Distributed Mind

A Dubious Claim of Complementarianism

One of the most popular claims of those who oppose women in ministry, especially those who would refer to themselves as complementarian (whose claims go beyond merely women's roles in ministry but also in the family and sometimes in society), is that any hermeneutic that would support the idea of women in ministry would also naturally lead one to conclude that homosexual practice, even the ordination of practicing homosexuals, is perfectly acceptable. Al Mohler, one of the most prominent voices among complementarians and conservative Christians in general, is a supporter of this position as evinced most recently by a blog post of his from this Friday (as pointed to by Carlos Stouffer).

Regardless of how one feels about the issues of homosexuality and the ordination of women, I hope that all can agree that this claim is blatantly false. There are several reasons why this is the case.

First, most basically and importantly, from a strictly Scriptural standpoint this claim is unsupportable. While critiques of the status quo interpretation of Scripture by from the pro-homosexuality positions may have raised interesting questions (again, regardless of how one feels about the answers), there is little to no reason internal to the text to reconsider the traditional interpretation of the text. That alone is not necessarily enough to rule out a re-examination of the text, but it certainly will have some bearing. More importantly, that is nothing at all like the argument about the ordination of women. That issue arises directly out of the text! While there is definitely I Timothy 2:11-15 or I Corinthians 14:33-35 (which on the surface seem pretty explicit) there is also Priscilla who along with her husband Aquila corrected the doctrine of Apollos (Acts 18:26); and Phoebe (Romans 16:1), a "deaconness"; and Junia (Romans 16:7 - though the name has often been translated Junias - a man - though this is widely believed to be incorrect); and the constant mention by Paul of women as fellow workers; and of course the classic passage of Galatians 3:28; Philip's four daughters, among other women, who were prophets (Acts 21:8-9); and of course Deborah, a prophetess and leader of Israel for a time (Judges 4-5). Now, again, whether one looking at those passages comes to the same conclusions as those who support the ordination of women is irrelevant - the real point is that the questions they are raising often come directly from the text. One most certainly need not doubt the inspiration or authority or directness of Scripture or practice too bizarre of hermeneutics (note that Mohler is only accusing his opponents of the last one of these, in this case) to doubt the "traditional" position. While Mohler's reading may seem more obvious it hardly settles the issue, at least in many persons opinions - and as the list of passages above should make clear, there is a legitimate reason, I think, to have doubts.

The second reason this claim is false is historical. At many points in history, women have been accepted in ministry and this has not lead to either abandoning a straightforward approach to interpreting Scripture or to accepting homosexuality. I have heard of earlier examples, which sadly I am not familiar enough with to elaborate on, but I can pick this thread up over 300 years ago when Quakers abandoned the idea of pastors (which they have since taken back up) and allowed men and women to speak in meetings. Pentacostalism is another tradition in which it is common for women to be ordained, and that practice dates back into the 1800s as far as I know. While there are some Quakers that would allow the practice of homosexuality today, the conservative branch would not, and for the first 300 years none would have. As to Pentacostalism, well, need I even say it? History demonstrates that a church that holds to a traditional approach to Scripture can support the ordination of women and not conclude that homosexuality is acceptable.

Again, whether one agrees with the interpretations of those who support the ordination of women is irrelevant - the question is about what kind of hermeneutic one can maintain and still hold to that interpretation. It seems clear to me that one can hold to a hermeneutic that should be acceptable to any believer, however traditional, and still come to that conclusion. I wish and pray that Mohler and other complementarians would stop resorting to their claim to the contrary. We hover, it seems to me at this moment, on the brink of "unnecessary division." I say this as I continue to pray for wisdom for myself and for those who lead in the church - Dr. Mohler included.

The reason, incidentally, why this issue is of importance, is because of the division arising out of the increasing push from certain "conservative" (whatever that means in this case) elements in the American church. Whereas before the argument had been about who was right and who was wrong (or at least it seemed to me, though I am known to be somewhat naive), it has been increasingly common to claim that egalitarians and such are actually undermining the gospel or abandoning the Bible. While those sorts of claims (about all sorts of theological disputes) have always been made in more fundamentalist and divisive branches of the Protestantism, recently they have been repeated in mainstream evangelicalism. To me the issue is moving beyond the more straightforward dispute over the correct doctrine and into much more dangerous territory. Thus it is that those of us who have been sitting on the fence for a very long time are no longer so inclined to sit on that fence - even if we are involving ourselves in a slightly different dispute than the one we had so far avoided.

posted at 07:10:05 on 06/25/06 by ben - Category: Religion

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