A few weeks back I was teaching a class on Anabaptist history. I gave my usual spiel about the nature of history and the problems with reductionism. Anabaptist concerns were both theological and economical (among other things); cases of injustice, after all, traverse all aspects of life. Abuses by the church and its oppression of ideas were paralleled by abuses by the state and its oppression of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (in this case, something as simple as the right to fish). To take the Anabaptist cause and bring it down to one simple idea (e.g., baptism), is to ignore the complexity of the situation and the people involved.
Despite my caveats, there were still a few students who didn’t yet catch on. “But what was the reason they separated from the Reformed?” asked a student. “Was it baptism? Was it political or was it religious in nature?”
“Yes, it was all of those things.” He scratched his head for a second and then I explained. People are people, no matter what generation they live in. Life is always complicated.
For example, I may think I’m ordering a Big Mac tonight because I’m hungry for a Big Mac, but any number of factors can go into that decision. I may order a Big Mac because I saw a commercial for McDonalds and in that commercial may have been the line: “You deserve a break today.” As I thought about that line, I thought, “Yeah, I do. At work they keep changing my job around or I have to deal with that clueless boss, or I save and save and never treat myself. I may have nothing in my refrigerator and I may not have enough time to run to the grocery store for the week. I may be hearing the commercial on the radio in my car and suddenly see a McDonalds. Any number of reasons can go into my decision and I may never boil it down to one single notion that moved me to buy a Big Mac.
As complicated as understanding the past is, the present is no easier. Why do people believe certain things? If I were to talk to the most ardent of the hierarchalists, I might hear that I’m an evangelical egalitarian simply because I’m rebellious or I might be accused of rejecting the authority of Scripture or I might have been “feminized” (whatever that actually means). As a matter of fact, I’ve heard these very accusations time and time again. In some cases, it is believed that evangelical egalitarianism is simply a disguise for the conspiracy of liberalism among evangelicals.
I don’t like those broad labels and accusations which have no basis in reality, at least, for me. Perhaps I’m an egalitarian because I’ve seen it in God’s Word after years of struggling with the idea and after years of seeing abuses in the church and in our seminaries. At any rate, if the hierarchalist is willing to get to know me a little better as a person before making up one’s mind about me, I am willing to get to know him or her as well.
I’ve met all types of hierarchalists. I’ve seen some so strongly patriarchal, that the more I learned about them, the more I discovered just how deeply rooted their misogyny went. I’ve seen the woman haters who abuse their wives. I’ve also seen the mild complementarian, the one who loves his family and believes that women should have the freedom in the church to do whatever a non-ordained male can do. The only apparent reason that it appears that this person holds off on accepting the ordination of women is simply out of the belief that the Bible commands it, and not out of any overt notion of male superiority. As a matter of fact, one such man I know pushed his church hard on this issue in order to bring justice to the women in the congregation, nearly causing a split in the process.
There are diversities of opinions out there and not all of them are equal. Some hold to the same position, to different degrees, for very different reasons. It is true that we can sometimes only deal with the arguments in general; for example, what is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11. But I have to remember constantly that while some complementarians might hold to a very rigid interpretation of the text, including the imposition of head coverings, others do not. Many see head coverings as a cultural marker of the text, and perhaps I can approach the discussion with them knowing that I may have less to overcome.
This is not to say that I won’t find frustration or that I won’t find the stereotype. Rather, it means that I should offer as much patience with the other person as I would want myself. After all, the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 is at heart the message of egalitarianism. Treating all others respectfully and equally is what every human being made in the image of God should expect. When going face to face in the gender wars, loving the other person is never something with which we are allowed to part.
My final acceptance of egalitarianism came after a full-fledged exposure to CBE through their conference in St. Davids , PA. There I met egalitarians who did not fit the stereotype. I found no men haters shouting from the rooftops. Instead, I found men and women who love God and who care about justice and human equity. I found men and women working together for the gospel. There I learned that I may better understand the reasons why people make their choices, if only I’m willing to love them and meet them face to face.