Friday, 7 December 2012

Egalitarianism is not liberalism. Complementarianism is not misogyny.

Whilst nothing that happens in evangelicalism in the UK is (sadly) ever more than a storm in an egg cup the last week has seen an unreasonable amount of angst about Bristol CU's "policy" of not having women preaching and the underlying attitudes of UCCF as a "parent" organisation that might (or might not) be shown by this.

One thing that Christians who take a high view of Scripture (by which I mean inerrantist or infallibilist) and are in favour of women speaking and leading in churches and CUs get
very irritated by is the logic of some complementarians that runs like this:

  • Male leadership/headship is the teaching of the Bible.
  • You don't believe in it.
  • Therefore you don't really believe the Bible.
  • Therefore you're not really a proper Christian.
  • Therefore I don't have to listen to you.

I have seen this "logic" deployed on a few occasions in the last week. The flaw, of course, is that the first point is the one disputed! As I say those committed to there being no differences between men and women with regard to ministry roles are rightly irritated by this.

Far more commonly on display on Twitter and blogs this week, however, have been arguments that run like this:

  • The equality of men and women requires that both are allowed to minister in the same ways.
  • You don't believe they should be able to.
  • Therefore you don't really believe in equality.
  • Therefore you are oppressive and immoral.
  • Therefore you're not really a proper Christian
  • Therefore I don't have to listen to you.

Again there is a total failure in this logic to recognise that the dispute is precisely over the first point!

For there to be any genuine Christian fellowship or meaningful debate within an evangelical framework complementarians need to accept that it is genuinely possible to believe in the full authority of Scripture and think that it's OK for women to be (for example) elders in a local church. Equally egalitarians need to accept that it's perfectly possible to believe in and practice equality and say that some ministry roles are not open to women. Of course some egalitarians do not really believe in the full authority of Scripture, even if they say they do, and complementarians are sometimes misogynist, even if they say they aren't. But liberalism and misogyny are not necessary entailments of either position.

Put more simply:
Egalitarianism is not (necessarily) liberalism.
Complementarianism is not (necessarily) misogyny.

This is precisely the line UCCF is trying to tread with its very sensible policy. Any CU that had a policy which says its members must have women speakers, or one which says it must not have them, is effectively saying that the opposite view is incompatible with the Doctrinal Statement. So a UCCF CU that has never had a woman speaking is just as compatible with the essential truths of the gospel as one that has them speaking regularly - this is the very essence of what it means for this to be a secondary issue.

The kind of people who use either of the logical frameworks I've outlined almost always end up making their particular view of women's ministry a gospel essential and, worse, relegating other more important issues to be secondary. That can happen in both directions but has been most visibly demonstrated by the "egalitarians" this week allying with, for example, those who deny the the core truths of the UCCF DB in order to pursue their particular view of what "equality" needs to look like.

So, if you believe either that is essential that women must speak at each CU, or you believe that it is essential that they must not, you have a different set of primary beliefs from UCCF. I'm sure all the UCCF staff will respect that but the organisation you are wanting to create is not a UCCF CU!


Mike Print said...

Great post saying something which should be obvious and common-sensical but which many on both sides seem to get wrong!

Peter said...

Andy what are your thoughts on the Gospel Coalition's position then?

Tanya Marlow said...

I very much like your analysis, but that may be because I am also UCCF/CU trained to readily distinguish what are 'core gospel' issues and which are secondary. I am hearing a lot lately that releasing women into ministry *is* a gospel issue because the gospel means that we need to reverse effects of Fall etc. This means it's very difficult to argue, but these same people wouldn't say that 'gospel issues' are those that make you a Christian or not. It's all a bit confusing cos we are using the same language but not meaning the same things.

A while ago, my husband Jon Marlow wrote a post called 'is postmodernism passé?' in which he argued that we are no longer in a 'this is my truth tell me yours' culture but a 'you can't say that!' culture. This Twitter interaction certainly bears this out...

Richard said...

I disagree that "egalitarians need to accept that it's perfectly possible to believe in and practice equality and say that some ministry roles are not open to women". To claim such a thing is nothing more than doublespeak. If some some ministry roles are not open to women then that is not equality, that is inequality.

DaveW said...

I agree totally with Richard.

Andrew Evans said...

Richard/Dave - you are, of course, completely entitled to your own view! But, essentially, this merely confirms the thesis of my post - you are unable to accept that other people with Scriptural integrity can hold an complementarian view and be accepted in gospel partnership with you. For you this is a primary issue.

I respect that (although I disagree with you both about what the Scripture teaches and about its relative importance amongst doctrines).

But you shouldn't expect UCCF (or EA?) which have historically held this is not a primary issue to fit in with your theological scheme. If you want only to work with other Christians who hold to your particular view of what equality entails you need to set up new structures/churches/parachurch movements that have this as a core doctrinal commitment, not try to impose that commitment on those for whom this is not a primary issue.

Andy L said...

The problem lies with UCCF then. It has not been true to the Bible on this issue which clearly has men as overall leaders/elders of the church - whether that is seen as a core or a secondary issue. Has UCCF lost its bottle?

Richard said...

Hi Andy,

I would be interested in how you are defining equality; if a woman cannot be a presbyter, on the grounds that she is a woman, then I am unable to see how you can claim that men and women are equal. To my mind this is no different than saying it's perfectly possible to believe in and practice equality and say that the roles of doctor, solicitor, CEO, are not open to women. I assume you would think that practice was discriminatory.

It is perhaps strange you say that I am "unable to accept that other people with Scriptural integrity can hold an complementarian view and be accepted in gospel partnership with you." I am more than happy to be in Gospel partnership with those who differ with me on this question, but that does not mean I must not question their assumptions.

I agree with you that those who label themselves complementarians need to tone down the polemic, and understand that it is possible to believe in the authority and trustworthiness of scripture, and accept women should become presbyters; Two good examples being Craig Keener's Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul and Gordon Fee's commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Anthony Smith said...

Richard/Dave - would you say there is any difference between saying two things are "equal" and saying two things are "the same"?

At the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that things can be different but equal. The Father, Son and Spirit are not the same, but all are to be worshipped equally as divine. To say that the role of the Father is not open to the Spirit is not inequality. The Persons of the Trinity are different but equal.

I don't think the "equality" agenda that we've bought into in our society can recognise that. That concept of equality is one that allows for no genuine diversity. People must always be treated the same, and trivial irrelevant details (such as whether they are male or female) must never be allowed to make a difference to how they are treated. Amen?

Richard said...


I would indeed recognise a difference exists between saying men and women are "equal" and saying women and men are "the same". The former is true, the latter absurd. But then of course, all men are equal but no two men are the same; equally all women are equal and no two women are the same.

So we agree that men and women are different but equal, though being aware that we ought not make this mean more than it says. There is an excellent book of essays entitled Discovering Biblical Equality; the reason I mention this is because of its subtitle: Complementarity without Hierarchy. The problem I have with the 'complementarian' case is that it draws conclusions regarding hierarchy that are grounded on gender differences. Now, I have no problem with hierarchy, I do have a problem with arguments that map gender differences onto this.

When the question of leadership within the church is discussed, the question surely cannot be whether women are unable to lead, they can do so. There are examples of this within both the secular world and also within the church - Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, and other denominations have women involved in church leadership, and they are more than competent. Leadership ability is not gender determined.

So if women are able to lead, why should they be refused to be leaders in the church? Both men and women are able to lead, so why prevent women from doing so? They may lead in a different way from men, but then different men have different leadership styles.

It may be suggested that scripture forbids women from holding leadership positions; I don't think it does. William Webb's Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis is helpful on this.

You are right that people can be different but equal, but that is not what we are talking about. We are not talking of ontology, to prevent women from holding leadership positions within the church discriminates against women as a gender. Sure, I don't buy into all of the rhetoric that those on the 'egalitarian' side use, nor do I disagree with you that the concept of equality which allows for no genuine diversity is flawed, but then there is a difference between equality before the law, and everyone being the same. So I am not arguing that everyone must be the same, I am arguing that there must be equality before the law, though in an ecclesiastical setting.

DaveW said...

"Richard/Dave - you are, of course, completely entitled to your own view! But, essentially, this merely confirms the thesis of my post - you are unable to accept that other people with Scriptural integrity can hold an complementarian view and be accepted in gospel partnership with you. For you this is a primary issue. "

Sorry you misunderstand my view.

This is not whether I will work in gospel partnership.

My disagreement on this point is that you are mis-using the word equality.

It is not possible to claim that Complementarianism fits with equality, that is simply redefining the word.

In the same way using the word equality to mean the same is also a misuse.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as

1 [mass noun] the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities:

Neither of your claims about the word being compatible with complementarianism or meaning "the same" fit with the English Language.

Andrew Evans said...

Very helpful question from Malcolm whose technology wouldn't let him post:

Hello Andrew.
I was going to post a comment on your blog but was unable to for technical reasons.
I would like to thank you for your refreshing blog, your thoughtful and step by step analysis of the situation. I appreciate this approach, and almost entirely agree with you. I do agree this subject should always be a secondary issue, but when debating with complimentarians, it always seems to spill over into other areas. It ends up with 1 tim 2 12 being seen as Gods final and last word on the subject, with that verses authority overriding any other verse that might imply a more relaxed view on women teaching.
Agreeing to differ is then the solution, but as your post points out, you are then seen as not really beleiving the Bible etc. How do you reconcile there being christians with a high view of scripture, who beleive in women teaching in church, as you said in your post exist, with the authority of 2 Tim 2 12.?
Yours in Christ, Malcolm Patrick

Andrew Evans said...

Malcolm - thanks for your excellent question.

It seems to me that 1 Tim 2 is intended to teach (in combination with other NT passages) that women should not be elders in local churches and I understand this to apply for all time.

However I can see that within a framework of commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture it's possible to understand 1 Tim 2 as a purely local response on Paul's part to the situation in Ephesus, perhaps linked to a heresy being taught by a particular class of wealthy women.

I personally find this exegesis unconvincing (for lots of reasons - not least that I've never found an egalitarian who would say that there are any circumstances where they would introduce a blanket ban on women teaching in a local church based on the false teaching of some women which makes me wonder why they think Paul would?!).

However I don't find it so unconvincing as to enable me to say it lies outside the bounds of plausible interpretations (as I would if somebody taught, for example, a prosperity gospel), even though I think it's erroneous.

This means that there is much more theological difference between someone who argues that women should teach because Paul got it "wrong" in 1 Tim 2 and someone who says women should teach because 1 Tim 2 is occasional/temporary, that there is between that second person and me.

One of the problems in this debate (and in the women bishops thing) is that people on both sides with a high view of Scripture are allying themselves with non-evangelicals (and even non-Christians) to fight brothers and sisters who hold the same essential doctrines but who differ on this issue. That seems to me to contravene all the spirit of the NT calls to unity.

Mabel said...

The problem with complementarian with hierarchy is that they would bar women from serving purely on account of the flesh. Egalitarians do not bar any Godly person who are called to serve from ministering. It is not fair to compare the 2, as one is exclusive, based on a few proof texts while ignoring the whole of Scripture. Complementarians will shut the door on women. When what you believe actively results in you excluding others from serving, preventing them from serving, then your ideology is a hurtful one in human terms, as that ideology is directed against the innocent, and being a woman is not a sin. I have heard many tearful stories of women who are treated with a double standard and much worse by Christians. Complementarianism as it is commonly known (the word is misused and a euphemism for gender hierarchy) always leads to hurting innocent people. If i am the owner of a restaurant and one of my workers insists on not serving people of a certain gender or of a certain race, I would be forced to fire him/her. This is not to hurt him/her, but to prevent him/her from hurting many many many other people.
this article serves to expose some of the weaknesses of using 1Tim2:12 to exclude women:

Little Mo said...

"1 [mass noun] the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities."

Gosh, our church is doing very badly then.

All the people who have no right to do children's work because they have no CRB - not equal.

All the people who don't have the opportunity to be in the band because they don't play an instrument - not equal.

All the people (men and women) the church hasn't appointed to lead because they don't have the gifts or character - not equal.

This is a crazy definition of the word equality to try and map on to church life.

Richard said...

Hi Mo,

You are confusing equality of opportunity with equality of outcome.

All those who wish to help out with children's work are able to obtain a CRB. There is equal opportunity.

All those who wish to be in the band have nothing preventing them, that they are unable to play an instrument prevents them. There is equal opportunity.

All those people who wish to lead are able to if they possess the gifts or character. There is equal opportunity.

Little Mo said...


1) They aren't. There are plenty of people in our church who would not be able to obtain a clean CRB because of their past, or because they come from another country. The fact they are excluded from this ministry does not make them less equal in my eyes. I assume it doesn't in yours either, but I can't work out why, seeing as you think that ontological equality must map totally onto equality of opportunity.,

2)Your sentence regarding instruments does not make sense.

3)We don't appoint people who are able to lead on the basis that they wish to lead, even people with the requisite gifts and character. Looking for church leaders isn't a secular recruitment process, you don't fill in a form.

ISTM no matter where you sit on this debate you need to have some room in church life for "equal in personhood status and respect but not qualified for this ministry." If you can have that, then it's possible to be a complementarian and still believe in equality (even if that's not what you think complementarians are doing)

Richard said...


Of course one can say that there is a policy of "equal in personhood but not qualified for this ministry". The problem is that this is not what complementarians are doing. The question revolves around qualifications; my contention is that gender is not a legitimate qualification, any more than race or sexuality is.

Excluding someone from being involved with children's work because they failed a CRB is not inequality, nor is it unequal to exclude someone from being a band member if they cannot play an instrument. Nor is it wrong to prevent someone from being a church leader if they do not possess the necessary skills. None of these breach equal opportunity.

What does breach equal opportunity, and again I reiterate that we are not speaking of ontology, is the prevention of women from holding leadership positions in the local church on the grounds, not of her ability or calling, but because of her gender, discriminates against women and women are refused the same opportunities than men on no other ground than their gender.

DaveW said...


Richard is spot on here.

Try changing gender to skin colour in your arguments to get another view of how wrong they are.

Anthony Smith said...

Richard - I suppose the question is whether the role of an elder (etc) is a job, for which certain skills are needed (understanding and applying the Scriptures, public speaking, counselling, etc). If so, then yes, being a man isn't a skill as such...

The (Anglo-/Roman) Catholics (as I understand it) have a view of the priesthood in which the priest stands in the place of Christ, and in their view the maleness of the priest is relevant, so that a woman cannot represent Christ at the altar. That's about ontology, not about skills.

I suppose that if there is a restriction in gender, and if that restriction is legitimate, then it ought to have an explanation in ontology. Otherwise, as you say, it would be difficult to argue that the restriction is not unfair discrimination.

Richard said...


The question 'what is a priest' is answered differently by different people; the two extremes being those conservative evangelicals who tend to see it as functionally defined and Anglo-Catholics who see it as ontological. The position articulated by Christopher Cocksworth in Being a Priest Today is a useful medium, noting the relational aspect of it too.

Whilst I would see priesthood as more than functionally defined, there are functions that priests perform as set out in the Ordinal. These functions can be performed by both genders.

With regards to the more ontological understanding of priesthood; even there, ordination does not ontologically change the gender of the priest. Plus, the change is carried out by the church through the Bishop, and I find it difficult that as the Bishop ordains a line of men and women, God turns off the grace whenever the bishop's hands are upon the women. There is also the problem that there is a two-fold problem with the argument you note that some Catholics use: (1) there is no logical reason that a female priest could not represent Christ at the altar because it is the priest not the gender that does the representing, but more significantly (2) if it is true that a female cannot represent Christ, then did Christ represent women upon the cross? This raises the question that Rosemary Radford Ruether has asked in Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology: "Can a male Saviour save women?" At any rate, there are plenty of Anglo-Catholics that support womens' ordination.

Personally I'd love to see a an explanation grounded in ontology put forward. I am yet to see one that doesn't base itself upon questionable ideas of masculinity and femininity. A really helpful book is Gender and Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen.

Andrew Evans said...


The "change hender to skin colour" argument you make falls down precisely because the New Testament at no point makes any restrictions as to ministry because of skin colour but it does undeniably make some restrictions as to ministry because of gender.

Whatever you think about the scope and applicability of those restrictions today (and it is here that there is a genuine and possibly helpful debate to be had) if you take Scripture as the final point of reference you cannot simply make comments that treat race and gender as interchangable issues because that is not the way the NT treats them.

DaveW said...


My comment about race/gender was to Mo and she was not talking about roles that anyone believes is proscribed by Scripture (playing in the band, ...)

As for the scripture argument my (not yet fully formed) belief at the moment is that people who have a high view of scripture come to this question typically from two different directions. Both can be said to be consistent with a high view of Scripture.

1st. The way that Complementarians approach Scripture is to start with the restrictions. In this case that essentially means a single verse 1 Tim 2 12. This is the default position as it is understood as a clear commandment from Scripture. From there support is built up from other verses and passages that appear to contradict are seen as weaker because they are less specific.

2md The Egalitarian view is also a high view of Scripture but rather that start with specific restrictions it starts with broader themes and then looks at specific cases in the light of these themes. So for example when looking at Paul they note how often he works with and praises women. They would not how many times (such as Ephesians 4) the language is not gender specific. They would look at Romans 16, Acts etc to see that Women were involved in a wide range of Church Leadership roles (Apostle, Deacon, Church Leader etc). Then when they come to 1 Tim 2:12 they would say that Paul clearly did not keep to this restrictions in all places and at all times so there must be something specific here. They will understand this in the light of Paul's practice elsewhere not as a general restriction but a specific one and there is an ongoing debate about what that specific situation is. Some will argue that it means "a woman" as in a specific person, others that it relates to the cultural and religious mix in that place.

I would argue that both these approaches take a high view of scripture. One values specific restrictions most highly. The other starts with a bigger picture and tries to take a more holistic view

I am just testing this theory and wonder to what extent other egalitarians feel it reflects their approach.

Little Mo said...

I am a boy/man!

Richard, I see you're now happy to say that people can be legitimately excluded from particular ministry roles because of personal characteristics they cannot control, and this does not deny their equality.

I know you don't think gender is a legitimate qualification, but that begs the question. What we have seen is that your original contention that the complementarian position is "doublespeak" is not a position you hold for all the other situations in church life where people are excluded from a ministry. So you need to concede that complementarians can be committed to equality, going by your own definition.

Malcolm Patrick said...

Dave W. I agree with your 2 points as this is the way I approach the Bible. But I Tim 2 13 ties pauls words here into the second account of the creation, and the doctrine of creation principles, which complimentarians espouse, which establishes the headship of men as something which will only be reversed at the day of judgement. For me the primary purpose of the second account of creation is to explain the presence of sin and a fallen world, and to use it in this this way today I do not find compelling.

Richard said...

Andy, perhaps I was unclear, my statement was 'my contention is that gender is not a legitimate qualification, any more than race or sexuality is.' Of course the NT doesn't restrict church leadership depending upon one's race or sexuality, nor does it with gender. But my point in context was one of 'qualifications'. So your rebuttal simply doesn't interact with the substance of my argument; namely, the problem with your definition of equality is that, as I see it, you reason thus: 'Men and women are ontologically equal, so it is fine for there to be inequality of opportunity within the church.'

This means that you are able to (a) claim to believe in equality, and (b) at the same time fail to practice it.

If we change track and think through the big debate between the Left and Right: those on the Left argue that ontological equality is manifested in equality of outcome, everyone having the same, hence using taxes for redistribution of wealth. The Right by contrast believe that ontological equality is manifested by everyone being free to use their talents to obtain what they can, they believe in equality of opportunity.

Going back to how your understanding works its self out; I hope it is clearer why I do not believe your position treats both men and women equally. Yes you believe they are equal, what you have failed to recognise that this need to be translated into practice and your practice denies your prior claim. Hence why I described your claim, that one can "practice equality and say that some ministry roles are not open to women," as doublespeak. By saying that some ministry roles are not open to women you are not practcising equality.

Ultimately, your interpretation of two verses in the NT believes the Bible encodes discrimination between men and women. To forbid access to women to the presbyterate/episcopate is to deny women equal opportunity as a gender.

So when complementarians get criticised for advocating discrimination, it behooves them to recognise that they are not being charged with denying that 'Men and women are ontologically equal', they are being criticised for going on to say that 'it is fine for there to be inequality of opportunity within the church.'

Little Mo

Richard said...

DaveW, I would share your position in general. I would also wish to question the idea complementarians have that Paul roots his argument in creation; does he? First, I would suggest that Paul uses the creation story as an illustration. Second, if Paul was appealing to creation then this means the principle that women cannot have authority over men is creational and should be applied to all spheres of life. Third, we could read it thus: 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over her husband' and so may be refering to a specific individual in the Ephesian church.

Josh said...

"The Oxford Dictionary defines it as

1 [mass noun] the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities"

Out of interest, with that definition would you argue that Christ and the father are not equal?

DaveW said...


"Out of interest, with that definition would you argue that Christ and the father are not equal?"

No, that argument confirms the traditional understanding of the Trinity in which the Father, Son and Spirit are of one essence. Fully equal to each other.

If you have seen the son then you have seen the Father (and the Spirit).

It is sad that in recent years complementarians have introduced the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity as a crutch to support their views. That view leads us towards the ancient heresy of “Subordinationism”

Andrew Evans said...

Dave - your past post hints at a confusion between status and role (ironically precisely the point at issue here.

One can fully affirm the creeds and also say that the Father could not have died on the cross.

Denying a certain (functional) equality to the persons of the Trinity does not deny their ontological equality.

This, of course, is precisely the same argument made by proponents of complementarianism. You may not accept its validity in that case, but to be a Trinitarian Christian you have to accept its validity in principal.

DaveW said...


"Dave - your past post hints at a confusion between status and role (ironically precisely the point at issue here."

I don't think so. If you deny a group of people access to a role for which they are qualified then you are not giving them equal status.

"One can fully affirm the creeds and also say that the Father could not have died on the cross."

Can you? If that was what God wanted to do then God could have done it that way. God chose to send the son, not God was limited in some way and so could only send his son.

"Denying a certain (functional) equality to the persons of the Trinity does not deny their ontological equality."

Again I think you are playing with words. Sadly, the impact is huge in people's lives. The woman called by God yet prevented by men from responding to that call is not helped by men playing with words so they can claim to believe in equality while not giving her equality.

Anthony Smith said...

"Could not" is quite strong. "Would not" will probably suffice here. Is there something about the nature of God that means it would not be the case that the Spirit would give the Father to die on the cross, and the Son would be poured out on the church on the day of Pentecost? Are the Persons interchangeable, in the same way that men and women are (apparently) interchangeable? And if not, are the Persons still equal?

DaveW said...


"Could not" is quite strong. "Would not" will probably suffice here.

Theologically I don't like putting limits on God or telling God how to do things.

So switching from Could to Would is quite a bit difference.

I could try to become Prime Minister, but I wouldn't for a whole raft of reasons.

God chose to act in the ways God has acted and they are good, but God could have done things differently if God had wanted to. That is equality.

Complementarianism does not offer Women this equality. Instead of saying you could choose to apply to be ordained or apply for this role it says you can't. Not equality.

Anthony Smith said...

Dave - are you prepared to go any further?

Could you say it would be inconsistent with the nature of Father, Son and Spirit for their roles to be jumbled up?

Or that it would be inappropriate?

Or that it would be a tiny bit unexpected?

I'm just trying to establish the kind of Trinitarian theology that you seem to be forced into if you hold that saying "A and B are equal" implies that "A and B are interchangeable".

DaveW said...


I'm just trying to establish the kind of Trinitarian theology that you seem to be forced into if you hold that saying "A and B are equal" implies that "A and B are interchangeable".

But I have not said that (at least not intentionally).

All people are unique, their gifts, talents, personalities, preferences, looks, tastes etc etc are unique.

While we are all unique there are things that more than one person can do. We can (mostly) ride a bike yet you can't interchange us with Bradley Wiggins.

Egalitarians do not believe all people are the same or uniquely qualified. We believe that all people are created in the image of God (which reminds us of the breadth of God).

We do not believe that roles should be restricted by gender. Especially roles in the Church should be restricted only by God's calling, the gifts we have and our willingness to offer them. They should not be restricted by gender, ethnicity, height or anything other than. Has God called you? Has God equipped you? Are you willing to respond?

Anthony Smith said...

Okay, I think we're making progress. If we say men and women are not interchangeable, that doesn't mean they are not equal.

Now that you're talking in terms of God's calling, the gifts he has given, and our willingness, your argument sounds much stronger than when it is phrased in terms of equality.

The real question is not about equality, but about whether God has called women to this role.

DaveW said...

"If we say men and women are not interchangeable, that doesn't mean they are not equal."

Yes you are, if you say that gender restricts role, status etc.

If all you mean is that men have a penis and women don't then no problem

Anthony Smith said...

Dave - I accused you of saying that "A and B are equal" implies that "A and B are interchangeable", and I feel obliged to repeat the accusation!

I don't see how else you can interpret a claim that men and women are not interchangeable (in some particular context) as a claim that men and women are not equal.

Does equality imply interchangeability or not?

DaveW said...


"Does equality imply interchangeability or not?"

I am not trying to be awkward.

I just don't understand what the problem with understanding equality it.

It seems to me that gender is essentially irrelevant when we are talking about interchangeability of people just as ethnicity is.

In other words we see Galatians 3:28 being a sign of God's Kingdom partial now and to come in full when he returns.

I just don't understand why this is a big deal. Unless you have lived in a strange world then as a man you will have met just as many women cleverer than you as men. Just as many women with a deeper faith as men. etc etc.

Anthony Smith said...

I suppose that's the big question - whether gender is relevant or not. To be honest, I'm undecided, and I don't find either case entirely compelling. But I think the question needs to be tackled on its own merits, not because of some overriding commitment to "equality" that demands that gender is never a relevant consideration.

DaveW said...


"But I think the question needs to be tackled on its own merits, not because of some overriding commitment to "equality" that demands that gender is never a relevant consideration."

Again you miss the motivation. For Christians like myself the motivation for our commitment to equality comes from the Gospel. The Gospel challenges us to see all people made in the image of God, it challenges us to break down human distinctions of gender, race, slave/free, it calls us to act justly for all people.

I for one came to be determined for equality from the gospel, I did not start as egalitarian and then come to the gospel.

PS does everyone else find these captcha's almost unreadable. Seems to take me 2 or 3 goes to get them right everytime. Such a nuisance

Anthony Smith said...

It's not just you - I keep thinking I must be a robot...

But the gospel is a restoring of the creation, with all its glorious diversity and distinctions. Barriers are indeed broken down, and everything is re-configured in the light of the resurrection, but "We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptised", as NT Wright puts it - in an article in favour of women exercising all kinds of ministry in the church.

I think I'll leave it there - thanks for the discussion!

DaveW said...


"We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptised"

Absolutely and I have never suggested that we do. But that is not a reason to reject equality.

Joshua said...

This blog post encouraged me a great deal, thank you.

It is a shame that the comments seem to be going down a path which the very words written in the post warned against, very wisely in my opinion.

One thing that has shocked me from both sides in the media coverage of the women bishops decision is the disrespect for the other sides' view. I must say the views of mostly very liberal people who care little for the word of God are the ones that have been more readily available as that is what the mainstream media has been publishing. That is hardly shocking. However, when evangelicals bicker and quarrel over this I am shocked at how, just like Andrew pointed out, "there is a total failure in this logic to recognise that the dispute is precisely over the first point". If you are of either the egalitarian or complementarian position because you believe that to be what scripture teaches then please respect the fact that other people could come to different views? Yes, the issue affects many, but we should be trembling as we approach God's word whatever the issue. That is our authority on this and every other matter. As I hope we can all agree on that we should be able to respect that other people may be convinced of different ideas on this topic after careful study of scripture. If we can accept that, and we understand that scripture is our highest authority, is it not the logical conclusion to totally respect other people who wish to live out what they are convinced is the truth from the word?

Richard said...

Only seven days into the New Year and there are already two reads on this topic!

'Hearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons' by John Dickson

'Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry' by Michael F. Bird