We would all like to think that when it comes to our core positions on issues, reason and evidence carry the day–and that our experiences, biases and feelings play only a marginal role. Of course, that is hardly ever the case; we each have core beliefs and commitments through which we filter evidence and arguments, and which we rarely question. Experience also plays a role in challenging those beliefs, new evidence causes core beliefs to be reässessed, reprioritized, or even discarded altogether.
As I continue this series of posts on my journey to affirming women’s ordination to church office, let me stress again that it will focus on my journey, my experience of change, rather than on the specific arguments for and against. Arguments are important, but they are laid out in detail by scholars who have done it better than I ever could. As will become apparent, I am convinced that both sides have good arguments from Scripture. It was partly personal experience and partly a reassessment of the witness of church history that changed my position.
When considering my experience, it is first worth noting that I’m not the stereotypical convert from complementarianism to egalitarianism.
First, I don’t identify as a feminist–politically, theologically, or methodologically in my biblical interpretation and scholarly agenda. Even though I do appreciate some feminist biblical criticism, it’s not my scene. Furthermore, some of what I’m doing in my current scholarly project is premised on the notion of inherent complementary differences between men and women.
I have also not had direct experience with women who have suffered indignity or oppression in complementarian churches. My wife and mother, who are two of the most significant spiritual influences in my life, are not feminists, and they have been allowed to use their gifts (though perhaps not to their fullest potential in all situations). Ironically, my teaching gifts, rather than my wife’s, have been somewhat hindered by my change of position!
I’m not someone who is inclined to think that “newer is better” in the realm of religion. As an Old Testament professor, a lot of what I try to do is to help Christians appreciate the Older/First Testament as Scripture for the church. As a Reformed Christian, I like to point my evangelical brothers and sisters to the Reformers and their recovery of the faith of the Church Fathers. I don’t believe I’m as susceptible as some are to the temptation to conform my religious views to those of the prevailing culture, as some egalitarians do.
Moreover, I’m not someone who is afraid of holding unpopular political views (as readers of this blog will know). Egalitarianism may be popular in the academy, but that fact did not (I believe) sway my position much, if at all. Rather, it was a matter of considering disagreements between people whose high view of Scripture I share, and trying to figure out whose arguments made the most sense. I’ve noticed that complementarian evangelicals tend to dominate American evangelical institutions, but they do so at the expense of greater recognition in the wider scholarly world. American evangelicals who are egalitarian tend to be stuck in the middle in their mainline churches, with challenges “from the right” on the issue of women’s ordination and “from the left” on other issues where evangelicals and mainliners (or non-Christian scholars) disagree. The best advocates of both sides are not motivated by the quest for popularity.
Once again: these are not logical arguments from Scripture. However, personal experience is often relevant to the arguments that people make. In a future post, I’ll discuss my experience in more detail.