John’s response to my last post is short enough I can re-post it here with a few words of reply. At the end of it, I have an addendum that I think helps summarize where I’m at on this issue.

John’s piece (JH) with my replies (MSH):

JH: The conversation Michael Heiser and I have been having has been illuminating. Neither of us sees any exegetical warrant for prohibiting women from having responsibilities of the gravest kind in both the secular and religious spheres.

MSH: yes

JH: At the same time, both of us understand, to quote Mike, that “All humans are of the same nature, and yet our status as social beings (like God no less) runs well when hierarchicalized.” Our positions are closer to each other than his are to “patriarchalists” who balk at the idea of Sarah Palin as President, or mine to “egalitarians” who want to replace domain-based hierarchies with a priesthood of all believers that smushes people into strictly horizontal relationships.

MSH: agreed

JH: Finally, neither of us have slam-dunk exegetical objections to make to the practice of prohibiting women from being the equivalent of episkopoi and presbuteroi in the local church. Neither of us have slam-dunk objections to the contrary either.

MSH: agreed

JH: If I understand Mike correctly, he would class the end of the prohibition of women to positions of authority up and down the hierarchies that make a local church run well as no more and no less exegetically grounded than say the abolition of slavery. Just as there is no clear biblical precedent for doing away with slavery, there is no clear biblical precedent for allowing women to be episkopoi and presbuteroi in the local church.

MSH: I understand John’s use of the analogy here — his point is that both these issues lack complete clarity.  While I would agree with that trajectory, I think the analogy is misplaced in other ways. But that would be a digression.

JH: I concur. Still, in both instances, change from the norm in the ancient church makes sense in changed cultural circumstances. Complementarians and traditionalists of almost all stripes agree in practice. Grave responsibilities of most kinds are now carried out by women no less than men in most circles even if such was not the norm or even contemplated one or two generations ago. The continued exclusion of women from one or two sets of responsibilities in those same circles – to be clear, among the majority of the Christian population today – might be understood as the sign of a sort of mental reserve vis-à-vis the changes that feminism has wrought and continues to bring about.

MSH: It might be; in my case, see below.

JH: There is something healthy about that mental reserve. I share the reserve. I just don’t think the method of expressing it is particularly helpful. The construction of gender in the West is screwed up at the moment – I trust no one who fails to get this. For a recent examination of one aspect of the malaise, the blockbuster book by Kay Hymowitz might be cited (for a summary go here; HT Steve Pable).

My Addendum:

Some people’s distaste for any hierarchy are more reflective of their own terrible experience than the reality known by millions of other women (and men). Since my hermeneutic does not filter the concept of hierarchy through abuse as in the case of a number of women, statements opposed to hierarchy for that reason aren’t sufficient for me. It would feel like I’m doing theology on the basis of someone else’s experience, and I don’t even want to do theology in light of my own experience! I don’t parse hierarchy negatively because I know that hierarchy is not of necessity evil.  The issue is the hearts of men, not structures. SOMEONE has to lead. We aren’t the Borg.

God made us social beings and gifted certain people to lead. It’s just part of humanity and isn’t evil. I think women do, should, and ought to lead in a variety of ways, and many are gifted for it. Why must leadership in the church be defined as particular office or duty?  I would agree that a male pastor in a church who refuses to allow women in leadership positions is wrong to do so, but since the NT model *appears* to be that some sort of “highest accountability” (or with John Hobbins’ “highest vulnerability”) within local bodies is filled by men, I need a positive proof that all changed in the NT for me to be a full-blown egalitarian.This goes back to my comments on apostles. I don’t see them as having any relevance for local church leadership today, and perhaps even in the first century. They were church planters. Even for Paul it was unusual to say at one place very long. The question that is unclear in my mind is whether other apostles who were not the original 11 disciples + Paul were church planters. It seems they could have been. We know they taught and preached. But being a “sent one” (apostle) might mean something else — something more itinerant. For example, maybe an “apostle” was someone who was “sent” to a church for some other reason, or who was sent for a couple of days to exhort or instruct for some reason. A complementarian example that I love to poke fun at is the “woman missionary” who comes to report on her work at the church. I’ve been in complementarian churches where the woman speaks but the leadership makes it clear she isn’t preaching or teaching. That’s stupid and silly. Why? What is preaching? Exhortation — saying things that motivate the hearer to live for Jesus. What is teaching? Imparting content and instruction. So, I guess when a woman speaks we ought to make sure that we don’t learn anything and aren’t motivated to live for Jesus in any way! Just ridiculous. I have no trouble with having a woman preach or teach in a church. So why am I not comfortable with the egalitarian view? Because I don’t see that activity as one that had permanence in the local church in the New Testament, and because preaching and teaching have nothing to do with authority in a sustained way.

Lest I be misunderstood on this last point, I’m not opposed to women being in such a role in a local church, but I need positive, exegetically-based arguments to be in favor of it. I think readers can tell I’m sympathetic to egalitarian concerns, but I feel like I need my theology to be exegetically based. I want to believe the egalitarian view, but it hasn’t given me a really good textual reason to do so that cannot be answered by the traditional complementarian position (which — see above — is not an inherent evil).  My conscience is bound by the text, but knowing I could be wrong, I leave all this as an issue of conscience. It would be wrong to impose my conscience on others, so I don’t feel led to oppose women who feel called to teh pastoral ministry.  But without a positive exegetical argument to put me over the edge, questions and promptings that are based on culture and abuse only amount to a person asking me to violate my conscience.

Incidentally, my position was essentially modeled for me by my pastor in Madison, WI, who was a complementarian, but who ministered in a church that had a good number of Intervarsity staff, all of whom were egalitarians. Everyone loved him and honored his conscience. But that pastor suffered a great deal for his tolerance (!) of complementarianism outside our congregation, since the denomination moved to egalitarianism. He lost (presumably) lifelong friends over his conscience decision. I therefore know from experience that egalitarians are not immune from some terrible, ungodly vitriol. Egalitarianism has no monopoly on peace, love, and reconciliation.

I hope readers can tell now why I can’t muster much energy for this topic. Issues of conscience (to me) aren’t focus points for biblical theology.

If John wants to continue the discussion, he no doubt will, and I will respond in kind. My mind is now beginning to wander to other items…