A prominent sociologist on evangelicals, Sally Gallagher, published a fascinating study on evangelicals, “The Marginalization of Evangelical Feminism,” in which she considers the reason why evangelicals as a whole continue to deny mutual submission and shared authority between men and women. In her research, Gallagher suggests that well-known evangelical leaders have effectively linked evangelical feminism with androgyny, or the idea that sexual distinctions between men and women are ambiguous. Many of us have noted how often those who believe in gender hierarchy make statements such as, “evangelical feminists are working to blur the genders that God made so beautifully distinct.” They claim that androgyny is the result when we embrace gift-based leadership.
Because of this, it is critical to continually clarify our position as egalitarians. To say that men and women share equally in God’s image and the Spirit’s gifting is not to say that women and men are without sexual distinction. We are not affirming or working towards an androgynous humanity. We are simply asserting that God does not intend for us to define masculinity as authority and femininity as submission. Egalitarians are just calling the church to think carefully and critically about what it means to be men and women of God who share authority, who are servants together. We are affirming that our calling to bring hope and healing to a tired world is our priority and should not be limited by gender.
But this question of androgyny I believe represents a bigger issue in our churches: quite simply fear. It is a fear of change and a fear of losing control and power. It is a fear of following a new and sometimes more difficult path from prescribed and predictable gender roles to the more biblical path of giftedness, freedom, and oneness (not sameness) in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
In the later part of John 6, as Jesus completes his teaching on faith, the Bible tells us that many of his disciples began grumbling. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). But I love Jesus’ response. He said “Does this offend you?...The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (v. 61, 63). He basically said, so what if this is hard? It’s true! When many of his disciples turned away, Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67). Peter responded: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 68-69).
These are stirring words for us who are working for gender reform in the church. If we believe Jesus speaks the truth, we have no choice but to follow Christ and press forward! In John 6, Jesus never denies that his teachings are difficult or counter-cultural. Going against the status quo is not easy, and it certainly does not feel comfortable or safe. Yet, as Mimi highlighted in her last Mutuality column, Flannery O’Conner said “Be properly scared, and go on doing what you have to do.” Christ asks us to be faithful, even when others desert him or resist his teachings. Even while others cannot embrace the powerful truth of biblical equality, a message not of sameness but of oneness, Jesus is lovingly saying to us “So what? I want you to follow me.” Will you join us?