“The Great (Unnecessary) Christian Gender Debate” by Carly Kraemer

silhouette-woman-and-man

“Mom said I’m in charge, so you have to do what I say.”

Anyone who grew up with siblings can attest to the cringe-worthy effects that statement has. Parents go out for the evening and give instructions to tidy up the house. An older brother or sister comes in, tries to pull rank, and what you thought was going to be an easy job quickly becomes a battle of wills.

This may sound familiar and bring back memories we can laugh about now, but for many, this scenario hits far too close to home in a different way: the power struggle between children of God.

While Godly structure is appropriate, the way we are defining and propagating it has detrimental effects not only on marriages today, but also our children, our churches, and ultimately, our call to fulfill the Great Commission. Like children whose parents have gone out for the night, we are arguing about who is in charge instead of getting to work cleaning the house.

With complementarianism zeal to decode Biblical passages about authority and headship, the focus turns completely away from specific instructions given to all of us to love and serve. We hit a road block when Complementarians set themselves up to decide in what capacities others are allowed to serve.

My challenge today is to question the necessity of the Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism debate itself. We do a great disservice to ourselves and our efforts to spread the gospel by focusing on headship.

We step away from following Christ when we take our eyes off the task at hand and start looking around at who is and isn’t leading and/or being led. We set ourselves up to judge instead of love. Unfortunately, as long as Complementarians insist on debating, Egalitarians will be forced to engage.

The people who are truly loving and serving are much too busy to be concerned about who is boss. The whole message of the Gospel is servant leadership. This is why we have no record of Jesus telling the disciples that He is in charge and they were required to submit to him. Can you imagine?

Jesus was not concerned about making sure the disciples knew he was “the head”. He was too busy washing their feet. An unhealthy emphasis on headship is in stark contrast to the character of God. It does not ring true to the nature of Christ. Jesus says He is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

And yet so many women who want to be “good Christians” acquiesce not only their place but also their ideas, will, dreams, and oftentimes their self-worth and identity to the heavy-handed “leadership” found in complementarian thought processes. As an aside, I think it’s more than a little ironic that the Greek word for head κεφαλή-“Kephale” is a feminine noun.

A husband who is truly obeying the call of Christ to serve and submit to his wife will never be found discussing or condemning his wife for lack of submission, nor would he feel the need to establish dominion as head.

In marriages that seek to define who is “over” the other, love quickly starves and weeds of resentment grow where grace once flourished. I can tell you firsthand marriages like this fail. They may not always end in divorce, but they die nonetheless.

Many women are living in marriages void of love and kindness, spiritually and emotionally dead, because their husband has established dominion as being “head” and thinks that is what good leadership requires. It is a reversal and a mockery of what Christ intended.

While it is good and necessary to define boundaries and roles (based on gifts, not gender), we learn from Jesus’ example that labels in and of themselves do not equate to true servanthood and leadership. A strong man and/or woman of Christ will never have to have this debate. They realize simply doing the work of serving and loving fulfills their role and obligation.

Complementarianism is a slippery slope that leads to placing restrictions on how God uses individuals. Saying God designed certain people for certain roles is altogether true, but to then decide what roles those are based on gender is an abhorrent act of self-righteousness that sets oneself up as equal to God Himself.

I can’t help but wonder how many more people would be residents of Heaven at this very moment if the other half of the world’s population were given the opportunity over these past two thousand years to evangelize from a pulpit freely. The Great Commission is to be adopted by all.

Yes, there seems to be (at first reading) passages that could call into question whether or not a woman should hold leadership roles, and I understand wanting to obey scripture, but in the case of unclear interpretation (which is only the fault of the uneducated reader) wouldn’t a person rather err on the side of spreading the gospel? If a person wants to tell others the good news, why stop them because of their gender? What are you truly fighting?

Whether or not women should have leadership roles becomes a moot subject if we are all serving. The doctrine behind the argument is unnecessary if it is being observed correctly. The debate as to who follows who, becomes pointless if we are all following Jesus.

It is a curious system in that the orders and demands are only applicable to oneself. There is no way to force them on others. In fact, they become obsolete when placed on others because one has to forfeit their own position as servant in order to become judge. It is not possible to be in two places at once. One can either point out how others should serve and submit, or they themselves can serve and submit.

Let us back up the debate and focus on the task at hand: spreading the gospel. The good news. “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.” (Galatians 3:28)

The only power struggle the Bible encourages is to “outdo one another in showing honor,” or “Prefer one another in Love” (Romans 12:10). In Greek the word is “Proēgeomai–προηγέομαι: To go before and show the way, to go before and lead, to go before as a leader”.

In other words, strive to outdo each other in how much you can lead each other in love. The debate we should be most concerned about is how good we can be at serving others. All arguments about gender will be null and void in light of the true servant love Christ demands of all of us as followers of Him.

carly

Carly Kraemer is a stay-at-home mom and a not-so-stay-at-home writer. She finds inspiration in nature, art, the Bible, and exorbitant amounts of coffee. She blogs stories, poems, and encouraging messages at www.PetitePrelude.com.

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25 Comments

  • This may be one of the best positions I’ve read on egalitarianism. I believe it gets past the symptom of the issue and gets straight to the heart. What if we took it even farther? You can’t imagine how many more would be residents of heaven if the pulpit was opened to both men and women, I can’t imagine how many more would be in heaven if we didn’t treat the pulpit like a special position no matter who was behind it.

    • Thank you, Alan! Yes, carrying the good news of the Gospel is the “special position” and it’s required of all of us. True servant leadership is from the ground up. “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” I think of it as a pyramid with the leaders at the top–and then turn that pyramid upside down. THAT is servant leadership. And God appoints who He wants, where He wants.

  • It touches on one of the truly sore spots in complementarian subculture — an intransigent male resistance to having humility and a teachable spirit toward women. A man must always be in charge of teaching — it is an article of belief that women should not teach men. (The practice varies, but the principle is always there.)

    This pride and resistance to learning from women and humbling themselves toward women as they do toward other men blocks men’s spiritual growth their whole lives unless they make a thorough change.

    • Terri, I believe this is a symptom of family breakdown in general. Men are not getting the care they need as children to have healthy views of women as adults. You hit the nail on the head. It most certainly “blocks men’s spiritual growth their whole lives unless they make a thorough change.” It is devastating. We need men to be good leaders just as much as we need women to be good leaders. Thankfully, we serve an amazing God who DOES impossible things…like change hearts.

      • I agree. These changes of heart will only come from God — that is a personal, spiritual change that only the Holy Spirit can bring about.

        As a mother of three boys, I’m disturbed that any problem with men seems to be quickly laid at the feet of their mothers or blamed on the rearing they received. I am fighting a strong, daily, uphill battle against not only secular culture, but against the church culture where we attend (my husband works at a church-affiliated school and this is the “connected” congregation, so…).

        I would suggest that a man who does not wish to humble himself toward women in his adulthood cannot place that at the feet of his parents, or his mother in particular who has done so much work and praying on his behalf. I’d suggest that this type of man has looked around him at both church and secular culture and has selected his identity in relation to women based on what serves *him. I don’t think this is done deliberately or with malice aforethought — not even consciously, it seems, in many cases (in talking to men who have switched over from complementarian to egalitarian). It simply serves him to be one-up, so he is.

        We’ll see what my sons do when they grow up. I’m learning that their choices may, in many cases, not reflect what I have tried so hard to teach them. Because I am teaching them a hard way that goes against both church culture and secular culture. The godly way is so often the difficult path, isn’t it?

  • Carly, I am hand-fiving you in the Spirit girlfriend!!! This needs to be printed off, signed, and noterized and personally delivered (certifized mail of course) to every comp church and para-church organization in the country. Ok, that’s all.

  • This just made my heart sing! I have been in the evangelical church my whole life and have been so baffled by this new obsession over “headship”. Sadly, I have seen many friends fall for this lie and I now tend to be an outsider. it has created a lonely place for me as it is very hard to find places of worship that are not influenced by this teaching. So thankful for your post.

    • Lori, I understand where you are coming from. I didn’t realize how pervasive this thinking was or how easily accepted it is until I started really questioning what the Bible says. I do believe men are having a harder time defining their roles and feeling respected. Most men don’t know how to address this correctly and it leads to a greater rift between the genders. I am advocating for more love and respect for everyone. That is the only true path to healing.

  • A thousand times YES.

    It breaks my heart to see women give up talents, abilities, dreams, hopes, dignity, self-respect, and intelligence in order to “submit” to a man who seems to place no value in his wife being a whole person, simply a role-filler and basically his personal assistant. I personally know women who are horribly insecure and can barely make a decision due to complimentarianism.

    If everybody is focused on simply loving and serving, this becomes totally moot. Thank you.

    • Oh, yes. Taking the historical view, I imagine that we would have had a cure for cancer by now if women had been treated as equals all along. A cure for AIDS. Solutions for many great problems we face today. If only we had been willing to accept solutions from women. It hurts my heart to think of women living stifled, tormented lives within narrow human limits. The heartbreak God has heard poured out by the hearts of women. Such sorrow and loss.

    • Sarah, your comment is “life in general” for so many women–free women who live in slavery in their minds as a result of this faulty thinking. Thankfully, so many women are now hearing the Sprirt saying: “It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” -Galations 5:1 STAND! 🙂 The heart of God and His very nature call us to freedom. He never stiffles. Thanks for your comment!

  • “Jesus was not concerned about making sure the disciples knew he was “the head”. He was too busy washing their feet.”

    Brilliant post! And I would suggest this goes way beyond the comp/egal debate. Regardless of gender, there are plenty of self-appointed ‘leaders’ in the church who don’t hesitate to lord it over others to make sure everyone knows that they are in charge! They even start their own churches to guarantee they get to be top dog 😛

    • Yes. Unfortunately it’s true. I believe God is calling us to a deeper understanding of true servant leadership. It simply looks like love, and we are ALL called to serve. Especially in the current climate of our country and our world.
      Thank you for your comment!

  • To whom is the christian gender debate necessary, then? To those who are crushed and determined to continue in the public gatherings. The solution is to leave these Comp gatherings, entirely. I made this choice about 3 months ago…but continue on debating for the sake of those who have not yet reached this conclusion. They struggle against insufferable busybodies, who always seem to push their way to the top and destroy the spirit of these gatherings, while stifling the spread of the gospel by FOCUSING on attacking women and keeping them ‘in their place’. A former pastor spent over 70 sermons on women of the Bible, carefully indicating those who were submissive(Naomi) to their husbands, as good and those who were not submissive(Abigail) as not good. Surprisingly, I discovered there were only a few “good” women there and yet God seemed not to disapprove.

    2 Thessalonians 3:11 and 1 Timothy 5:13 condemn ‘busybodies’…that is what a Complementarians actually are. The Greek words, periergazomai, and periergos are defined as:”to bustle about uselessly, to busy one’s self about trifling, needless, useless matters used apparently of a person officiously inquisitive about other’s affairs.” or “busy about trifles and neglectful of important matters esp. busy about other folks’ affairs, a busybody”.

    Surely this is the case of those who are busy about interfering in the status of others and overly concerned with their own status rather than putting the Kingdom of God first. They give new meaning to “seek ye FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” by confusing the kingdom of God with their own kingdoms.

    By leaving these gatherings behind we take their strength from them and eventually, since women often comprise over 75% of most of these institutions, the gatherings will become financially powerless. The place I left was 95% female, some acknowledging their sense of powerlessness…but it was no “family of God”. It only takes a short walk…out the door. Wouldn’t even need a word. “Let your feet do the talking”…as you seek to walk with God and let Him lead you for the rest of your life. He will rearrange the “living stones” and build His church in His way, if we just follow Him, day by day.

    • Very well said! I love this line: “He will rearrange the “living stones” and build His church in His way, if we just follow Him, day by day.” Thank you for your thought-filled perspective on this.

  • At a time when biblical masculinity and even the concept of manhood itself is under such demonically-inspired attack in every quadrant of societal conversation, I find it sad and emblematic of the current destruction of marriage that ‘Christian’ women would spend so much valuable time and energy debating the concept of biblical marriage and leadership within the home. The message here, clearly is, “No man is ever going to assert himself as head of my home or in leadership of my family and if he ever has the gall to do so, I will castigate and castrate him by reminding him that he can only lead our home by being sufficiently servile and only I am allowed position to judge whether he has met that standard to the degree necessary to be honored and respected as my husband.” Rubbish.

    I find it pitiful that creatures to whom God bequeathed the keys to the Kingdom in being powerfully charming, winsome, attractive, inviting, compassionate, tender, caring and feminine, would continually grapple with the same temptations to masculine emulation and usurpation as their non-Christian sisters, while giving up irreplaceable gifts and privileges in return. Imagine how many more young men might be drawn to the gospel message if when gazing through the doorway of a church they could find even an iota’s difference between the perversions of the modern feminized gospel and the Edward Bernays-inspired, OSS-CIA thought cult, that birthed First Wave feminism and laid axe to the foundation of the modular family and indeed, to the rudiments of authentic masculinity and femininity.

    Convincing women that they are insufficient and unfulfilled unless they are engaged in myriad professional pursuits and social interests in addition to or at the exclusion of normative, traditional roles of wife and mother has been the singularly effective weapon in wreaking absolute destruction of both the Christian family and western society, writ large. Convincing them likewise to grasp covetously for the burdens of material provision, the stresses of corporate competition and the physical toll of marketplace jostling has been the ultimate bait-and-switch, depriving both sexes of what it means to be truly fulfilled in the indelible differences between the sexes.

    Such a pity that generations of young women will have been deprived in their lives of ever experiencing what it is to be loved deeply, passionately and with utter abandon by a masculine man who has not suffered a lifetime of shaming, diminution, cognitive assault and societal relegation because of a gender war against masculinity that the Christian church is now helping to propagate at every turn.

    Predictably, the same women who rabble for equality are more than happy to cash alimony and child support checks, (equality?) work an average of 400 fewer hours a year than their full-time male counterparts while still expecting social entitlements and inclement, burdensome taxation to make up the gaps in income.

    Predictably, too, more and more young men are choosing to simply avoid answering the thankless call of instinctual male leadership inside the marriage bond that is so frequently repaid by financial ruin and the manipulations of inequitable child custody arrangements on the way out the door.

    Ladies, it wasn’t your idea to attempt taking your husband’s mantle of leadership and responsibility or of undermining his God-ordained role as head of the home. It was Satan’s. And he sells and resells it to all of you daily with the accompanying promise of richer life, greater fulfillment and personal satisfaction. The game hasn’t changed since Eden. But it’s only a foolish woman who fails to see the destruction of life and society that has accompanied invested belief in the Satanic perversion of the family model.

    Dare to be different than your generation. And for the love of God, stop using the gospel to justify succumbing to the same temptations that have made marriage an untenable and miserable perpetuation of power struggle and manipulation in the modern age.

    • We are blessed to believe in a Bible in which women and men are called by God as He wills, not as other fallible human beings will; a Bible that does not teach the rigidly enforced roles and artificially limited lives that some church leaders do. God made us each one unique, each for a purpose, and His word clearly portrays men and women together comprising the church by leading together, learning together, praying together, and loving together, without dividing these tasks by gender in a way God’s Word never does. I am thankful.

      • Your response reads as genuine and tantamount admission to the alteration and revision of scripture to fit your aspirations, rather than a thorough and honest hermeneutical excision of doctrine as it actually exists. It may feel like blessing, but the fruitage, both societally and in the church as a whole, shouts to the heavens of cursing and diminishment of both sexes. Simply wanting a matter to be a certain way, without factual basis, does not make it so. Feminism and Christianity are mutually exclusive avocations. Mixing the two never results in anything other than the lousy, unbiblical and ineffectual practice of faith.

        • Thorough study of Bible doctrine is plentifully available, and I have done such study myself, but it didn’t seem useful to bring out in response to your comment. What is always useful, in every situation, even (especially) where there is disagreement, is to recognize the supremacy of God’s Word: to see what it says and doesn’t say, to study what it means and doesn’t mean, with a prayerful heart and readiness to hear. We *all* benefit from that and can be thankful for it.

          And I am deeply thankful that God does not impose artificial constraints on women’s service in the Bible. We are able, willing, and eager to answer all of God’s widely varying calls on our lives, without the limits set by either secular society or by other human beings. We must all answer to God in the end, and women must do so without using their gender as a limitation or excuse for not answering God’s call if it doesn’t happen to fit the human traditions around us.

          We disagree on this: I see that. We’re still family. We don’t have to agree on this to have Christian fellowship together.

  • Carly, this article is filled with erroneous arguments and presuppositions that are faulty. This is a terrible piece of writing and I suggest you try and reflect on the issues and try to represent complementarian thought appropriately in the future.

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