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.