Posted by: minnow | May 8, 2008

What do we Mean?

Way back in the day as my children would say I took an introduction to philosophy course taught by D. Ivan Dykstra. The question for the entire semester was: “What do we mean by what we say when we talk about the things we do?” My recent experience on the Parchment and Pen blog brought that question to my mind again. (I wrote about my experience in my last post). I wish I still had D. Ivan’s book because I am sure there was a spiritual component to it. But, sadly I lost track of it several moves ago so I will need to start over.

Mean, say, do–how do those words form, describe, impact, who I am? According to Merriam-Webster the word meaning is “the thing one intends to convey; import; aim; a significant quality.” Thus when I talk about my own meaning I am talking about my worth or purpose. What I say obviously has to do with communication. And, doing relates to a behavior or action. Putting it all together–what I do (and do not do) communicates something about my worth or purpose.

Over on the P&P blog C. Michael Patton is attempting to show how the complementarian reading of scripture honors the essence of woman more than the egalitarian point of view. He insists that because men and women are different each has a God ordained bent toward certain roles, specifically men are to lead and women are to submit both in marriage and within the Church. CMP’s views are compatible with a complementarian reading of scripture which says women may not teach or have authority over men within the Church and wives must submit to their husbands. The egalitarian position sees Adam and Eve as equal before the fall and Christ as the redeemer of that relationship. The inequality or authority position was a result of the fall rather than by design.

As you may have gleaned if you read my earlier post I do not agree with Mr. Patton’s conclusions. He asserts that because complementarians value women for who they were created to be and encourage them to express themselves through their “natural” bents they honor women more than egaltarians. In its extreme this position has the very real danger of abuse, especially within the closed doors of marriage.

At the same time, if I am honest I must admit that the danger of allowing the extreme expressions of complimentarianism is not what causes me the greatest problem. I am more concerned with what kind of picture the complementarian position paints of women and in the end the picture it also paints of God.

In their reading of scripture complementarians must either insist God created the woman as subordinate to the man prior to the fall or they must argue that Christ’s death and resurrection did not redeem that relationship. Either way women are devalued and God’s character is slighted.

When complementarians say that gifting does not matter, that woman might very well make good leaders, might have as much insight as men but that God forbids them to use their gifts in certain roles (preaching, teaching, Church leadership), roles that could uplift the whole Body, complementarians devalue women. In essence they are saying, “Your gifts are good; they are important but in you they are not good enough for men. You have nothing we (as a whole) want, nothing we (as a whole) need to hear, nothing unique to offer. Your contributions are valuable to the whole only in so far as they help to maintain the status quo.

This situation would be depressing enough if the complementarian position was simply saying something about women. However my ire gets seriously stirred when I realize these ideas are attributed to God. The image of a loving Father who does not show favorites and who gives good gifts to His children becomes tainted when the gifts are deemed more usable in one pair of hands then in another. Are we willing to claim that God tells fathers not to exasperate their children but He does not practice what He preaches?!–ridiculous. On the other hand, we could always suggest that Jesus came with a ministry of reconciliation but failed to completely restore the relationship between men and women. Obviously, I jest. Yet, if we look at the implications of what is actually said, what other options do complimentarians have?



  1. The definition (and purpose) of how we use the word mean is pretty heavy how you laid it out. It reminds me of my best friend’s PHD dissertation in the meaning of the phrase “to pay attention”. There is no currency handed over, no consideration given, and no receipt of tangible goods. Are you paying your brain to focus on the subject at hand? Meaning is highly subjective and varies widely from the intended recipients impression.

  2. Sorry, but you make no sense to me. Still, you’re not swearing or calling me names as far as I can tell so…

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