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Gender roles: Bapt. university rekindles debate

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (BP) — A partnership between a former Kentucky Baptist university and an organization that supports female pastors illustrates what some see as an advance of the biblical egalitarian movement. The Southern Baptist Convention, in contrast, supports preserving the complementary roles of men and women in the home and church.

In September, Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Ky., hosted the inaugural Christians for Biblical Equality lectures, named for an organization that advocates, based on its interpretation of Scripture, equal authority and leadership roles for men and women in families and churches. Campbellsville also joined CBE as an organizational member, according to a CBE press release.

While Southern Baptists affirm equal standing and worth of men and women before God in the Baptist Faith and Message, the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith, they also distinguish between the roles God has assigned them.

Article XVIII of the BF&M states, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

Article VI of the BF&M states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The position stipulating the fundamental equality of men and women as well as a distinction between their roles in the church and home is known as complementarianism.

Campbellsville trustees voted last year to abandon a longstanding covenant agreement with the Kentucky Baptist Convention that granted the convention authority to elect the university’s trustees. The convention, a ministry partner with the SBC, subsequently changed its historic practice of sending a portion of Cooperative Program gifts received to the university. Campbellsville signed a partnership agreement with the American Baptist Churches in Indiana and Kentucky Oct. 22, according to a KBC news release.

“News that Campbellsville University has become a member of the organization called Christians for Biblical Equality once again sheds light on their decision to distance themselves from Southern Baptists and Kentucky Baptists,” KBC executive director Paul Chitwood told Baptist Press. “CBE rewrites the Bible’s teaching in passages like Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3 and Colossians 3. My greatest concern for Campbellsville is that the Bible has stopped being the final authority and is being replaced with human wisdom. That isn’t a good foundation for a Baptist education.”

CBE President Mimi Haddad delivered the inaugural CBE lecture at Campbellsville and argued that according to Scripture, gender should not be a factor in the selection of church leaders.

“Not only is leadership service, but it is about character,” Haddad said according to a CU news release. “We should be looking for people not based on gender, but on spiritual gifts.”

Haddad later clarified her position to BP in written comments, stating, “Before the fall, Genesis makes clear that men and women are created in God’s image for shared dominion-authority (Genesis 1:26-28). Throughout Scripture, women exhibit spiritual, legal and political leadership despite able men, in their communities, whom God could have used.”

Following the culture

Bruce Ware, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary theology professor who has defended complementarianism in books and articles, said egalitarianism is popular because “it accords closer to cultural values and institutions than does the complementarian position.”

Ware told BP in written comments, “Since the Christian subculture has a prevailing shallow understanding of biblical teaching, it isn’t surprising that people — even well-meaning and sincere Christian people — follow their intuitions, as aided by egalitarian literature that seems to confirm their status quo beliefs. The challenge, then, is to re-present biblical teaching on this issue that challenges people’s intuitions while showing them from God’s Word the beauty and wisdom of God’s design of men and women, equal in essence but distinct in role and function.”

According to a survey of 58 North American denominations published by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2011-12, 26 were egalitarian and 17 complementarian. Fifteen either were not classified or were labeled as something other than egalitarian or complementarian. The SBC was listed as “either,” with a note that the view of gender roles “varies by congregation.”

From a financial vantage point, CBE’s total revenue for 2013 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — of $734,216 was nearly three times the 2014 revenue of the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, according to records from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. CBE’s 2013 expenses were nearly four times the 2014 expenses of CBMW.

‘Growth of complementarian conviction’

Yet among younger evangelicals and the leadership of the Evangelical Theological Society, some have pointed to a resurgence of complementarianism.

Southern Seminary professors Denny Burk and Jim Hamilton argued that the SBC’s six seminaries, all of which require professors to adhere to the BF&M, have played a significant role in bolstering complementarianism among young ministers.

“The SBC enrolls more students in its seminaries than any other denomination in America,” Burk and Hamilton wrote in a 2007 article in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “Thus, the influence of the SBC’s seminaries on emerging generations of ministers is worthy of note, and the SBC faculties who teach these young ministerial students affirm a complementarian doctrinal position.”

The number of students enrolled in SBC seminaries has increased substantially since Burk and Hamilton made that claim.

Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, told BP in written comments, “The sea change at the SBC seminaries alone has meant a major uptick in the representation and reception of the complementarian position at numerous schools. If you consider the major numerical presence of M.Div. students at Southern, Southeastern, Southwestern [seminaries], and the surging enrollment of Midwestern, you recognize that a large percentage of all ministers-in-training are at unflinchingly complementarian institutions.”

Among ETS leadership, Christians for Biblical Equality documented the number of complementarians serving on the ETS nominating committee over the years. According to a chart CBE provided to BP, at least 73 percent of ETS nominating committee members were complementarians between 1998-2011 while 18 percent were egalitarians and the gender stance of 9 percent was unknown.

Attendance at conferences reflecting the competing views on gender also may reflect a resurgence of complementarianism.

A CBE spokeswoman told BP that CBE annual conference attendance “ranges from 250-350,” with a record attendance expected at the 2016 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 14-17. CBMW reported an attendance of 1,500 at its first national conference in Louisville, Ky., in conjunction with the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference. In previous years, some CBMW events have drawn 500-600, with one event drawing 800-900, CBMW reported. The 2016 CBMW national conference will be held April 11-12 in conjunction with the next Together for the Gospel biennial conference.

Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said both sides of the gender debate will continue to be articulated among evangelicals, but he said he is “thrilled by the growth of complementarian conviction among evangelical scholars and pastor-theologians over the last thirty years.”

Strachan continued, “This is beyond heartening to me and many others. In the SBC and in sister denominations like the [Presbyterian Church in America], the future looks unabashedly complementarian. Compare that to 1987, when CBMW didn’t exist, and many of the SBC schools had lost their grip on biblical theology.”

Several key SBC leaders, Strachan said, have been crucial in defending complementarianism.

“We’ve learned from figures like Paige and Dorothy Patterson, Al and Mary Mohler, Danny and Charlotte Akin and numerous other leaders that complementarity is not only true, it is good,” Strachan said.

Burk and Hamilton noted that opinions about the appropriate role of women in local congregations vary among complementarians. While some believe 1 Timothy 2:12 and related passages prohibit women from teaching the Bible to any coed adult group in the church, others say “a woman can teach a mixed audience as long as she does so under the ‘headship’ and authority of the pastor/elders and her husband.” Burk and Hamilton adopted the former view.

All complementarians believe the office of pastor is reserved for men, though there is disagreement over what positions on a church staff should be classified as pastoral roles.

‘Who ends up swallowing whom?’

Haddad, of CBE, rejects all attempts to limit pastoral roles in the local church to males based on her interpretation of Scripture. She also disagrees with the suggestion that American cultural values consistently align with egalitarianism. She told BP equating popular culture and egalitarianism “makes unfair comparisons between all egalitarians and Western culture as a whole.”

Christians — egalitarian as well as complementarian — often stand for biblical truth and against the tide of culture on many issues, she said.

“Yet patriarchy holds sway in Western culture. Consider that men still earn more than women for the same work in most Western countries,” Haddad said in written comments. “And, working women consistently return home for the ‘second shift’ to assume responsibility for cooking, housework and overseeing their children’s homework. Additionally, men hold most leadership positions politically and professionally.”

Haddad continued, “Consider the wide and ungodly objectification of women in media and the film industry, particularly in the West. On Valentine’s Day this year the film ’50 Shades of Grey’ was launched, and it glorified the sexual abuse and slavery of women. Reflect also on the vast number of girls trafficked or killed annually. At present, nearly 200 million females are missing from the planet, representing the largest human holocaust in all of history — an event fueled by Western complicity, (demand and funding) coupled with the devaluation of females sustained by religious teachings and practices. Female subjugation is alive and well in every culture including our own, wreaking havoc, harm and abuse on girls and women despite what might seem like a Western nod at women’s equality.”

Yet Haddad shares with complementarians a hope that the rising generation of evangelicals may be willing to devote careful study to the Bible’s teachings on gender.

“In teaching at graduate and undergraduate schools with both complementarian and egalitarian students, it does seem as if today’s students are less biblically literate or literate in general compared to previous years,” Haddad said. “…I am concerned about this, but I also take hope in that students today are passionate about social justice and the global suffering of humanity. As a result, they are motivated to do the biblical, historical and social science research to understand and address this challenge.”

Strachan hopes young believers’ careful study leads to complementarian conclusions because “denying” the reality of distinct gender roles “in the home and church sets you up for theological and spiritual disaster.”

“Every figure, church and denomination that has publicly endorsed homosexuality — ‘gay Christianity’ — and transgenderism has without exception been egalitarian,” Strachan said. “This does not mean that every egalitarian endorses these sins, but it does mean that embracing egalitarianism puts you in tension. …The history of Protestant liberalism has taught many of us that when you make a grand bargain with the culture, there’s little confusion as to who ends up swallowing whom.”