It is now close to two years since God Is Not on Your Side was published. I recall at that time how new I was to social media. Sure, I had been on Facebook for a number of years, but that account was mostly to connect with family and friends and I rarely used it. I had never really interacted in social media for the purpose of engaging people intentionally in theological conversation.
The God Is Not on Your Side Facebook and Twitter pages both launched at the same time, and I quickly learned how little I actually knew about navigating these spaces.
I don’t think it would be controversial of me to state that social media tends to be a very divisive space. People boil their theological beliefs down to concise talking points, and though I personally love the challenge of expressing my spiritual convictions in a brief format, it is all too easy to oversimplify complex theological issues. This can then lead to divisions or conflict surrounding the various beliefs people hold regarding a certain topic.
Though much of the theological debate I have encountered online has not surprised me, there is one topic where I found people not only had strong opinions but that I also did not necessarily fit into any of the opinions I mostly saw communicated.
The topic I am referring to is female and male gender roles.
In Christian circles online, there seem to be people who hold to one of two extremes on the topic. On one side, you have those with an egalitarian view of gender roles that promote a “patriarchal” structure of gender roles both in and outside the home. On the other side, there is a complementarian view of gender roles which holds that there is no specific role that one gender must fill and both within and outside the home, male and female roles should support each other without a specific gender limitation regarding their role.
Christians who hold to either egalitarian or complementarian views of gender roles will staunchly defend their belief as “biblical” with many being quick to state those who believe differently are living in sin.
The funny thing for me is that the more I interact with either complementarians or egalitarians online, the more I feel like I don’t fit into either camp. You see, my wife is a pastor (a vocation that most egalitarians would say a woman cannot work in) yet in our home I take my role as husband, father, and spiritual head of our family very seriously (a family structure many complementarians would consider patriarchal). To the complementarian I am too patriarchal, and to the egalitarian I am too liberal. It is honestly weird when people on both sides of the debate accuse me of living in sin. If anything, it has shown me the limitations of online and impersonal interactions regarding topics which may be more nuanced or complex than we like to admit.
This whole debate was again brought to my mind when I saw a post on Twitter recently stating patriarchal gender roles are biblical because they were given to Adam and Eve in the beginning of the Bible (see Genesis 3:16-19).
I am not going to presume to know how to bridge the gap between complementarians and egalitarians, but I would humbly propose that no matter where one stands on the issue if that person claims to be a new creation in Christ, their view of gender roles should be based on the restauration found in Christ as opposed to the condemnation that is the result of sin. If we look more closely at Genesis 3, we find that the roles given to Adam and to Eve were essentially a curse that was a direct result of their sin. Flipping ahead to the New Testament, we find that when a person is in Christ they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The interesting thing about the new life found in Christ is that it does not always change our circumstances, but it always changes us. Whether one finds themself in a culture or a home life that is more complementarian or egalitarian, maybe the life we find in Christ when we accept Him as our Savior provides us with new life and purpose within that structure? Because if we are being honest, at the extremes of both complementarian and egalitarian belief, there is a need for the truth that is found in Christ to be made manifest.
At the extreme of egalitarian belief we see the tendency to suppress the spiritual giftings and voices of women. In the even more extreme there are alarming cases of abuse and harm done under the guise of men exercising their patriarchal authority.
At the extreme of complementarian belief, there is a tendency to overemphasize the freedom one has in Christ and conclude all things are permissible. In the even more extreme, the male and female gender are removed and the definition and value of both become lost.
We find the answer to both of these extremes in Christ. To the extreme egalitarian, Christ provides freedom from oppression and equal value and purpose given to both genders, though the roles of each are different. To the extreme complementarian, the call of Christ is to fear the Lord and pursue holiness, not ignoring God’s law but affirming it.
In social media spaces, it is all too easy to draw hard lines in the sand and feel as though when we defend our side we are doing the right thing. But when the theological lines we draw are pitting Christians against Christians, what exactly are we accomplishing? Yes, truth is absolute, but may we never forget that the truth we all seek is found in Christ. Even though social media is inherently a divisive space, my hope is that the people of Christ will demonstrate a unity in Christ that overcomes this divisiveness. I am confident we can do this. The benefit would not only be our own, but for all those who do not know Jesus and are watching us have these discussions in public spaces.