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Published Date: September 29, 2006

Published Date: September 29, 2006

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“Set Apart,” But is it by Fear?

A prominent sociologist on evangelicals, Sally Gallagher, has much to say to egalitarians in her article, The Marginalization of Evangelical Feminism. She questions, when 56% of evangelical women are employed outside the home and when many evangelical marriages are egalitarian in practice, why evangelicals as a whole have still rejected mutuality and partnership between the genders.

One important point she makes is that well-known evangelical leaders have effectively linked evangelical feminism with androgyny. I have personally seen this many times from complementarian writing—statements like “evangelical feminists and their efforts to blur the genders that God made so beautifully distinct.” Complementarians have had definite success in convincing many people both that androgyny will be the awful result if we embrace gift-based leadership and that secularization of the church is the purpose behind egalitarianism.

In light of this, I can’t help but believe there is a huge issue of fear in the evangelical church. It seems to me that much of what we do in the church is more of an effort to preserve our way of thinking (because our interpretation must be correct) rather than actually critically thinking and dealing with Scripture and culture (of both the past and the present). This is particularly fascinating to me since evangelicals distinguish themselves from fundamentalists in their insistence that culture should be engaged.

How do we combat fear in the evangelical church?

Evangelicals talk a lot about being “set apart” from the world. But that distinction often seems to be based in fear—a strict definition of what we are not rather than what we are. When discussing the evangelical identity as set apart from the broader culture, Sally Gallagher suggests that evangelicals could accept mutuality and still be distinguished from the “secular” world if:

“…they were demonstratively more egalitarian than the broader culture in sharing responsibility for, and not just helping each other with, paid and unpaid family labor.”

What if the church was about radical equality—where Christians practice mutual submission characterized by love, humility, and selflessness, where Christians’ gifts are used for the glory of God, and where gender is neither blurred or stereotyped, but celebrated? This sounds like the example of the early church. It also sounds like a way that evangelicals can set themselves apart from the rest of society—a way that evangelicals can still be evangelicals.