My friend John was recently in a conversation about gender roles. Specifically, the theological positions on power, responsibility and opportunity for women and men. The age old question is, "Did God intend one gender to carry more authority and responsibility and therefore intend the highest power opportunities in the church to that gender (usually the one with the Y chromosome)?"
John's companion was interesting and articulate. John enjoyed hearing this person's views on almost any topic because they mix thoughtful processing with passionate expression—truly a laudable combination. It was immediately clear that John and his friend differed in their positions on this important issue.
His friend said "My belief is simple. I am an egalitarian. I believe in total and equal access to all roles, offices and stations of spiritual power for both genders. My belief boils down to this: It is a justice issue. Deep down I believe in equality … we know this to be true in the realms of voting, idea generation, intellect, activism, moral fortitude and business acumen. Deep down I feel strongly that God created the genders as equals. I also feel that equality requires equal access to all seats of power, even those inside the church."
John responded. "How can you let men off the hook that way? We have a responsibility epidemic in our culture today. We must take a stand for better fathers, better husbands and more committed church leaders. Men need to stop playing video games and engage. We need to be calling men to more responsibility not less.
How can you support the wimpification of men?"
On the issue of gender roles, you may agree with either John or his friend. Perhaps you don't agree with either of them. But I hope it illustrates the false dichotomies that sometimes exist around religious issues.
John's reaction was based on a correlation that is not necessarily true. To him, to be egalitarian (believing that all roles in the church are open to both genders) means also having lower expectations of men. Which, of course, is not true. The actual opposite of being an egalitarian is to believe that there are certain spiritual stations (like being an elder or a pastor) that are not available to woman.
The ironic thing about this story is that John is one of the most obnoxious people I know in criticizing the passivity and laziness in our culture, particularly among young male adults. My friend lives in Portland, Oregon, which was described as "the place where young people go to retire." He hates that phrase mostly because he knows it is often true. I have heard him call out men in his life who he finds to be particularly adolescent.
Why do we do this? Why do we create false dichotomies around religious issues? On some level, I imagine we have come by the practice honestly. Often debates are framed with related, but not correlated, ideas fused together as if they were inseparable. To extend the illustration of gender roles, I have seen pastors defend complementarian positions with data about how irresponsible young men have become. But who doesn't support young guys "manning up?' Parents want their sons to be more responsible. Churches want strength and commitment from this often absent part of their congregations. Who doesn't want men to grow up, engage, commit, lead … heck, just show up?
Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.