Your face is hot. Ears are suddenly bright red. (I don’t know about you, but my chest becomes blotchy like I have a ferocious sunburn. Unexpected confrontation is just about the only time I welcome a confining turtleneck sweater.) It’s happening. Someone has just asked you a direct question and though in your heart you have the answer, the right words can’t seem to find the way out.
***Many Egalitarians have been indoctrinated with complementarian theology. It’s in the very foundations of our faith in Jesus and our trust in the Bible to tell us how to live. Currently, we endure the torture of reevaluating scriptures that have been utilized to subjugate women for thousands of years. It’s no easy undertaking, but don’t fret. Stretch out that tight collar. I’m here to help! (And don’t worry! It’s easier than you would think!!)
I want you to imagine the devoted complementarian’s Bible. You know it well. It’s worn, highlighted, and most margins are filled in with years worth of thoughts and cross references. They are lovers of the Good Book. Let’s not hate on them for it. Most are not power hungry or evil. They are simply misled.
Somebody taught it to them wrong.
Somebody taught it to you wrong.
Somebody taught it to you right later.
And who knows… you might just be the person who teaches it to them right… now.
This particular complementarian has cornered you with a statement similar to THIS:
“The best way to read Scripture is in its ‘plainest sense.’ 1 Timothy 2:12 spells it out perfectly.” (And then they will recite it, word for word, stinging your soul because though they would appear to be right, they just aren’t. With a smug smile, they look at you and blink hard. They are waiting. They think that they have sunk you. It’s Okay, because you are ready. Let’s move, grasshoppah. We’ve totally got this.)
First of all, become extremely familiar with the entire passage. Likely, they read it with their choice words highlighted, yet ignore the surrounding verses. You can use this to your advantage later.
(There are a few ways to righteously handle the person who decides to point this verse out to you but I will offer three “rebuffs” or “BOMBS” that you can keep in your back pocket, ready to whip out in a moment’s notice.)
THE FIRST BOMB: Ask them the rhetorical question,
“What do you think that it means that Paul uses this unique phrasing when he begins that statement, ‘I do not allow…’?” (then wait a minute. If they stumble and fumble, help ’em out!)
“I have often wondered if he is offering his own opinion, based on personal experience and within the context of the culture at hand. Women were uneducated. Women were considered second class citizens, barely valued above livestock and even then only for their ability to bear sons. Do you think their legal roles within the society and tradition of that day affected Paul’s opinion of the leadership of women?”
*(And does Paul offer his personal opinion anywhere else? Oh YES! Remind them of a 1 Corinthians 7 passage and be sure to know the address. Comps are totally intimidated when you know the verse and can recite verbatim! They mistakenly believe that YOU are led by feelings and THEY are led by facts. So when you offer facts, they can become a bit befuddled. It’s totally great to watch them try to come up with their own verse to outsmart you.)
Lock it in your memory: 1 Corinthians 7:25
The point: Paul’s phrasing in 1 Timothy 2:12 that that “I do not allow” can be compared to the wording here where he says, “I have no command from the Lord.” Basically, he is saying, “God has not told me either way.” We should raise an eyebrow and consider the fact that Paul seems to, at times, offer personal opinions and judgements.
This particular example in 1 Corinthians 7 discourages women from marrying, which could be said to be contradictory to God’s command to human beings to “be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).” Paul is giving a personal opinion, based on his own experiences with having a desire to be undistracted by a wife and family. Basically, it isn’t always black and white and here we have a perfect example of a gray area.
Then conclude the line of thinking with something like this:
“So in order to more successfully investigate the context of this verse, we must consider that Paul may not have been offering God’s mandate as an all inclusive, prescriptive command for all of humans for all of time. Rather, could it be that he is addressing the culture of those days and the extenuating circumstances surrounding the early church?”
(If you can make them think critically, even if just for a minute, consider it a WIN! People respond well to not being judged, but rather to leaving it open ended so they can come to their own conclusions.)
THE SECOND BOMB: What is the meaning of “quiet” or “silence?” Get to the bottom of this issue. Instead of going on the defensive and psychoanalyzing the Greek words used, or whether or not that part was added (which many believe is the case but comps will give you a giant eye roll if you even suggest), ask them the question pertaining to application within their own churches.
“Are there currently women in positions of authority over men? The missions team? Youth ministry? Children’s ministry? Worship? Finance? How do you reconcile that women are, in fact, leading men within your fellowship?”
(This is a great one if there are men and women serving in many areas and women are permitted to speak, lead, or have authority over men, but just not as pastors or elders. The bottom line is this: THEY WANT THESE WOMEN WORKING. They just don’t want to acknowledge that they are in charge. It’s amazing to see comps backpedal, trying to figure out how to maintain a “structure” of hierarchy without looking like total hypocrites. I like to get a really “spacey” look on my face and say, “I’m confused.” When they try to explain why it’s OK at their church, I remind them of 1 Timothy 2:12.)
Then finish it off with something like this:
“It seems like you don’t have an issue with women in authority when it is convenient, but when it comes to titles and maintaining control, you straddle the fence. So should the men on the worship team, children’s ministry, and youth group simply quit, or should the women in leadership be fired?”
(Then let that marinade for a minute.)
THE THIRD BOMB: It’s time to address context, specifically referring to the fact that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is chock full of some of the most confusing (and disobeyed, I might add!) verses that Paul ever penned.
- “Should men everywhere be raising their hands when they pray (vs 8)?? Strange, because I don’t ever see them do this at my conservative Baptist church. Are they being unbiblical? I mean, this is Scripture in it’s plainest sense!”
- “Should women avoid braids their hair (specifically)? Are braids a symbol of pride? What about jewelry? Should we throw it all in the garbage? How should we appropriately apply this verse?”
- “In what way, exactly, is childbearing a saving factor for women? What about women who remain unmarried? (as Paul so strongly encouraged in 1 Corinthians 7) Are childless women unsaved? And what does it mean, ‘if they continue in faith, love, and holiness…’ It sounds to me like, Biblically speaking, for women, salvation is works based, right?”
(In case you hadn’t noticed, a few, carefully worded questions, contradictions, and misapplications are all that you might need to punch holes in the entire foundation that one cherry picked verse has afforded them.)
You don’t need a doctorate in theology. You don’t need a 100 page thesis statement. You don’t need fancy formal ordination. You are qualified because God has qualified you. He approves of you. You just need to become super familiar with these bombs and be ready to detonate at any moment. Remember, the goal is not to convince them. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Your goal is to be obedient to open your mouth and speak, to handle the pressure and dismantle the proud (1 Peter 3:15)
You just want them to realize that they do not have all of the answers on this issue.
You are not going to convince a lifelong, confrontational, complementarian to change their mind in one conversation. The best we could ever hope for is that they would consider that it deserves another look from a different angle.
(The kingdom is like a mustard seed, my dear friends. It starts small and becomes huge… Start small.
And lastly, let go of your poor, stretched out, turtleneck collar. Take a deep breath, and smile at them confidently.
Take a look around.
You aren’t trapped in a corner…..