The egalitarian versus complementarian debate

I am new to this egalitarian versus complementarian debate so I admit that I am ignorant of this terminology. I know but yet don’t technically know where I stand on this issue yet because I am not familiar with the terminology. In my effort to educate myself in this area I did some research to educate myself on the difference between the egalitarian and complementarian views. I came across a new blog called Complegalitarian and found one post called Shaeffer on Utopianism by Suzanne McCarthy. It had a string of interesting comments that were even more interesting than the post itself. They’re as long as a book. (Sorry Suzanne, it’s not to take anything away from your post).

If you want to educate yourself in this debate starting from ground zero, it might be easier to begin by reading this brief paper that attempts to layout the definitions between egalitarian and complementarian. Also, an interesting blog post I found was at Evangelical Resources (but it has remained inactive for a while now) describes the difference between complementarian view and a traditional view he calls the male dominance view. Happy reading.

Is there a need for a female identity?

Some feminists may be driven by a desire to find a female identity, just like we were driven to find an Asian Jesus, a black Jesus, and a white Jesus. Sure some women who may have experienced abuse by men might find it more challenging to relate to God as “Father God”. As a result of abusive treatment by men, some women may find it difficult to think of God as a loving fatherly figure (such may be the opinion of some Christian psychotherapists). In such cases, they might find it easier to relate to a “gender neutral” God. I can see why the Roman Catholic Church has found “Mary, the mother of God” to be a useful feminine identity. Women who have been abused or those who have become resentful of men might find a feminine figure like Mary easier to identify with. However, I am not suggesting that we Protestants should begin saying “Hail Mary” like Roman Catholics. What I am saying is that those who need healing from past abuses might then be more readily able to identify God with gentler and softer characteristics. They still have the Holy Spirit to relate to as their “Comforter”. With the Holy Spirit’s comfort, guidance, inspiration, and etc., do we really need a feminine God? The Holy Spirit or Comforter has connotations of one who comforts. In the bible, God is said to act like a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13); one who cries out like a woman in childbirth; one who acts like a mother eagle; and one who rages like a mother bear (Hosea 13:8). These are vivid imagery and can add meaning to how we think of God as one who comforts, cares, cries, and protects ones children. To say that God is a “mother bear” or a “mother eagle” would be incorrect. Likewise, to say that “God the Mother” is identical to saying “God the Father” is to be unscriptural and unorthodox; this is to speak on a completely different level. In the biblical text, no one has ever addressed God directly as a mother. This is why I suggest that our practice of addressing God as “Father God” is clearly orthodox, scriptural, and free from any ambiguous scribal errors.

Reconstruction and feminization of God

To use gender-neutral language in the bible is one thing, but to completely feminize God is another thing. A sector of feminism has tried to neuter and feminize God’s male gender in Father God, not just from the bible, but also from our everyday speech. If there are any feminists out, please don’t take this the wrong way. Theological conservatives are not against feminism per se. I must say that feminism has made some positive contributions for more equitable treatment of the marginalized; and I think many conservatives would agree with this. However, our conservatism prevents us from agreeing with some of the ideas in Christian feminism, specifically, regarding the feminization of God. It is an uncomfortable image and I must try not to be reactionary about this myself. But before we begin blaming feminism for “taking society backwards,” we should “remove the log from our own eyes”, then we may critique some of the points we may disagree with in Christian feminism.

No one can dispute Jesus’ gender, but we can dispute our depictions of his color or race. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, we have tried to racialize Jesus as a black Jesus…an Asian Jesus…and a white Jesus. Christians from the first century likely would have been appalled at how we have painted the face of Jesus in many colors. Perhaps the early church would have felt scandalized by our false depictions of Jesus, whom they knew as a Mediterranean man. How many of us have been shown pictures of a white Jesus in Sunday School and thought nothing of it? While growing up, I actually thought Jesus was a white guy. It likely never occurred to many of us that the pictures of Jesus we saw were not accurate depictions of the real Jesus in history. Christians like to conveniently make Jesus into what we want him to be to us. Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Just as there has been a deliberate agenda to repaint the face of Jesus into the color of our choice, we cannot deny that there is also a feminist agenda that wishes to neuter God the Father. Some feminists do want to reconstruct or re-image Father God into a female motherly figure. A book where one can learn more about this might be The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism by Mary A. Kassian (Crossway). If it was so easy to paint Jesus as a white Jesus, a black Jesus, or an Asian Jesus, just think… how much easier will it be to neuter and feminize God the Father who is invisible and unseen to us? If this were to happen, what would this sound like? One might begin the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Mother, who art in heaven.” This does sound kind of hokey to theological conservatives and even to theological liberals. However convenient and necessary to be able to relate to a comforting and loving God, feminism ought to recognize the limits of how far they should go? Where should Christian feminism stop? Some think that it has gone way too far, but some think that it hasn’t gone far enough. Let me ask: If Jesus recognized God as his Father, who are we to change Father God’s gender? (Luke 10:21-22; 23:34). Didn’t Jesus also teach us how to pray to our “Heavenly Father” (Matt. 6:8-9)? As children of God, aren’t we also encouraged to call to “Abba Father”? (3rd picture: Jesus the Guru; the link above is a speculative depiction of what some think Jesus might have looked like, based on a reconstruction of an ancient skull).