On March 15th, I read an article entitled, “The Gender Conversation We Aren’t Having,” by Tish Harrison Warren, which was published by Christianity Today Her-Meneutics (Find Here). While I very much appreciated Tish’s insights and even complimented her and retweeted the article, I had some mixed feelings.
I sat on those mixed feelings for about a week, hoping they would go away and I could simply keep my mouth shut, but they have only become stronger.
We all have personal gifts which the Holy Spirit gives us in order to move the Body of Christ towards justice and righteousness.
Tish seems to have a gift to unite what she calls “two rival gangs.” These include egalitarians and complementarians. I honor her for that gift, as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, despite our differences.
Tish will be able to get through doors that will be closed to me, because she is able to take a moderate stance and remain true to her egalitarian convictions. I believe that she plays an important role in moving women forward, which is why I am able to support her article and her, even with some serious concerns.
If you haven’t noticed by now, my gifts are to see truth and call out injustices against God’s daughters. These gifts do not always help me to make friends, nor do they always open doors for me, but they are the gifts that God has given me, and God seems to expect me to remain faithful to them.
The major issue that I see with Tish’s article is this very fact: complementarianism IS sexism.
Sexism is defined as prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
I spent one year studying complementarianism, as I biblically combated it in my master’s thesis, and I am quite aware of what this doctrine entails.
Tish states, Regardless of our complementarian/egalitarian labels, all believers need to honestly and frankly address the sin of sexism. Sexism is not the property of one theological position. While I believe strongly that Tish’s heart intent is good, the statement that I bolded above is simply not accurate.
Complementarianism is very much sexist in its theological position. It holds clear properties of sexism that egalitarian theology does not.
Complementarianism’s unapologetic theological stance is that women are not permitted to be lead pastors or elders (and sometimes not even Bible teachers to men), simply because they were born female.
It does not matter how qualified women are in ministry experience and theological education, they will be discriminated against for their gender if they seek to lead in any of these leadership positions (which almost always include associate pastor, administration pastor, family pastor, evangelism pastor, college pastor, youth pastor, and sometimes even worship pastor).
If this is not discrimination based on gender, I don’t know what is.
Please note that the job of “Women’s Pastor” is rare and is often only found in mega churches after many male pastors are hired first. On churchstaffing.com, which lists hundreds of ministry jobs and is a primary site for ministers to job hunt, I found one opening for a “Women’s Pastor.” The job is only part-time and the compensation listed is between $25,000-$30,000 annually (See Here).
I dug further. I decided to look up this church that is in need of a part-time women’s pastor to see how many male pastors are already on staff. The unapologetic sexism present is even worse than I expected. Before this church, that is obviously complementarian, has even thought to hire a “part time” women’s pastor, they have hired a male senior pastor, executive pastor, pastor of family ministry, pastor of discipleship, director of worship arts, junior high director, high school director, and college director. There are two female ministers on staff and both work with children (see their staff page below).
Tish later states,
In the other camp, complementarians can spend their energy arguing for male leadership while neglecting pressing problems of sexism in their midst. A pastor friend told me recently that working alongside a woman in lay ministry convicted him that he had ignored voices of women in his congregation, where pastor and elder roles are reserved for men. He is now trying to actively repent by meeting with female congregants to ask them about their experiences, including women in all church decisions, and learning about the history and current reality of sexism. He’s working to make voices and gifts of women a priority, even while maintaining his stance against female ordination.
I truly hate to be the one to break the news (I am not being sarcastic, my heart breaks), but this pastor can seek out meetings with female congregants all he wants, but until he repents of his sexist theological position, his heart cannot completely turn around on this issue.
As long as pastors, churches, elders, organizations, and universities embrace complementarianism, the voices and gifts of women will never be a priority. Without full repentance, complementarian leaders may be able to prioritize women’s gifts and voices for a while, but it won’t take long for them to fall back into their old ways because the real issue was never rooted out and thrown away.
I agree with Tish about this ongoing debate not really being about complementarianism verses egalitarianism, and I am sure many of us are getting tired of these terms, but one of these two theologies is openly sexist in its very nature, while the other theology is not at all openly sexist in its very nature.
This in no way means that every egalitarian Christian leader is not sexist. It is clear that even egalitarian denominations discriminate against female ministers by almost always preferring to hire male ministers over female ministers. This may be worse and even more dishonest than complementarian leaders, but that would take a whole other blog post.
Regardless, if complementarians want to continue to cling to their doctrine of “hierarchies based on gender,” then let them at least be honest about their sexism. If they believe that the Bible is sexist, so they have the “moral” obligation to be sexist, too, then fine. Let’s at least call it what it is.
Perhaps at that point, complementarian seminaries can stop accepting female students into their programs or at least significantly lower their tuition for women, because it can be pretty difficult to pay back $80,000 of student loan debt as a children’s director, church secretary, pastor’s wife, or writer.