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In addition to the thoughts mentioned in my previous post, it might be worth considering a few more specific things that could be helpful for complementarians and egalitarians as we aim to have gracious, truth-seeking conversations about gender and gender roles. Unlike the last post where I suggested some things that I feel both groups equally could do, I now want to suggest some specifics for each. My list for complementarians is longer given that this is my tribe and so I have spent more time trying to identify the logs in my own eye rather than the specks in my siblings’. Nonetheless, I do have a few suggestions for egalitarians that arise from my own interactions and observations.

When Having the Gender Conversation, I Feel That It Would Be Helpful for Complementarians to…

When Having the Gender Conversation, I Feel That It Would Be Helpful for Complementarians to…

1. Present A BIBLICAL View of Gender.

For some of us, this might mean being careful not to project Western, post-industrial revolution gender norms over what we see in the Scriptures. Any balanced biblical view of gender needs to account for things such as the child-raising father of Proverbs 1—9, the industrious woman of Proverbs 31, and the nursing-mother-love of Paul, Silas and Timothy in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.

2. Unambiguously Communicate How They Understand People of Both Genders Being Truly Equal Before God

3. Demonstrate a Commitment to Complementary Ministries for Both Men and Women

Obviously, no one feels that women cannot be involved in frontline gospel ministry—that would be exclusionism, not completementarianism. This means that complementarians in particular need to work out which ministries they believe can be done by which gender and then not inappropriately genderise ministry roles and appointments. So, for example, if it is determined that a teaching/lead pastor of a mixed-gender congregation needs to be male, does it automatically follow that the evangelist also has to be male? Or the music pastor? Or the youth minister? Or everyone in the eldership group?

As the conversation around gender roles in ministry often lands on the question of whether or not women can preach to a congregation with men present, complementarians need to be clear about what ‘preaching’ is and how it does, or does not, differ from teaching, prophesying and evangelising. Of course, where our English New Testaments print ‘preach’, they are often translating the Greek words for ‘proclaim’ or ‘evangelise’ and this is something that is perhaps quite different from what the New Testament refers to as ‘teaching’—which in turn may not have very much to do with a weekly pulpit ministry.

5. Deal with The Complex Realities of Gender

Although we may all agree that the Bible teaches that God only made human beings ‘male’ and ‘female’, it is nonetheless the case that those ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories may not be fully adequate to account for every single human being in a post-Fall world. At the extreme end, this means we need to know how to think about intersex people who have significant chromosomal or anatomical variations, but it also means considering other complicated questions around gender identification.

6. Show the Good

Without being triumphalist, complementarians ought to be able to demonstrate how complementarianism is not just right, but also good for the Church and the world, and for women as well as men.

7. Understand Both Genders Apart from Sexually Connected Relationships

For example, what does it means for an older unmarried woman without children to be a woman, and a voluntarily single young man to be a man.

I Also Feel That It Would Be Helpful for Egalitarians to…

1. Not Infer Unfairly

In particular, I feel it is not at all appropriate to hint that all complementarian men want to exercise power over women at some level, or that complementarians are relatively unconcerned about violence against women. These would be quite unfair presumptions. To be sure, there may be some complementarians who have such views, but they ought not to be imputed to the group as a whole.

2. Not Narrow the Theological Conversation

2. Not Narrow the Theological Conversation

I find it quite unhelpful when egalitarians narrow the theological conversations so that they focus on gifting alone, as though this were the sole or primary determinant of ministry fitness. Of course, no one really thinks this, as we all at least recognise that things like character and gospel convictions are also critically important. Indeed, it would be quite hard to argue from 1 Timothy 3:1–13 or Titus 1:5–9 that gifting is the primary thing—let alone the sole thing—to be considered in potential gospel leaders.

3. Explain What Fundamental Differences Do Exist Between the Genders and What Are Appropriate Ways for These to Be Expressed

3. Explain What Fundamental Differences Do Exist Between the Genders and What Are Appropriate Ways for These to Be Expressed

For example, are the differences that exist between genders more than anatomical? If so, how do they rightly play out in church, life and relationships?

Conclusion

The gender conversation is genuinely difficult at a number of levels and Christians should be committed to approaching it with grace and humility, and certainly never with bravado or triumphalism. My hope is that these two brief posts might give us some guidelines for healthy, loving interactions as we seek common ground.


Editor’s Note:

For further exploration of this theme, readers might note the one-day symposium held on these matters at Morling College in Sydney and the subsequent book published: Edwina Murphy and David Starling, The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life (Morling and Wipf & Stock, 2016)

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