25 August 2007

Sexism and the British Methodist Church

The British Methodist Church is currently asking members and churches to contribute to a consultation on sexism and racism.

After reading a couple of blogs lately, one thought has occured to me with regard to sexism and I offer it as a point of discussion.

I'm not sure that the British Methodist Church takes the theology of 'complimentarianism' seriously. This is a theology that says that men and women are ontologically equal before God but that God requires 'functional subordination' of women to men.

We don't take this theology seriously because we don't hold it. However, 'complimentarianism' is held by many Christians in the United Kingdom including the growing 'New Frontiers' denomination. Complimentarianism is 'preached' by the Calvinist theologian John Piper who seems to be increasingly popular with many younger Christians in the UK as well as in the US.

I think that we need to vigorously refute the theology of complimentarianism and we must not stick our heads in the sand and write it off as a theology that is only held by those on the fringe of Christianity. We need to know why it is that we believe in the equality of men and women before God and we need to be able to articulate good biblical and theological arguments. If we cannot articulate why it is that we believe in biblical equality, then we are vulnerable to the charge that we are just following secular thought. (The organisation
Christians for Biblical Equality can provide guidance and reading.)


Mark said...

I wasn't aware before that there was a proper name for the complementarianism. I've never heard it advocated in a Methodist church (I am extremely pleased to say). If it is growing in influence, then I agree that we need a sound counter theology of the equality and dignity of all before God.

It is interesting to note - particularly given the gender balance in many of our congregations - that in the sexism questionnaire we only talk about the ministry of women. I thought gender equality was supposed to have moved beyond the age of 'women's officers' and suchlike...

PamBG said...

Mark - I think that you make a good point about about gender equality 'moving on' and I'm sure that's worth reflecting when you answer the questionnaire.

However, we can't be complacent about women in ministry. Generally speaking, I've found the attitudes less positive than when I was working in secular industry (and I was often the only woman in the room). I've heard some terrible stories from women ministers and one truly horrific one that's not mine to tell in public. Suffice it to say that I don't think that anti-female sexism is dead in the British Methodist Church.

That said, I'm of the firm belief that women can be sexist too. I don't buy the idea that the 'minority' are not capable of prejudice or discrimination. Anti-male sexism is just as wrong as anti-female attitudes.

crystal said...

If I understand this correctly, this idea that men and women are equal (though complimentary) is meaningless, since they don't have equal opportunities. I mean, they are not, in this view, equal in any way that actually positively impacts on their lives with other people . It's like a semantic bone thrown to women to keep them mollified while that church treats them unequally. Or maybe I'm missing something?

PamBG said...

crystal: In my opinion, you're not missing anything. Complimentarians believe that Jesus was functionally subordinate to the Father and would, I think, say that it would be denigrating Jesus to suggest that 'functional subordination' was an inferior state.

In my view, there are a number of problems with complimentarianism. Not the least being this view of the Trinity which I believe to be heretical.

Another problem, in my view, is the presupposition that God recommends a hierarchical command structure. This rather turns 'the last shall be first' on it's head so that the first are again first.

From the perspective of Christian theology, I think that 'complimentarianism' is possibly more insidious even than male-headship because of the Trinitarian argument. And can you imagine any Christian today trying to argue that people of a certain skin colour were ordained by God to positions of headship and those with another skin colour to positions of 'functional subordination'?

Since the Methodist Church does not believe these things, I think thta we need to a) Be aware that Christian denominations are making these arguments, especially many denominations that are deemed to be 'successful' and growing; and: b) We need to know exactly why we believe they are wrong and unbiblical.

crystal said...

That's interesting about Jesus being subordinate to the Father and what that means about the Trinity.

What's scary is that it seems like people believe a certain thing, and then search for, or even create, religious justification for their already existing belief ... usually a belief that as James Alison would say, pits one group against and over another.

Sally said...

well said Pam- it will copme as no surprise I guess that I am in full agreement with you regarding the need to tackle the creeping endorsement of complimentarianism!

DaveW said...

100% in support.