The “On Faith” forum (a joint venture of The Washington Post and Newsweek) is hosting a discussion that raises a question about the theological consistency of evangelicals who support Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential nomination:
“Women are not allowed to become clergy in many conservative religious groups. Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?”
One of the contributors is David Waters, and he singles out Southern Baptists in particular as having a double-standard.
“How do these [Southern Baptist] guys keep a straight face? How do they explain this to their American daughters: ‘Honey, in America you can grow up to be anything you want, except the pastor of our church.’
“After Palin’s selection, it will be interesting to see how they explain this double-standard to American voters.”
Waters’ critique is hard-hitting, and I think it deserves a response.
First, Waters shows no appreciation for what the consensus positions are of complementarians. The faith Statement of Southern Baptists (to which Waters refers) falls within the mainstream of what complementarians believe. Perhaps the best summary of complementarian conviction is the Danvers Statement. Danvers reveals a consensus understanding of scripture on some broad themes but allows for differences on some others. For example, complementarians agree that the Bible teaches a principle of male headship that is rooted in God’s original, good creation. They also recognize that the New Testament specifically enjoins believers to order their homes and their churches in light of this principle. There is no complementarian consensus, however, on how these matters apply outside of the home and the church.
Second, complementarians who apply male headship outside the church and the home do so on the basis of a broad biblical theme (headship as a creation principle), not on the basis of specific apostolic commands (see for example the guidelines from John Piper, pp. 44-45, 50-52). That is why John Piper and Wayne Grudem have said, “As we move out from the church and the home we move further from what is fairly clear and explicit to what is more ambiguous and inferential.” In other words, complementarians are trying to be thoroughgoingly biblical. Likewise, the Danvers Statement itself only addresses “the principle of male headship” as it applies “in the family and in the covenant community.” One can’t help but wonder whether Waters is aware that the New Testament addresses rather narrowly the church and the home.
Third, Waters’ disdain of complementarianism is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible. His hermeneutic is completely untenable. He dismisses the relevance of biblical texts that say that pastors must be male (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:12) by contending that such texts aren’t any more relevant to the modern reader than the food laws of the Old Testament. He shows no regard for the progress of revelation or of the structural differences between the old and new covenants. Before leveling this kind of critique, Waters needs to be more sensitive to the differences between Mosaic command and apostolic directive.
There is much more that could be said in response to Waters (e.g., Albert Mohler’s response to the question). At the end of the day, however, it is sufficient to say that Southern Baptist complementarians are merely trying to be faithful to the biblical text. Nothing more and nothing less. There’s nothing hypocritical about that.