(Editor’s note: audio of this conference is available at http://www.swbts.edu/events/conference_audio.cfm?loc=conferences/cbmw_2011)
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Long before Betty Friedan’s 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” called into the question the value of motherhood and homemaking in the lives of women, a full-scale assault on the nature of gender definitions and roles was launched in a garden. The assailant: sin.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Conference on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aimed to cut through chauvinist and feminist rhetoric and examine the biblical definitions and distinctions of gender roles.
The conference, cosponsored with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, featured prominent men and women in the Southern Baptist Convention addressing hotly debated topics surrounding men’s headship in the home, women’s roles at home and in church, homosexuality, and ministry to men and women in the church.
Jason Duesing, vice president for strategic initiatives at Southwestern, began the Sept. 13 conference with an examination of the state of the gender debate within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Starting with Addie Davis’ ordination in 1964, the first of its kind in a Southern Baptist church, Duesing traced mounting egalitarian and evangelical feminist pushes as well as efforts to recover and defend biblical manhood and womanhood in the denomination over the past half-century.
“Are Southern Baptists ancient Neanderthals chasing a mythical Bigfoot?” Duesing asked.
“After surveying the past and present of the debate over the complementary differences between the roles of men and women, a fair-minded person should agree that the only thing modern-day Southern Baptists have been chasing is a living and active Bible,” he said.
Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern, examined the biblical foundations for gender roles based on the first three chapters of Genesis. Both Jesus and Paul reference the created order when making statements on marriage and gender roles.
“I contend that if we lose the battle over the gender debate,” White said, “we lose the proper interpretation of God’s Word, we lose inerrancy, we lose the authority of the Bible itself, and that is detrimental to the Gospel.”
Recognizing that those claiming inerrancy of the Bible have landed on both sides of the argument, White outlined how the first two chapters of Genesis demonstrate the created order of ontological equality between men and women as well as distinctive gender roles, including male headship. The fall, White said, distorted gender roles, and mankind has fought against the created roles ever since.
Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, preached a chapel message as part of the conference on the Gospel implications of gender. Using Ephesians 5:15-33, Moore said God designed manhood and womanhood as a picture of Christ and the church. Thus, men should lead and love their wives sacrificially, following the pattern set by Christ. Likewise, wives should humbly yield themselves to their husband’s headship, as the church does Christ.
Accordingly, Moore said, the divorce culture in the church is a “blasphemy against the Gospel.” Moore challenged “weak-kneed” husbands to fulfill their God-given leadership role in the family.
“Husbands, if your wives are refusing to follow after your leadership, it is probably because your wife has seen and observed in your life a kind of leadership that is either absent or self-focused, and what she is saying to you is, ‘I don’t know where you are taking us. I don’t know if I can trust you at all.'”
“For some of you in this room, in your rebellion, in your self-serving, in your addiction to pornography, you are showing her that she has no reason to trust your leadership because you cannot even exercise headship over your own appetites much less the family that God has given to you through the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Moore said.
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern, spoke on the challenges of homosexuality for gender roles. Lenow said definitions of homosexuality range from sexual orientation to sexual behavior. He contended that both reject the biblical position of God’s ordained gender roles.
Lenow said homosexuality attempts to dissolve gender distinctions and treats male and female as synonymous, thus rejecting the complementary natures of sex, gender, marriage and the Christ/church relationship.
A panel of women during the conference included Dorothy Patterson, wife of Southwestern president Paige Patterson and professor of theology in women’s studies; Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at Southwestern; Candi Finch, a doctoral student at Southwestern; and Karen Yarnell, wife of Southwestern professor Malcolm Yarnell. The four offered perspectives on topics related to the roles of wife and mother in the home, ministry to women in the church, biblically permissible roles of women in the church, etc.
“In college, I would have considered myself a very committed evangelical feminist,” Finch said. “I got to seminary, and I was opening God’s Word and saying, ‘What is God’s plan for womanhood?’ I had to change when faced with the truth of God’s Word. It was not the position I wanted to hold, but it’s God’s plan for us.”
Randy Stinson, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and dean of the school of church ministries at Southern Seminary, spoke on how to minister effectively to men within the church. Reading from 1 Peter 3:7, Stinson said many men in the church could be frustrated with their lives because they are under the discipline of God for not living in an understanding way and showing honor to their wives.
Stinson also lamented that many churches have patterned men’s ministry after successful women’s ministry methods. Recognizing the differences between the ways men and women develop relationships, Stinson said, “Men’s relationships are forged, not forced.”
“It’s a collision, and there are sparks, and you have to give men a chance to collide. The way they collide is by doing something together, and they’re forged together by sacrificing and completing a task and developing a solution,” Stinson said.
In the final session, Southwestern’s president spoke on the future of the gender debate.
“The family is now under attack worldwide,” Patterson said. Yet, he added, “The family remains both the first and the most important social unit created by an all-wise, omniscient God.” The family unit is a powerful platform for transforming society and believers must hold strong to the biblical paradigm, he said.
That evening, students gathered in the student center for a panel discussion regarding biblical manhood and womanhood. Students addressed questions to Moore, Duesing, Stinson and Lenow on topics such as women teaching in the church, mothers in the workplace, Christian romance novels, gender-neutral Bible translation and the future of the debate in the SBC.
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).