MikeCopeMany years ago, I got to be part of a small group of ministers who spent a few days with one of my ministry heroes, John Stott. During one session, Stott asked people what their current ministry challenges were. Someone began talking about the challenges they were facing in their religious tribe and in his church in particular as they began including women in all roles of ministry.

A megachurch pastor broke in: “I’d like to know why anyone thinks it’s all right to twist the word of God just so they can please culture!”

Stott turned to him and kindly said, “I think what you meant to say is this: ‘I would love to know more about how this brother who loves Jesus and scripture as much as I do could come to such different conclusions on this issue.’”

In the most recent edition of the Gospel Advocate, Matthew Morine has written an article entitled “The Feminist Agenda Within the Churches of Christ.”

Matthew is an effective minister at the Castle Rock Church of Christ in Colorado. He is a gifted, devoted Christ-follower who is passionate about his faith. You can read the full article either in the Gospel Advocate or at this link.

Matthew has expressed dismay that he has received “a lot of hate” from “the progressive side of the church” in response to the article. I hope that isn’t the case. I certainly haven’t seen anything online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that was hateful. There were strong reactions, though the strongest seemed to come from people outside Churches of Christ.

However, it isn’t surprising to me that some have felt the need to respond—especially given the tone of the article. Here is how the author characterizes those he writes about:

– “Instead of following the plain teachings of the Word of God”

– “This disregard for the intent of the word of the Scriptures”

– “The feelings of those promoting women into leadership are fickle”

– “Hidden forces are at work seeking to corrupt your congregation and lead it into an unfaithful direction”

Perhaps the most provocative claim is that those wanting change are hypocrites: “The church leaders appealing for unbiblical expansion for women’s roles are being hypocrites.” One piece of evidence he cites is that most of the preachers in the more inclusive churches are male. But does that prove that these leaders are hypocrites? I think perhaps all it proves is that they are not the Popes of their churches. The fact that many are in congregations that are less inclusive than they believe those churches should be isn’t a sign of hypocrisy.

He also cites the hypocrisy of Pepperdine’s “Next Gen Preacher Search.” While this isn’t my project, it does come out of my office at Pepperdine, led by Jeff Walling. “Also, if you noticed the ‘Next Gen Preacher Search,’ a few ladies participated, but none of them made it to the final four contestants. Those who say they believe in women preaching are still holding women back from this role.” It seems that the implication is that Jeff or the vast group of judges intentionally rated the women lower. I hope that isn’t what he’s saying, but I don’t know another way to read this.

I remember now the words of my father: “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” Don’t complain when people push back when you’ve accused them of ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, said they have a disregard for the Word of God, called them fickle, and boldly and baldly called them hypocrites. It isn’t hate that’s coming the author’s way (at least not that I’ve seen — and certainly not what this post is about); rather, it’s people defending themselves from unjustified criticism.

I believe he is wrong on this issue. But I don’t think he has a disregard for scripture; nor do I believe he’s a hypocrite. I just disagree with his understandings.

The people I know who believe in the expanded ministry of women love Jesus and love scripture just as much as he does. Some know scripture less than he does; others know scripture better. What’s different isn’t commitment to scripture or willingness to study scripture but conclusions about scripture. And you can be sure of this: no one can avoid the task of interpreting scripture. There is no one here who is “just reading scripture” without interpretation.

Can we come to different conclusions without calling each other hypocrites?

For me, coming to this new understanding was a painful journey. I changed my opinion on this a long time ago not because I wanted to cave in to culture or because I didn’t care what scripture said but because this is where my long study of scripture led me. (I also know others who know and love scripture as much as I do who disagree with me.)

This sermon is a decade old, but it explains how one devoted to scripture can come to an egalitarian position. Also, for further study you can refer to resources like these:

John Stackhouse, Finally Feminist
Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet
Stanley Grenz, Women in the Church
Alan Johnson, ed., How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership
Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives
Ben Witherington, Women and the Genesis of Christianity
William Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals
Carroll Osburn, Women in the Church, Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity (Volume 1 & Volume 2)

This is not a matter of disregard for scripture; rather it’s an issue of different interpretations and different conclusions.

If you make the kind of bold claims about your opponents that the author makes, you will be overwhelmed with people cheering you on. “Thank you for holding to the word of God!” “Thank you for caring about truth!” “Jesus was attacked, too!”

But that doesn’t mean you were right.