Thursday, January 5, 2012

confessions of an evangelical egalitarian

Today, I'm coming clean, as if any reading this don't know by now.

I'm an egalitarian.  I believe that God calls both men and women to serve him in all capacities of church leadership and ministry, and I reject the principle of male headship in marriage and family.

You may be wondering what a post like this is doing on a blog on worship.  That is a good question.  I think it's the perfect place, actually.  Because I believe that the worshipful response to God's self-revelation is for all believers, men and women, to use the gifts and calling of God on their lives in life and ministry.

I was raised to believe that patriarchy was God's plan for society, and that any professing Christian who disagreed was either deceived or deluding themselves.  After all, the Bible has spoken, and there are just some capacities that are boy's clubs.  It's so simple.

But we all know that in biblical interpretation, we cannot go straight from reading to application.  We have to interpret.  We're not throwing parts of the Bible out, we're doing our best to get it right.  We want to know what it is saying to us.  Today.  Right now. There are many who have done this and done it well, so I won't try to say it any better, (I would point you to the writings available at the Christians for Biblical Equality website) but I can tell you a little bit about my transition.

If you had talked to me during my years at Baylor University, I would have told you that evangelical feminism was a crock, a godless idea borne out of a rebellious society that was infiltrating the Church.  I said some horribly offensive things to some fellow students when they voiced opposition to my subtly extreme patriarchal views.  But my last couple of years, I began to slowly sink into a crisis of faith and the darkest time of my life.  Long story short, I began to question a lot of the old beliefs I grew up with.  And I found out, they'd become idols.

The scene shifts to Wheaton College.  I was a young theology student who still clung to his unexamined legalism disguised as garden variety conservatism.  But it didn't last long.  I found myself studying under a diverse collection of professors.  That alone was life-giving.  I found out for the first time that you can be a committed Christian and a Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or Mennonite or, yes, an egalitarian.

I can point to several specific instances when I literally felt the Spirit leading me away from patriarchy.  When confronted with the biblical evidence, there was no turning back.  I realized that no matter how I previously felt about patriarchy, I couldn't get there from the text. 

It's not always been easy.  Old habits die hard.  Just when I think I'm past all the old biases, they will reappear.  But I trust that the Spirit is working God's purpose out in my life and pray those habits will continue to disappear.

I remember being at an ordination service for my best friend a few years ago and watching the parade of ordained men dropping by the front and giving my friend and his wife their words of wisdom. I realized at that moment that, no matter whether the pointers were healthy or unhealthy, my friends were only hearing half the story.  I'm sure in the congregation there that evening, there were many, many women who God has gifted and called to full participation in pastoral ministry.  And we (the Church) haven't let them.  And they might not even realize it.

Some of you are thinking that your old pal Jonathan has taken an Aigner-sized cookie cutter to the Bible, so that I can magically make it say whatever I feel.  I don't know if I can say this strongly enough: I am a committed evangelical Christian, and I hold the Bible in very high esteem.  It is infallible, the final authority in these matters.  I've arrived here after a lengthy process with much prayer, study and reflection. 

The difficulty of this issue is that there are those who will distance themselves from me solely over this issue.  I've been told that I'm giving up my faith, under Satan's control, giving up my true masculinity, etc.  But I'm convinced that to oppose gender equality is to give up God's best for his people and is against the entire witness of Scripture.  I'm also embarrassed that I was once one of those very people saying those very hateful things.  And I'm not going out on a limb here.  There is a huge (and growing) host of evangelicals who stand here with me, even some of the most reliable and prolific male names in evangelical ministry and scholarship, such as N.T Wright, Stanley Grenz, Gordon Fee, Greg Boyd, Tony Campolo, Scot McKnight, John Stackhouse, Ronald Sider, and numerous others.

And while this injustice lingers, there's a lot of work to be done in the church by us men.  We need to get rid of the subtle rejections that say, "You're welcome as long as you don't stir up any trouble."   Or, knowing scoffs and smiles among us men that say, "Isn't it cute - the little girl wants to be in our club."  We have to stop treating our wives like they need to serve us while we come home from work and check out in front of the TV, regardless of whether she has outside employment.  And, most of all, the offensive terms we use to label strong and capable women MUST cease.  Permanently.  Right now.

We have to lay down our defensiveness in favor of some authenticity and empathy.  After all, throughout history, we've had the upper hand.  It's time we accept women as full partners in life and ministry.