Kingdom Women

The continuum on gender bias

Sometimes my blog posts about the impact of women and men to co-laboring side by side in the Kingdom  are picked up by other sites. They can attract a wealth of comments–usually favorable, sometimes disapproving of my position, and on occasion, downright antagonistic.

I’ve observed a whole continuum on gender bias. It goes something like this:

  1. Unashamedly misogynist: these people tell me I’m rebellious and unsubmissive and should get back in line. If God uses me, as a woman, it’s an aberration, rather like God using Balaam’s donkey (and yes, I’ve had someone tell me that!)
  2. Men lead; women follow: these people are sympathetic to the plight of women but believe that the role of women is always to be subservient to that of men. The overall effect is that women are marginalized.
  3. Certain roles are forbidden to women: women can be apostles, prophets and deacons, but the roles of elder and senior pastor are reserved for men only.
  4. Women can do anything. God has gifted women in many ways and their gifts can be used in any way and in any role that God directs. We see this through Biblical examples and throughout history.
  5. There’s no difference between men and women. Any cultural differences should be wiped out.
  6. Women are actually superior to men, and the opinions of men can be disregarded.
  7. Women have been downtrodden through the centuries and it’s payback time.

As you can see, the continuum on gender bias goes from the downright misogynist to the militant feminist. I’ve received comments that reflect all of the above.

I know which one I favor. What about you?

The Black Swan Effect: A response to gender hierarchy in the church is now available.

24 replies on “The continuum on gender bias”

Hi Felicity, it is interesting to see all the options set out like that. I’m probably the same as you, with #4. But as a hopefully honest man, I think there is significant truth in #6 though it is overstated there. I honestly think many men don’t function as well as most women in many situations in our postmodern world (and I’m afraid I have to include myself in there!).

I’m somewhere between 4 and 5. I acknowledge the purely reproductive/biological differences between genders. But as to the rest, and science is beginning to catch up to this, I simply don’t think there are any across-the-board personality or psychological differences between genders per se, only between individuals. Therefore, I don’t think there should be any distinction whatsoever made as far as roles of any kind under any circumstances, and would love to see gender-based stereotypes completely eradicated, in favor of authentic, real relationships between equal human beings who happen to have different physical characteristics of no more importance than the difference between blonde and black hair, or green or brown eyes, or large or small bone structure.

I tried posting earlier but somehow it has not appeared. I’m somewhere between 3 or 4 (though I don’t believe in a role like “senior pastor” unless that’s a misguided reference to apostle). What I wonder about is how these views relate to children. A while ago, you posted how your family had obeyed the command to be fruitful and multiply. It seems like many of those who are 4+ start to view children as optional rather than a part of human flourishing. I was wondering what you think about the relation between having children and women’s empowerment in ministry.

Thanks for an interesting question, Andrew. Obviously there are certain years of a woman’s life where, if she has kids, they are usually her primary responsibility. But that can be used as an excuse not to do anything in the Kingdom. How about working with other moms to start a church? How about starting a church with older kids and their friends? I don’t believe that God sidelines a woman just because she has kids. Equally, however, it’s a problem if a woman focuses on ministry to the detriment of her kids. As in so many areas, it’s a question of listening to Jesus and doing what he says.

Thanks for the answer. I think all of your ideas are great and strongly agree that having children can open ministry opportunities both to non-christians and to mentor and disciple others.

I favor #4 but I think there are some questions that have to be asked regarding #5. There are some cultural differences between women and men that are good and some that are bad, a lot depending on which culture we are talking about. For example I think there are big differences between American culture and Swedish culture (where I live), regarding gender.

Thank you so much for your fantastic blog! It’s a good help in the mission work here in Sweden! Keep up the good work!

Rickard, I’d be interested to hear what the differences are that you find between Swedish and American cultures regarding gender. How do they affect the church?

Thank you for the encouragement too!

As I have said before–with Christ governing a human and us participating with him for the expression of the fathers life it makes no difference to me if it’s a male or female.

It is fascinating to see the types of responses laid out like this. I personally feel that a person in the kingdom should function however they are led by Christ, since that’s his own expression of himself through that individual. I just finished The Black Swan Effect yesterday, and I’m also reading Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church at the same time. Frank makes a point that during the early years of the church, one’s role was identified because they were already functioning in that capacity. He spoke of people elder-ing, and apostle-ing, and so on. These weren’t titles or roles that were given, they were just recognized because brothers and sisters were already using the gifts they’d been given by God. I agree with that. I think we “are” what we’re already “doing.”

As far as #3 goes, in my mind, the role of “senior pastor” is a figment of the institutional, hierarchical imagination. I’m on the fence though about elders. I sure don’t think it is set in stone that only men can be elders, however there is such a need for true “fathers” in the Kingdom. I can’t remember who gets the credit, but I read it somewhere that perhaps part of the reason God is so often referred to as Him and Father is because of the desperate need for fathering after the fall. As far as I can tell from my finite understanding, Jesus would potentially be the only member of the Godhead who truly has gender, since he is fully God and fully human. Otherwise God is spirit and there are aspects of God that are both male and female. All that said, having more male elders than female doesn’t really bother me. It is a beautiful thing to have experienced, supportive spiritual “fathers” to help the younger brethren along (both sisters and brothers)

And #5…I believe the genders are different but complimentary, and utterly equal. To homogenize the genders robs humanity of experiencing the fullness of Christ that can only be experienced in and through his (whole) body…at least that’s my two cents worth!

I used to be #3, but I got past it. I am now #4, but I do think there are some biologically based gender differences, so certain things are rarely done by one gender. That is not a prohibition; it is a God based difference that means some things will be more often done by women while men more often do others.

So, there is truth to #6 IN SOME AREAS. (Not just the things men relegated women to because the men did not want to do them!)

BTW Felicity, you are an aberration in the best sort of way!

Thanks to everyone for a fascinating conversation!

As you all guessed, I’m a #4. I have a hard time with #s 1 and 2. Some of my closest friends are #3 (I may not agree with them, but I can live with it, especially because they are really affirming and encouraging. Plus I don’t have any aspirations to become an elder–being an apostle or prophet is enough to aim at! Personally I think there are good reasons for believing that women can be elders and carry authority. Senior pastors, however, as several of you have said, are totally unscriptural!)

I do tend to believe there are differences in gender beyond the anatomical–maybe they are hormonal. I have several young grandkids and there’s a difference in how they act. The boys love to play fight. The girls enjoy their little ponies. It maybe what is modeled to them but eventually estrogen and testosterone make some kind of difference. However, God’s giftings are not based on hormones. For example, God has gifted me to think logically and strategically. I’ve been told that I think like a man. Some men are very nurturing. Our roles should be based on our gifts, not our gender.

I have a hard time knowing what to think about cultural differences (#5). Personally I like it when a man opens a door for me, but I’m equally happy opening one for a guy. When it comes to culture, the over-riding principle is “becoming all things to all men (!) that by all means we might save some.

Keep the ideas coming…

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