a story: male identity defined by subjecting women

For the first time yesterday I had a conversation with two young fellow male MDiv students about complentarianism and egalitarianism. We both held the topic gently and honored one’s opinions. 

The conversation started like this: these two were concerned that if “the trend” continues and women come into full panel of pastorship, they were concerned that they’d look up front at the altar and see all all women. So the question with these two males became where is the balance? And if women are at the front, what does that do to male identity?

My initial response was on the male identity pieced. I mentioned the lost boy syndrome and lack of rite of passage for men, how the rite of passsage for women is very physical, yet men in American culture don’t have that. Tribally, if you didn’t pass the male rite of passage, you died. Your genes didn’t carry on because you “couldn’t make it” in the tribe. Then I connected it to American culture with the rise of fatherless children, fathers not paying child support, “lost boys” continuing into their 30s without a sense of purpose and wandering. I said that “the headship” does not work if you turn the metaphor on it’s side. What if “the body” is horizontal instead of vertical? That means all parts are on the same physical level. And for men who find identity in subordinating, women, or taking dominance over another person, as the definition of “head-ship”…perhaps an re-evaluation of Paul’s words and, actually since we’re Christ-followers, Jesus’s words.

One of the guys asked me the name of the book I was referencing. I told him “culture.”

Man A continued that we need to bring more “male identity” conversations into small groups. We need to talk about feelings and what it means to be a man. Maybe sports groups are a good place to do this. But hey, you women do this already, you do it really well. You talk about feelings and who you are and you just do it so naturally.

Yes, Man A, but there are women who are not integration with their feelings too. She can’t put words to the stirrings of her heart. And on the other side, I have met men who are very integrated with their head and heart. This is not a gender stereotype conversation.

So the whole thing turned entirely into a conversation about male identity.


Wait. Wait, I thought we were talking about women in leadership and the concern about balance?


I can’t wait for these guys to have baby girls who grow up to be kick ass women.


But, let’s go back. The concern is about looking up at the altar and seeing only women on stage. Ok. Well. Here’s the thing. That’s been the view I’ve seen from my eyes every Sunday for the last thirty years of Sundays.


I’m not saying that’s right. I think we need diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality at the front. But to project a 100% homogentiy of women in church leadership is disregarding the last 2,000 years of women in church history not having an equal say much less any say. Looking at records of the saints from year 1000 to 1900, 87% were male and 13% were female. Since 1900, the numbers are 75% male and 25% female. 

Great growth for females, we doubled! But.

And this is only information on church history…much less culture.

If we want to restore the image of God, restore creation to both sides of gender that God embodies, we have to have an equality of the genders. Twenty-five percent is growth, but that took 1,000 years. And reviewing the history of spirituality, it is males who have the written the literature for spirituality, not females. It was males who decided which female mystics even were published. 

Thus, we have to take an egalitarian stance.

To be complementarian is like this:

  • “Yes, yes the Gospel goes to all nations, all people, all ethnicities. Yes, all. But you want to be a leader? Oh dear, hmm. No, no the Gospel isn’t quite there for you. Please step to the side.”  
  • Yes, you are equal. But you can’t vote. Er, wait. Yes, yes you can vote but it only counts as a ⅗ vote. Cool? See, you can vote! You should celebrate that!  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Fifths_Compromise
  • A man can be everything a woman can be but a woman can’t be everything a man can be.
  • “I love you, and I care for you and I want whats best for you. But can you go sit down at the end of the table? We need to talk man to man at this end of the table.”


But maybe you are projecting 2,000 years in the future. That’s a lot of years to project. I really really hope that when we have space cities and Luke Skywalker rules the galaxies that women are finally leading by then and we aren’t still talking about “the issue.”

See, and that’s the thing.

How much more impact could the church have on caring for people if she directed her attention toward the dying or or refugess or hungry or global warming or immigration instead of on “the topic” of female leadership?

Church: we have so many resources in this world, so many thoughts, so many good ideas, so much redemption and grace. The Spirit dwells here.  Dwells in us. 

Equality for women in church leadership as the tip of the iceberg; it is a mere fraction of the communion that we will have in heaven when we worship God together (Rev. 7:9). All Christians, including all genders, races, languages, and tribes will be in the kingdom with God and without the tears, pain, and suffering we face on earth (Rev. 21:3–4). We finally will be able to see each other and ourselves as God sees us.

That’s why this hits so hard…we put spiritual language around it. We say “God said” that women are subordinate to men. God designed women this way. God wants women to be subjected to men because that’s what the Old Testament did.

It is not controversial for Christians to acknowledge that it takes both men and women to promote the gospel. Yet the call to action for the Church is to reconsider previous notions of Scripture and Tradition regarding gender equality and, as one step further, provide invitations for leadership to marginalized in all areas of the church, work, home, and life.

My ask of you, men and women, who have Scriptural concerns about this should be encouraged to engage in conversation, prayer, and reading to learn more about it(1). Male leaders should be encouraged to provide opportunities for female pastoral leaders and recognize that women have been overlooked for centuries in leadership. There should be no fear about women taking over; culture does not simply topple like that and, based on church history, it probably never will. Become aware of unconscious bias against women and use gender inclusive language in writing and in person.

Most importantly, see your fellow female as your sister, your fellow sibling in Christ. Start there. Don’t start with hierarchy. Start with love. 


 (1) “As to the status of women in the early church, there has beeen far too much reliance on 1 Cor. 14:34–36 where Paul appears to prohibit women even from speaking in church.”

(a) Paul acknolwedges women in leadership positions including the deaconess Phoebe at the church in Cenchrea (108) and his mention of women in leadership positions was not a one hit wonder; he mentions several other deaconesses and sends greetings to prominent women in the Roman congregation.

(b) The impact of the King James Version mistranslation is profound; modern “common wisdom” asserts that women are the gender subordinate and denominations divide over female leadership.

Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark


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