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Biblical Gender Equality in Christian Academia

By Elliott, Susan E. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Biblical Gender Equality in Christian Academia


Elliott, Susan E., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Biblical Gender Equality in Christian Academia:

In spring 2008 a private evangelical, interdenominational university in Southern California, USA released the findings of the university's two-year gender climate study. While positive findings were revealed (i.e.; equal salary for equal faculty rank), so were such concerns as the favoring of men for promotion and tenure, in leadership, and in essential departmental information-sharing networks. (1) The perception of the university female faculty, who represented 27% of the total faculty at that time, was that a dominant influence on cause for their concerns is theological. The authors state "the data suggest that individuals holding more conservative theological views on women's roles tend to be more established at Biola and tend to be less supportive of women's leadership." (2) These concerning theological views were thought by some study participants to be perpetuated by what is taught in the campus seminary.

It is not assumed that such seminary teaching is not isolated to this university. From many seminaries to many pulpits, the message of male rule over women is preached on Sunday mornings and then applied by the congregants into life's scenarios. Unfortunately, Christian academia is not immune and too often the stain-glassed ceiling remains unbroken. An analysis of the Bible and theological thought on gender equality is indicated.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

This analysis applies the theological model of 18' century British theologian John Wesley, a graduate and fellow of Oxford University. It is well acknowledged that one of the greatest influences in his life was his own Christian mother Susanna. (3) Even so, Wesley early struggled with the idea of women in leadership and the pulpit. With further study and the reality of his lived experience, he came to heartily support women in these roles. (4) Today's Wesleyan theological denominations (i.e.: Church of the Nazarene, Salvation Army, and Church of God Anderson) ordain women and women hold senior pastorate and other essential leadership positions.

While Wesley did not coin the title "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" to describe his theology, he did travel 250,000 miles on horseback across England sharing his holiness theology grounded in the tenants of the quadrilateral. He believed that our relationship with God is based on the tenants of "Scripture (the inerrant Word of God; truth as the foundation of reason, tradition and experience), Reason (where God's wisdom enters our minds, our place of critical reasoning and moral decision making), Tradition (our social attitudes and customs, what we hold dear), and Experience (practical identities and the journey to change and reconciliation." (5) It is these tenants which provide a model for analysis of biblical gender equality.

Scripture and Reason

Scripture has many themes such as truth, love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion, faithfulness, and equality. The core of theological conflict on gender equality is grounded in human interpretation and application. The Bible says that we see as through a glass darkly, and no human is perfect in all things. Reason is our God-given ability to have critical reasoning, to conduct logical analysis, to make moral decisions, to communicate and to have a point of general and special revelation. "Through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2), reason is where God's wisdom enters our experience, His wisdom which is "impartial and sincere" (James 3:17). (6)

Equality is a dynamic and repeated theme from Genesis to Revelation. From the moment of creation (Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created"), God's word validates the importance of women. God created both men and women in His image (Genesis 1:27), they were both very good (Genesis 1:51) and they were both in equal relationship with God. Eve was not an afterthought. God wanted man to realize he needed a helper of equal status, that he could not make it alone (Genesis 2:18).

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