“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov.15:1, TNIV)
Dealing with the emotions that swirl around the gender debate in the church today can be very challenging. The discussion often touches upon beliefs that are very core to us as Christians. Few remain truly “neutral” on women’s leadership. This is exciting, but it also warrants caution and wisdom. It is exciting because people are intensely interested in the topic of gender, authority, and the church. They are eager to explore the biblical material on gender, prayerfully looking for opportunities to study and examine the Scriptures with others. People are digging deeply into Scripture and they’re asking others to join them. It is fantastic to see so many thoughtful Christians studying the Bible with vigor and in community with one another! The interest in gender and faith is evidenced by the numerous books, published each year on the topic. Twenty years ago there were only about two dozen books advancing a biblical basis for gift-based, rather than gender-based ministry. Today, we struggle to keep up with all the books published on the topic!
Yet, as interests and passions run high on both sides of the issue, so must our patience for one another, particularly for those with whom we disagree. A CBE member once told me that when she speaks to groups who have never heard another interpretation on gender from Scripture, she reminds herself to be realistic about what she can accomplish in one lecture. She said, “I remember that I will probably not change anyone’s mind in one lecture. Rather, I seek to gain just three or four minutes of support for the egalitarian position. If I do that, I consider my work a success.” I love this approach because it leaves the results with God, and it also respects the journey many must take in order to resolve the questions they have about Scripture. Everyone will have valid concerns, sometimes stated with great passion. How wonderful it is when we can respond patiently, remembering that we too were once on a similar path and felt thankful that others were respectful, gentle, and kind in their communication with us.
I am reminded of an experience I had while studying at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, walking behind a student who was also a father. He often walked to school beside his three year old daughter. Together they climbed the steep hill from student housing to the academic buildings. The walk took him much longer because he walked beside his little daughter. Yet, he seemed to relish each step they took together, even though her little legs could not begin to keep pace with his. In order to make the journey pleasant and doable for her, he walked very, very slowly. As I am an innately impatient person, my first response was, “Why doesn’t he just pick her up and carry her? After all, it would be so much quicker!” However, speed wasn’t in the forefront of his mind. He was focused on relationship. By taking smaller, slower steps he made her ability the priority. Walking at her rate, she felt comfortable and valued. He seemed to delight in making the journey beside this young person whom he obviously loved so much. His patience and his joy for her small ability reminded me of God, who delights in each step we take, in our own limited ability.
May we, like that patient father, delight in walking thoughtfully beside one another, recognizing that the journey may be longer for us as we patiently wait for others to take the time they need to study the issue more carefully. Traveling together is well worth the wait. May God renew our patient dedication to one another.