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Challenging theology and sexism October 23, 2017

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.

CharliesangelsThere are certain areas in which Christians often agree to differ. This includes whether women should be police officers and whether they should be pastors.

A few months ago I traced the theme of Gender and mission through the history of the Lausanne movement who (now) say much in support of women but in 2010 also stated.

” We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men.”

Lausanne Movement, Capetown Commitment, 2010

But agreeing to differ shouldn’t mean that we agree not to talk about that which divides us. I believe it is okay to say: “I don’t doubt your salvation; I don’t question your integrity; but I do question your theology.”

Questioning is important. It is easy to reject the view of another person or church without taking the time to ask how they came to believe what they believe. It’s also easy to stand by our own opinions and conclusions without recognizing that our own journey has shaped us and that honest questioning of others may include some reflection.

If we grew up is Christian households it can be easy to assume that if society around us is changing and challenging our ‘traditional views’ then it is society that has got it wrong without questioning how and in what climate our ‘traditional views’ were formed. Our theology is often shaped by those around us as much as it is by the Bible. Most of us bring our own culture and presuppositions with us to scripture and to any discussion about a contentious issue.
CharliesangelsI was brought up in the 1970’s when institutional sexism was still rife but when enough people were challenging male domination for me to have picked up the message that men and woman were equal – or at least supposed to be, in many areas.

TV shows such as Charlies Angel’s, showed women taking on traditionally male roles and battling sexism, often while wearing bikini’s to appeal to male viewers, and in the UK we appointed a female prime minister, and then made fun of her in ways that made her appear more many than some of her cabinet. (Brits over 40 may recall the cruel satire of Spitting Image).

Others may recall other examples showing that we hadn’t quite got the hang of equality in the 1970’s and 80’s, or even today.

UK Evangelicals proposed a boycott of The Sun newspaper because after 40 years of featuring topless models, the newspaper was reported to have decided not to, but then appeared to change it’s mind.

In 2017, with a woman back in charge of the country the press couldn’t quite decide whether they would have given a male leader such a hard time for making a speech when she was losing her voice.

In 1990 when I was being asked to report to a female manager I was asked whether I was okay with that. The same happened the next year when I worked on a church team with a female leader. She asked the vicar whether or not it was okay to where jeans in the church, he replied, “That’s fine, as long as you wear a hat.” – it took a brief moment for her to realise he was joking.

That church did have a female deacon and only a couple of years later the Church of England voted to allow women to be ordained as priests. (this wikipedia article on the ordination of women in the Anglican communion charts some of the history of ordination in other parts of that church).

Other churches continue to wrestle with the issue of the place of women in the church, in the home and in society.

In 2015 John Piper answered the question “should women be police officers?” . He didn’t want to tell the young woman who answered the question what she should do but made it clear that that in his view  “there are some roles in society that will strain godly manhood and womanhood to the breaking point” and that for people considering such questions, “the key is: Do they deeply want to shape their whole lives by Scripture?”

Krish Kandiah is one of those who took him to task in the Christianity Today Article “Five reasons I don’t want John Piper giving my daughter career advice

Piper is in part responding to what he sees as abuses of radical feminism, that have lead him and Systematic Theologian Wayne Grudem to take a very hard line stance on the differences of men and women, believing that scripture not only supports but demands a complementarian understanding.

Others read scripture with different eyes. They have seen the abuses of power by men, and the obvious gifting of many women.  Within the scriptures they see an egalitarian understanding of the sexes.

Meanwhile there is also a climate that wants to not only break down stereotypes but also challenge the very idea of gender as a simple binary issue of male and female.

How many genders are there in 2017? That’s another question, but be sure there will be many different ideas inside the church as well as out.

Recent headlines have been dealing with a certain film producer and predator who was able to get away with abusive behaviour for decades because of the culture in which he lived and of the huge power difference between himself and the women he sought to dominate. I doubt he troubled himself too much with theological discussion but was immersed in a culture which is now recognising it’s own failure as well as his.

Harvey Weinstein and the women who have shared their stories have prompted the #MeToo hashtag and now an opportunity for men to acknowledge where they have been either inappropriate or criminally abusive using the tag #IDidThat .

Abuse in many forms remains prevalent and is often about differences in power. This is not just restricted to differences in gender and is certainly not as simple as arguments over the roles of men and women.
The Lausanne paper continued.

We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:

  1. Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another;[97]
  2. Study Scripture carefully together, with due regard for the context and culture of the original authors and contemporary readers;
  3. Recognize that where there is genuine pain we must show compassion; where there is injustice and lack of integrity we must stand against them; and where there is resistance to the manifest work of the Holy Spirit in any sister or brother we must repent;
  4. Commit ourselves to a pattern of ministry, male and female, that reflects the servanthood of Jesus Christ, not worldly striving for power and status.

C) We encourage churches to acknowledge godly women who teach and model what is good, as Paul commanded,[98] and to open wider doors of opportunity for women in education, service, and leadership, particularly in contexts where the gospel challenges unjust cultural traditions. We long that women should not be hindered from exercising God’s gifts or following God’s call on their lives.
Lausanne Movement, Capetown Commitment, 2010

I encourage you to dig deeper into the discussions of the Lausanne Movement and of other missiological and theological repositories at the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches.

My own summary of Gender in the church and the world through a Lausanne lens is also available , but of course I may have applied my own cultural and theological bias.







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