The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?. If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series. Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.
Ch. 10- Does a Pastor’s Authority Trump Scripture?: Some evangelical feminists say that women can teach if they are “under the authority” of the pastor or elders
Well, hooray! It looks like Grudem and I have once again found a couple things to agree on—in both ch. 10 and 11! Grudem’s complaint here is that some Christians say that a man does need to be in the official church positions of authority, but as the authority figure he can then allow a woman to preach and teach and whatever else that is normally reserved for a man. This is an easy way for some to have all the comfort of their traditional views with all the practical benefits of allowing qualified women to teach. Grudem considers this inconsistent practice, as do I. Unlike Grudem, I would be glad that women were getting any airtime to begin with… but ultimately, this set-up leaves me unsatisfied. In fact, in some ways it is really insulting to women—it strikes me as rather patronizing for a woman to always need to be under a man’s authority and seeking a man’s approval. (Of course, as Grudem notes, anyone teaching in a church is in some way under the authority of the church’s leaders. If we had true equality, however, we would talk about everyone being accountable to church leadership, rather emphasizing women being under men’s authority.)
I find this a very wussy attempt to include women in the church, and Grudem finds it a wussy attempt to live out complementarian values. And really that’s what it is: Grudem admits that “many who take this view say they genuinely want to uphold male leadership in the church,” and “this is not a commonly held view among the main egalitarian authors or those who support Christians for Biblical Equality, for example” (103). It’s funny to me, then, that the chapter title still presents this as something “evangelical feminists” say. Regardless of what label they ultimately deserve, I see these churches as trying to move forward in a positive direction but just not quite getting it right. From this point the church can continue to emphasize male authority or women’s gifts, and it’s sort of unpredictable which path they’ll be on twenty years down the road.
Ch. 11- Teaching in the Parachurch?: Some evangelical feminists evade New Testament commands by saying, “We are not a church”
As I already mentioned, I also liked some of what Grudem had to say in this chapter. He says that while not all parachurch organizations perform all functions of the local church, when parachurch organizations do perform these functions, they should have the same standards as the local church. Hence, it doesn’t make much sense to say women can teach in parachurch settings if they can’t teach in church settings. I appreciate this because I wish more parachurch organizations were not so wussy in their support of women. (An apparent theme of this post: wussiness.)
For example, InterVarsity, which I love, is very pro-women-in-ministry in many ways. InterVarsity Press publishes many egalitarian books (something Grudem has complained about in multiple chapters already), Urbana uses the TNIV and allows Christians for Biblical Equality to give seminars, and InterVarsity uses women to teach mixed-gender groups and has women at all levels of leadership. I’ve even heard of a regional leader who tells potential staff that if they aren’t egalitarian they probably won’t enjoy working for IVCF—and hence, while not a technical hiring requirement, complementarian would-be-staff in that region tend to go in other directions (church work, Campus Crusade, etc.).
The thing I appreciate about InterVarsity’s not taking an even more official, more public stand on this issue is that students of various sorts are able to be in fellowship with each other. Since some of those students wouldn’t have joined an explicitly egalitarian fellowship, InterVarsity’s quietness avoids scaring them off, even though I think ultimately many students find themselves moving in more moderate directions as a result of the teaching they receive from IV staff. It’s also nice, I know, to not have to alienate the complementarian students and staff already involved in InterVarsity. And of course, if InterVarsity got too “liberal” a reputation, they would lose some donors—it’s unfortunate that must be a consideration, but funding is a very practical necessity. The downside, of course, is that things end up more variable on the ground (since no one has made gender equality the priority for the whole organization the way multiethnicity, evangelicalism, or inductive Bible study have been), despite the direction of the national organization. And that women never feel InterVarsity’s full support. At least, that is how I felt as a student—like InterVarsity was generally very supportive of me as a woman but too chicken to stand beside me if someone pushed them to declare their views.
All that to say, like Grudem, I think it’s inconsistent to support women in the parachurch while holding onto traditional views—or trying to avoid picking a stance—in the church. I understand that there is a tension for some parachurch organizations, and that for many of them it might be advantageous to adopt a more gradual approach to this issue. Maybe if they move in a certain direction without taking a stand, they can ultimately influence more people in an egalitarian direction? That’s my hope for other groups, too, like the Synergy Women’s Network led by Carolyn Curtis James—a wonderful supporter of women… who, unfortunately, won’t take an official stand on this issue.
Still, I feel unsatisfied. If we’re all moving towards the same goal, I will try my hardest to be patient, I promise. But sometimes I wonder if we’re even still moving at all. Just as I was writing this post, I was struck by a parallel: gradual abolition vs. immediate abolition. I think I often feel conflicted over whether I can accept the gradual move towards egalitarianism that I see in certain parachurch organizations or if we need to call more loudly for immediate and total change. I would rather accept gradual movement than scare parachurch organizations away from this issue entirely. If that’s all they’re willing to do right now, I will try to make peace with that. But a gradual approach is not really what I want or what feels right—and I fear that without more intentionality and boldness we will never “arrive.”
Continue with this series–read about ch. 12!