My Take on the On Faith Question

My take on the On Faith question is similar to Richard Mouw’s: it is not hyporcritical to suppose that women can serve as governing leaders of a nation but not a church, but it is inconsistent. Hypocrisy entails an insidious level of dishonesty pertinent to the issue that traditionalists avoid.

Nevertheless, the question is interesting, because it reveals deep presuppositions about biblical interpretation that cuts through the fog of rhetoric about traditional gender roles and the evils of feminism. Quite frankly, Sarah Palin is a problem for traditionalists–or “complementarians” as they like to call themselves—because she is a conservative feminist. She is just as big of a problem for CBMW as she is for secular feminists on the Left.

The On Faith forum was helpful in delineating a number of views. The majority of the responses said that there was no hypocrisy because of a divergence between church government and secular government. There are two different kingdoms and they play by different rules. Perhaps the best rationale for this position is in defining male leadership in the church as being representative of Christ’s priestly role. Since Jesus was a man those who represent him should be men. This is a clear and objective criterion that separates the two realms neatly. However, this does not seem to be the popular view among the more staunchly Protestant views since the priesthood is something that applies to all believers. Catholics have the advantage in this view.

The other rationale is to say that the Bible simply does not command any kind of prohibition on women from serving in society. Since we are not bound by Scripture to relegate women to a place of submission in society we ought not to dispute a woman’s ascension to a place of authority. This is the position of CBMW. David Kotter writes,

From the outset we must remember that on November 7 the voters will not elect a national minister or pastor in chief. A president is not held to the same moral standards as an elder of a church. While it is a blessing from God to have ethical or even Christian political leaders, the Bible places no such requirements on secular governments. Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.

Therefore we must be careful to not go beyond the teaching of the Bible. The Bible calls women to specific roles in the church and home, but does not prohibit them from exercising leadership in secular political fields.

However, this far from being a consensus view among other CBMW writers. For example, Barbara K. Mouser in The Womanliness of Deborah asks, “Does Deborah provide an historical precedent that overturns the principle of male leadership in the home and nation?” Obviously, she presupposes that there IS a principle of male leadership in the nation and seems to infer it from Isaiah 3:12, “Isaiah tells us that the rule of women is a sign of degeneracy, not liberation.” She even goes so far to say that Deborah is only “judging” but is not a “judge” (!) as the book of Judges understands the role. Her desire, according to Mouser, was to strengthen men and not replace them, and therefore she should not be seen as a head of state.

Kim Pennington, in her article Able to Teach and Complementarian?, observes that the Old Testament shows a pattern of male leadership for the nation of Israel, and that Isaiah 3:12 demonstrates that national female leadership is “unnatural and grievous to God.” She also sticks to the line of reasoning that Deborah really wasn’t a judge since she did all of her governing privately.

Stuart W. Scott in Profiling Christian Masculinity concludes that because God gave men headship in marriage and the church and gave leadership positions to men in Israel, “It is obvious that God has given man the role of ultimate leadership.”

Finally, in an interview with John Piper, he answers a question about political leadership saying, “When a man and a woman have similar qualifications, I’m inclined to think that we should vote for the man. I would probably say it even stronger than that in light of Isaiah 3:12, where part of the judgment of God upon His people is to subject them to being ruled by women.”

In light of these previous statements, it seems to me that there is a large concession happening when Kotter says, “Therefore we must be careful to not go beyond the teaching of the Bible. The Bible calls women to specific roles in the church and home, but does not prohibit them from exercising leadership in secular political fields.” Complementarians who hold to a broad scope of Isaiah 3:12’s judgment will have to have some kind of discussion with those who see it as limited. And those that argue for a limitation will have to be careful to distinguish their arguments from egalitarian arguments for their position. That will be no small feat.

Moreover, there will have to be a discussion on Titus 2:3-5. The editor of CBMW’s journal recently argued,

The Bible does set forth an ideal for a wife and mother that includes a primary responsibility to her home, husband, and children. Wives and mothers have a special role and duty to domestic life that is an essential component of their Christian discipleship. In fact, Paul says that to fall short on this obligation “dishonors” the word of God. This is a non-negotiable for any wife and mother who is also a follower of Christ.

Similarly, Voddie Baucham, who apparently doesn’t think women should go to college (according to Challies), infers from this passage that Sarah Palin is an “anti-family pick.” He writes:

Not only do I believe that a pro-family candidate would prefer to see Mrs. Palin at home taking care of her children, I believe a pro-family candidate would also avoid validating and advancing our culture’s desire to completely erase gender roles. Much of the discussion about Mrs. Palin’s candidacy centers around her opportunity to “break through the class ceiling” and be a “role model for young women.” The same was said of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy in the Democratic primary. But what does this mean?

Are we really saying that we want to completely erase the distinctions between men and women. [sic] Do we really believe that it is good for our country to promote the view that women are merely men who happen to be biologically capable of having children (when it does not interfere with career advancement, of course)? I don’t think so. What do we do with the Bible’s admonition in Titus chapter two? Are Christian conservatives saying that Paul’s instructions concerning women’s duty to be “keepers of their homes” has somehow been overturned in light of recent discoveries? Or are we saying that pro-family means one thing when we’re in church, but something else when we’re trying to beat the Democrats? (emphasis mine)

The appeal to the “differences” between the sexes is a standard line in traditionalist thought. Many beliefs about the nature of women are inferred from the biblical texts that proscribe female leadership in the home and church. For example, women are more easily deceived and should not be placed in roles that require a dispassionate logical analysis. Wayne Grudem writes:

God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church, a disposition that inclines more to the rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the doctrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, in general, a disposition that inclines more toward a relational, nurturing emphasis that places a higher value on unity and community in the church (v14)” Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (72).

In essence, if men are deemed fitter for leadership because they are more rational and protective, then does it not follow that men are to be preferred in leadership in all realms of life? The differences between the sexes follows from the creation order, that in complementarian teaching, sees man as the head of creation and the woman his helper. CBMW is emphatic on this point in many regards. Most curiously, they even weigh in on the appropriateness of femininity in athletic competition. When commenting on the Olympics we are told,

As with all things, we look to God’s timeless truth to find our answers and since there is no direct mention of women and sports therein, my family has begun think more deeply to develop principles from God’s Word by which to judge the “fitness to femininity” of individual sports. After searching the Scriptures, here is our “family thesis” for our daughters and sports: the more clearly a sport compromises a woman’s God-imbued femininity, the more cause she has to forego participating in it. In other words, when a sport makes a female to look and behave like a man, it is out of bounds for her. We will apply the same reciprocal principle in assessing the activities of our boys.

If that kind of gender ideology applies to athletics and forbids a woman to participate in boxing, what does it say about leadership? If leadership is “ultimately male” does not a woman who leads become as unnatural as a female boxer? Sarah Palin is both a woman and mom. She is also a leader. To me, it just does not seem consistent to support the traditionalist position and support Palin if you buy into CBWM’s ideas, because there is no clear criterion that distinguishes between the sacred and the secular. The Catholic reasoning is more sound on this point, though I believe the egalitarian position is sounder still.


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