Women have had an uphill climb in the world of evangelical ministry, and that’s putting it mildly. Any woman who has been called by God into ministry knows that the road can be steep and sometimes treacherous. But God has called women, gifted women, and empowered women to preach and teach the gospel. And although a disrespect, disdain for, and often antagonism toward women in ministry has been the norm among many in the world of evangelical Christianity, the tide will shift. I believe this, because God is always drawing us closer into his kingdom, toward lives fueled by the Holy Spirit, toward the echo of the songs of redemption, wholeness, and equality that ring from his throne.
Yesterday, Christian author, Beth Moore, wrote a vulnerable letter to her Christian brothers, describing what it has been like for her to be a woman ministering in the male-dominated world of evangelicalism.
Moore states, “I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world because I chose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me, they were rooted in deep convictions based on passages from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.
Then early October 2016 surfaced attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem of women and it spread like wildfire. It was just the beginning. I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”
These words are so important. Moore states that she tolerated attitudes that seemed ungodly because she believed they came from a sincere desire to follow an interpretation of Scripture. However, Scripture should never lead us to actions and attitudes that seem ungodly and smack of disrespect and even hatred. She realized that Scripture was being used as an excuse for men in the church to treat women how they pleased, according to the sin in their hearts. The result was misogyny and objectification—the opposite of the brotherhood and sisterhood to which Christ calls us.
Thabiti Anyabwile, a contributing blogger for the Gospel Coalition issued this apology on their website in response to Moore’s letter. Many observers were surprised to see such a response from the Gospel Coalition. TGC is an organization that is very specifically complementarian, holding to the belief that gender roles are set by God and recorded in Scripture, with men in the place of authority. While not all complementarians are actively hostile toward women in ministry, many women in ministry have felt the destructive jabs from complementarians that Moore discusses, those jabs that stink of misogyny and reflect nothing of the grace of God.
He wrote, “Today Beth Moore penned a poignant letter to her brothers in Christ in which she points out the sinful root at the bottom of a lot of male attitudes toward women in general and women in ministry specifically. It deserves a wide and genuinely prayerful reading.”
Anyabwile apologizes to Moore, stating that he recognizes the attitude that she describes in himself, having scoffed at women in ministry, and having regarded them with suspicion, assuming they did not understand the limits on their roles as defined by Scripture. He also recognizes that his attitudes have affected more than just Moore specifically, but have hurt many more women than he will ever know.
Anyabwile seems to show genuine remorse for the pain that Moore and many other women have experienced, expressing that he had previously not realized how invisible many Christian women have felt, and he admits that he was influenced by the chauvinistic attitudes of those around him.
This dialogue between Moore and Anyabwile is a whisper of redemption, the quiet melody of a song waiting to crescendo into its fullness. It is the soft notes of God’s equality, reaching our ears. And it is what happens when we truly listen to each other.
Scholars and theologians have been debating certain passages regarding the roles of men and women in the church, family, and world for millennia. Brilliant, holy, sincere, prayerful people have come to differing understandings of these passages.
While I am fully convinced that the most honest and consistent reading of Scripture is egalitarian, there are people who truly and honestly believe the opposite. And many gracious people have been able to honestly and faithfully disagree, while still treating each other with the love of Christ. But if, as Moore and many other women have experienced, the fruit of either understanding is hatred, oppression, misogyny, objectification, or anything else abhorrent to God, that is not the fruit of the Spirit. That is the fruit of sin.
I commend Anyabwile for his attempt to hear Moore, to hear her pain, to hear her frustration, and to hear her clear naming of the sin that has caused it. And I commend his willingness to explore his own heart in these matters. Neither Moore nor Anyabwile stated their own understanding of the passages in 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 14. There was no debate about Greek words, cultural context, literary style, or anything else. There was simply a naming of sin, and a recognition and apology for that sin.
The Spirit is always breathing new life and light into dead dark places. Moore is right, the darkness toward women in the church has seemed to spread like wildfire in recent years. But when we speak truth into darkness, it fades. When we speak in love, the Spirit moves.
Anyabwile does not state that he no longer holds complementarian beliefs. He may very well continue to hold his belief that God designed roles for humanity based on gender, although we hope he will come to embrace egalitarian theology fully. But in his apology and commitment to be a more outspoken champion for women, wholeness can begin to grow.
I have hope for the future of the Church, because she is the bride of Christ. I have faith that God will bring the fullness of equality to all people, because we have been promised Christ’s full redemption. I have ears that hear the melody of redemption singing through these dialogues of honesty, repentance, and forgiveness. Even though these are only tiny cracks in the wall that has held women back, I know that God is waiting to break through.
May we listen to each other, and honestly regard our own hearts, striving to grow more into the likeness of Christ each and every day.
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