This is a big, controversial issue, which really isn’t all that hard to sort out, but it seems to be a breaking point way too often in the modern church.
Are men and women a) equal in the full definition of the word, or b) are they equal with different roles, or c) are they not equal? (okay, it’s definitely not c.) If you think it is, you really need to re-read the Bible.)
The simple answer is a).
We are all created equal, in God’s image, no one person is greater than another (Genesis 1 & 2). When Eve is created from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2:18-25, she is called his helper. In Hebrew, this word is ezer, which is a far more complex word than our modern English concept of helper- rather than being a sidekick or servant, when it is used, ezer usually refers to God helping Israel, and so indicates someone who fights for another, supports and strengthens them. I mean, is God a sidekick?
“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”– Matthew Henry
So why not b) equal with different roles?
I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do. I’m fairly sure at various points in my childhood I’ve wanted to be a warrior princess, a doctor, a teacher, a pirate, a firefighter, a forensic scientist, an actress, a police officer, an author, a priest, and a cat. My parents never told me I couldn’t do any of them (although they dissuaded the feline and dramatic). Most of the careers listed above are traditionally male roles, or subverted the feminine ideal. It doesn’t mean I was any less the girl God had created me to be.
(I’d like to emphasise here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being called to be a stay-at-home mother. My Mum is, and I have been so grateful for her being called to that, and for what it has meant for how I have grown up and the young woman I have become.)
I believe that the Bible defines male and female as entirely equal, no difference in roles. Why?
Women served in Israel and in the early Church. Look at the influence of Miriam, Deborah and Huldah in the Old Testament, holding positions otherwise held by men, as leaders and prophets. In the New Testament, it is women who recognise Christ before His male disciples do. Lydia, Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, Junia, and a whole raft of Marys are crucial to the growth of the early church. They do what the men do- they pray, fast, worship, prophesy, speak in tongues, preach, evangelise- because they are called to. If they were not created with equal roles, would God have called them to these positions? Would He have given them these gifts?
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Paul’s letters are often taken out of context and used to argue that women should be quiet in church, and excluded from leadership. But he so often speaks of the importance of women in the church. If we are all equal, and he was supportive of women in ministry in the early church, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that he rejects the leadership of women. (I could write an entire post on this, so I won’t elaborate here, and leave it a little blunt.)
Likewise, it should be argued that men have the ability do traditionally ‘feminine’ roles, such as raising children and ‘homemaking’ (whatever that is). Men can be gifted at baking and sewing. Some are called to change nappies and go to toddler groups. Many men I know, whether consciously or not, subvert the masculine ideal in their behaviours, callings, and what they enjoy. There is nothing at all wrong with this. Gender roles are not strictly biblical, and the only gender specific role expicitly defined in the Bible is child-bearing, and you can’t argue much with physiology.
After explaining an egalitarian position, the next question usually asked is whether there is a place for chivalry and men helping women. I’m not entirely sure why. We are clearly called to support each other and use our skills and abilities to help others, so I see no issue with asking for help from someone who has the abilities I don’t. If I can’t reach the top shelf, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of my guy friends who is taller than me to get what I need off the shelf; there are some situations in which I can’t do certain things, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. I strongly belive that gentlemanly behaviour is necessary. Chivalry is not dead, neither should it be. But I’m going to hold the door for people too. It’s called being nice to others. Kindness counts.
I can only cover so much on this topic in a blog post. It’s a complex subject, and whilst I am not saying there is no value to complimentarianism, it is fatally flawed as an ideology. We do not fit into different roles because of our gender differences, but because we are all individuals, our differences therefore independent of gender. I don’t have all the answers. I could never claim to.
If you want to read further into the issue of women in leadership and the roles of women, I really recommend Influential by Jo Saxton. It’s an amazing book written by an amazing woman of God, and I always get so much out of it with every re-read.
Some good blog posts I’ve read:
This post originated in a few conversations I’ve had over the years with friends, and was prompted by what I presume will be an ongoing conversation with one of my friends over the last few days. I’m coming from a liberal evangelical Anglican feminist perspective, and having studied Biblical Studies at university. This is not a new topic to me, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I write on it, particularly with my passion for seeing women empowered within the church and raising up leaders from amongst the community of young women I have the privilege to be serving and working with during my internship, and because of the calling I believe that God has placed on my own life. It’s what’s on my heart right now, so, yes, it’s a little messy, but that doesn’t make it any less of a truthful understanding of the Word of God.