I’ve long emphasized in discussions about gender in the church that there are more than two positions. Some would say you are egalitarian or complementarian (forgive the technical language). Others say that either you believe in allowing women to participate in worship or you don’t. I don’t think it’s that simple.
I mentioned the idea of a continuum a few years ago, something similar to the Engel’s scale used for evangelism. On his website, John Mark Hicks eloquently describes a three-pronged understanding of interpretive views. I’ll use his three categories in this discussion, so read his article to understand what I mean.
I’d encourage us to look beyond actions and consider attitudes as well. For example, there are some traditionalists who teach that women are incompetent as leaders and gullible as learners; these women need a man to properly guide them, which is why the traditional teaching is correct. Others limit themselves to a strict understanding of passages like 1 Corinthians 11:34; while making no claims of superiority nor inferiority, these people stand on “The Bible says it, so I believe it.” There’s is a gulf of understanding between those two viewpoints. Lumping those outlooks (and other variations) into one category doesn’t really address the situation.
In the same way, some egalitarians basically say that Paul was wrong, that the Bible was written in a male-dominated culture and merely reflects the values of that culture. Other egalitarians see the Bible as teaching a progression toward equal participation and equal value for all Christians, regardless of gender. Again, lumping together all who favor full participation of women fails to grasp the reality of the situation.
I once proposed using more of a quadrant system, with the axises referring to Inferiority-Equality and Silent Participation-Full Participation. Such a system would come closer, yet would still fail to take into consideration views of inspiration, etc.
When writing about Cuba the last few weeks, I emphasized one phrase “It’s complicated.” That’s also very true in discussions about gender. Personally, I find arguments that oversimplify opposing viewpoints to have very little value. Let’s leave the straw men in the barnyard; recognize that those who disagree with you may do so for reasons that you have yet to consider.
I’ll close with a sentence I used several years ago in the first article I linked to in this post:
There is one view that I reject outright: the view that damns others that don’t share their viewpoint.