My One and Only Post on the Recent Hoopla Regarding #BiblicalWomanhood

One of the interesting things I have been following in the reviews and discussions of Rachel Held Evans’ new book, salve besides the almost tribalistic battlelines (complementarians don’t like it; egalitarians do), viagra is the common complaint from complementarian reviewers that RHE creates a strawman. “It’s not what we teach!” is the common phrase.
To these bloggers, malady pastors and complementarian celebrities I will trust you when you say that you don’t teach a rigid understanding of biblical womanhood. But, my question is this: even though you may not teach/believe it, is it being taught at the lay levels of your churches?

It’s prevalent in your women’s bible studies, in your mom’s and babies groups, in your college and career women’s socials. There are older women in your churches who are mentoring the younger women (Titus 2) and are giving them copies of Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Help Meet. They are teaching the young single women that the only way that they will find fulfillment is if they get married and have babies. They are holding up Proverbs 31 as a rule rather than as a testimony.

Pastors, sometimes you encourage this through not through direct preaching but through actions. If a young woman approaches you after service and asks how she can service the congregation do you, without even considering her gifts and talents, automatically point her towards the nursery and children’s Sunday school?

Bloggers, in your polemics against all things egalitarian, do you for a moment stop and consider that the women with whom you disagree are your sisters in Christ?

Celebrities, do you actively and respectfully engage with the arguments of the other side, or do you yourselves set up straw men (women) arguments to knock down, because it brings in the web hits and the book deals?

I’ve been a Christian for 17 years now. I became a Christian at the age of 16. I have wrestled with the question “what does it mean to be a biblical woman” for all of those 17 years. And while I am probably (definitely) more theologically conservative than Rachel Held Evans, she does have a real point to make.

For 17 years I have struggled through the minefield of messages and advice, trying to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. And yet, I have also learned that much of the “advice” that is given out by well-meaning lay leaders in the church is loaded with spiritual guilt and peer pressure. Not only is there a desire to be a faithful servant, but there is a social need to fit in. And when those pressures are combined with “biblical” wisdom, it becomes a power cocktail of stress and anxiety, one that leads to a salvation by works rather than a salvation by faith, as women try their best to live up to the expectations.

Here are just a few of the pieces of advice I have heard over the years by well-meaning older women eager to guide and mentor the younger generation of women, from a variety of congregations:

A woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother.

If you don’t invest 100% of yourself in your kids every single day, you are failing to show Christ to your kids.

If your kids walk away from the faith, it means that you weren’t obedient in your calling to disciple them.

If you work outside the home you bring spiritual unrest to the whole family, most importantly to your husband. Having a career demonstrates that you are selfish and have an unteachable spirit.

A woman should never have more education (especially theological education) than her husband, because it means that she is unwilling to submit to his authority.

College education is a waste of time since a mother doesn’t need a college degree to raise babies.

If more women would give up their careers and take their rightful place in the home then stress and worries of life would disappear, all their problems would be solved and they would live happily ever after.

Women’s bible studies don’t need to be deep and theological because women aren’t deep and theological.

Having sex is the ultimate act of wifely submission because women weren’t created to like sex; women have sex to show love to their husbands.

Men were born not knowing how to love; women were not born knowing how to submit. They have to learn it.

Make sure you greet your husband at the door with a kiss every evening, because he’s had a hard day at work.
Likewise, make sure that the house is tidy and the kids are quiet, because husbands don’t like coming home to chaos.

Indoor housework must be done by the woman; outdoor housework must be done by the man.

Post-partum depression is a sign that you are fighting your God-given call to motherhood.

These things were never preached directly from the pulpit. But they were a part of the mentorship and discipleship of several churches that I have been a part of. And what’s worse, is that when these things are wrapped in biblical proof-texts and “words from the Lord” there is no opportunity to think through, question or evaluate the claims. They are Gospel. They are Biblical. To question these nuggets of wisdom is to question the Bible or worse, God himself. And we are not called to question but to faithfully obey. And so while the spokespeople, the pastors, bloggers and celebrities may say that “this is not what we teach” please take care to realize that there are lay leaders and lay ministries directly under your authority and using your resources that are in fact teaching the very things that Rachel Held Evans is addressing.

TGC’s Reason that it is Complementarian

The Gospel Coalition has posted a video of a panel discussion between D.A. Carson, capsule John Piper and Tim Keller on why TGC has chosen to include complementarianism in it’s doctrinal statement and vision for ministry.

A few things to highlight and comment on, sovaldi sale though I encourage you to watch the video yourself.

First, for sale John Piper says that the reason TGC is complementarian is three-fold:
1. Because TGC wants to protect and put safeguards around the Gospel
2. Because TGC wants to display the Gospel
3. Because TGC wants to release the Gospel for maximum human flourishing

Does a complementarian distinction protect the Gospel from heresy the way that the Creeds and Confessions of the Early Church did? Is complementarianism really on the same level as Christological and Trinitarian statements? Can we really safeguard the Gospel? The Gospel is dangerous and powerful and upends societies. It breaks chains and restores dignity. It provides hope for the downtrodden and it humbles the arrogant. How does a complementarian statement protect this bold Gospel? Is it even our job to “release the Gospel for maximum human flourishing?” Yes we are called to preach the Gospel, to live the Gospel, to participate in sharing the Gospel, but I would argue that “releasing the Gospel for maximum human flourishing” is primarily the job of the Holy Spirit.

Piper and Carson both allude to the “slippery slope” that is egalitarianism; that if you embrace egalitarianism you will begin to compromise or accomodate on other doctrines and ethics. Piper seems to blame egalitarianism for the current “badness” that is in our culture, everything from absentee fathers to the brutality of men. Is the brutality of men really due to the shift to an egalitarian culture? Right from Cain and Abel we have men practicing violence. And if he means brutality not in general but brutality to women, the Old Testament culture which was definitely not egalitarian had its share of brutality against women. And does not the “slippery slope” also work the other way? Is it not possible for complementarianism to lead to radical patriarchy?

Carson says that egalitarians are domesticating the word, rather than trembling at the word. To this I say, it is precisely because I tremble at the word that I cannot simply proof-text a verse and say that the plain meaning is clear. My trembling at the word leads me to study and to pray and to worship and to wrestle with it. When I come to 1 Timothy, my best answer is “I don’t know.” I can’t dismiss it, but I also can’t whole-heartedly ignore the cultural specificity of the instruction and say that it is 100% a timeless instruction. And as for Ephesians 5, I wish egalitarians and complementarians would spend more time not on the “submission” text of v. 22, but on Paul’s declaration in v.32 that it is a “profound mystery.”

Piper gives the example of a group of Christians, say a university fellowship, deciding it is time to have a woman preach because it is “fair” even though there are people in the group who believe it to be wrong, is an act of disobedience. Piper concludes that it just doesn’t work to have a Gospel movement that is both egalitarian and complementarian, because egalitarianism wins by default.

Keller seems to take a more nuanced and generous approach, (which is what has been the case outside of this video as well). Keller says that how headship plays out in marriage, in different cultures and in different ecclesiologies will look different. He defines a “gospel complementarian” as a person who does not upbraid the other side (egalitarians) for their understanding of Scripture.

Why Is TGC Complementarian? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

As well, Kathleen Nielson has written a letter “To My Egalitarian Friends”.

There will probably be countless reflections hitting the blogosphere over the next couple of days. I’ve struggled through this issue for years, and I don’t know that I have more to say. What am I? The best I can say is that to egalitarians I probably appear too complementarian, and to complementarians I appear too egalitarian. No matter what I do I’ll end up offending somebody. If I preach in church I’ll offend those who don’t think it “biblical” for a woman to preach. If I don’t preach in church I’ll offend those who say that I’m enabling the silence of women. While I think it’s important to have these conversations regarding gender and theology, I am not a crusader. I don’t want to be a crusader. I want to be a humble servant. I want to worship and pray and talk to God. And if God can use any of my gifts and talents to edify the Church, then I submit to that authority.

Laundry, Dishes and Gender Roles — A Followup

Last November, salve Owen Strachan wrote a post on ‘dad-moms’: those men who take on female responsibilities like laundry, dishes and childcare. This post was then picked up by Her.meneutics where the discussion continued. Well, this month, an expanded essay on the topic appeared in The Journal For Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Two things of interest in this expanded essay. First Owen Strachan admits that complementarianism is patriarchy. He writes, “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.” It’s interesting that he says this given that most complementarians try their hardest to distinguish complementarianism from patriarchy.

Second, he says that most of the response to his post was from a ‘feminine voice.’ And yet, I was blessed by seeing how many men stood up to voice their opinion about it (particularly on twitter). But it does raise the question, is this an issue only for women? Why isn’t it an issue for men? Is it not a manly enough issue for men to discuss? Do those men who disagree with Strachan no longer qualify to be ‘men’ because they supposedly have been shaped by culture rather than Scripture? What happens if it turns out that those men who don’t have a problem with ‘dad moms’ have truly based their understanding on Scripture instead of on secular culture and still arrive at their conclusion? Does that make them ‘feminine?’

So, I encourage you to read his essay. Also read my original response, as well as an example of a ‘male’ response.

Being a Smart Consumer of the Academic Literature: Gender Differences and the Comp/Egal Debate

The CBMW blog has a post up highlighting research that supposedly agrees with the timeless truth that men and women are different. Jeff Robinson writes:

That this research and story confirms the obvious aside, cialis this represents something of a landmark admission by a secular science journal. Since the advent of feminism in the 1960s, secular academics and researchers have been hard at the task of seeking to prove that gender differences are negligible, circumstantial and not a part of design.
This research once again confirms God’s good and design: He has created men and women in His image to play equally valuable, but complementary roles. To accomplish this, it has pleased God to equip us with different gifts, different strengths and different weaknesses-all perfectly congruent with those of the opposite gender. It will be interesting to see how much play this article gets in the media and how (or if) the secular academy responds.

So what does this mean? Is Mr. Robinson being a smart consumer of the research literature, or is this an example of selecting and spinning for the purpose of upholding an agenda?

To examine this, I turn to Dr. Charles Hackney for assistance. As a psychology professor, Chuck has the huge task of teaching his students how to be smart readers and how to properly use their “B.S.ometers”. Here are some tips on how to critically evaluate the research being presented:

Find the actual study:

Don’t just go to the media write up. The actual study can be found here.

Evaluate the Journal:

PLoS-ONE is an open-access journal that charges authors money to publish their papers, does not assess the quality of the study beyond the technical aspects, and accepts 70% of papers submitted (by contrast, the journals published by the APA have an average 71% rejection rate, and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, which published Chuck’s meta-analysis, has an 80% rejection rate). So it’s not a great journal.

Evaluate the research methodology and conclusions of the study:

The authors of the study deliberately (and explicitly) chose methodological and analytic approaches that they believed would maximize observed gender differences, then claimed that this made their approach “better.” This is a dubious move, that has been criticized by a number of other researchers.

Part of the authors’ argument is that previous research has relied on broad-brush personality theories like the Five Factor Model, and their use of 16 factors provides a more detailed analysis. Fine, except for the fact that FFM personality tests further break down the five factors into smaller subfactors. The most well-known FFM measure, for example, does provide five scores representing overall personality traits, but also provides a more detailed break down involving 30 more specific facets. One study, published in 2001, involved administering an earlier version of this measure to over 23,000 participants in 26 cultures. The researchers did find gender differences in 28 of the 30 facets, but these differences were small to moderate in size. The size of the differences also varied from one culture to another. This points to another limitation in the study, and the conclusions that might be drawn from it. The study published in PLoS-ONE only drew their participants from the US, which limits our ability to generalize the results to all humans. (The 2001 study, by the way, was cited in the PLoS-ONE article, but the authors only talked about it in terms of the five broad traits, and then claimed that their more specific 16-factor approach was better.)

Evaluate the Blog Post:

First, there is a difference between “gender differences” and “inherent gender differences.” Gender differences (and that includes personality differences) are often substantial, but are the product of both biological and social factors. So finding larger differences than previous studies found does not lock us into the interpretation that these differences are all about God’s design. Also, the CBMW author rails against secular academics who are trying to prove that gender differences are “negligible, circumstantial and not a part of design,” but ignores the fact that the study (which I’m guessing he didn’t read) is about a conflict between academics who expect gender differences to be small and other academics (mostly evolutionary psychologists) who expect them to be large.

In addition, the CBMW author finishes off with a snarky expectation that the story will be ignored by the mainstream media and the academy. First problem: his source for the story IS the mainstream media (The Telegraph). Also, a quick google search shows that the story is being run by all sorts of mainstream news-media sources.

Pointing to a poorly written study in a poor-quality journal and using it to “prove” an organization’s position actually serves to undercut the credibility of said organization.

Reading Scripture, Teaching, and Women

I don’t think it was meant to be a controversial post. Tim Challies was offering tips on how to publicly read Scripture. Good tips. But one little comment has set off a firestorm. In his church, rx only men can publicly read Scripture because it is a teaching ministry.

Complementarians and egalitarians alike rose up in the comments and asked about this. So, he offered some clarification. Oh boy. And all that clarification did was blow up the issue even further.

Scot Mcknight weighed in: Anyone who says reading Scripture is a teaching ministry is just making stuff up.

Chaplain Mike brought it to the attention of the I-Monk community: Women should be allowed to read Scripture publicly. Restricting women from doing so has no theological foundation and will only lead to a lot of overscrupulous nonsense in practice.

Sarah over at Emerging Mummy says she’s done fighting for a seat at the table: Enjoy your table, gentlemen.

And Rachel Held Evans put out a call for women to rise up and prophesy: To those who will not accept us as preachers, we will have to become prophets.

And the conversation continues today as Derek Ouellette suggests that egalitarians commit eisegesis in trying to harmonize equality (feminism) and Scripture. He suggests that egalitarianism collapses all gender distinctions. The majority of egalitarians I know do no such thing. Are there distinctions (biological, psychological, etc)? Absolutely. Is there equality? Absolutely. Does being egalitarian mean sacrificing maleness or femaleness? Nope.

Grrr. Round and round and round we go. The two sides aren’t learning anything from each other. People who believe that women should be allowed to teach, preach, and prophesy will line up and cheer Scot and Rachel and Sarah. Those who don’t will line up and cheer for the other side instead.

I don’t know that there is any more fruitful discussion to be had about this topic around the blogosphere. It just ends up being a way for those who already know which side of the debate they’re on to affirm their position and sharpen their polemic against the other side.

Part of me is tempted to do a self-imposed moratorium on writing about women and ministry issues on CW Theology.

Part of me says, “Amanda are you nuts? Writing about women in ministry brings in the big page hits.”

Part of me wants to throw everyone in a UFC cage and let them fight it out — The last person standing wins.

All of me is tired.

Laundry, Dishes and Gender Roles — Part Two

Yesterday I posted about my reactions about the ongoing conversation related to Owen Strachan’s post on ‘Dad-moms’.

Today, physician it is Chuck’s turn.


Complementarian? Egalitarian? Comgalitarian? Egalmentarian? Maybe I’m just confused.

In response to Amanda’s post concerning the latest round of cyber-debate over gender roles, I’ve been giving the matter a bit of thought. Bear in mind that this is coming from a Christian social psychologist; I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar.

Looking over the options that have been presented to me, I find myself in partial agreement with both camps, leaving me with my usual sense that I have a lot of reading to do before I declare myself an official partisan of either side.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the complementarians:

1. Gender differences are inherent.
Actually, it’s considerably more complicated than that. We (social psychologists) have a boatload of research evidence that differences between the genders are biologically-based, involving differences in brain structures and functioning and differences in psychologically-relevant hormones. However, we also have a boatload of research evidence that our concepts of masculinity and femininity are cultural, and that gender identity is influenced by the messages passed on to us by parents, peers, and the media. What I share with the complementarian camp is the recognition that no amount of political activism or theoretical hand-waving will eliminate the role of biology in gender differences.

2. Gender differences should be celebrated.
In the 1970s and 1980s, certain psychologists argued that psychological androgyny (possessing equally-high levels of both masculine and feminine traits) should be held up as the ideal, and that parents should isolate children from any media messages that might cause them to develop a gender-specific identity. Research on gender and mental health, however, combined with the current influence of evolutionary psychology on the psychology of gender, has sidelined androgyny. The current approach more often takes the perspective that masculinity and femininity have their own strengths and weaknesses, which fits well with the complementarians’ position. For myself, I am a frequent reader of the blog The Art of Manliness, the intended audience of which is men who are not interested in media images such as the metrosexual or the manchild, but instead want to enjoy being manly in healthy and prosocial ways. Similarly, many women hold the position that becoming strong and capable does not require them to abandon their femininity. Complementarians often point to the great potential for happiness and fulfillment that can come when men are empowered to be manly, and women are empowered to be womanly.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the egalitarians:

1. Gender differences are not categorical.
There is a tendency when discussing gender differences to interpret them in a rather absolute manner. If, for example, women are shown to be better than men at emotional communication, many people take that to mean that men are utterly incompetent in the emotional realm, while women are blessed with superhuman Heart Powers. The reality is far less dramatic. When studies reveal a consistent gender difference, what we see is a general trend in average scores, with a considerable amount of overlap between the genders.

So, perhaps, ON AVERAGE, women TEND TO outperform men on emotional tasks, but that does not mean that emotionally-competent men do not exist, or that emotionally-incompetent women do not exist. It also does not mean that emotionally-competent men are womanish men, or that emotinally-incompetent women are mannish women. This is an error that I sometimes see among complementarians; treating displays of behaviors at which the other gender more often excel as violations of the essence of their own gender (e.g., A man who changes a diaper is not just changing a diaper, he is acting womanish).

2. The descriptive is not the prescriptive.
Finding a statistically-significant difference between two groups does not necessarily mean that the difference becomes a moral obligation. This is an error in logic sometimes called the Naturalistic Fallacy. The difference might be celebrated and enjoyed, but the existence of that difference does not necessarily become a standard of evaluating group members’ goodness. Cross-cultural research has shown that, on average, members of Western societies tend to have a more individualistic self-concept, while Easterners tend to have a more collectivistic self-concept. Does this mean that a Chinese man must not have any sense of himself as an individual, or that an American must not have strong family ties? Geographical research within the US using the Five-Factor Model of personality shows that residents of North Dakota have the highest Extraversion scores, while residents of Maryland have the lowest Extraversion scores. Does this create a moral obligation for North Dakotans to be socially outgoing, while a Marylander is obliged to be introverted? (We actually have a lot of fun with this argument, since Alaskans had the lowest Conscientiousness scores. This would mean that Alaskans are morally obligated to be unprincipled? 🙂 ) Similarly, the existence of gender differences does not necessarily create a moral obligation to act in accordance with those differences. Men tend to outperform women on mental image-rotation tasks (This and all following examples are drawn from this 1992 Scientific American article). This does not mean that a woman who plays Tetris is usurping a God-given masculine role. Women tend to have higher verbal fluency scores than men. This does not mean that men who want to honor God will stop writing books. If we use established gender differences as a part of an argument that God has purposefully equipped one gender for one set of tasks, and the other gender for a different set of tasks, then this means that God does not want women to do laundry (men outperform women on visual tasks involving folding), play darts (men outperform women on projective accuracy tasks), read “Where’s Waldo” books (men outperform women on perceptual disembedding tasks), or do accounting (men outperform women on mathematic reasoning). It also means that God does not want men to play matching games (women outperform men on rapid image-matching tasks), work on assembly lines (women outperform men on precision manual tasks), or analyze crime scenes (women outperform men on tasks that involve noticing when objects are missing). Why is it only the gender differences in agency and communion that are relevant?

Areas in which I remain confused:

1. Okay, there’s actually only one area. All the above is fine as long as I am looking at this as a social psychologist. Will anything change when I look at this as a Christian? Both complementarians and egalitarians claim to be grounded in the best-quality biblical scholarship, and accuse each other of letting social constructs (patriarchy, feminism) cloud their vision. I don’t know who’s right, and arguments in the blogosphere too often end up being nothing but a restatement of one’s own position and irrelevant character attacks on one’s opponents. I need better arguments than “Complementarians are right because we’re right and you’re wrong.” Diving into the literature on this topic is on my To Read list (along with all the other stuff that’s on my To Read list, a list that seems to be growing much faster than I can read my way through it). Where is the really good scholarly work on this topic? Whose books should I be reading? No cheesy polemics; solid scholarship.

In the meantime, I do the best I can to be a good husband and a good father. I take Jesus’ servanthood as my model (not that I always live up to it). If he emptied himself for our sakes, I should be emptying myself for the sake of my wife and our cheeselings. If that means that I take on some extra burdens, and encourage my wife to do what she is clearly gifted at (preaching and teaching in a pastoral role, being a grad student and eventually going into doctoral studies, etc…), then that’s what I should be doing.