Krish Kandiah has blogged about 'Women, Men, Church and Twitter' over at his blog here. I've added my thoughts, but rather than clog up the comments I'd thought I'd expand on them here. Krish says:
'My hope is that we can build a centre ground coalition that champions the centrality of the gospel, the authority of scripture and a gracious respect and honouring of women and the recognition of the need for a hermeneutic of humility when it comes to the scriptures and a spirit of generosity when it comes to those we disagree with. I want to start a peace process – not just that we agree to disagree but that we find a way through an issue that is splitting the church right down the middle…'
I think the motivation to keep people talking about the issue, and to find a way of working together and respecting each other in spite of our differences is really good. But my question about a ‘centre-ground coalition’ is what happens in that space and who gets to decide? It is one thing to be generous and respectful about the difference in our beliefs about men and women; it is another thing to be generous about our practice.
I am not keen on labels and I agree that there is a range of views under each of the words ‘complementarian’ and ‘egalitarian’, but I’ll use them for shorthand. My concern is that the ‘centre-ground’ for shared worship and mission will end up being complementarian by default, not a place that genuinely accepts the beliefs and practices of all sides of the conversation.
Let me explain. If you are a complementarian man or woman in an egalitarian space, then you might feel uncomfortable when you hear a woman preach or see her lead, but your practice – the way you are obedient to what you believe God is calling you to – does not need to change.
If you are an egalitarian man in a complementarian space, then again you may feel uncomfortable that women aren’t allowed to lead or preach, but your practice does not need to change. You can lead, preach, teach and innovate to your heart’s content. You’ll be listened to and welcomed round the table, wherever that table might be.
But if you are an egalitarian woman in a complementarian space, then your practice is restricted. A friend worked for an evangelical organisation in a leadership role and would often go to churches to talk about the work of that organisation. She says, ‘I have been asked countless times not to speak from the bible when I have been invited to a church to speak about the work of my organisation. I have also witnessed many evangelicals leave services if a woman is speaking, go to sleep or voice extreme anger.’ So egalitarian women may be allowed to preach, teach and lead but only to a restricted audience or with certain conditions in place, such as having a man in authority over us; our obedience to God is only permitted if it is qualified in some way by others even though that’s something that we believe is not required. In other complementarian settings, we may not be allowed to do any of those things - to preach, lead or teach – regardless of our beliefs or the work that we do. Our full sense of calling and identity as a woman in leadership is not respected or affirmed. Many, many women I know have experienced this, and have submitted to the context in which they are invited to serve, limiting what they would normally do to fit with what that context requires. And many women have felt belittled, undermined and dismissed as a result.
Now I trust that we will carry on being generous, looking for ways to work with others, submitting to the requirements of the contexts in which we find ourselves in order to further the kingdom. I hope we’ll deal with those feelings of being second-class so that we don’t let them get in the way of our obedience to God.
But is that generosity reciprocated? Are complementarian churches or organisations in the habit of saying ‘we don’t normally have female preachers or teachers, but we recognise that you’re exercising that gift in your context and your church or organisation affirms your leadership so we’ll invite you to speak to us’?
Are complementarian organisations forming partnerships with others in the habit of saying, ‘we don’t normally have women in decision-making roles, but we recognise that you do so we’ll make sure that women are included in leadership’?
If it’s really an issue on which we can agree to differ, isn’t that something that should be happening, as well as egalitarian women being willing to change their practice? I’m asking the questions because that’s not my experience, but perhaps you know situations where this has happened.
If we’re going to have a ‘centre-ground coalition’ it needs to be a place that genuinely accepts the beliefs and practices of all sides of the conversation, not one that is complementarian by default.