayer, the relationship between a man and woman is to exist in a way representative of how things should have always been and will exist again at some point. This lends great weight to the scripture found in Galatians 3:
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

For those of us who belong to Christ, I believe that we are expected to seek transformation to the point that we no longer see nationalities, races or gender. Not just because it is right to do so, but because we are called to appropriately represent the Kingdom of God. For those who are in the Kingdom of God there is no longer male or female. According to this school of though, the qualifications within the Kingdom of God become not if one a male or female, if one belongs to a particular tribe or if they are a member of the proper religious sect. The lone qualification becomes God’s gifting of individuals and God’s calling on those people.

So what of the verses that would argue a more traditional, complementarian view?
Ephesians 5 does say:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Additionally I Timothy 2 says:
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

These verses are the core of the Complementarian debate. They seem to place the woman beneath the man and they tend to create a spiritual hierarchy within the Kingdom of God. When considering the curse for the original sin, this seems inconsistent with God. However, just because we think something is inconsistent or doesn’t make sense, we can’t discard it and maintain any kind of integrity.
I do think it is important to consider the context in which we find these verses. I think it is interesting that we prefer the specific verses above at times to prove our position or further substantiate our comfort but we rarely like the verses around them.

The Ephesians 5 passage gets very interesting near the end of the chapter. Paul is notorious for discussing a topic and seemingly going off on a tangent only to draw it back together. He does that in the famous chapter on “love” in I Corinthians 13. Paul is rocking along for 3 chapters (12-14) discussing the “gifts of the Spirit” and seemingly inserts “love” along the way. In reality Paul is actually using the discussion of love in relation to his discussion of gifts. A very similar pattern exists in Ephesians 5 as well. Paul concludes this passage in an interesting, though somewhat predictable way for him, when he says:
He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The structure of that passage doesn’t exactly make sense considering the way we read more contemporary text. However, it is important to remember that the original manuscripts are void of punctuation and what we would consider usual sentence structure.
I think the verse from I Timothy is even more revealing. For the Complementarian Argument to stand up the passage in I Timothy must not in any way be a statement rooted in cultural relevancy. That is to say that it must be immutable and not negotiable based on contemporary values. The verses directly preceding the passage about women learning in quiet submission read like this:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

I have yet to find the same level of zeal from the more fundamentalist followers of Jesus regarding the aspects of men lifting their hands as they pray, women braiding their hair, women wearing gold/pearls or expensive clothing. Yet if one wants to claim that they are a “Biblical literalist”, each issue can’t be interpreted on what one thinks is appropriate. Obviously, braided hair and certain jewelry were cultural issues during the 1st Century. It seems unreasonable to divorce that cultural relevancy of braided hair and that of women only learning in quiet submission and never teaching a man.

At the end of the day I think it is important to mention, as I attempted to last night, that this is a very applicable discussion and one that has divided churches and families. The fact that remains that those who wish to find substantiation of their positions, be it egalitarian or complementarian, in scripture can do so. I personally think that one way of dealing with this debate seems to more accurately reflect the heart of the God I find elsewhere in scripture than the other way does, but as Melea appropriately references in her email, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.

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