“There will be millstones.”
That was O. Alan Noble’s succinct summation of the Southern Baptist Commission’s recent report (here) on widespread sexual abuse within America’s largest Protestant denomination.
The findings were heartbreaking. Though I applaud the efforts to bring them to the light in order to elicit change (see here).
Still, the most damning reality in the run-up to this week’s SBC annual meeting was that much more energy seemed to be expended by certain leaders to keep women out of almost any form of leadership than to ensure that they be protected against abuse and cover-up.
The optics were, shall we say, not flattering.
NOT JUST AN “SBC” PROBLEM
It would be unfair, however, to see this as merely an SBC problem. And it would be downright sinful to congratulate ourselves (who reside in other traditions) for being superior: “Thank you Lord that I am not like those people… .”
Regardless of denomination, if you’ve seen one online argument over women in ministry, you’ve seen ‘em all.
At some point in the predictable “Inquisition by Gif,” at least one well-meaning (?) person will make the following two points:
- Many denominations that affirmed women in ministry went “Liberal” and experienced numerical decline.
- Ergo, affirming women in ministry leads to the package deal of “Liberalism” with all that it entails (Marxism, veganism, compulsory man-buns).
The first point has some basis in reality. The second is absurd even without my parenthetical silliness.
The problem starts, as with so many logical trip-ups, in the linkage of two ideas that confuses correlation with causation.
On the basis of this false connection, the conclusion follows that if the fundamentalist Twitter-verse allows someone like Beth Moore to give a Mother’s Day message at her local church, it’s only a matter of time (probably minutes) before a vegan, Marxist, SBC death-panel forces Al Mohler to don a man-bun and preach exclusively from Rob Bell books.
But he won’t, because: Bonhoeffer.
If this description quickly devolves into exaggerated nonsense that is precisely my point. It is both foolish and inaccurate to equate an affirmation of women in ministry with a drift toward the package deal of “Liberalism.”
“CONSERVING” THE SPIRIT-DRIVEN PARADIGM
One reason is that there are numerous arguments for women in leadership that proceed on the basis of a high view of Scripture.
Though I’m not a biblical scholar by trade, one might begin by noting these two videos by Ben Witherington (here and here), and the fantastic series of blog-posts by my former seminary schoolmate, the New Testament specialist, Nijay Gupta (here).
If these scholars are correct, then Scripture provides both theological basis and real-world examples of women in leadership and ministry—including Deborah, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe, and the daughters of Philip. And if this is so, then the “liberal revisionist position” is actually the refusal to “conserve” that Spirit-driven paradigm (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17).
So let me be the first to say it (though with a touch of good-natured, imitative sarcasm):
“I’m really worried about the “liberal drift” of complementarianism.”
THE FALLACY OF UNNECESSARY BUNDLING
A further problem in the two points above is the false assumption that “Liberalism” and “Conservatism” are theological package deals that can be simply defined by our contemporary news-cycle.
Whenever this debate arises on social media, the assumption of the “Emojihadeen” seems to be that to care about “Progressive” causes (e.g., racial reconciliation, misogyny, sexual abuse) invariably means that one must not care about “Conservative” ones (e.g., abortion, religious liberty). This is nonsense.
I have spoken of it elsewhere as the fallacy of unnecessary “bundling,” since there are some issues for which our colloquial use of “Liberal” and “Conservative” are just not helpful.
Overall, Christians would do better to stick with biblical categories, as in whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
None of my words should be taken to imply that a biblical conclusion on women in ministry is either simple or uncontested. The so-called problem passages must be addressed.
Nor am I claiming that complementarians are always motivated by misogynistic drives. Some aren’t. And the SBC has some fantastic servant-leaders. It will not do, therefore, to replace one exaggerated ad hominem with another one.
My argument here is only to urge a “retiring” of the false assumption that affirming women in ministry signals a slide into “Liberalism.”
When we do that, we hazard tethering ourselves to Twitter feeds that may one day be “linked” inexorably to millstones.
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