Let’s Rethink the Evangelical Gender Wars

Maybe the lines of division between egalitarians and complementarians were in the wrong places.

Last year I came across stinging words of rebuke against the ministry of Beth Moore. Her preaching and teaching was a “gateway drug to radical feminism,” said a young conservative. I found the rhetoric appalling, but I couldn’t tell that to the author of those words because he no longer exists. He was Russell Moore, circa 2004.

I was wrong about Beth Moore, but I’m even more chastened by the phrase gateway drug. The gender debate between complementarians and egalitarians was often fraught because it was a debate about just that: which views were “gateway drugs” to what abyss, which “slippery slopes” led to what error.

Some were convinced that egalitarians would lead us away from what the Bible declares to be good: that God designed us as male and female, that we need both mothers and fathers, that sexual expression is limited to the union of husband and wife. Meanwhile, others warned that complementarian arguments wrongly used Scripture the way an earlier generation did to defend white supremacy and slavery.

In recent years, many of us have seen old coalitions and old certainties torn apart. We’ve also discovered “slippery slopes” in unpredictable places. For those who are more traditional, the frustration started with an ever-narrowing definition of complementarian, measured increasingly by countering one’s “enemies” rather than by finding actual biblical consensus. First-order issues that define the catholicity of the church were treated as in-house debates while secondary or tertiary matters of “gender roles” were treated as matters of conciliar-like boundary-definition.

More importantly, recent scandals have demonstrated that …

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