Within the Church, there are two main “camps” or mindsets. One is called complementarian and the other egalitarian. In general, both believe male and female are equal in value. However, complementarians believe that men and women were created with different roles in the church and home and these roles are meant to complement each other, or work hand-in-hand. They believe there is a hierarchy that goes God first… men second… and women third. This hierarchy means that the ultimate authority in a church or a home must be a man. God’s design, according to the complementarian, is that men, by virtue of being male, have greater responsibility and also greater opportunity available to them than women. While women can be consulted for decision-making, men have the final say. Men can do whatever the Holy Spirit empowers them to do, women can do whatever the Holy Spirit empowers them to do, as long as it does not include leading men or (in some cases) teaching men. In summary: different genders, same value, gender-based roles.
Like complementarians, egalitarians believe that men and women are equal in value. They also believe that men and women are created with distinct differences that complement or strengthen one another. The difference is in prescribed roles and functions. Egalitarians believe that men and women are both equal in their ability to contribute meaningfully to the church and the world. Egalitarians understand that leadership is determined by gifting given by the Holy Spirit not gender and that there are no roles that are limited to one gender or another. In summary: different genders, same value, gift-based roles.
It needs to be said that there is a wide spectrum of application of egalitarian and complementarian theology. So, please don’t assume that all egalitarian women hate men or that every complementarian husband abuses his wife. Those caricatures are unfair and untrue. The truth is, I know wonderful people in both of these theological camps who love Jesus and who are committed to the authority of Scripture.
Where do I land? The debate, for me, is less about exegesis and more about hermeneutics (the lens through which you read the Bible). If the tricky passages on women in leadership are the rule, then the many passages which affirm women in leadership are the exception to the rule. Likewise, if the passages affirming women in leadership are the rule, then the prohibitive passages are the exception. Which way we fall on that is indicative of our hermeneutic and has significant implications for the Gospel and its effects on the redemption and restoration of the world.
I read Scripture with a fully Wesleyan hermeneutic, meaning I value the arc of Scripture over individual texts and I interpret individual texts with the trajectory and themes of the entire Biblical narrative in mind. With this understanding of Scripture, I can’t help but affirm the calling and giftedness of both women and men and celebrate the fruit of their ministry.
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