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It’s Not About Doctrine!: Why People Leave Churches Over Women Teaching

On August 15, 2017

Below is a very brief glimpse of the inconsistency with which we elevate certain doctrinal issues and specifically, the issue of women as pastors, as things we absolutely must agree on, and ignore other doctrinal differences. But what's at the root of that inconsistency?

Two stories. Each about someone in my family. One from more than fifty years ago. One from 2017.

Let's start with the old story. A relative in my grandparents' generation once left a congregation because a woman was teaching. He had been at the congregation quite a while and was content to stay—except for this new development that a woman was allowed to teach.

Here's what makes this otherwise-unsurprising story odd: He not only switched congregations, but also denominations. That is to say, he was willing to change his mind about and/or tolerate differences of opinion about numerous doctrinal issues—except the issue of whether women can teach men. For some reason, that doctrine was more important to him than other doctrines such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, worship, sanctification, and pacifism.

Fast forward to 2017. A relative in my children's generation recently voiced disagreement with complementarian ideas about marriage in a men's meeting at his church. A group leader seemed surprised and voiced concern that someone would disagree with complementarian doctrine.

But here's the oddity: This young relative of mine is from a different denomination than that congregation. That is to say, he disagrees with them about other things as well, and they know it. Why would the group leader, who is also an elder in the congregation, be okay with a church member disagreeing with an array of doctrines, but not okay when it comes to disagreement with complementarian doctrine?

I admit that the title of this article is an exaggeration. For some people, it is indeed about doctrine. But for most, it's not. Instead, it can be about personal preferences, about personal struggles, about power, etc.—all under the pervasive influence of patriarchy.

After all, if it were always about doctrine, all we'd have to do is study the text carefully, right?

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