Saturday, February 24, 2007

Women, Men & Sex

I've just finished reading Men and Women in the Church, by Sarah Sumner. Its a refreshing and challenging stab at the decades-old issue of how men and women should relate, looking at headship and leadership both in the home and in the church. It challenges both those who hold to Grudem/Piper-esque Complementarism, as well as those who believe more in Egalitarianism.

She points out that both camps make assumptions and both camps depart from the teaching of the bible. In doing so, she points to a third way. She isn't the first to do this (Craig Blomberg has suggested something similar). Nevertheless, her book is a fresh and provocative overview of the whole issue, and left me reconsidering my beliefs.

At the end of the book she looks at some issues surrounding the core debate, one of them being the issue of sexual sin in the church.

It should be normal for men and women to fight together for sexual purity. Most of the time the subject it so taboo that we feel way too ashamed to admit out temptations, much less to confess to our sin. Thus we tend isolate from each other rather than ministering to each other. We practically pretend that none of us have any hormones. Consequently, many Christian men are rarely held accountable for the suggestive and demeaning kinds of things they sometimes say to Christian women. And women in the church are rarely held accountable for the way they dress.

How can the people of God win the world for Christ when we are unwilling to modify the way we express our sexuality? Much of us know that the issue of sex and modesty is a hypersensitive subject in church.

I believe the church could greatly recover from a lot of our sin if Christians would be more willing to confess our sins out loud and repent.

-- "Men and Women in the Church", Sarah Sumner. 2003.

What do you think? Do you agree with Sarah? Is she on to something here?


Adam said...

Regarding the author's quote, good points, but what she says begs the question in that there is no a priori agreement among Christians (of whatever era or denomination) on appropriate conduct for men or dress for women (or vice versa!) What *is* needed is for open *discussion* between us as members of a Christian community on these issues.

Alastair said...

Thanks Adam. I agree with you, and from reading her book it appears her standards might be a tad prudish for me. Nevertheless, its something I think its church needs to discuss. Her main point is, however, that we don't even talk about this stuff, and then end up sinning...

paul said...

I agree with the sarah we need to create space to confess, relate not just about sexual sin but all sin. I definately need to unhook from externals and focus on internals, stop trying to judge others and ask God instead to judge me. I think we need to be mature enough to make space for others to do this and trust them enough rather than our own external prodding.

I think there is also a wider point which is around the maturity of believers and are willingness to limit our own freedoms in order to help others. I don't think putting a woman in a burkha is the answer as it does not address my own issues of lust that seeing her in a low cut top might stir in me - but then again she might want to help me out by wearing something more modest etc.

I think that is far mor likely to behind some of the pauline reasoning for modest dressing than any sort of God prohibition on women teaching and leading - i think Paul, like Jesus, was revolutionary in his treatment of women as equals and in offering radical respect and opportunities.

But then i haven't read the book you refer too so i have no idea what the 3rd way might be :)

Alastair said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your comments.

I agree with you that sexual sin is not our only problem! However that was the context of Sarah's observation, as she reckoned it was issues of sexual sin, over and above other sins, which may cause problems with men and women working together in leadership. Indeed, such a topic is one we have blogged on in the past! Her point is basically is if we can get past this, it will be easier for men and women to work and lead together. I think this is a very insightful point.

I agree with your wider point, you are basically summing up's Paul's doctrine of the "stronger believer" helping the "weaker believer".

Its clear to me that there were local issues with women that caused Paul and Peter to suggest they dress more modestly. Sarah insists that in her context, the problem still exists and women continue to dress inappropriately.

You bring up the topic of the "third way", I'll start a new comment to answer.

Alastair said...

The "third way" is basically a moderate position between Grudem's/Piper's position and that of say, Gordon Fee. Without having the book in front of me its difficult to summarise, but basically she advocates that women should be leadership in the church but that we should not ignore gender differences, they have not been removed by the cross. Its not that

- men and women and created equal BUT different (Piper/Grudem)


- men and women and created different BUT equal (Fee)


- women and men are created different AND equal.

She also reminds us that a husband is the head of his wife, and no amount of fudging will change that. Head does not mean "source" or even "ruler", it simply means head. In other words, Paul is using a metaphor. And it does not collapse simply into meanings such as leadership. The bible doesn't say the husband is the leader of the household, its says he is the HEAD of the WIFE. Likewise, she is the BODY of the husband. Neither head nor body is better. Its a mystical picture, a one flesh union.

Its a very good book and I recommend you read it.

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Alastair said...

Thanks for the info, Zack.