You might be aware of a common debate in our world concerning the nature of manhood and womanhood. Are men necessarily suited for some things, while women others? What even constitutes something like manhood or womanhood? How might we be vastly different? How might we be the same? Is one particular group necessarily more emotional, rational, hardworking, “better with money”, or nurturing?
The church also wrestles with this topic, too, working to articulate what it means to be male or female. Some Christians, following the example of the surrounding culture, presume that men are superior, while women are subservient. If you ask me, the church has tragically fallen prey to this worldly tendency, whether that be the case of some denominations forbidding women to pray and teach, to Christians arguing that men don’t necessarily need to worry about raising children.
The fancy theological terms for this debate are complementarianism and egalitarianism (try saying those five times fast!). Each side turns to various bible passages to support their idea of gender roles, manhood, and womanhood.
To be a complementarian means you believe that men and women complement one another, kind of like two puzzle pieces coming together. Some denominations adopt this kind of viewpoint, arguing that men are “designed” for leadership, while women must always take more passive roles. In some extreme cases, I’ve even heard of people arguing it is sinful for a woman to work outside of the home! Bible verses in support of this viewpoint include:
- Ephesians 5:22- “Wives, submit to your husbands, as unto the Lord.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:34- “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”
- 1 Timothy 2:12- “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
To be an egalitarian means you believe in a more level playing field, so to speak, where men and women are equal in God’s eyes. Some denominations put forth this view of equality for men and women. The curse of Adam and Eve brought about conflict between the two sexes, and it should be noted that an egalitarian believes this would be broken and sinful. God works to overcome this disparity in teaching us how to see one another as partners. Bible verses in support of this viewpoint include:
- Genesis 1:27- “So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
- Genesis 2:18- “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
- Galatians 3:28- “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Simply put, this is a complicated issue, and Christians often use the bible to support one particular view (all while the opposing side critiques how they ignore other verses!).
How would a complementarian interpret all those other laws of scripture… are they equally applicable as they ones about women in ancient Corinthian churches?
How would an egalitarian understand all the so-called “problematic” passages of scripture… Do we simply ignore verses about submission when referring to one particular gender?
The bible does say quite a lot of different things. So if you ask me, it’s important to consider the broad view of what God hopes to accomplish through salvation. Individual commands Paul may have issued in the New Testament might not necessarily carry the same weight as Genesis 1 or Galatians 3, which paint a more egalitarian picture.
As you might be able to guess with how Concord operates, United Methodist doctrine is thoroughly egalitarian. I really stressed this point in yesterday’s sermon. God calls us to view one another as partners in ministry, and this is especially true when it comes to a husband and wife. We believe God calls and equips men and women for various ministries, from being pastors, to parents, and everywhere in between. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Likewise, women serve many roles of leadership in our church–in fact, we wouldn’t be able to function without the help of absolutely everyone! Methodist churches also have ordained female clergy, serving in many congregations all over the world.
As I preached yesterday, when it comes to marriage, I firmly believe we need to have an egalitarian attitude about this commitment. The covenant of marriage requires two becoming one, where both sides seek to love another as Christ loves. Godly households need involved mothers and fathers. Ideally, a wife and husband ought to work together through all things, setting a loving example for a household. God might grant you with unique gifts as an individual, such as a stable job, clever mind, or nurturing heart. But overall, marriage must always be a partnership.