I'm a big fan of dialogue. I think its the best way for us to learn from each other and have our characters formed in such a way that we become more like Christ. (This is predicated upon the idea that both side are really listening, of course.) Not to mention the fact that I'm in the academic realm, a sphere of life that, at its best, is organized around discussion, dialogue, and learning from one another. For this reason, I'm happy and eager to dialogue about a lot of issues--just about everything, in fact. But, lately, I've decided that there's one issue I'm fed up with--one topic of debate that I'm done weighing in on: women in ministry.
For those of you not in the evangelical world, its probably a surprise that this is still an issue. But, it is. Its a very big issue. And, a resurgence in traditional views of gender roles (in the SBC and elsewhere) has kept the pot boiling rapidly.
I don't come down on the "traditional" side on this debate. As I have written elsewhere, I contend that the good news of the Kingdom of God tells us that human beings are the unique and beloved climax of God’s creative work. God formed human beings in the Triune image, as male and female, to reflect God’s relationality, love, creativity, spirituality, freedom, and intelligence. Spirit of God created in humans a capacity to know and respond to God’s loving initiative and to participate in the rule of God in the created order. God's intention for humanity as male and female was for mutual, equal, and interdependent communion, but sin has marred God's original creation and perpetuated subordination and misogyny in human societies. Part of the renewal of all things in the Christ's new creation is that men and women are reconciled to one another in Christ. Through Holy Spirit's power, men and women are able to reclaim their loving, peaceful, and mutually submissive place together in the reign of God. This means that men and women both image Christ and, therefore, serve in all aspects of ministry, depending upon their gifting and qualifications for service.
In the past, I've weighed in on this matter with my perspective more times than I can count--in almost every context having to defend myself and my views to those who would say that I'm "out of place" in the pulpit and in the classroom. In these ways, I've always been on the defensive: defending why women are indeed equal in both essence and function in the body of Christ. I've answered the biblical questions time and time again. I've written on interpretations of Genesis 1-3. I've argued about interpretations of Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2, and more. I've written my own blogs on these issues and posted things on other blogs. I've interacted by email, over coffee, in churches, in classrooms, and even on instant message. I've defended myself and the women I feel I represent over and over and over again. And, slowly, I've grown tired of doing it. (Just to get an idea how much time I've spent writing on this issue, you can search "gender" or "women" on this blog and see what comes up.)
It dawned on me this week just how much time and energy I've spent justifying myself. And, I'm not alone. Women in just about every academic field (but especially theology and ministry) spend countless hours explaining to detractors and critics why they should even be doing what they're doing. In fact, even women whose fields of study don't include gender issues or feminism or anything of the sort find themselves expected to be conversant in such matters in order to defend their right to practice in their field! (You can read a post here with a lengthy explanation from women's historian Gerda Lerner of how the advancement of women in education and academic fields has been retarded, among other things, by this constant demand that they justify themselves).
After thinking about this for a while, I've decided that this situation is absurd. Women should not have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to exercise their gifts in the body of Christ. I should not have to preface every publication, every lecture, every sermon with an explanation as to why I should be able to do what I'm doing (and even, as I've actually been asked many, many times, whether my husband is "OK" with what I'm doing).
There comes a time when dialogue ends. There comes a time when conversations should cease. I don't hold my brothers and sisters who disagree with me in contempt. By no means. I don't contend that they're anathema for disagreeing with me (and I hope that they would say the same for me). I do not deny that the matter of women in ministry remains a major issue for evangelicals and I do not suggest that anyone take the issue lightly. But, for me, I've made my decision. I've put my stake in the ground, so to speak. I'm no longer "searching the Scriptures"; I've come to a conclusion. And, to proceed otherwise is disingenuous.
I'm convinced that the Scriptures, the person and work of Christ, and the practice of the early church supports the view that women are equal heirs with men and equal servants in God's Kingdom. I'm convinced that this is not a secondary issue, at least not for the women it concerns. I'm convinced that patriarchy results in systemic evil and that androcentrism and misogyny are grave sins against God's good design for humankind.
And so, I've decided I'm not having that conversation anymore. I'm happy to talk about gender, sexuality, and the church, feminism and Christianity, and more. I'm happy to discuss the challenges women face in ministry, the dual roles of motherhood and academia (or motherhood and ministry), and the dynamics of marriage and family in an "egalitarian" model. I may even find times when I feel convinced that rehearsing the same old arguments about women in ministry is beneficial for the person with whom I speak. Of course, in that case, I hope I'll be obedient to the leading of God's Spirit. But, I'm not defending myself anymore.
Enough is enough.
The time is too short. The Gospel is too precious. The mission is too urgent.
For those who are certain I'm wrong, my arguments from Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience will more than likely fail to convince you. And, the reverse is also true. We are at a theological impasse. And so, rather than waste time, energy, and resources rehashing the same arguments that neither of us are going to be convinced by, let's move on and leave the conclusion of the problem up to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I'll find a communion in which women are free to function as Spirit of God equips them. You'll find something in keeping with your own convictions. And, as it has been throughout history, the Kingdom of God will advance despite our differences.