Monday, October 17, 2016

Does American Christianity Have a Woman Problem?

If you had asked me a few years ago about gender related concerns about the church, I would have pointed to the fact that too many men drop out.

While that remains true, in the last year, it has become increasingly clear -- at least to me -- that there is a different kind of problem, one that results in women sometimes being treated badly. I write as someone who takes the position that the offices of elder and deacon should be held by men. I also hold that the proper exercise of discipline is a mark of what constitutes a church. All of that said, consider the following:

1. From what I have seen, nearly all of the teaching directed toward this subject is in negative form. It is hard to find sermons oriented toward how women can use their gifts in the church. When the issue is addressed, it tends to focus on gifts that are deemed feminine, such as hospitality. However, many women do not have that gift, nor do all women feel gifted to work with children. What are these others to do?

2. While there are strong Christian traditions of male headship in church and home, there are movements within American Christianity willing to take extreme views of male leadership. In recent years, a prominent American evangelical suggested that Christian women should not work as police officers because their taking authority over men pulled over at traffic stops is awkward. How in the name of Deborah do they find biblical support for extending male headship in this manner?

3. Generally, strange views result when the Apostle Paul's assertions of male leadership in specific church roles is extended to other areas of life. There is no biblical precedent for this, and it is frankly impractical. As an example, my wife teaches me theology on a regular basis. Our conversations, praise God, are not limited to her asking questions and me pontificating. The fact that I happen to have more formal training in theology and church history makes a difference, but she is smart and thinks through her beliefs carefully. We have discussions, and sometimes she changes my mind about things. This is as it should be.

4. While I think reasonable and compassionate church discipline is important, I note that every instance I am personally aware of that involved credible complaints of being abused by the disciplinary process came from women. I am sure that men have had legitimate complaints, as well. But women have too often had concerns, particularly arising out of abusive relationships, that have not been taken seriously by male leaders.

5. In recent weeks, we have seen the sad spectacle of Christian leaders downplaying a public figure bragging about sexually assaulting women. This is not intended as a political comment, and the politician's statements wouldn't be relevant to this discussion except for the fact that some Christian leaders have been openly dismissive of the issue. While ministers have admitted the language to be vulgar, they have failed to -- or chosen not to -- recognize that the language went beyond vulgarity to actual celebration of sexual assault. Christian women should be deeply offended that male leaders have taken this course. For that matter, Christian men should be offended, too.

I am not sure that I have answers to this "woman problem," but I do know that thought needs to be given to it. Churches can retain their commitments to male leadership while also emphasizing and putting into practice the apostolic affirmation that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all kinds of people" (Titus 2:11, my translation). Indeed, to be biblically faithful, we must do so.

No comments: