A Week Without Opinions, Day 3: Gender Roles


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As part of my week without opinions, I’ve made an extra effort to listen more carefully to friends with whom I disagree and to increase my exposure to viewpoints other than my own. I’ve tried to focus on issues that I feel passionate about, issues that normally trigger hot-faced tirades or enthusiastic lectures on my part, so as to practice accepting differences of opinion with more gentleness and respect.

One such hot-button issue is the role of women in the church and home. Being of a more egalitarian persuasion, I focused today on learning more about the thoughts and ideas of self-described complementarians.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood describes complementarianism as the view that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.”

Although there may be some variation on the specifics, broadly speaking, complementarians believe that women are biblically-bound to submit to male leadership in the home and in church life, which means that husbands are ultimately responsible for decision-making on behalf of their families and that women should refrain from assuming leadership positions over men in a church setting. For more information on this position, check out the Web site of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Hannah, who is the mother of two very sweet, well-behaved, and adorable little boys (facts, not opinions!). She and her husband Ray have been married for five years and are expecting their third child—another boy— in October. Their oldest son Gabe presented me with a picture he drew himself, which I promptly put on my refrigerator.

Hannah explained that, to her, submitting to her husband means assuming an attitude of gentleness and respect. Citing Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, she noted that submission is one of the few commandments from the Bible given specifically for women. Referencing 1 Corinthians 11 and other Pauline epistles, she said she based her complementarian lifestyle on the Bible’s teachings that “the head of the woman is the man” (11:3), that “woman came from man” (11:12), and that woman was first deceived by Satan (1 Timothy 2:12-14).

“It is obvious that men and women were created differently—both physically and emotionally,” she said. “It only seems natural that we should have different roles.”

Hannah said that, going into her marriage, she was actually a stronger advocate of complementarianism than her husband. She said that rarely does her role as a submissive wife require moving forward with a big decision she does not like. Most of the time it involves deferring to her husband when it comes to everyday decisions—from how to spend a Sunday afternoon to what to name their children to what to wear.

“Most women are in search of inner beauty,” Hannah said. “And the Bible describes what inner beauty really is – a gentle and quiet spirit, which is described as being beautiful to God.  That verse [1 Peter 3:4] is one of my favorite.”

Regarding women in the church, Hannah said she feels strongly that based on 1 Corinthians 11, they should not speak or have authority over men.

“Women are naturally more vocal than men,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if that’s why God gave us these specific roles in church. Maybe he knew that we women would learn more by listening more... I have found that doing what God intends is always rewarding, even if it doesn’t makes sense at first.”

Having spent the past few days listening more and speaking less, I circled those last few words in my notebook and wrote “strongest point” beside them. Regardless of my position on complementarianism, it would be difficult for me to argue this point after this week.

I left the interview feeling a lot less frustrated and opinionated than I expected to feel. Perhaps it had something to do with being in the presence of a friend who, though she shares a different perspective than my own, approached our conversation with a truly gentle and quiet spirit.

So, what is your position on the role of women in the church and home? Do you consider yourself a complementarian or an egalitarian? How do you respond when you interact with folks who hold to a different perspective?

Women – If you’re like me, then you have a diversity of friends, some with more egalitarian leanings and others with more complementarian leanings. How do you dialog with one another with respect and civility when lifestyle decisions such as these can be so personal?

I know that we’ve discussed this issue at length in the past, so if you’ve commented on the topic before, consider presenting what you think to be both the strongest AND THE WEAKEST elements of your own argument...in the spirit of the fast.

(P.S. – Check out my comment below for an update on how Day 2 went. Tomorrow we will discuss politics and HEALTH CARE!)

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