For reasons that aren’t important, I happened to be reading the Anglican Homily on marriage earlier this week (a sermon written for the English church during the time of the Reformation). Once again I was struck that, from earliest times in Christianity, debates and discussions have taken place about the roles of men and women in creation, in church and in the home. These discussions include how marriages are to be conducted, who has responsibility for what in church life and how men and women are to live out their God-given maleness and femaleness.
Over the past week, there was an extraordinary amount written about the topic on multiple blogs, threads and websites, particularly in the light of a talk given on 1 Corinthians 11. It hasn’t always been particularly satisfying reading. At times, the temperature has felt high and comments have been fast and furious. Writing a week after the storm erupted is probably, in social media-land, considered 7 days too late. Yet there’s something to be said for being slow to speak, and so having gathered my thoughts here goes.
Differences in understanding and application of biblical texts are as real today as they’ve ever been. So we ought to continue to wrestle in God’s word with humility, knowing our cultural moment is not superior or more outstanding than any other. It was the homily that reminded me of this. There in the 1500’s was a sermon outlining Christian marriage and denouncing violence from men against women. Long before feminism or any other cultural movement, it was the gospel driving the call for repentance and remorse in this area. Nor are we the first to wrestle with what it means to submit, what it means to be equal with difference, what it means to fulfill and live out biblical instructions for women and men. We wrestle with the fact that our culture tells us this kind of language and these differences don’t belong any more, at the same time wrestling to apply biblical principles appropriately in our time.
What I think has been tragic over the last week is not so much that there’s been conversations, but how as a community there has been little ability to hold various views and interrogate them with generosity. I am someone who believes that God’s design for women and men is (in short) that of equality with difference, who believes in particular roles for women and men in church and family life. Over the last week, I have seen this view portrayed, as one friend has described it, as abusive, sexist and dangerous for women. In one blog it’s been implied that holding this view means I’m not interested in caring for the weak, vulnerable and abused women in our world. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m also aware of those who think similarly to me entering into conversations with extreme defensiveness.
In my ministry role, I have the privilege of supporting women in various ministry contexts, with a variety of views about the roles of men and women. I do so without fear or favour. I’m not saying truth doesn’t matter, and we shouldn’t strive to declare it and even persuade others. I’m just saying the way we do that sometimes is as important as the truth we are trying to declare.