This is what the tortured, twisted logic of patriarchy looks like

The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception...
The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception

The other day, John Piper fielded a question about whether women should be police officers. His response highlights the tortured logic necessary to make patriarchy “work” in the real world.

Worth noting: the woman asking is a complementarian. She believes, like Piper, that men lead and women follow. Yet she feels drawn to police work and therefore conflicted—presumably because her job would require her to exercise authority over men on a regular basis. She even promised to quit if she gets married someday and her husband objects to her line of work.

Most complementarians don’t go so far as to prohibit women from working—though they often discourage married women from doing so, and some do indeed go farther. (I once had a pastor who said in a sermon he didn’t think women should ever work outside the home, even if they were single. We left that church shortly after.)

Piper himself accepts there are “thousands of possible roles” women can fill in society. But this creates a problem for patriarchy: what about the many roles which might require a woman to exercise authority over a man?

It’s not just police officers.

What about being a college professor? Or a guidance counselor? Or an author? Or a city planner? Or an HR specialist?

What about being a scientist who presents her research at a professional conference and therefore “teaches” men? What about being a financial advisor telling men how to invest their money?

This is where patriarchy ties itself in knots because, on the one hand, it wants us to believe the allegedly subordinate status of women is universally applicable and not limited to a certain sphere, like the church or home. As Piper says in his response to the aspiring cop:

At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man.

Leading—exercising authority over women—is “at the heart” of what it means to be a man, according to Piper. Yet even he must sense the extreme nature of this, because he immediately tries to qualify it so he can allow women to serve in at least some roles outside the home.

Piper concedes the folly of making a list of “acceptable” roles for women—not that others haven’t tried. Instead, he resorts to some breathtaking mental gymnastics in order to explain how a woman can exercise authority without really exercising authority:

If a woman’s job involves a good deal of directives toward men, they will need to be non-personal in general, or men and women won’t flourish in the long run in that relationship without compromising profound biblical and psychological issues. And conversely, if a woman’s relationship to a man is very personal, then the way she offers guidance and influence will need to be more non-directive.

According to Piper, a woman can exercise authority so long as it’s “non-directive” or “non-personal.”

He sees no problem with a woman designing traffic patterns, “deciding which streets are one-way, and therefore… controlling, in one sense, all the male drivers all day long,” because this kind of influence isn’t personal.

But if that same woman were to be a police officer standing on a street corner making sure those traffic patterns are followed? Then she would be violating Piper’s notion of manhood.

Now it’s personal, according to Piper. Now she’s offending a man’s “God-given sense of responsibility and leadership.” Now she’s controverting “God’s created order.”

How does that even make sense? How is that not an artificial distinction designed solely to maintain an unworkable system?

It’s funny, because complementarians like to accuse egalitarians of doing mental gymnastics in order to explain 1 Timothy 2:12—“I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” (There happen to be very good and, I think, convincing ways to interpret this passage from an egalitarian perspective. See here and here, for example.)

But what about the mental gymnastics necessary to maintain patriarchy, albeit in a slightly less terrible form?

Paul doesn’t say, “I do not permit a woman to assume authority over a man unless it’s non-direct or non-personal.” Piper has introduced an unfounded caveat to a text he claims to interpret more straightforwardly than the rest of us.

Piper says this is about being “submissive to the Bible,” but he can’t even follow his own rubric for interpreting it. (He also wants us to believe his is the counter-cultural view, something I addressed in a recent guest post on Jory Micah’s blog.)

Speaking of the Bible, if it’s wrong for a woman to exercise authority over a man, how do you explain the prophet Deborah instructing Barak—who was afraid to go into battle without her?

How do you explain Huldah instructing the high priest of Israel?

How do you explain women being the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection? (“He is has risen” is the foundation of all Christian teaching, after all.)


How do you explain Priscilla instructing Apollos in the way of God?

Deborah and Huldah were nothing if not directive. Mary Magdalene and Priscilla were nothing if not personal.

Authority is authority, whether it’s directive or not, whether it’s personal or not. And when it comes to the biblical narrative, steeped though it is in a patriarchal world, we see women exercising bold, prophetic authority—in accord with God’s created order, not against it.

Photo by Dave Conner on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Russell Moore is right: racial injustice IS a gospel issue


I worry a bit when we start labeling ever divisive matter a “gospel issue.” Surely not everything rises to this threshold. Surely if you play the “gospel” card too many times—if you argue that “the gospel is at stake” in practically every debate—pretty soon the word loses all meaning. It becomes little more than a rhetorical club for stifling debate, for insinuating that anyone who disagrees with you hates the baby Jesus.

Yet sometimes the gospel IS at stake. The other day, Russell Moore when he called racial injustice a “gospel issue.” And I think he was right.

That was the day we learned that Eric Garner’s killer would not face charges. One of the first responses I saw in my Twitter feed came from Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was a transcript of a radio show he recorded moments after the news broke.

His comments are well worth reading:

A government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice.

What we need to do is to have churches that come together and know one another and are knitted together across these racial lines. I have gotten responses [to this]… that are right out of the White Citizen’s Council material from 1964 in my home state of Mississippi… people saying there is no gospel issue involved in racial reconciliation. Are you kidding me? There is nothing that is clearer in the New Testament [than] that the gospel breaks down the dividing walls that we have between one another.

If [this] is not a gospel issue, then I don’t know what is.

Russell Moore spoke not just for his tribe, but for the whole church. He spoke with prophetic urgency as he rightly declared that racial injustice is indeed a gospel issue.

It’s a gospel issue because the gospel Christ proclaimed is about more than just our personal relationship with God. It’s about our relationship with each other—and with all of creation, for that matter.

It’s the renewal of all things, the reconciliation of all things. The gospel destroys the dividing wall of hostility between people. It creates a new humanity; it knits together a new family where divisions based on ethnicity, caste, or gender are rendered not just obsolete but sinful.

This is what it means to be “in Christ.” You cannot embrace Christ without embracing his mission to remake the world, to destroy all the old barriers of sin and oppression and division.

Some theologians use the term “human flourishing” to describe this mission. Which to me is just another way of saying a world where everyone can breathe.

That’s what Christ’s mission is about. That’s why racial injustice is indeed a gospel issue. To swear allegiance to Christ is to commit yourself to this mission, period. To tolerate injustice, oppression, or exclusion—to turn a deaf ear on the cries emanating from marginalized communities—is to embrace an anti-gospel.

You cannot hate your neighbor and love God, as Dr. Moore eloquently reminded listeners in the wake of the Eric Garner non-indictment. And in case you’re thinking, I don’t hate my neighbor, remember this: the Bible equates apathy with hatred.


Yet if this is true when Eric Garner has the life choked from his body by a prejudiced and unaccountable police force, it is also be true when a gay teenager is bullied into suicide, whatever our understanding of sexual ethics might be. It is also true when women are relegated to second-class status in our homes and churches. What was it Martin Luther King, Jr. said?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In other words, we don’t get to choose which marginalized communities we embrace and which we leave out in the cold. We don’t get to choose which “dividing walls of hostility” to tear down and which ones to leave standing.

Either it’s the reconciliation of all things or not.

Russell Moore is right Racial injustice is a gospel issue. But it’s not the only one we should be concerned about.

Photo by Geraint Rowland on Flickr (text added to original) / CC BY-NC 2.0

“Boys can be anything they want. Girls can be princesses.”

I don’t usually find flipping through the Christian book catalog to be an uplifting experience. Take the one that was waiting on my front porch this week…

There’s yet another children’s book reducing the gospel to a formula. There’s one reinforcing the notion of heaven as a disembodied reality “out there” somewhere.

There are Duck Dynasty Valentine’s Day cards. A whole section devoted to James Dobson. Amish fiction (or as a friend of mine likes to call it, Amish porn). The only thing missing was a picture of Joel Osteen blinding me with his shiny white teeth.

And then there was this.

IMG_7680A set of companion books by fiction author Karen Kingsbury: one for moms to read with their sons, called Whatever You Grow Up to Be, and another for dads to read with their daughters, called Always Daddy’s Princess.

On the face of it, the message for boys appears to be, “You can grow up to be whatever you want.” The message for girls: “You can be a princess.”

It may not be the author’s intent to limit boys and girls to these predefined roles. But do we really need another set of products perpetuating the notion (intentionally or not) that boys can choose their identity, while girls’ identity has been determined for them?

This gender stereotype is pervasive in our culture. If you don’t think so, try raising a daughter.

Try counting the number of children’s TV shows with a female lead — Dora the Explorer, for example — versus those with a male lead (along with, perhaps, the occasional female sidekick): Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Super Why, Caillou, Handy Manny, Justin Time. You get the idea.

Try fending off the Disney princess juggernaut which, for all the refreshing progress of recent films like Brave and Frozen, still rakes in billions teaching girls that their main source of value lies in their appearance and their desirability to men.

The church should be a refuge from this kind of thinking, not a co-conspirator. The church should be the one place where we actually behave like there’s no “male and female,” as the apostle Paul once wrote.

Now, my daughter loves pretending to be a princess. She insists on wearing a dress every day. We run through tights like there’s no tomorrow. And she wants to be a ballet dancer. (She also loves trucks and airplanes and thinks farting is hilarious, for what it’s worth.)

The fact that she likes dressing up as Cinderella doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll grow up thinking she’s inferior to men. But as a parent, I’m learning that I have to be intentional about reinforcing her equality. She’s only 3 years old, and already she’s made comments like, “Boys can do this, but girls can’t.”

This breaks my heart. It’s a sobering reminder of how our culture bombards girls with a message of inferiority, a distorted view of their own value. It’s a reminder of how, despite all our efforts, the propaganda of inequality still manages to get through to my daughter.

The irony is, those in the church who insist on a hierarchal distinction between women and men think they’re being countercultural, that they’re going against the grain of this world and that this somehow proves them right.

The reality is anything but. Those who think patriarchy is a virtue are unwitting accomplices to Disney’s princess-ification of the world. They’re simply dressing up our culture’s subjugation of women in religious garb.

And it’s time that stopped. My kids deserve better than another set of books telling boys they can be whatever they want, while girls should stick to being princesses.

For those exiled to the wilderness…

CBMW’s review of Jesus Feminist — and the fact that they won’t allow comments on their website — prompted this epic Twitter response from Sarah Bessey. (This link is the recap Sarah posted on her Facebook page afterward.)

The most telling line in the whole review (which, to CBMW’s credit, struck a softer tone than much of what I’ve seen from them in the past) was this:

“At the end of the day I do not see how we can do that together.”

By “do that,” they didn’t mean find common ground on gender roles. Obviously that’s not going to happen anytime soon. They meant anything Christians might normally do together.

“Love the lost.”

“Proclaim the gospel.”

“Serve in ministry.”

If you disagree with us, we can’t have anything to do with you.

This, a week after the full extent of women’s exclusion from the whole Christian conference scene was laid bare. Yet again, women who feel God’s call to lead, serve, teach, etc. are denied a place at the table. Exiled to the wilderness.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.33.09 AM

The thing is, God has a habit of meeting people out in the wilderness.

That’s where he met Moses after his own people rejected him. In exile, Moses became a “foreigner in a foreign land” — not one but at least two steps removed from anything vaguely resembling home. Yet that’s where God met him in a burning bush and gave him a new calling.

The wilderness is where God met the Hebrew slaves after they were driven from the only home they’d ever known. For a whole generation, they wandered the wilderness, flanked by hostile nations who wouldn’t let them pass through, much less take a seat and refresh themselves at their tables. It was there in the wilderness that God came to Israel on a mountain. It was in the wilderness that God never left their midst, going ahead of them as a cloud by day and a fire by night.

The wilderness is where God met Jacob, not once but twice, after he fled his brother’s vengeful wrath.

The wilderness is where Elijah took refuge when the political-religious establishment of his day threatened to kill him. Elijah pleaded with God to do it for them. But instead of ending his life, God fed him. Then he revealed himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper, telling the broken prophet that he was not alone. There were 7,000 others like him, there in the wilderness.

The wilderness is where God sent John the Baptist to preach a baptism of repentance. Like the Essenes at Qumran, John lived on the fringes of Jewish religious life. Yet the masses poured “out from Jerusalem” to hear him speak. Those who could not find a seat at the establishment’s table found something even better in the wilderness.

The wilderness is where Jesus prepared a ministry in which he would confront an establishment that didn’t always like making room for outsiders and outcasts at its table.

The wilderness is where Paul, who’d made a career of driving others into exile, found his own calling and emerged with a new mission: to welcome all manner of people to God’s table.

So when they try to silence you and deny you a place at their table, don’t be afraid to go out into the wilderness and sing your song anyway. You won’t be alone. There are others there.

And more often than not, the wilderness is where God shows up.


UPDATE: In honor of Kelly, who noticed a glaring omission from my list…

The wilderness is where God met Hagar, after she was spurned by the  man who had taken her as his concubine and impregnated her. Hagar and her son were sent away to die, but God heard their cries and answered them in the wilderness. He promised Hagar a legacy of her own. When her family made their home in the desert, God was with them.

Is leadership male? A response was kind enough to republish a few of my recent posts on gender roles, including “A letter to my daughter,” which I originally wrote during Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality.

They also repurposed my series on my journey from complementarianism, turning it into two articles for their “Is leadership male?” series (see part 1 and part 2).

Today, their series continued with Aaron Trommler representing the complementarian perspective. I’m grateful to for allowing me to contribute — and to Aaron for engaging in a constructive dialogue.

Because my original posts were intended more as a narrative of my personal journey rather than a defense of egalitarianism, I thought I’d use this post to engage some of the issues Aaron raised in his article.

Wives and slaves
Aaron began by citing 1 Peter 3:1-2, where wives are told to submit to their husbands “in the same way.” This leads Aaron to ask (quite rightly), the same as what?

Aaron notes that Peter mentioned “many other situations where Christians (not just women) are to submit themselves to different authorities… even if those authorities are harsh.”

In fact, Peter talked mostly about one other situation: slavery. The apostle commanded slaves to obey their masters, even the abusive ones (2:18-25). From there he moved immediately to wives, telling them to submit to their husbands in the same way that slaves submit to their masters.

I wondered why Aaron didn’t specify that slavery was one of the “other situations” to which Peter referred, but in any case, I think it reinforces my point that the arguments once used to justify slavery are inextricably linked to the those used today to argue for the unilateral subordination of women.

But that’s also why I was a little surprised to read this near the end of Aaron’s piece:

Furthermore, I don’t know about the arguments, supposedly used to justify slavery, that are being used to justify complementarianism, nor am I about to suggest that the Bible does the same. There is an article on the Desiring God website that quite clearly demonstrates that Paul did not think that way at all.

The Desiring God (DG) article claims the New Testament viewed a slave’s submission differently than a wife’s. DG proposes the instructions to wives “have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.” But if that were true, then it wouldn’t make sense to argue (as Aaron does) that Peter’s instructions to slaves should govern how we read his instructions to wives. You can’t have it both ways.

As it happens, I think DG is wrong, as I argued in this post back in June. Both the wife’s submission and the slave’s were rooted in the same thing: obedience to Christ. Seems to me this is a pretty big “theological string.” And as Aaron reminds us, Peter told wives to submit in the same way as slaves.

So if we’re going to insist on wives submitting to their husbands on the basis of Peter and Paul’s “household codes,” then we’ll also have to argue for slavery and the submission of slaves to their masters.

Indeed, when you study 19th-century theologians from the American South, you will find the arguments they used to justify the enslavement of blacks leading up to the Civil War are the same as those used today to justify the subordination of women.

About Ephesians 5…
Aaron also cites Ephesians 5:22-23, claiming that Paul couldn’t have endorsed mutual submission, since he told wives to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. This is a better argument, though I suspect that as with most analogies, Paul wasn’t trying to suggest the husband-wife relationship is like that of Christ and the church in every way.

More importantly, Aaron didn’t account for two vital pieces of context. The first can be found just one verse prior, in Ephesians 5:21.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This is the governing statement for everything Paul says in the “household codes” of Ephesians  5:22–6:9. In fact, the Greek word for submit (hupotasso) doesn’t even occur in verse 22; it has to be supplied from verse 21. Grammatically and logically, then, Paul appears to subordinate the wife’s submission to the greater call for mutual submission. Which convinces me that the wife’s submission and the husband’s love (Eph. 5:25) are in some ways two sides of the same coin for Paul.

Second, we have to look at the historical/cultural context of the “household codes” in letters like Ephesians and Colossians. Rachel Held Evans has a good summary on her blog, but the short(-ish) version is that these codes were relatively common in first-century correspondence. You can find similar codes in the writings of Philo and Josephus, for example. The household codes were considered vital to the preservation of Roman society and the all-important pater familias. Any attempt to undermine the established system would have drawn unwelcome scrutiny from the authorities. So for the sake of the gospel, it was necessary to defer to Roman cultural sensibilities about how a family should be run.

Women, prophesy. No wait — women, be quiet!
In my first post for, I noted that 1 Corinthians contains an apparent contradiction concerning the role of women in the church. In chapter 11, Paul offers some ground rules for women who wish to prophesy. In chapter 14, he appears to tell women to keep quiet.

In response, Aaron suggests there’s a difference between “teaching” and “prophesying” — which may be true (though both involve speaking with some kind of authority), but that’s beside the point. Aaron never explained how he reconciles Paul’s apparent call for strict silence (the word Paul uses in chapter 14 could easily be translated “shut up”) with his instructions to prophesying women three chapters earlier. Unless, of course, women had to mime their prophesies.

Aaron closes with a brief reference to 1 Timothy 2:12, which someone once dubbed the “worst verse in the Bible.” If you’d like to know more about what I think was going on there, I encourage you to read this.

In the end, I think the values of mutuality and equality make better sense of the New Testament, especially its radical claim “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”


BTW, Aaron is continuing the conversation with a series of posts on his blog, starting here.

A truce (of sorts)

Here’s a thought in light of the recent controversy surrounding Jared Wilson’s inflammatory blog post (or, more precisely, Jared Wilson’s quoting of the habitually inflammatory Doug Wilson)…

Obviously, the gender roles debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor should it. This is a conversation we ought to be having. Yet both sides feel they’re routinely misunderstood and caricatured by the other. And that’s not such a good thing.

So… maybe it’s time we called a truce?

I’m not saying we should forget our differences. For me, as an egalitarian and father of a two-year-old girl, mutuality and equality are too important to set aside. So let the debate continue.

But maybe — for the sake of a more constructive dialogue (and because it’s the right thing to do) — we should start dismantling the caricatures we have of one another.

I’ll go first.

Complementarian marriages are sometimes depicted as little fiefdoms where husbands rule firmly and unilaterally. But this is a caricature. Few couples have likely given much thought to whether their marriages are “complementarian” or “egalitarian.” But among those who have — and, specifically, among those who’ve embraced the complementarian point of view — most husbands I know are loving, considerate, and honorable.

They are not domineering. They do not bark orders at their wives. They do not make important decisions on their own. They help out around the house. They run errands for their wives (as Jared Wilson can attest). Although they may not care for the phrase “egalitarian pleasure party,” their wives are well loved.

Most complementarians know full well that “wives, submit” isn’t the only thing the Bible said about marriage. They also take seriously the part that tells husbands to love their wives as they love themselves.

To be sure, the caricature of complementarianism — the boorish husband who walks all over his wife — does exist, and in far too many households. But in my experience, it is less common among those who are intentionally complementarian as a result of careful study and deliberation.

OK, complementarians? Are we good?

Now it’s your turn. You could start by acknowledging that we egalitarians don’t deny there are meaningful differences between men and women. Most of us have taken a biology class at some point. We get it. Boys and girls are different.

What’s more, we celebrate these differences. Egalitarians believe women and men each contribute something vital to the human race. In fact, we might’ve called ourselves “complementarians” if had you hadn’t snatched the label first.

You could acknowledge that egalitarians have no interest in neutering the human race. We’re not out to emasculate men or defeminize women. We just don’t see why the God-given differences between women and men require a hierarchal distinction.

What’s more, many of us have fairly conventional marriages. You might be surprised to learn my wife stays at home raising our two-year-old daughter, while I “bring home the bacon,” as it were. (I have the good fortune of working from home, so I suppose we’re both stay-at-home parents in a way, but my wife does the lion’s share of childrearing by far.)

We egalitarians don’t despise women who stay at home. We just don’t agree with those who say this is the only valid path for married women.

Yes, we think there’s value in rediscovering some of the feminine images for God found in the Bible (e.g. El Shaddai in Genesis 49:25, the mother in labor in Isaiah 42:14, etc.), but we’re not out to purge our lexicon of masculine terminology. Most of us are quite comfortable praying to God our Father. We’re OK with the fact that Jesus and his 12 disciples were male (although we think Jesus’ female followers — many of whom were more dependable than his male disciples — deserve a little more recognition).

It may surprise you to learn that very, very few of us strip down and dance around statues of ancient fertility goddesses on Sunday mornings. Sorry, but we just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. There are very real differences between our competing views of gender. And I fear those differences become even greater and more divisive when we turn to the subject of women leading in the church. Some of us have a hard time finding biblical justification for a view that automatically denies half the church (more than that, actually) the opportunity to lead, solely on the basis of which reproductive organs they have.

So we may not see eye to eye anytime soon. But for the sake of the gospel, let’s dispense with the worst caricatures of each other. OK?

Now is it time for an awkward side hug?

Mutuality in the real world

Mutuality 2012 is done and dusted, but here’s hoping it’s only the start of a renewed conversation about equality in the church.

Hence this post: How does mutuality work in the real world?

More specifically, how does it work in a real marriage? (Note: not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s notion of a Real Marriage.)

Is mutuality even practical?

Complementarians say no. Even if mutuality works well enough most of the time, they argue, every marriage comes to a stalemate at some point.

So what do you do then?

This was the question put to Amanda and me by our former pastor during one of our premarital counseling sessions. He asked what I’d do if I was offered a job in another state, but my wife didn’t want to move. (The irony will become apparent shortly.)

According to complementarian theology, somebody has to make the final call. Giving the wife an equal say is fine when you can come to agreement without too much bother. But whenever you reach an impasse, the husband becomes the decider-in-chief.

Male headship, then, is to marriage what the vice president is to the U.S. Senate: a tie-breaker. So argues Tim Keller:

Headship sometimes involves tie-breaking authority. In a marriage, you only have two votes; so the occasions do arise when there’s an impasse. How do you break the stalemate? It can only be broken if one party has the authority to overrule.

I agree with Keller that most relationships need a tie-breaker at some point. I just don’t see why it should fall to the man to break every stalemate.

However you interpret the apostle Paul’s statement that the “husband is the head of the wife,” neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer ever said it’s the husband’s job to be the final decision-maker. That’s an assumption which complementarians read into the text, not something the text actually says.

Returning to the question of how this all works in real life…

I remember a time when Amanda and I were faced with a major decision. We were contemplating an overseas move (ah, the irony), and we just couldn’t agree. Amanda wanted to go for it — and I did too, at first. But then I started having second thoughts. Major second thoughts.

Honestly, it was one of the most difficult points in our marriage. No matter how many times we hashed it out, we just couldn’t get on the same page.

Eventually, I conceded. I deferred to my wife’s judgment. I’d like to tell you this was some magnanimous gesture on my part, but it wasn’t. It was more like a grudging concession.

Looking back, though, if I hadn’t listened to Amanda — if she hadn’t broken the tie in that case — we would’ve missed out on one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.

There have been other times when I’ve been the one to break the tie. Somehow, through 10 years of marriage, it’s always worked out, regardless of who got to be the tie-breaker.

Sometimes Amanda has the most wisdom or the clearest perspective. Sometimes she can see things that I can’t. Sometimes the smartest thing I can do is defer to her judgment.

For me, appointing myself the final arbiter purely on the basis of my gender would be an act of colossal arrogance (not to mention stupidity).

I hope that over the next 10 years of marriage, I get better at listening to my wife — becoming more attuned to her perspective, her wisdom, and her unique insight. Sometimes she has the better judgment, plain and simple.

Sometimes, I would make a lousy tie-breaker.

A letter to my daughter

I originally posted this letter as part of Rachel Held Evans’ “Week of Mutuality,” a weeklong discussion of the egalitarian view of gender. This happens to be the view I hold after several years of, well, not seeing it this way. Some of the inspiration for this letter came from Micky DeWitt’s excellent post, “Fathers and Daughters.”  


Dear Elizabeth Lacey,

You are just over 21 months old, and you are overflowing with life. You’re just beginning to assert your independence—which is why your rain boots so often end up on the wrong feet, but heck if you don’t get them on anyway. (It’s also why you currently don’t want to hold my hand when crossing the street, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Your personality is starting to flourish, and can I just say… I love who you’re becoming. From chasing the dog around the living room to enthusiastically greeting everyone who walks by—which, let’s face it, is a trait you probably got from your mother.

You won’t read this letter for several more years, but a day will come when you and I will sit down, pull up this old blog (assuming they haven’t replaced the Internet with something else by then), and read.

For there will come a time, I’m sorry to say, when you’ll meet certain people who will try to steal your sense of boundless opportunity.

They will tell you that some roles in life aren’t for you, simply because you’re a woman. That your gender means you have to take a backseat. That you are forever consigned to be in the audience and not on the stage. Always a follower and never a leader.

They will tell you this is so because God—the same God we read about at bedtime—made it so. They will tell you that God made you inferior, subordinate, second-class.

Oh, not that they’ll use these exact words. (Well, they might use “subordinate.”) Instead, they’ll talk about it in cloaked language like “complementarity” and “submission.” But what they really mean is, your path to God runs through a man.

No matter how much you have to share, no matter how much wisdom and natural leadership God gave you, they will politely insist you can never serve in a position of authority over men. You can never be the one who points others to God because, well, that’s a man’s job.

I wish I didn’t have to prepare you this—and I wish even more that no one would ever try to tell you these things. But I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from them. Because there’s something else you need to know:

They are wrong.

They’re the only ones, not God, insisting on a world where only men can lead.

Pay no attention to them.

Remember, you’re a daughter of Eve, who was created from Adam’s side and not his feet. Eve may have been  Adam’s “helper,” but then all great leaders are those who serve. Besides, the Bible uses the exact same word—helper—to  describe God.

Our faith would not exist if it weren’t for women—noble, brave, strong women like Ruth. Deborah. Huldah. Esther. Mary. Anna. Priscilla. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who followed Jesus to the end—who showed more faith and courage than Jesus’ male disciples. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who led house churches and became apostles.

Our faith wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who went to the tomb while the disciples hid, who witnessed the resurrection first—and became the first to proclaim the good news. That’s right: women were apostles to the apostles.

So if anyone tries to tell you there are certain things you can’t do because of your gender, don’t listen. The sad truth is, they’ve forgotten God is in the business of overturning manmade hierarchies and power structures. They’ve forgotten that we worship a God who gave away power—who invites us to follow his example.

I’m not going to say you can do anything you want simply because you want to do it. There’s more to it than simple desire. After all, lots of little girls dream of becoming the first female president, but there can only be one.

You see, each of us has different gifts. Each of us is made for different opportunities. Time will tell what your unique gifts and opportunities are.

But know this: your gender does not determine what you’re capable of. There is nothing in this world that’s off-limits to you because you’re a woman. “Male and female” doesn’t count when it comes to membership, service, and leadership in the kingdom of God.

Whatever may come, I will always cheer you on as you embrace your unique gifts.


Dad (otherwise known as “Dada” and, on occasion,”not Mama”)

But the 12 apostles were all men…

To those who use the apostles’ gender as an argument against women being leaders in the church:

The twelve apostles were also all Jewish.  

I can only assume, then, that we should return to the “biblical” pattern of ethnic hierarchy as well.


For further reading, check out these helpful posts from Mimi Haddad and J.R. Daniel Kirk.

Farewell, complementarianism (pt. 4)

I was sitting in the van with some colleagues from work. We were on the way back from a series of meetings in Chicago. I was newly engaged at the time; the big day was less than a year away.

Seeing as I was the only unmarried person in the van… and it was a three-hour drive back to Grand Rapids… and my coworkers had plenty of marriage advice to dispense, I was in for an earful, whether I wanted it or not.

One of my coworkers said to me, “Look, it’s fine if you want to believe all that stuff about husbands leading their wives. Just don’t try to make your marriage work like that — if you want your marriage to work, that is.”

The advice kept on coming.

Sitting behind me, characteristically quiet, was a man named Stan Gundry. Stan was no stranger to the gender roles debate. I was still in diapers when Stan was forced to resign from his teaching post at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute because of his wife’s egalitarian views.

I had heard of Stan long before we ever met. He’s a well-known biblical scholar, respected by even some of the most dedicated proponents of complementarianism. (It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s their publisher, but still.)

I knew Stan had been a complementarian at one point, and I was curious what had changed for him. But I was also a little intimidated by Stan. Or maybe I was just worried his answer might force me to rethink my views. Still, I asked.

As we broke free of the Chicago gridlock, Stan told me his story. I won’t repeat all of it here, because he’s already shared it at length in a post well worth reading, called From Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers to Woman Be Free.

(In case you’re wondering, the title is a reference to two books — one his fundamentalist father gave him and the other a book his wife wrote, which led to his dismissal from Moody.)

Stan told me how when he was a young pastor, his wife started asking questions about the Bible’s teaching on women. He confessed to being troubled by her questions at first — largely because he didn’t have very good answers.

Inspired by his wife (and by his own desire to read the Bible more holistically), Stan began reassessing his views. Gradually, they began to shift.

The final nail in the coffin came when Stan was researching American church history for his doctorate at Chicago’s Lutheran School of Theology.

He told me how one night, he was studying arguments used by 19th-century theologians to justify slavery…

  • They argued that slavery was sanctioned by Scripture.
  • They said that certain groups of people were intrinsically subordinate to others — by God’s design.
  • They accused abolitionists of capitulating to the worldly whims of a godless culture.
  • They insisted that to reject slavery was to reject the Word of God.

That night, as Stan was fighting his way home through the Chicago traffic, it dawned on him that he’d heard these arguments before. As Stan later wrote:

In fact, at one time I had used [these arguments] to defend hierarchicalism and argue against egalitarianism. By this time I was close to home and I still remember the exact spot on Manchester Road where it hit me like a flash: Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defenses of slavery.

By the time we pulled into Grand Rapids, I was an egalitarian. I came to realize that any theology which insists on subjugating an entire class of people cannot be reconciled with “in the image of God he created them.” It flies in the face of “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.”

Using the same arguments once used to justify slavery should be a huge red flag that our theology isn’t merely flawed. It’s dangerous. It stands against everything the early church stood for: upending the social structures that kept some people down and creating an alternative community where all could stand on equal footing before the cross.

The next day, I told my fiancé about the conversation on the way home from Chicago, and how I felt that I was called to submit to her just as much as she was to me. Given that we attended a church where women were taught to unilaterally submit to their husbands, I wasn’t sure how this would go over with her.

I should’ve known.

She was already ahead of me.

After 10 wonderful years of marriage, I can say one thing: I’m glad I caught up to her.


P.S. Matthew Paul Turner’s blog has a guest post on Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers by the great-grandson of the book’s fundamentalist author.