When the Church Gets it Wrong (by Richard King)

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My purpose of this blog is to give evidence against the notion that the church’s traditional values should be upheld due to how long and how widely it has been believed.

As a somewhat new convert to Egalitarianism, I can recall many feelings that I had during the process of conversion. Why is this important? Why do women feel the need to have more responsibility? Why can’t my wife just accept the truth? (Sorry, my love.)

Eventually, the only somewhat rational defense to complementarianism that really had any pull was that “Everyone believes this way,” but let’s be real, that is a childish defense. It morphed to a more realistic question. “How could we have been wrong for so long.” Or better put: “How in the world, with all the great minds, could the Church be wrong about this subject.”

To be honest, this sounds like a moving and solid statement. With all of the renown apologists (current and ancient) harping on the subjectivity of women to men it has to be the right answer. It seems plain, “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22, New International Version) Word for word right? [Now, let’s be clear, I am not here to write about how we should interpret this verse.]

The oppression of women has gone on for years in most cultures today. So naturally, since God’s Word is infallible we could in fact interpret this scripture very literally and out of context. Since of course it fits with culture there is no need to change it. This type of thinking has dug many holes for Christianity.

The church has been majorly wrong before, and it is bound to do it again.

We are subjected to our own culture, presuppositions, and feelings when interpreting a scripture that is written in (realistically) a dead language. Before you go on a tangent about how people still speak Greek, look at the differences between Common Greek of that era and Modern Greek. Not to mention cultural context, author’s intent, and the reader’s goals. Because of these factors, mankind has been chasing the true meaning and intent of these holy writings from conception.

In 325 A.D. the first council of Nicaea was called. They founded the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s think about this for a second. Trinitarianism is one of those things that just about every Christian believes in. It is in our eyes a fundamental doctrine; a doctrine that is often listed when asking if a person is saved.

For 300 years after the death of Christ, this foundational concept had not even been accepted in all churches. That is staggering. Anyone with any kind of argumentative capacity might say “It was the early church they are bound to make mistakes” or even in a historical fashion, “But that was before the official canonization.” I agree somewhat to these statements, but it still raises the question—how, if this doctrine is essential for salvation, could they have been wrong for so long?

So, if your still not convinced that the entirety of Christianity can be woefully wrong about a subject, lets jump ahead in time.

Quakers are the last people on the list of denominations that most would even consider as revolutionary, relevant, and forward thinking. In 1688 a meeting of Quakers decided that slavery was not biblical. Of course its not, right? Almost 40 years later they officially declared it to be immoral. What a triumph! What a freeing thing for the men and women of God! But come on church, that took an inordinate amount of time to deduce.

It wasn’t until 1995, almost 300 years that the final major denomination, Southern Baptist Council, officially declared slavery, and racial discrimination to be unbiblical. [To the SBC’s merit, I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that they were all racists until 1995.] Almost 2000 years after the death and resurrection of a man that Love was His definition, we decide “oh wait, the color of your skin doesn’t presuppose worthlessness.”

Church, we were wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. In the most oppressive, despicable, selfish manner. We must put aside the idea that our current beliefs are infallible. The only infallibility can be found in the Scriptures, but we as a people muddy it with our egotistical wants and our egocentric desires.

It is preposterous to say that we have it all figured out. There is no way we can say that. So the answer to the begged question is this: the church has been wrong many times over, and caused terrible things to happen. All because we believed that we knew what the scripture said. In humility and wisdom, we MUST assume the possibility of being wrong about theology. Only then can the church realize that the systematic oppression of women is detrimental to the well-being of the Church and of the family.

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Bio: Richard King is pursuing his degree in Christian Counseling with the end goal of becoming a Chaplain in the US Military. He is happily married to his wife of 6 years, Sydney, and they have one daughter and two dogs to make their home with. Richard is very interested in theology and finding the heart of Jesus.

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7 Comments

  • You are preaching brother & I love this! You’re right we have to humble ourselves and accept that we might have been/be wrong about some very important things. May God make all of us revolutionaries of our times and allow us to be a part of His world wide redemption!

  • oppression. A very emotive word. Last night, I saw a part of the International news where cutting a girls vagina ( officially banned in the Country concerned) was part of the culture. trafficking women into prostitution which I have seen is oppression. Trafficking people into sweat shops, Which believe it or not goes on in the west, that is oppression. I say, a lot of the things that are argued here, are straw men. Real oppression is raw. I know women who can tell you about if from experience and it is nothing like the theological matters that are discussed. I have friend who suffered domestic violence and although some years ago, it still upsets her, and I find that when you are confronted by women who really are oppressed, then all the other matters are so trivial. I still say that they are not about oppression they are about personal ambition.

    • But by silencing 1/2 the church as leaders the “real” oppression loses 1/2 the army to speak out and rally troops against it. Not every article needs to be an exegesis of why the Bible supports women in leadership, I for one appreciated what this piece had to say.

    • I have experienced both. I witnessed domestic abuse (severe wife beating) as a child, was sexually assaulted as a child, and emotionally abused by male family members in ways which focused on my female status. When I became a Christian and began to be a part of church community, I was exposed to the domination tactics, theological, verbal, and structural, that are used to keep women in the church subordinate to men.
      From having experienced both of these realities, I see them originating from the same place: a strong desire in men to dominate women, and fear of what could happen if women have power. The Christian men spiritualized and intellectualized their tactics while my male family members just used terror, but as a person who experienced both for decades, I think they spring from the same source.
      Wanting to be free from bullying is not personal ambition. My experience after decades in evangelicalism is that in churches that teach the subordination of women, the men (and sometimes also the women) carry on a constant effort to make sure women are staying in their place. Women are policed: their clothing, personality traits, speech, grooming, and level of deference to men. A group does not maintain inequality among adult people without enforcement of that inequality.
      From your name, I take it you are a man. You have not lived as a woman in these environments. It is tiring and disheartening. In my experience, Christian men do not even notice that all this is going on for the women in their churches, and what they do notice they think is not a big deal. (Your comment is a common feeling among church going men.) I’m not saying that Christian men do this out of malice – most of them are so used to Christian misogyny that they don’t even notice it. But I am telling you now that it is a big deal. It is very real and very painful. It is not trivial. Look around at the books and blogs being written by Christian women, and you will hear stories of tremendous pain and rejection stemming from the drumbeat of female subordination in the church. We are your sisters in Christ, as much as the women undergoing genital mutilation, and we need your help. Standing with us will be harder for a Christian man than standing with victims of genital cutting. Your friends and associates won’t question your stand regarding this mutilation of women – but what would happen if you began to stand against the paradigm of male supremacy in the church? That is likely to stir up real trouble for you. Are you willing to stand with women in a way that would involve personal cost?

  • I should also say that at no point does the bible say slavery is right. It does however say that if a slave can gain his freedom and he or she wants to accept then the may do so unless they choose to be a bond slave. As for the trinity, it is a construct that did indeed come later to help our understanding, however the Father the son and holy ghost are all in the bible, long before trinitarian theology was ever thought of.

  • The church was not unilaterally wrong about slavery. Patrick of Ireland wrote a moving appeal to the church to end slavery because Christ died for all people, and slavery causes suffering for people who Christ died to save. He was ignored by the church – the Roman world was structured around slavery. But he did get it right, and I don’t think he was the only Christian who thought this way. When Scandinavia converted to Christianity in the 11th century, individual slave holders freed their slaves when they converted to the new religion from paganism, because slave holding was considered incompatible with Christianity. They were not forced to, they just did.
    What went wrong with the church and slavery in the 15th century? I think the answer is at least partially racism. When the former vikings freed the slaves they had captured while raiding (and descendants of those captured slaves), those people looked so much like the Scandinavians that they integrated into the society as a new class of freedmen. Americans never assimilated the former African slaves, and I would argue that race, and an obviously different appearance, made the difference.
    I think something similar goes on with women. Sexism has old and strong roots in Western culture. Read what the Greeks had to say about women, not to mention the early church fathers, and the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. It is obvious to me that these were all people who distrusted, feared, and even hated women and the female side of life. Why would they not allow women to integrate into the church (or society for that matter)? I see the same fear and rejection from traditional men that one sees in the push back from whites during the Civil Rights Movement. These are powerful and deep feelings in our culture. Women are beaten, murdered, and raped at an astounding rate in our culture, and I do not believe this is an accident, it is the result of a deep anger in men towards women.

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