Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

***Working to be a safe place for all sides to share.***


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Evangelical Theological Society: Between the Gender-Debate Booths

I've been relatively quiet lately. Since the Complegalitarian blog first started, I think I've posted just twice. That's not because I feel "unsafe" or "unwelcome" here; it's just that I've been frantically busy at work. Every year at this time, the company I work for releases new Bible study products at the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). At these conferences, Bible scholars and students gather to attend sessions, network, and shop for books and software in the exhibit area. That's where I come in. I'm there every year working my company's booth and demoing the Bible study software we develop.

This year at ETS, our booth was situated across the aisle from Christians for Biblical Equality (a group which promotes an egalitarian understanding of gender roles), and catty-corner to the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (a group which promotes a complementarian understanding). Here are a few of the observations I made over the course of the conference.

First, neither booth seemed to draw much of a crowd, which led me to question whether this debate is really as much of a hot-topic as those embroiled in the debate seem to imagine. Complementarian authors sometimes write as if egalitarianism is sweeping over the evangelical church like a flood, while egalitarians tend to paint complementarianism as an immovable juggernaut which is far too deeply entrenched. The anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that the complegalitarian debate is fairly marginal, and of little interest to most people.

Second, I noticed that the CBE booth was "manned" only by women. Likewise, for much of the conference, the CBMW booth was manned only by men. I wondered how much these staffing decisions actually served to reinforce the stereotype that egalitarians are mostly "gals" and that complementarians are primarily men. Later, I was glad to see that one young woman was working the CBMW booth. If I were them, I would have tried to staff the booth primarily with women. Likewise, I think CBE would be wise to have their booth staffed by a man every now and then.

Every year I go to these conferences, I fight the temptation to buy books, knowing that those books will likely just remain unread, gathering dust on my shelves and serving as a tell-tale-heart-like source of guilt. This year, I went deliberately intending to buy some egalitarian books so I could better familiarize myself with egalitarian interpretations. I purchased Discovering Biblical Equality and Women, Authority, and the Bible. These books are now, you guessed it, sitting on my shelf and gathering dust, but I hope to be able to crack them soon and begin interacting with them here.

The complegalitarian debate can be a real quagmire, and mud certainly can and does get slung. I can therefore sympathize with those ETS attendees who prefer to pass by the CBE and CBMW booths and skirt the debate altogether. As a man whose marriage is relatively free of power struggles and whose wife would rather sing than preach in church, I could easily choose to do so myself. I believe, however, that these questions of what the Bible has to say about gender do need to be explored, and that both sides are guilty of misunderstandings which need to be cleared up. I'll therefore do my best to contribute to the discussion wherever I can.