Friday, June 11, 2010

I'm fed up with gender debates

Okay. Rant time.

I'm fed up with all of this

Why all the emphasis on gender? It's a big fat side track. Yes, I know it's got to do with the authority of scripture and all of that, but I'm over it dominating every newspapers article about the church, every girl blog (including mine), every women's conferences, every mega-church sermon etc etc etc etc. The gospel is about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. Life in Christ is about faith and love and hope. Gender issues are way secondary. But we seem to be talking about them all the time.

Let me put a few things out there.

1. I don't think that the problem with most marriages is that women don't submit to men and men don't lead. I think it's more basic ungodliness. Pornography, unfaithfulness, impatience, pride, greed, envy, hatred, laziness, selfishness. We need to work on these things, but they almost never get spoken about because we are so hung up on gender stuff. And quieter guys who are pretty godly start feeling like failures because they're not the macho assertive leadership types.

2. I don't think we need to imprison ourselves in our genders. We are humans, people! We don't need to assess everything we do against some vague (or stringent) male/female code. "I'd like to cross the road. What is an appropriate way for a woman to cross the road, showing proper respect and deference to her husband???" Blah blah blah. Quit the analysis and get on with it!

3. I think this gender nervousness makes women overly precious (idolatrous?) with motherhood. Hang it, it's all we've got! Every other sphere of life seems to belong to men. Conservative women look at each other suspiciously if they seem to be finding satisfaction in career or ministry or recreation ... so we become obsessively focussed on our children and ... housework! This seems silly.

4. I believe whole heartedly that we should be obedient to Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5. But let's not make these couple of verses the lens through which we see our whole existence.

Okay. Tell me I'm wrong.


  1. Well, that should be Andrew's job. ;-)

    Gosh, it was a long ad for the CBE conference, wasn't it?

    I think the problem is that the egalitarians keep arguing theologically. If they were just taking the pragmatic line (like in the article you link to), then fine. Complementarians could ignore them.

    But Giles, for example, wants to completely rewrite the doctrine of the Trinity. That kind of thing is never going to pass without notice.

    You're right, though, about the amount of heat. We like to nail everything down.

  2. Yes. I find Giles annoying. But can't we just ... I don't know ... speak louder about other stuff?

  3. Umm. Yes. Especially to point 2. It's not like there's all that much ministry that is exclusively male in evangelical circles anyway... it's pretty much just preaching on Sundays to mixed congregations. And to me that's as pragmatic as it is theological. I don't want someone else's wife nagging me on a Sunday morning. I think there's something in the male psyche that would balk at that.

  4. You're wrong!

    No you're not. I totally agree. I am not shy. Not in the least. But I'm not an entrepreneur either. I like taking things slowly, drinking cups of tea with older people, and I wear gingham shirts. I've never been asked to plant a church and I take conflict to heart. And sometimes I wish I was different. Sometimes I want to say that I "fired" my assistant, that I wear torn jeans, that I bungy jump on weekends and that I started a church in my wood shed with me, my wife, my kids and a homeless crack addict. It seems that you need to be able to say those things to be anybody these days.

    I find Giles annoying too. But for other reasons I suspect (i.e his reading of Barth.)

    I'm not at all convinced that bringing the trinity into the gender debates isn't a trinitarian hijack. I seem to remember reading Mike Bird say something about this a while ago. I might dig it up.

  5. Yes. Do that. I read Giles years ago. All a bit hazy now.

    But Jesus was a macho man, wasn't he? It's true that you're no one till you've fired your assistant. Go fire someone. Would your session do as an alternative to an assistant? Or your CoM?

    But at least you're into cars. That's got to be worth something.

    Nathan - I'm trying to think how I can write a particularly naggy kid's talk for tomorrow...

  6. A couple of things (although commenting defeats the purpose of your post, which says you don't want to talk about it all the time):

    Anthony said: "I think the problem is that the egalitarians keep arguing theologically."

    Isn't it better to argue theologically, just to do it well instead of badly? Is the problem with Giles that he argues theologically or that he argues bad theology? (P.S. Anthony, I think you know my brother, Tim J.)

    Nathan wrote: "I don't want someone else's wife nagging me on a Sunday morning."

    I'm hoping you are kidding. If not, can women not teach without nagging? Or do men nag in their preaching too? And what about single women?

    I'm over the debate too. Apparently it's just not an issue in most (geographical) areas of Christianity.

  7. Your post and Barney's article are not really about the same thing.
    The article is about where the church submits to for authority, the Bible or its own devices. (Which is a problem for all of us individually as well, as your post points out.)
    Barney does not distinguish that Giles and Porter come to their similar position from vastly different places. Giles is submitting to a biblical framework.
    Consider Porter's distress. Her concern is why the church is still looking to the Bible for any of it's standards in the first place.

  8. Ummm, well - I'm about to leave the house to attend the CBE conference, so I may be disqualified from this debate in the eyes of many of your readers, Simone! Actually, I feel almost exactly the same as you, apart from some different theological conclusions. I find too much emphasis on this issue incredibly frustrating and will say so on the panel I am on at the CBE conference. Often it is race and class that divide the world Christian community much more than gender.

    On the pragmatic side, however, I would say that whatever our theology, we need to be conscious of the practical outcomes of that theology among the most vulnerable and in different cultures. I've spoken with missionaries in the two-thirds world who have been really distressed at the way missionaries influenced by Mark-Driscoll style macho-gung-ho-ness have (of course, unintentionally) fed into existing patterns of male violence in the cultures they work in. When you emphasise male headship and female submission in a culture where rape is acceptable and women are explicitly valued less than men, you need to be darn careful. Many of the speakers at the CBE conference are people with lots of experience in development talking about gender issues in the developing world, where the education and empowerment of women is crucial to the education and empowerment of societies and this - perhaps more than any theological niceties - is the point they are concerned to promote. Unlike some of my egalitarian brethren and sistren, I don't think complementarians are (generally) the villain in this, but I think complementarian and egalitarian evangelicals in the West can find points to work together on promoting the welfare of both men and women in developing communities. Speaking to Africans and Indians, I don't think it is true that this issue is not live amongst the large Christian communities in the two-thirds world - I just think it manifests itself differently.

    Anyhoo, feel free to shout me down on this, but as I will be at the conference this arvo, I won't be able to answer for a bit!

    Finally, I just can't resist responding to Nathan (I assume that's the point!) - pity us poor women who are nagged at by other women's husbands, brothers and fathers almost every Sunday! You can understand why sometimes it gets a bit much.

  9. I am a relatively new-ish Christian (been reading this blog for a while – love it), and the thing that surprises me in this ‘debate’, or, rather, what’s seems to be missing in this debate is some kind of understanding of the extent to which the conservative interpretation of biblical manhood/womanhood is mirrored in the non-Christian, middle class of this country. I have lived and worked amongst the ‘middle class’ of Brisbane for over ten years (in one of the most privileged secondary schools in the city), and I have heard, seen, and watched exactly the same values and attitudes and beliefs about women spoken, lived, promoted, enacted, whatever. Um, from the perspective of a kind-of newcomer, it seems to me that they all say and do what the complementarians (I might be one, not sure yet) say and do about various aspects of a woman’s role in the home (well, not all…).

    My observation is that the middle class of this city - at least, is very affluent and very conservative. And this socioeconomic privilege, particularly in relation to the ‘women thing’, is construed, within this class, as the moral high ground – and, often, very, very stridently.

    So, to what extent is this strong conservatism also, simply, cultural? Worldly?

    And, um, Nathan, I was going to say, jokingly, and not in any particular relation to you, “Well, I don’t want to have to listen to someone else’s misogynist who loves the sound of his own voice every Sunday”, but my manners definitely got the better of me.


  10. I think people respond passionately to gender issues because they strike at our heart and our home where so many other theological issues which rationally are of more importance actually have less emotional resonance. This seems to work for you too, even though you wish it didn't :) Be that as it may, there must be some synergy in the universe because my cousin Luke just posted on the same issue - - with a link to a very interesting article by Graham Cole.

  11. I agree with you on all points. Especially point 3. I've been on the end of many suspicious looks at church when I've told people (often other mothers) that I really enjoy the paid work that I do.
    Of course home and family should be our first priority. But that doesn't mean we can't find satisfaction in other things and put our time and energy into them as well.

  12. Lara - yes, I do know Tim. But I try to keep quiet about that...;-)

    More seriously - of course arguments should be theological! I was merely saying that Simone might have her wish if there were more Porters and less Giles in the world. And suggesting why the debate will no doubt drag on for a bit yet.

    Must get back to work. Important to have well-prepared nag ready in a few hours time! (It is, I suspect, almost impossible to nag from Eph 1, you know)

  13. Oh - and to anon - my guess is the conservatism is left over from a period when Christianity, and evangelical Christianity, was dominant in English society. In other words, a vestige of Christian influence.

    The way to tell, of course, is whether the bloke is just a chauvinist, or whether he genuinely seeks to put his wife first.

  14. Lara - "Apparently it's just not an issue in most (geographical) areas of Christianity." Interesting, huh? - Though what Jo says might come into play here.

    Jo - How was the conference. I read one fb update that was a little frustrated with things that were said. What did you say? Is it online anywhere?

    Anon - great to have you here. Have we met? I think your pt is good. Often in our so-called counter-cultural conservative line we are actually just mirroring conservative middle class culture. Certainly feels like that where I am living!

    Jon - yeah. I'll have a read.

    Karen - Work? And you enjoy it? Shocking!

    Anthony - I don't think it's just left over christian culture-ness. I think it's the disney princess phenomena. Big wedding, macho guy, stay at home wife - it's all pretty hip right now.

  15. I was only able to attend a few seminars and they were almost entirely about development/justice issues (although I would note that I was told the conference began with a ringing proclamation of the gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection by Graham Cole and a commitment to value that above the issue of gender roles!) What I took away was the reminder that by and large, poverty and disadvantage are gendered. Some stats:

    Women make up 70% of the world's poor, 67% of the world's illiterate, and 76% of African youth infected with HIV.

    Every minute of every day, a woman dies in childbirth - a statistic that hasn't improved in the two decades since the totals were first counted (unlike the vast majority of health indicators).

    Every minute, five more girls have their genitals mutilated.

    Every minute and a half in the world's wealthiest nation, a woman is raped. In 141 countries, marital rape remains a legal activity.

    In the global media, women are the subjects of 21% of news stories - up from 17% in 1995; men are 86% of experts asked for opinions, and 83% of spokespersons.

    I didn't hear these statistics - or learn much about the ways that this kind of gendered poverty and disadvantage can be changed - until I started hanging out with egalitarians. But I have no doubt that egalitarian or complementarian evangelicals of good will can and do come together to work on empowering women (particularly given the convincing evidence that empowering women is the key to developing communities). We might disagree about whether women can preach, but I don't think we disagree about whether women should be educated or have their opinions valued.

    What was deeply inspiring about the conference for me was listening to people with long and hard experience in development work - a Kenyan woman, an Indigenous Australian woman, a couple of Aussies. All of them spoke about the way that their faith kept them going in almost impossible situations and the way that God's love does transform lives and communities. I was convicted of my own lack of faith and love and also deeply encouraged.

  16. We need like a "this comment is tongue in cheek" signal that isn't an emoticon.

  17. Thanks for the clarification, Nathan! How about 'rofltic?' I've heard that comment made seriously so it's always hard to judge.

  18. Well it is a serious element of the male psyche. I'm not seriously suggesting though that pragmatics, or indeed the sinfulness of the male psyche, should be taken into account into what is, as others have pointed out, a theological question.

    I also, in response to anon, don't want to listen to other people's misogynists telling me what to do... I guess that's why I'm training for ministry.

  19. I couldn't agree more, Nathan!

  20. Well, this is a good little conversation...

    Thanks, Simone. No, we haven't met. One day! In the meantime, I'll continue reading.

    Anthony - that's an interesting perspective on the influence of Christianity on culture. Thank you. I had rather thought it was the opposite. Not so much the submission thing (don't think I've seen too much of that about), but the narrowly prescribed roles and responsibilities (which I would describe as conservative), which is the thing in the middle class at the moment (cause they can afford to!) - i.e. the domestic goddess lifestyle stuff, emphasis on organics ( only feed your kids steamed sweet potato till they're four and all that), the elevation of children to the status of demi-gods/goddesses, and so on. And the fierce, fierce judgement of any she who disagrees or diverges from this! What I mean to say is that these issues fiercely divide non Christian women, and I was a bit surprised to see that it is the same in the Church... Wouldn't unity be a fine thing!??

    Nathan - I just resisted the temptation to use an emoticon here... I find the male presence on this blog heartening, actually. I am sure you are all cage-fighting alphas, but you come across as thoughtful and considered. You might wanna fix that!

    Joanna - I am so interested in what you've written here. Do you have any links, resources, blogs on ministries to second/third world women? I had a look at the CBE conference website and can't see anything on this issue. I would like to get involved.


  21. Hi Anon (wanna tell us your name?),

    Thanks, I'm really glad you want to find out more. Check out the new TEAR Australia project, Lydia's List -
    If you go to the 'Learn' section it has a number of relevant articles, and the project as a whole recognises the role that women play in the wellbeing of communities.
    Other relevant sites:

    Hope that's useful!

  22. Thanks for that!

    Sorry, I know the anon thing is annoying and a bit rude, but I have good reason. Not anyone important or interesting...


  23. Here is something recent from Mike Bird: