Am I Sexist?

There has been a lot of news coverage recently of the debate within the Church of England concerning whether women should be bishops or not. Naturally much of the commentary expresses contempt for those whose ‘traditionalism’ causes them to oppose female bishops. This view is considered to be outrageously sexist, and some would even like laws to be changed to make this kind of ‘discrimination’ illegal.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that I am not even sure that there should be male bishops in the church, I have to admit that my reading of Scripture leads me to side with the "complementarian" position. This position does not seek to deny "equality" between the sexes. On the contrary, it positively affirms that men and women are…

  • equally bearers of the image of God
  • equal in value or worth
  • equal in dignity
  • equal in moral responsibility
  • equal in salvation (the same "way in" for all)
  • equal as recipients of the gift of the Spirit
  • (and I would add as a charismatic) equal as recipients of the gifts of the Spirit

However, complementarians also believe that there are differences between male and female, and that these differences are good. They come from God’s creative intention. Rather than competing with one another, men and women actually complement one another. One of the ways that complementarians see these differences outworking is in leadership of the local church, specifically the eldership. They believe the New Testament teaches that men are to be called as elders in the church, to serve by exercising authority and taking responsibility for the care and spiritual well-being of those in the congregation.

Now no matter how carefully you nuance this view, and explain that Christian leadership is about serving, not controlling or bossing people, it will still be dismissed as sexist. It would be awkward to say the least for me to explain this point of view to those I work with.

The irony of it is, that despite my ‘sexist’ views, I have found myself squirming in my seat at work recently listening to the discussions of my male colleagues. In their view on the world, a woman’s worth seems to be measured almost entirely on how ‘fit’ she is. Women are treated as though they exist simply for men’s viewing pleasure. In the ‘lad’ culture that prevails, it is apparently fine to come out with comments like "smack my bitch up" when talking about your girlfriend. Because of course, if you were to call them to order, they can simply claim that they didn’t mean you to take them seriously, and tell you to ‘lighten up’ a bit.

It has left me wondering how we have got into this state, where evangelical Christians are seen as the ones who are anti-women, while those whose attitudes seem most demeaning towards women are left unchallenged. I wonder whether I should speak up and call people to order for the way they speak about women. What would I say? Would I be perceived as a total hypocrite given my own ‘sexist’ views? Is this an issue on which actions would speak louder than words? I would be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this one.

5 thoughts on “Am I Sexist?

  1. OK, but don’t you have to ask why women are expected not to speak in church? Is it really true that men always have something better to say than women?

    As to the biblical example, I’d say it is not as clear as we sometimes pretend. If anything, the women in the New Testament are more obvious and multifaceted characters than even some of the disciples, of whom we read very little.

  2. Hi Joe,

    First, I don’t think there is any Scriptural prohibition against a woman speaking in church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul clearly expects them to pray and prophesy. He does though appear to limit them in some way (1 Cor 14:34), and the most obvious explanations seem that they were not permitted to preach/teach or to interrupt the teaching with questions.

    Second, it is certainly not true that men always have something better to say than women.

    You are certainly right to say that everything is not as clear as we would like it to be on this issue

  3. Fair enough 🙂 – although there appears to be a NT example of a woman leading (and apparently teaching) in a church. Circumstantially, I am also aware of several women in very effective leadership roles in very difficult parts of the world.

    I know this doesn’t necessarily add up to much, but I’m starting to think that if we read scripture to say that women shouldn’t teach in church, the problem is with us not the scripture.

    That said, I’m not sure that the majority of women (and come to that the vast majority of men) ministers/leaders are following the biblical model of church leadership.

  4. Some organisations (CWR) seem to teach Complementarianism in marriage but Egalitarianism in church leadership. How can this be? If you’re a man and your wife becomes an elder, she would then be in authority over her husband. Also, Adam combines leadership in marriage with spiritual responsibility for his progeny (cf Ro. 5), as far as I can see. I daresay some would say, let’s draw a circle around the marriage to delineate it from the church leadership, but how would that harmonise with the holistic nature of Hebrew thought?

  5. I have changed my view because I have realised that the Bible (and especially the New Testament) doesn’t set out a ‘principle of male headship’ that extends beyond marriage, and that females are baptised in the church age (only males were and are circumcised, of course). It seems to me that New Frontiers, in common with other Calvinistic parts of the evangelical church (and perhaps the Roman expression of Christianity) has a strictly literal approach to interpreting the Bible. Paul’s comments about the ‘strong’ bearing with the ‘weak’ seem particularly apt to this, when you have (bravely!) come to the position of accepting that women can lead, too.

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