Last week, I approached a wide variety of people, asking them if they would sign the petition demanding an apology for the harm suffered by so many people directly because of the teachings of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) through complementarianism. Though I should have learned the skill by now, I continue to be surprised by the responses that I hear from different people.
(For more information, you can read my introductory post HERE, though the Associated Baptist Press also published a very well written overview earlier this week.)
The False Dichotomy of the Gender Agenda
1. Several egalitarian friends have said that they are reluctant or won't sign because they would prefer if the petition were expressly egalitarian. I take that to mean that the people who fall into this category wish that it were primarily a document that strongly defends women in ministry and governance roles.
2. Then, there are people who pass for soft complementarians who believe that the petition sounds just too egalitarian to promote. (I hope that many who said that they couldn't promote it went ahead and signed it, opting to keep their name and location from displaying on the Change.org website. Don't tell them that I said so.)
I believe that these responses demonstrate the inaccuracies of their paradigm (and worldview) of concerning gender. There are many aspects to gender that don't fit neatly onto the continuum that CBMW has created. They've oversimplified the wide variety and dimension of belief concerning this issue, forcing everyone on to a single line. Of all of the informal logical fallacies that the group makes, the most primary ones are oversimplification and black and white thinking.
The Danvers Statement (CBMW's statement of core belief, particularly Affirmation 4) reduces dynamic human beings of depth and character into superficial, flat caricatures who follow prescribed roles. Combining this with a penchant for superstitious catastrophizing and spiritualizing mundane elements of life into some apocalyptic and millennial drama creates the perfect milieu for paranoia.
This perspective on life creates and maintains a culture of fear, and fearful, naïve people react readily to the undue influence used to blackmail them. If you are not a worthy supplicant, you automatically the worst example of error. If you're clearly not a blatant example of their strawman, then you are surely on the slippery slope to become one. Then, their solution to the tragic, immediate and terrifying problem – the panacea of the patriarchal family – becomes irresistible and divine.
Over the Line, Branching out to the Graph
I would like to suggest that rather than a black and white continuum between secular liberal feminism and staunchly restrictive complementarianism that CBMW has crafted, I believe that at the very least, a Christian's stance on gender can be more properly described using a graph. Instead of conflating the variables of what I will call “women in ministry” and “submission,” they should be separated out and addressed as separate issues. This will allow many variations of color, shade, and hue as opposed to the black and white thinking that deems any grey as sinful compromise.
Some aspiring young graduate student should create a tool and determine the individual elements of these issues and get some good research going to test my hypothesis. Consider issues concerning “submission” as a horizontal continuum on the X axis, and “women in ministry” matters as a continuum on the Y axis.
Anarchy without restriction would fall in the left upper corner of the graph. I would then put hard complementarianism with Paige Patterson's advice to wives take a beating and Piper's expectation that a wife should endure at least a beating or two before seeking help in the right lower corner. I have called that most extreme position in this quadrant totalitarianism.
These positions are the extreme strawmen dwell, and it is they who should be marked and avoided. A complex array of diversity spreads out from from these opposing points held in diametrical tension. Few if any people fit those polar extremes.
If we can break away from the oversimplified paradigm outlined by CBMW, we can begin to cooperate and collaborate. We will understand one another better. The Christian who dutifully submits to abuse and believes that governance and ministry are withheld from women in one quadrant can find more common grace for those in the quadrant who have disdain for servility but don't believe that women should be senior pastors based on their understanding of scripture. By resisting the demand for rigid through liberty conformity, the whole Body of Christ can take a more fruitful step towards the unity in diversity that we lack. By tolerating gender beliefs as a more complex intramural matter, we can take some fruitful steps in the right direction.
I assert that if we do not fall into that right lower quadrant where totalitarianism defines the extreme, we are not complementarian at all. It appears that in this model, we're likely missing 50% of Christians. (Note the red circles with the blue question marks.)
When I was approached to participate in the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition (FreeCWC) in 2010, I was very happy to oblige, for it aspired to provide a place of community and respect for all women regardless of their positions and beliefs concerning gender. I often quote Dr. Walter Martin's statement that a Believer needs to bear two kinds of fruit in their lives: the fruit of the life lived as well as the doctrine taught.
The FreeCWC created a place of grace and acceptance for all to come together in a starting place to stem the tide of abuse and the problematic seeds of idealism that has fostered so much heartache. It was and remains a starting place. The FreeCWC seeks to encourage all Christian women to embrace "functional equality" -- to be everything that God calls each woman to be. (That concept leaves plenty of room for diversity among beliefs about gender.)
Sign and Support the Petition in the Name of Christian Liberty and Charity
Yesterday, I was witness to the show of grace and liberty when Dr. Mimi Haddad, the President of Christians for Biblical Equality International (CBE), signed the's FreeCWC's petition. Please take note of her reasons for signing (with the addition of paragraph separation for the ease of reading).
From taking my chair as president of Christians for Biblical Equality, I have heard from females who have been beaten, raped, humiliated, marginalized and demeaned by leaders who believe Scripture subordinates females.
Ideas have Consequences! Theological ideas—speaking on behalf of God—as a pastor, educator or one privileged by theological training, is a position of enormous responsibility, according to Scripture. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly,” James 3:1.
I do not presume to judge the motives of CBMW, but I do call on them to acknowledge their errors, roundly challenged by the academic and theological community, globally. Thank you Shirley! May your holy protest and godly boldness bring challenge, reconciliation and repair to the body of Christ. Mimi Haddad, Ph.D.
Dr. Haddad has called out for liberty to be shown amongst all Believers, not for the sake of academic debate (or to advance intramural views), but for the ultimate purpose of reconciliation and repair of the Body of Christ.
While I am honored that she has supported the petition as the President of CBE, I'm that much more excited to see her challenge all Believers to contend for the liberty that all in the Body are due. She has reached out in love to offer liberty to everyone in every quadrant on the graph.
This is not a battle of contention over who is right or wrong about gender beliefs. This is a call for the reckoning of problematic beliefs and the bad fruit that those beliefs have produced widely throughout the Body.
I hope and pray for all Believers who read this to consider following Mimi's example. Can we set aside our differences to reach out to the bruised and broken?
I challenge you, the reader, to take the choke chain of the oversimplified model of “comp v. egal” off of your neck. Instead, may you broaden the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, and do not hold back. Lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. Stand in the gap for the wounded, in the love from which liberty flows by signing the petition. It is meant as a first step in the right direction – a stepping stone to meet in the stream of liberty. I don't believe that we can afford to stand idly by any longer.
For more information and documentation concerning CBMW's complementarian view, review the embedded links, visit CBMW (starting with their Danvers Statement position on gender), and download Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
For more information and documentation concerning the criticisms of CBMW, just start googling if you cannot find information on this blog or through recommended links (particularly those dealing with domestic abuse and women in ministry). I recommend the following books as introductory ones that will help the reader understand the teachings pertaining to the issues that most concern me personally.
- Woman this is War: Gender, Slavery and the Evangelical Caste System (Jocelyn Andersen *blog)
- A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church (Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood *blog)