I’m often asked for advice about how to maintain good relationships with Christian family and friends who hold different and even opposing views on so-called “gender roles.” This is a real concern for some. Here are a few things I’ve learnt through having many discussions with people, in real life and online, on the sometimes sensitive issues surrounding the “roles” of men and women in Christian marriage and ministry.
My family (mother, husband, two sons, and, more recently, my daughter-in-law) have simply come with me on a journey that began, just over ten years ago, when I started discovering more and more about what the Bible teaches about women, relationships, and ministry in the New Creation. Because they are my family and I’m relaxed with them, I did overdo it sometimes, and they got tired of hearing about my latest discovery or the nitty-gritty of some Bible verse. So I learnt that it is necessary to be selective about when to speak, when to keep it short, and when to keep something to myself.
If you already have a good relationship with your family, it should not be difficult to share things that are of genuine interest to you. If your relationship is not that good, you may have to tread more slowly and carefully when bringing up a topic that other family members are uncomfortable with.
All my friends are different. Some are interested in “equality,” others are not, so each of my conversations is different. I have some friends who I never discuss “equality” with, but they all know that I promote it. Restraint and respect are important in discussions about gender.
One practical step I have taken is to have more than one Facebook page. I didn’t want to alienate friends who find my egalitarian views controversial, confronting, or just plain annoying, so I have a separate Facebook page where I can freely post comments and links about biblical equality and gender issues without annoying my friends.
There are four things that I regularly remind myself of when talking to someone who does not share the same views as me on Christian marriage and ministry:
- It was a slow process for me to unravel the numerous threads of overt and implicit teaching I had received on gender roles in my previous churches, and it usually takes a long, long time for most people to change their mind on a doctrine that is entrenched in church culture, history, and dogma. Patience is required.
- Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts. We must not rely on ourselves or on our arguments (no matter how biblical or articulate) but trust and pray that the Holy Spirit is working in another person’s life. I truly believe that “equality” is a fruit of the Spirit.
- We are in a war, but our fight is not against people (flesh and blood). The enemy would love nothing more than to keep half of humanity passive, suppressed, and even oppressed, and have the other half thinking that they alone have special God-given privileges simply because of their sex. If you’re fighting with someone, rather than discussing and having a dialogue, stop. Too many harsh, hurtful, and even hateful words have been spoken by Christians over this topic, especially online. Instead, give the situation over to God.
- Many people who hold patriarchal and hierarchical views on gender are sincere Christians who truly believe that a gender hierarchy in marriage and in the church is biblical and God’s will. Both egalitarians and hierarchical complementarians damage Christian unity when we call into question or disparage the sincerity of a fellow believer’s faith or their level of obedience to God. Moreover, you cannot positively influence or persuade a person who is insulted because their faith has been questioned.
Final words: Be yourself, be kind, be respectful, be patient, be a positive role model as you imitate Jesus Christ, and be prayerful and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work.
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