A Woman on Women

If you drop in here often at all, you must have picked up that I think my wife Miska is the most stunning, mysterious, rich, earthy, wise, drop-dead gorgeous woman I know. She's amazing. Really. Recently, a friend of ours emailed both of us about our views of gender roles (the egalitarian/complementarian debate - interesting that conservative evangelicals and catholics are the prime communities where these sorts of debates happen. Strange bedfellows, huh?). Miska's answer was way better than mine. She is a spiritual director who has a particular love for issues of gender. She's spent much of her work in the early pages of Genesis, and these questions get her mind and her heart fully engaged. I wanted to share with you some of her response because I found it to be so wise and full of life, so full of Good News:

It’s a little disheartening to me to look at the mountain of “evidence” each side of the issue has, to know that many, many people have thought through this and not come to any real conclusion that feels satisfactory to me.

But here are my random thoughts when I step away from the dividing lines of the argument:

[1] I believe that God created male and female both in His image and that each gender reflects His heart and image uniquely and meaningfully.

[2] Jesus’ response to women in the Gospels was always one that invited women to speak, to act, to be. (A great book on this is The Feminine Soul by Janet Davis.)

[3] Whenever the Church or a church teaches something about women that makes women feel less than or devalued, whatever that church is saying is anti-Gospel.

[4] However, when we as women are asserting ourselves out of a posture of greediness, out of trying to prove ourselves, out of plain and simple rebellion—grasping--this is not the Gospel way either. Among other things, when we live out of this posture, we are getting in the way of who the men in our lives are called to be, and we let them off the hook, so to speak. In other words, we make it easy for them to back down, to avoid (their tendency since the Fall), instead of calling them to move into their worlds with strength and power. I wonder if this is what Paul was talking about when he said the women needed to be silent in the church. . .

[5] Since masculine and feminine are inter-dependent on one another and created in the image of the Trinity, we are to submit to one another (just as each member of the Trinity submits to the other members). I think this would be an easier concept for us as women if we hadn’t been beaten down by men throughout history, don’t you? We’re afraid of getting lost again, of being dominated and silenced and trampled over. And in our fear, we say with fists raised high, “Never again.” Oh dear. We need to listen to Jesus say, “The way you’ve been treated is wrong and evil and was never my intention. You are deeply loved and valued. What you offer this world through your femininity is profound.” Etc. And then we can settle down into who we are—different but equally valuable as men. (C.S. Lewis has some interesting things to say in That Hideous Strength about this in the context of marriage. It’s not at all the focus of the book, but he throws out some great tidbits.)

[6] I think churches should be open-handed in the way they deal with this issue (is that wishful thinking?), deeply valuing what both men and women have to offer, what they both have to say, mindful that each gender is necessary to provide a fuller picture of God’s heart. I also think it comes down to each individual man and woman and what God is truly calling them to and how He is truly calling them to serve in His body.

Well, I know these are a little jumbled (sorry about that). I guess the bottom line for me is that I don’t think this issue can simply be divided into either complementarian or egalitarian. I wonder if it can be both. . .

8 Comments

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Scott P. commented…

The idea that the discussion (not debate) can be lumped into two simple camps is itself a reductionistic step. It does not hold any optimism of the progress of the human discussion concerning truth. The proper question is not egalitarianism vs. complementarianism (as if it's our responsibility to rule the religious universe) but how we can coexist and progress together in God's glory.

(Incidentally, my wife considers me a stronger feminist than she is, and I still get into trouble with churches in the South about gender issues.)

Nevertheless, I think we need to move the conversation forward beyond essences (male vs. female, egalitarian vs. complementarian, etc.) into pragmatic situations (how can I love my wife, how can we give women a voice in the church without making religion a female-only thing, and how do we deal with the pain of sexism).

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cary-anne commented…

This is one of the most balanced and fair arguments I've seen for the feminine role in the church. As a woman it's something I've long struggled with in churches I've been to that relegated women to either Women's or Children's Ministry. I could really never understand that since I have never felt called to either one of those. It's not to say I don't believe they're both important ministries, but that God created me, and many women, for serving outside of either of these ministries. I pray many more come to see women the way Miska has described here and respond appropriately.

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Mark Ward commented…

Miska fails to look to the Bible for the biblical role that men and women play in the church. There are proper rolls for both men and women. It is a shame that Miska resolves to how women 'feel' in the church. The issue is not how a woman 'feels' that leads her to conclusions about her roll in the church. The real issue is what the Bible says is the proper roll for a lady and man. And, my friends, those rolls are clearly drawn out for us in the New Testament. I'm so thankful my wife doesn't feel intimidated by our male leadership in our church. She simply understands her Biblical roll as a lady - whether she feels good about it or not.

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Winn Collier commented…

I'm going to respond here instead of Miska because, well, it's my blog.

Mark, first off, as I said, these words came from a letter to a friend in response to a specific question. They were not a theological treatise. Context is important.

Second, if you believe that she "fails to look at the Bible," you aren't reading her words very well. She appeals to the way of Jesus, the Trinity, the ethos of the Gospel, the Fall, our sinful tendencies (greed, submitting to fear, etc) - as I understand it, that's all very much Biblical terrain.

And I must say, Miska is not intimidated by male leadership. Quite the opposite, she encourages it (see #4). I know she encourages it in me. However, she also encourages women to be whoever God has placed in their heart to be. This is her conviction (and mine), not intimidation.

That said, though, Miska never even spoke of any specific roles. I'm curious about what she actually said that you take issue with.

I respect your conviction that these roles are "clearly drawn out for us in the New Testament." I simply disagree. I think there are a number of difficult Scripture texts from whatever place we come in this discussion, and I think the whole arena begs for at least a small dose of humility.

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Erin commented…

I wonder if a "Biblical roll" is tastier than a California roll?

I'm joking. Of course it's tastier. I just don't get why men and women have to eat different rolls? But that's probably because I can't remember that part of the New Testament-- here's to today's devotion topic!

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