What’s a nice egalitarian woman like you doing in a complementarian church?
When we started attending this church a year and a half ago, a friend said to me, “You know they’re Gospel Coalition people, right?”
Yes, I did know. In fact, during our decision/discernment process about whether this church would be a good fit for us, we’d invited both pastors over to our home for some frank conversation about how their neo-Reformed theology worked itself out in the congregation. The conversation touched on topics including their view of Israel (an urgent question for us, since Reformed theology is typically supersecessionist in its interpretation of Scripture’s story, a position my husband and I find untenable and anti-Semitic) as well as the role of women in the congregation.
The funny thing about at least one of those conversations is that neither my husband nor I brought up the subject of women’s roles. The pastor did, perhaps because he knew that I am a writer and do some speaking.
He didn’t know that my husband is probably more of an egalitarian than I am. Bill had sifted through the hysteria and hyperbole surrounding these issues early in his seminary days. He’d enrolled in seminary in his forties after a couple of decades of experience in the church. As a result, he was not in the market for a ticket to ride on whatever popular “issue of the week” theological bandwagon that happened to be rolling by. At Trinity, that bandwagon was a faddish devotion to Calvin-flavored fundamentalism. Bill noted that when he was an undergrad at Trinity in the 1970’s, most of the faculty were dedicated Arminians – in other words, the bandwagon was heading in the opposite direction back then.
Because I began my church life in a very conservative “non”denomination, I accepted this group’s take on women’s roles without question – though I never donned a head covering for worship like the really spiritual women did. Though we moved on from that church shortly after we married, I didn’t really do much serious reflection on the topic of women in ministry for several years. I wrote and spoke, gradually finding my voice and embracing the ministry and gifts God gave me. When I read Dr. Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership a few years ago (while working at Trinity’s bookstore!), I felt that she’d put words to who God had called me to be. The book launched some new conversations in my life, including a few with my husband, who had often wondered what took me so long to believe about myself what he had long believed about me – and so many other God-gifted women. Everyone’s gifts are needed in order to so the church can both be and become the Bride of Christ.
It is a wonderful blessing in the truest sense of the word to have someone else affirm your ministry. Bill’s ongoing blessing of my writing and speaking ministry has had an unexpected side effect: it has stripped the gears from my propensity to agitate against institutional injustice when it comes to this issue. Perhaps because I am free to step behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning or in a seminar as a guest speaker if I am asked (just as Bill, a gifted teacher in his own right, is), I don’t feel any urge to fight this particular church on these issues. Or, more likely, maybe I’m just battle-weary at this point in my life.
I appreciate the preaching at this church, which thus far has been mercifully free from agendas and politics, and value the humility and service orientation I see among both men and women there. The women I’ve met there are smart and curious. I do feel a bit sad the church is limiting their voices in areas that could benefit this local body. But male and female members alike have chosen to affirm the complementarian position in order to structure their life together, and I can respect their choice to do so.
They’ve been supportive of our Jewishness, our connection to Caspari and love for Israel as well as the other ministries (Bill is a Mundelein police chaplain, I handle communications for Christ Together) of which we’re a part. I am so grateful for their prayers and kindness in that way. We always have to suck it up in some area or other when we become a part of a local body, right?
So, I’m curious – what do you think? Is the issue of women in ministry a deal-breaker for you when it comes to choosing a local congregation?