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The Editorial

The ‘über-value’ treatment

This is ‘non-political.’

John Benton, Editor

Figure Image

That is how a covering letter, from an Anglican stable, described a document released over the Easter weekend with the title ‘Affirming Evangelical Unity over the Theology of Men and Women.’

When something announces itself as nonpolitical I tend to smell a rat. In the affirmation the supposed secondary issue of the Complementarian vs Egalitarian debate over the roles of women in the church is framed as a threat to the ‘über-value’ of evangelical unity. Why the document? I think the timing says a lot. With Archbishop Welby having pushed through the first woman bishop in the Church of England some kind of reshuffling of positions within Anglicanism was inevitable. It is this which makes me feel that despite its protestation, the document is actually highly political. Two or three years ago it might have been different.

Repent of your grief?

With the Evangelical Alliance basis of faith as its starting point, it contains some useful points concerning both the equality and differences between men and women as image-bearers of God. In particular it says that men and women are not so much the same that they are interchangeable in Christian marriage. But then it proceeds essentially to insist that we must leave the Bible’s teaching on gender roles in the church as an open (and perhaps unanswerable) question. Complementarians and Egalitarians are to repent of any disparaging words about one another. Though it suggests otherwise, the practical outcome will be to shut down all real debate on the issue. If a Christian sincerely believes that the idea of a female pastor or a woman bishop is wrong and says that out loud, it would almost certainly be taken as a disparaging comment. If such a Christian felt deeply grieved that Scripture was being ignored, this would inevitably be labelled as an attitude of which he or she should repent. That’s the way I read it anyway.

The ‘political’ background to the statement appears to be this. The Egalitarians have lost the argument from Scripture. All their contentions have been played out over the last 30 years and if you come from a conservative evangelical view of the Bible, Egalitarianism has been found woefully wanting. They want the heat taken off. Certainly the Archbishop of Canterbury (a self-confessed ‘magpie’ theologian) showed himself out of his depth in the Lord’s debate over same-sex marriage – an area of discussion not a million miles removed from the gender debate. At the same time some conservative evangelicals who once stood for Complementarianism now find themselves on the wrong side of the fence with respect to the Archbishop. So it suits them to let the issue drop too.

PC strategy

It strikes me that the strategy adopted by the ‘Affirmation’ is precisely parallel to that used by secular society to suppress any expression of deeply held beliefs other than their own. If you say that Christ is the only way you are being ‘intolerant.’ Now, if you say that the NT teaches male leadership you will be labelled as schismatic. The über-value of tolerance in secular society is replaced by the über-value of unity in the church. The tactics of political correctness have been deployed to stifle truth. Thank goodness for the FIEC and their clear commitment to biblical Complementarianism.

Meanwhile, when plain statements of Scripture like 1 Timothy 2.12 are ignored or circumvented, the whole authority of the Bible is brought into doubt. I don’t think that’s a secondary issue.