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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Thank you for writing this, Friend!
It’s such a good reminder that we aren’t really at war with Comps. Our struggle is against the Enemy. I think it’s easy to get passionate and forget our real goals. If I am treating (or thinking of) someone as lesser in a discussion or debate simply because they hold another view I am functionally denying their value and equality as a fellow image bearer. Perhaps if I focus on extending equality and freedom those actions may speak and impact louder than my words.
Well said, Ashley!
Such important points Marg! Like Ashley commented above, the reminder of redirecting our passion is so needed. Thank you!
It was Holy Spirit who opened my eyes, and made things come all together for me. I remember only a few years ago giving a friend some literature about marriage written by Mark Driscoll. She was very curious about having a “godly marriage”, but a few days later told me she really disliked what Driscoll taught. Sadly, that closed the door to us talking about other spiritual ideas, since she pretty much assumed I was a chauvinist. The good news in this, is that it prompted me to investigate how others viewed the Complementarian culture, and eventually exposed me to enough frightening stories to thoroughly change my mind.
Sometimes I struggle with fully accepting as brothers or sisters those who seem to be hurting people. And, I do think that ideas have consequences, including very hurtful consequences. But, what Peter was doing with the Jewish and Gentile converts, that Paul had to publicly rebuke, seems similar. Peter was no less a Christian, and no less in error. Paul’s writings often include very harsh language about Judaizers, right? Fighting words perhaps? It is something I am often considering.
Thanks again for this helpful post! I intend on sharing it with many. 🙂
I’m grateful for your and Ashley’s comments because I think controlling, or positively redirecting, but not suppressing, “passion” is a key issue in this topic, and I didn’t mention it in the article. Most of us feel very strongly, very passionately, about what we see the Bible, especially the New Testament, as saying about Christian leadership and community.
I definitely critique some teachings and ideology that I believe are unbiblical and harmful, but we need to be able to do it with our passion in check, and without attacking the people who teach and hold on to these ideas.
It seems that Paul was not shy about openly rebuking people. But his society was very different to ours, and I don’t know if he got away with it, or if it caused unnecessary rifts.
Jesus also openly rebuked people numerous times. He called Peter, “Satan”, as he rebuked wrong ideas that were the ideas of men not God, Matthew 16. And of course the Pharisees often were rebuked, though not always.
Yes, he wasn’t the “meek and mild” person many imagine him to be, but since I don’t have the same insight as Jesus, I’ll refrain from rebuking anyone.
A few more ideas I have.
1) Try to avoid going into “tape recorder” mode as if someone has pushed a button to play a teaching tape.
2) Especially when starting out talking about an area that might cause dissension, try to be aware of non-verbal clues as well as verbal ones regarding how your words are being processed (or not).
3) When expressing a difficult truth, try to make it “grace” sandwich, where you say something positive, then the possibly negative hard truth, then something positive. You need to try to establish rapport and trust with the other person at some level.
4) Emphasize what both of you agree about.
5) Sometimes another’s thoughts will be “close enough” that it is simply not worth discussing the differences (unless you both want to).
6) All of us “see thru a glass darkly” and no one is an infallible interpreter.
Some good points here. The last three are especially useful to me. I wish I’d included number 6 in my important points!
I’ve always appreciated your diplomatic approach Marg. I fear some well-meaning and passionate egalitarians only turn people off, fail to build bridges, and sadly hurt the cause. I particularly appreciate your point number 1. Very true. Rarely do major view changes happen overnight, but slowly. That means patience as you state – meeting someone “where they are” and sharing little things here and there to stimulate thinking – rather than slamming them over the head and expecting instantaneous change!
I’ve been dismayed about some of the things a few of my egalitarian brothers and sisters have said. And I’ve also been at the receiving end of criticism and condemnation, that I can only describe as utterly hateful and completely misguided, from a few brothers and sisters who hold to a patriarchal ideology.
I think meeting someone “where they are” and truly understanding their beliefs is important. And that takes time. Most of the criticism I’ve received is from Christians who have hastily misunderstood, and not carefully read or heard, what I’ve written or said. We all are so selective in what we read and hear.
Margaret, thank you so much for writing about this! Last weekend, I was really engaged in a still and rigid argument with my former lecturer over the interpretation of “…likewise, wives submit to your husbands just us Christ submits to God…” It was in a wedding ceremony and I was not comfortable with the preacher who equated this with “elected president and citizens, that wives should obey their husbands as the president of the house/family..” In Africa where elected Presidents are all powerful and above the law, I thought this was interpretation taken too far and I mentioned this after the weeding and this did not go down well with my former teacher who believes that is how it should be. We argued to the extent that it became personal and annoying…
Thank you for raising this Margy…this is helpful!
That teaching sounds potentially oppressive and damaging for the bride, as well as being damaging for the groom and the marriage. 🙁
It would have been hard to listen to.
Your lecturer’s statement in inverted commas sounds like a combination of several verses, but in that form it is not biblical. In Ephesians 5:24 it says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives to their husbands in everything.” But this is not the same as your lecturer’s statement.
I’ve heard too many preachers (even well-known ones) quote scripture incorrectly when it comes to verses which affect women and wives. We need to be so careful that we don’t allow our own prejudices and interpretations to affect our statements of Bible verses.
As to the “likewise” bit, perhaps you could point your lecturer to this article: https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/likewise-women-likewise-husbands/
I truly hope to come to Kenya one day.
Blessings on your upcoming conference!
I love your posts.
There’s always the approach of asking pointed questions honestly. Like, in this case, “So, what limitations on women’s gender roles do you see illustrated in Proverbs 31?” “When Abigail ignored her husband Nabal’s instructions in 1 Samuel 25, and expressly disobeyed his wishes, only to have King David recognize her for her wisdom and godly character, what biblical role for women was she fulfilling?” “When Huldah was approached by the king of Israel (see 2 Chron. 34, and 2 Kings 22), in order to know the Lord’s will, upon the recovery of the forgotten Scriptures, what female gender role was she fulfilling in telling him, and the whole nation, what they must do?” “What gender roles did Jesus reinforce among His disciples? Did He expect women to stay home and do the cooking, or did He have female disciple, who traveled along with Him from town to town?” “Who did He appoint to be the first witness to the resurrection, and to go tell the church what to do, as a result?” Doesn’t seem as though Jesus, nor the rest of the Scriptures, for that matter, support the notion of rigidly-defined gender roles much, does it?
Hi Guy, These all sound like reasonable questions, but I have friends who are just not interested in answering these kinds of questions or getting into a discussion on “gender roles”. They don’t want their thinking to be challenged, and they don’t want anything to rock their world.
Thankyou for this post.
I came to know Jesus after my first date with my now husband 11 years ago. Coming from a catholic background but not really a huge follower I was really captivated by Christianity. From the very early stages I always believed men and women were equal and that if God gave you the gift then no one can stop you. For a good 10 years it was a topic I never really discussed with people as I assumed most people felt that way. Occasionally the topic may have popped up but I assumed it was an odd bunch patriarchal view. Only recently did the discussion start in a church bible study series about the church. I was with women and I really thought we were on the same page. Little did I know I was the only one in the group that didn’t believe in the male headship. Including the head pastor of the church currently nominating his men for eldership. My husband and I invited the pastor over for a chat and we discussed our points and he said it’s seem you have more of an egalitarian and we have a complentarian view. I didn’t even know that was a thing. When it came to studying scripture the role of women was never my focus because I always thought it was given. I was also maybe going to churches that had women preaching that I never saw the big issue. Until that moment.
Since then I have gone through a whirlwind experience trying to have a better understanding of the scripture and praying and following the Holy Spirit. When I close my physical eyes and open my spiritual the Holy Spirit leads me with great revelations and convictions. But when I use my physical eyes I always find myself questioning if I how I’m feeling is even correct. Constant battle of “ do I know the truth or do I think I know the truth”
But I think like you said let the Holy Spirit work in them. In the meantime I also need to keep allowing the Holy Spirit to keep working in me. I have read your posts for a few months now. But today’s google search was how do I find peace in these discussions of roles In ministry. For me I think it’s don’t try to win anyone overnight. Sorry for my long comment,
Hi Diana, I appreciate your comment and I read your story with interest. The thing I hate the most about “gender debates” is the second-guessing women are required to go through, even questioning if they are a heretic and perhaps working against God. It can be gut-wrenching and soul-destroying. This is not fruit of the Spirit.
I wonder if this letter is helpful: https://wtctheology.org.uk/theomisc/coming-out-of-complementarianism/ I found it very insightful.
I hope you do find peace. <3
Thanks Marg, actually even after writing this comment, today again I feel way too much confusion and lacking that identity in Christ. And anyone that really knows me knows that’s not me at all. I am often confident in who I am but it’s crazy how the more I read the more confused I am becoming. I will read your link now.
Hi Marg ,
I actually read this book about 2 weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I may have even come across it through that same page. It’s bizarre because I feel like The Holy Spirit leads me towards finding these books in odd places, however it’s only after I read it that I end up reading reviews or articles etc that go against it. But I know how I feel I just need to trust God is leading the way.
Complementarianism (and/or Christian patriarchy) can definitely mess with women’s minds and shake their confidence in Christ and in themselves. It’s also logically inconsistent on many points. 🙁
Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women is a great book.