Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Be Careful Ware You Aim

In participating in the discussions on this blog, I've noticed an interesting dynamic: the egalitarians are usually the ones constantly quoting (and sometimes misquoting) the teachings of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, while complementarians like myself are relatively ignorant of them. I had never heard of Bruce Ware, Russell Moore, David Kotter, or any other CBMW representative other than Wayne Grudem until I started listening to egalitarians here. It has only been in response to various disturbing accusations made here that I have gone to the CBMW web-site and read the actual writings published there.

I'm always somewhat bemused when I hear egalitarians talking about CBMW and Bruce Ware as the "official" representatives of the complementarian viewpoint. After all, the argument goes, they coined the term complementarian, so they get to define what it means. Well, here's how they define it in the Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

If one word must be used to describe our position, we prefer the term complementarian, since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. We are uncomfortable with the word "traditionalist" because it implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior, and we certainly reject the term "hierarchalist" because it overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence.

That's a fairly broad definition, and one which I am comfortable applying to myself. The fact that I self-identify as a complementarian does not mean that I must therefore agree with every published statement by CBMW or its principal players any more than the fact that I am registered to vote with a certain political party requires me to agree with every aspect of its platform or every decision made by its elected officials. It simply means that in my study of the Scriptures, I see both equality and mutually beneficial differences between the sexes.

Frankly, I would prefer to paint a positive vision of how my wife and I live out our understanding of "Biblical complementarity" than to become an expert on Bruce Ware's views. Yet in this forum complementarians are constantly being asked to affirm or repudiate the arguments made by CBMW theologians and scholars.

If I can move us toward helpful dialogue by interacting with CBMW statements, I am certainly willing to do so. I'm working on a critique of Bruce Ware's article Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God, which has been summarized by egalitarians as arguing that women are not fully created in the image of God. The trouble is that Ware is apparently such a polarizing figure for egalitarians that if I do not completely repudiate him, I'll likely be seen by the militant egals as some patriarchal wolf in soft-spoken sheep's clothing. The truth is that I can see both sides of his arguments. On the one hand, I see why many of Ware's statements send egals through the roof; but on the other hand, I see that the egals are often quoting him out of context and ignoring those statements where he repeatedly affirms the full ontological equality of women. Perhaps Ware really is a hard-liner who sees women as fundamentally inferior, but I have yet to see what I would call a fair critical assessment of his arguments demonstrating that to be true.

Ultimately, I think the egalitarian preoccupation with Bruce Ware and CBMW is misplaced simply because most rank-and-file complementarians are not even bothering to read them. Average comps are complementarian simply because they see real differences between men and women and they understand the Bible generally to be teaching some form of male leadership. If that view is being reinforced by anyone, it is the various complementarian marriage authors and speakers rather than the scholars at CBMW. Succeed in discrediting Bruce Ware or CBMW and the average comp will respond, "Who's Bruce Ware?" and "What's CBMW?"

Most of the comps here, like most of the egals, simply want to be heard and understood. We all participate in this blog because we are willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations with people who will challenge our views. If we alienate the people on the other side who are actually willing to talk to us, what hope do we have of ever doing anything more than preaching to our respective choirs?

On both sides of this debate, I see a lot of heat but very little light. We're all coming at this issue from a complex range of personal experiences and theological presuppositions. We use the same terms but mean very different things. We blind ourselves to the emotional commitments which motivate us, while dismissing the arguments of others because of their clear biases and emotional commitments.

Ultimately, we need to be careful to read each other critically rather than polemically. That means doing our best to understand what the other side is saying without necessarily accepting that what they say is correct. It means accepting that their beliefs are sincerely held, even if we think those beliefs are misguided. It means reading what people actually write rather than reading in the views of others in their camp, or reading in what we assume their views to be. It means, as I have written before, that we must do our best to stand in the other person's shoes, rather than trying to knock them off their feet.

If we do all that, we can come to communicate and learn from each other, even as we refuse to compromise our own principles. If, however, we let our desire to win an argument get in the way, we're not likely to convince anybody of anything.