Slippery Slopes & Finding Allies
In response to the decision made by the Church of England to allow the blessing of same sex relationships, John Stevens, national director of the FIEC, made the observation that,
One thing that I have seen is that a number of evangelical women suffragan bishops are actively campaigning for biblical orthodoxy. I think this ought to be noticed and put an end to a common complementarian argument that supporting women’s ordination is automatically a slippery slope to compromise on human sexuality.
This was an argument easy to maintain when the battles being fought over women’s ordination were largely waged by liberals. However, it is abundantly clear that there are evangelical women clergy and bishops who are thoroughly committed to Scripture and standing firm on the issue of sexuality.
I agree with John. We need to find allies wherever we can and support and encourage those who are courageously standing for orthodoxy. In my own context, I am regularly in gatherings of local pastors, including women, who are equally committed to holding the line. I’m grateful for our common purpose and commitments.
Yet (and while not wanting to confuse correlation with causation) it seems unarguable that an egalitarian perspective is more likely to end up as an affirming one. I’ve never known someone who supports same sex marriage who isn’t also a full-blown egalitarian, while I’ve never known a complementarian who also supports SSM. Perhaps such strange creatures exist, but it seems unlikely. This is most definitely not to say that all egalitarians will end up in the SSM camp – the evidence against that, as Stevens points out, is solid. But it also seems true to say that all those who endorse SSM do have their tents pitched in the egalitarian camp.
I’ve been in gatherings of pastors recently where biblical orthodoxy in regard to marriage has been strongly expressed, but egalitarian arguments have been just as forcibly presented. It feels to me that it is difficult to ride these two horses. Certainly it can be done – but there’s always the risk of a tumble. I’d rather stay securely in the saddle of the complementarian horse.
I’m a complementarian because I believe that is the most biblically faithful position. I do think that the theological jumps made in egalitarianism create, if not a slippery slope, a scaffold for further theological innovations to be made in respect of same sex relationships, even though many egalitarians will never follow that route.
I do believe in eldership as the pattern of new testament church government and I do believe that the new testament is implicit that elders are men. I do believe that to be an elder is to be like a father and that by definition only men can be fathers. And I believe that the church needs spiritual mothers, and only women can be mothers. I do see a pattern of male headship in the biblical narrative: that Adam is the representative head of all humanity; Abraham the representative father of all who are God’s spiritual children; Moses the representative liberator of God’s people; David the representative king of God’s people – and Jesus the one who completes, fulfils and renews all this as the new Adam, the one by whom we are welcomed into God’s people, our great Saviour and King.
Jesus had to be the Son: he had to come as a man, because God’s representative head is always a man. And in that I also see complementarity as without Eve Adam could not have been the father of all humanity; without Sarah Abraham would not have been the father of faith; without Rahab and Ruth David would not have been born and come to the kingship; and without the bride Jesus would not be the Saviour.
And I do believe this has ongoing relevance in how we are to understand ‘headship’ in the home and church: that we are called to reflect the beautiful difference in which we are created.
These are biblical convictions that don’t stop me from fellowshipping with my egalitarian brothers and sisters. I want to hold onto my convictions while also holding onto my allies. So my appeal to my fellow complementarians would be that we are generous to those who hold different convictions to us on this. As John Stevens writes,
Same-sex relationships are not in the same category [as egalitarian convictions]. They are a salvation issue, not a secondary issue. No one was ever excluded from the kingdom of heaven because of the gender of the person who preached them the gospel faithfully, but people are excluded from the kingdom of heaven by those who teach them that it is okay to enter into same-sex sexual relationships.
At the same time I would urge my egalitarian brothers and sisters to be generous to those of us who are complementarian – to acknowledge that our position is born of biblical conviction, not misogyny. To say that all complementarians are misogynists is as much of a category mistake as to say all egalitarians support same sex marriage. It’s hard to be in settings where I want to stand with you around sexuality but feel hostility from you because of my biblical convictions around complementarity.
Yes, it’s true, sadly, that sexism has been a greater reality in complementarian settings than egalitarian ones, just as it’s true, sadly, that support for same sex relationships exists in egalitarian settings in a way it doesn’t in complementarian ones. All of us need to be alert to the ‘shadow sides’ of our theologies. Let’s avoid the slippery slopes and find our allies.