Those who follow such things know that there’s an ongoing debate in the evangelical world between “egalitarians” and “complementarians.” As you might guess, the former believe that men and women are equal–at least in the sense relevant to things like church leadership, while the latter maintain that men and women have “complementary” roles–with women playing the subordinate one. Recently, blogger Rachel Held Evans got into it with some guys associated with something called “The Gospel Coalition” over a rather provocative (to put it mildly) excerpt they posted from a book by Reformed pastor and noted crank Douglas Wilson. This led to quite the donnybrook in the evangelical blog-world.
As a non-evangelical I don’t have a dog in this fight per se. But witnessing it makes me grateful to belong to a church tradition where women’s leadership is taken for granted. This isn’t to say that mainline Protestant churches aren’t still infected by subtle and not-so-subtle forms of sexism, but they are by and large institutionally committed to the full equality of women at all levels of leadership. I consider this issue to lie very close to the heart of the Gospel. If men and women stand before God on no other ground than his creative and redeeming grace, and if, as the Reformation taught, all baptized Christians are ministers of Christ, then what is the justification for gender hierarchy? The prevalent ones seem to boil down to a holdover from pre-modern social norms, a literalistic reading of a handful of biblical passages, or a dubious metaphysics of the human person.