Monday, August 24, 2015

My personal take on complementarian gender roles

In recent days, I’ve been following along, reading, and watching while a bit of a firestorm brews over the issue of the complimentarian position on women in our reformed churches. Here are a few of them, if you need to get caught up: Aimee Bird | Carl Trueman1 | Todd PruittCarl Trueman2 | Wendy Alsup.


My concern is that folks on both sides of this debate may be devaluing the relevance and significance of the Biblical complementarian teaching on the issue of womanhood. As someone who came from a completely secular upbringing, surrounded by mostly boys and men in childhood, and who spent 24 years of my adult life in the military (again, with mostly men), I’d like to think that I have a unique perspective and hopefully some valuable insights to contribute to the discussion.


First, I’d like to start by giving a bit of my personal background, and then follow up in another post by directly responding to the recent issues raised surrounding complementarian teaching. 

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When I first joined the church, the last thing on earth that I wanted was to be sent to a Bible study with a bunch of women. I did not want to be considered that type of a weak woman -- one who found her identity in a husband and children (and knitting and doilies)!! As someone who was used to leading squads, platoons, and even an entire company for a while -- groups made up of mostly men -- I couldn’t help but relate to their women’s ministries as something, quite frankly, alien and foreign. The seemingly frivolous nature of everything that lots of the churches I encountered had associated with women's ministry had very little substantive to offer a woman of my occupation and station in life. 
Furthermore, because of my upbringing and professional career, I never particularly bonded well with women and didn’t need to. In fact, even after being a Christian and a member of a Presbyterian church for a few years, I still greatly disliked women and was pretty unhappy with the idea that I should be one of those blanket-knitting, doily-making, fluff-and-stuff creatures that gathered together for tea-times sporting their fine china ensembles. I was quite content with male-led Bible studies, where I could interact theologically with the men and have substantive conversations about interesting things like mission, outreach, evangelism, and cars.
In those days, I was convinced that my only hope as a reformed Christian woman was to become a missionary, because female missionaries embodied the type of Christian woman that I respected and could envision myself emulating. This missionary focus enabled me to see my vocation in the military as a mission field, where I had the privilege of watching as the Lord saved many young men and women around me. He used me -- my testimony, my friendships, and my personal study of the Word -- as one of His means to draw them to Himself. Twice when my unit deployed to another country (Japan and Germany), we left this county with only one known Christian in the unit (moi) and returned with several others who would go on to profess faith in Christ soon after, and eventually join a Biblical church as a participating active member.  The joy of hearing someone who adamantly fought tooth and nail during the train-up process against even admitting that God existed, return to the states months later only to proclaim that at church that Sunday he had heard the best sermon ever – and it was on the topic of sin and repentance—is immeasurable.
Still though, there was such a huge disconnect between what I heard coming from women’s ministry and the kind of teaching and work that I longed for. Whenever the topic of men's and women’s roles came up, I recoiled, sneered, and often walked out of the room. I didn’t mind the women’s Bible studies (although they were a bit more touchy-feely than I cared for). What I did mind was the contrived cultural roles that made no sense at all. If the chairs needed to be moved to expand the room, we had to call the men to rearrange them. I would think, “Really?! Are these women so frail and dependent that they can’t even move some chairs? Or are these men so fearful that they would feel threatened by women strong enough to move some chairs?” If the church needed meals to be made for particular a function, the women’s ministry had to send around a sign-up sheet. And then I would think about how my father was such a great chef and loved to cook, and about my male sergeant friend in the Army who had designed and implemented a new nutritional menu plan that was about to be adopted by the sergeant majors’ academy. I began to wonder if there were scripture verses that directed the proper protocol for chair shuffling or food preparation, and decided to check it out when I got home. Needless to say, the scriptures didn’t seem to comport with these strange applications.
After many years as a Christian woman and feeling such a serious gender divide between myself and my church, I had become jaded about gender-divided events or ministries and mostly avoided the women only stuff. I rarely attended the women’s groups and avoided the conferences like a plague. I had a great dislike for women and anything feminine before becoming a Christian, but now I would say my attitude was more like one of contempt.  It was just safer and a whole lot easier for everyone involved if I could just maintain gender-neutrality. Until a good friend dragged/invited me to one of our denomination’s women’s conferences which was put on by our presbytery.
The woman speaking at the event would completely disrupt all of my prejudices and false thinking about what it meant to be a woman in the church. This speaker was thoroughly Biblical, personally engaging, and uncompromisingly challenging. She spoke from the heart, from her own life experience, and also through the lens of Biblical teaching and counsel.  She spoke about everything important to me – the Gospel, God’s Word, sin, repentance, and reformed theology! And she also spoke about the very thing that I had been running from and avoiding – men and women in the church. She even said that she loved being a woman! That she loved submitting to her husband and to her elders at her church. “Loved” it?? Really? And I could tell that she really meant it.
Finally, she said that at these conferences there’s usually a woman sitting there in the audience thinking that she's the only one who feels “different”, “alone”, “alienated”. That was me. Well, except that she also went to say that at every event dozens of these women come up to her and say that that described them – that they were the one who felt different and alone. Over the course of the years, she would tell you there have been thousands.  
This event opened a door for me that had been locked tight for far too long. I had seen a new perspective and a new outlook on women’s ministry that I never expected. I started to devour the teaching that this speaker recommended on her website. Teaching by some of the premiere PCA teachers on the complementarian view, like Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt. I began to embrace the idea of womanhood – female gender identity – as I grappled with what that would look like for me, as an Army Captain, a company commander, and a Christian woman.
As unlikely as you might imagine, in 2007, I was asked to become a member of my local church’s women’s ministry committee. Shortly thereafter, I retired from my role in the military and was invited to become a council member on our presbytery’s women’s ministry, where I have served for about seven years in various roles.  Honestly… who’d a thunk it?
All of this personal backdrop is to say that my passion for women’s ministry is not driven by a need to maintain a stodgy, status-quo, patriarchal interpretation of womanhood, because I’ve never been part of that world. Similarly, my passion for women’s ministry is not driven by the need to fix some outmoded cultural Christianity that defines women by some type of silly, hard-wired fluff-and-stuff, because that is not what the people in my PCA circles teach. In fact, the PCA discipleship committee (led by a male elder of the church) specifically focuses its teaching for women’s ministry on how to Think Biblically and to Live Covenantally. Unpacking that two-sided coin continues to be a great privilege for me and many others. Thus, this is the legacy of sound Biblical womanhood, based on the clear teaching of scripture, which is my passion.  

(In my next post, I plan to look specifically at the complementarian view from a theological perspective via The Affirmations of the Danvers Statement.)

  





Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

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