I've just read Shirley Taylor's newest book, Women Equal – No Buts: Powered By the Same Source. I spoke to Jocelyn Andersen a few days ago who said the book would be ready in about a week. I was thrilled to find it several days early! We talked about Shirley, and we spoke about how God has put fire in her belly for the cause of equality for women within the church. I'm humbled by her witness and her perseverance for this cause, and No Equal Buts is yet another passionate effort to advance true, functional equality for women within Christianity. Unlike Dethroning Male Headship (her previous book published by One Way Press), this new work demonstrates how some of the male headship doctrines “flesh out” in real life. (I don't use the term “flesh” as a pun, for that is exactly what much of complementarianism really is.)
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “complementarianism” refers to the Fundamentalist/Evangelical worldview that claims that women are ontologically and therefore functionally subordinate to men. To support their position, they claim that Jesus was subordinate in power and authority to God the Father, and that marriage is analogous to their version of the Trinity. (Many argue, along with me, that this constitutes a false teaching which ultimately leads to the abuse of women.) Rather than viewing the rules of gender conduct for Christians as an intramural debate or as a peripheral doctrine, the evangelists for this theology create a false dichotomy, claiming that those who reject their gender paradigm and concepts of the Trinity are worshiping a false God. In addition to prescribed gender roles and limitations for women within the home, though many individuals observe different versions of these roles, all believe that the Bible clearly teaches that women cannot be ordained and may not preach.
Complementarianism makes the claim that women are “equal but different.” Shirley demonstrates in many ways that though the theology is billed and promoted as compassionate and kind, it is anything but. Evangelists for it may attempt sophistry to slap a nice sounding disclaimer on the cover, but nearly everything that the doctrines communicate show otherwise. In her honest and what I think of as a brass tacks style, Shirley provides example after example of how the ideology falls short of the heart and soul of Christianity. It makes an idol out of men by arguing that they are basically intermediary priests for women under their “covering.” I was thrilled to see that Shirley included a reference to my own experience of shock and horror at a Baptist seminary where young students there argued with me that they would give an account before God for (would atone for) the sins of their wives.
In addition to preaching on the subjects of 1 Peter 3 and 1 Timothy 2, Shirley also includes a very moving discourses about how the Advent and the Passion of Easter convey a message of freedom and liberty to Christian women. She's also included some catchy subtitles and chapters that I especially enjoyed:
- Playing Gotcha with the Scriptures
- What Pastors will not Tell their Wives
- The Bible is not a Marriage Manual
- Churches Play Games to Get What they Want
- [Should Women] Look for the Christ Child or a Husband?
- Tears of the Trinity (An analogy and prayer at the close of the book that I absolutely loved.)
Scapegoating, Dehumanization, and Demonizing in Complementarianism
I often talk about how women are denigrated through this theology, and I refer to these processes as such. Shirley doesn't use these terms in this way, but she points them out through her own style of down to earth discussion. I wanted to point out these specific elements in her book.
Scapegoating refers to the Yom Kippur ritual in the Old Testament. Each family took two goats and offered them as a covering for their sins for the year, showing repentance and seeking forgiveness. One was taken to the tabernacle, but another one was sent out into the wilderness, essentially to pay the Devil for those sins, too. The head of household would place his hands on the head of the goats, and he would transfer those sins onto the goat. Hence, we have the term “scapegoat.” Though Christians believe that Jesus atoned once and for all for all sin for all time, Shirley points out over and over how this theology continues to hold women accountable for original sin. Complementarian men are still very sore about it. All would be well if it were not for fallible, hapless, less than women.
She tells of how women and people in the third world missions field are lesser souls in this paradigm. A woman can preach or to foreigners who are both male and female, but in the US, this is forbidden (an occurrence within the General Baptist Convention of Texas). In this example, both women and those who are on the mission field are deemed to be anything but equal to men.
Blame and guilt demand punishment and penance, and women must not only be blamed, but they are dehumanized in this process – one that facilitates abuse, another topic that Shirley addresses in the book. One such example includes “Eve Teasing,” a tradition in Pakistan that gives men liberty to do whatever they want to women because they deserve it. They are to blame because of the Fall of Man, contrary to what Scripture teaches. Shirley talks about the equivalent Eve Teasing in the church. This is written into the theology through a distortion of the meaning of Genesis 3:16, a passage that Shirley argues as a woman's desire to be intimate with her husband, despite the pain of childbirth that will result. [Complementarianism states that this affirms and strengthens their concept of Eve's subordination through ontology (essence) and primogeniture (order of creation).]
One of the sequelae of dehumanization is what is often referred to as “kick the dog” syndrome, and it results in the treatment of people as mere objects (objectification). When a person is no longer equal to you or is subordinate to you within a hierarchy, there is a tendency to treat them differently in accordance to their worth. This lower place on the chain of command of authority often makes it much easier to abuse subordinates. Not only are there fewer consequences for mistreatment of subordinates, there's an implication that the person is not worthy of better or equal treatment. When this is combined with scapegoating and demonization, punishment for perceived wrongdoing becomes quite easy and may be seen to be a just consequence.
Complementarianism goes further than scapegoating, however, and demonizes women. I will not include the full and extended quote here, but she cites John MacArthur: “They (women) are delivered from being thought of as permanently weak and deceivable and subordinate.” This deliverance from the stigma of their sin doesn't come through the Cross of Christ, but according to MacArthur, it comes through having babies. Shirley asks, if women are delivered from these conditions, why is this all that we hear from him and the other evangelists of this view? She also explores this demonization under a subheading entitled “Christians Tag Women as Witches.”
I was also struck by two different references to Mary Kassian at two different places in the book. One was a quote from her presentation at the 2012 True Woman conference. Kassian states that “[T]he men in our culture are failing. . . [W]e have the capacity to be influencers, to either breathe life into our men or to kill them. And woe to us for quention the life out of our men.” It reminded me of a very similar statement in the Visionary Daughters' book, So Much More. It seems to me like a grasping of power, something that complementarian women seek to seize because the are required to feign so much powerlessness. But this statement is not Biblical, from what I can tell. It is the Spirit Who breathes life into us, and this sounds like human striving to me. That concept troubles me. It seems far beyond just a deriving of shared, vicarious satisfaction through the success of one's spouse.
Later in the book, Shirley makes reference to her example of how women are kept within the confines, the ones that Mary Kassian says are really a gift of freedom to women. In a reply to a disgruntled reader of her blog who claimed that she enjoyed feeling respected for fulfilling her gender roles, [Shirley] states, “Honey, as long as you stay in your pen, you will be respected. Get out, and the dogs start barking.” I heard this from her at the Seneca Falls II Convention in 2010, and I chuckled to see its inclusion in the book.
Compared to Shirley, I am more like Switzerland when it comes to the subject of women preachers. I personally don't care whether women seek ordination or if they preach. I base this upon the exegesis of Paul's writings to Timothy from the original Greek, taking into consideration the grammar there. The same is true of Paul's advanced, college level standard of language and my respect for just how complicated translation can be from the dead language. I don't believe that any of these Scriptures are prohibitory, but in some sense, I respect that some Believers interpret them to convey that women should not preach. That argument can be made, and because men are mentioned specifically in the office of minister (women are not), I consider it to be a bit more robust. That is a world away from prohibition of women preaching or sharing the Gospel. Shirley challenges the reader to take the risk in light of the billions of people on the earth that have never heard the Gospel. Should we not risk allowing women to preach and teach?
I was very happy to see Shirley point out the example of my favorite hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. I love her hymns, and I love the story of her life and her testimony. I'm challenged by it. It is ironic, however, that countless churches full of complementarians often sing the hymns that Fanny wrote, but they don't consider her to be a preacher. I used to sing a lot of solos in church, and I would never sing something that I didn't feel in my bones. I felt dishonest if I didn't strongly identify with the song, and I only sang music that convicted me or was very honest for me to convey. I always considered it a high level of preaching (perhaps the highest), depending on the song. Yet, I cannot count the numbers of TV shows of Baptist and Presbyterian church services that feature a female solo singer before the sermon. Shirley points out this inconsistency.
It is also ironic to me that women, along with men, are called to study the Word of God to write it on the table of their hearts, but women are not supposed to understand what it means. And if men misuse the Word, we're supposed to look past it and keep our mouths shut. Submission to our male covering trumps everything else.
And as you will note throughout this post, I've pulled out many of Shirley's challenges to the reader. Rarely does she write anything that does not culminate in a plea for readers to advocate for fully realized freedom for women or to challenge their churches to do so.
What does all this have to do with the Nye/Ham debate?
Several times, Shirley makes some statements that I would not have made, or I would have phrased them differently. She sometimes makes statements that struck me as too bold for me, such as “Nowhere in the Bible are women said to be homemakers.” In context, I understand that men are also called to build and make the home, and women are not relegated to a calling of domestic work only. (As I once pointed out many years ago, even Orthodox Judaism allows women to work outside the home if the household is well managed. Actually, many of the posts in that blog series address the same issues in No Equal Buts and may be of interest to those who are interested in the book.) But I would not say so strongly that the Bible does not teach this, but rather that other people have different interpretations of what the Bible means. It's an issue of semantics in context. But note that Shirley also addresses this problem with what Andersen calls “gender biased English translation theology.”
Curiously enough, I read the book just after watching Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye regarding evolution and intelligent design creationism. (I thought that Ken did a fine job, though I believe that most people walk away from such things with the same opinions that they had going in.) The true issue being debated was really not one about facts of science, but sharing Ken's belief system and many of his specific ideas, it is one of how to interpret those facts. Just as the spectator watches such debates with presuppositions about belief, each perspective requires faith. (My accomplished scientist husband always says that the evolutionist needs much more faith than does the creationist.) Both men agree on the same evidence, but their presuppositions about whether or not there is a creative God who ordered what exists shapes their conclusions.
With that so fresh in my mind, I appreciated on a deeper level just how complementarianism becomes a total worldview that is uniquely and profoundly different from what I'll call “non-complementarianism.” Like Ken and Bill agreed on the facts in nature, both "comps" and "non-comps" look to the same Biblical evidence to support their views, but those views are interpreted in very different ways. The advocates for the view have dominated the discussion by demanding that a person be “egaliatarian” if they are not “comps.” I reject this idea because I don't believe that their paradigm is sound. But that said, the theology demands what I believe is an entirely different interpretation of what it means to be a Christian, affecting nearly every area of a Christians life – particularly if she is a woman. I realized this on a new level, particularly on the heels of Ham's statements. I believe that zealous (secular) evolutionists and zealous complementarians have much in common. They are often both intolerant of any alternate belief, they can be condescending to or angry with those who do not share their beliefs, and they are not just beliefs. They are worldviews unto themselves.
Bill Nye/Ken Ham addendum: Read more answers to Nye's specific questions to Ham HERE.
It should be obvious that I enjoyed the book, and as Jocelyn Andersen described it, “it is powerful” in it's honesty. I hope that you will read and enjoy the book, released directly to Kindle. (Kindle software can be downloaded for free for reading on your PC, or you can read it in the Amazon cloud if you don't have a digital reader). I challenge the reader here to “risk it”!
Visit Shirley at her blog, bWe Baptist Women for Equality.
You can also follow her at the bWe website,
good for following her book signings
and for tracking reviews of both of her books.