The following piece is written by Stan Gundry, and tells his story of moving from complementarianism to egalitarianism, and it shows the influence of Pat Gundry in Stan’s thinking. This story has been published elsewhere, and Stan has given me permission to publish it here. I should say that this story is a significantly formative story in the evangelical debate; Pat’s book is called Woman Be Free and Stan is a wise, balanced, mentor and guide at Zondervan today.
From Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers to Woman Be Free: My Storyï?ª
I have agreed to tell my story for two fundamental reasons. 1) I want to give tribute to the person who opened my eyes to a new paradigm through which to view scripture and who did not allow me to be satisfied with the easy answers. These were answers that had been drilled into my head as a youth and were assumed throughout my college and seminary training. 2) Arguments alone often do not convince. This is especially so with theological and exegetical arguments on this subject that for many has so much emotional baggage associated with it. So, when people come to me asking questions and searching for answers on the â??womenâ??s issue,â? I often just tell them my storyï?¾where I have come from, where I have landed, and how and why I got there.
Arguments in which both sides launch aggressive offenses and structure fortress-like defenses can be unnecessarily adversarial. I am not suggesting that such arguments have no place, but letâ??s acknowledge that their value is vastly over-rated
Stories cover the same territory, but they are testimonialsï?¾and it is hard to argue with someoneâ??s testimony. Some who hear my story may think I became a biblical egalitarian for inadequate reasons; but more often than not, the response has been, â??That makes sense. Youâ??ve given me something to think about.â? And a new story begins, or at least takes a new turn in the road.
Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers
My story begins with a book prominently displayed on my fatherâ??s bookshelf. Norman C Gundry was a Fundamentalist Baptist pastor who represented some of the best and worst of that tradition. He graduated from the two-year course of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (then known as BI, but now BIOLA University). He and my Mom, Lolita Hinshaw, married in 1932. Within two years they were on their way to Nigeria as missionaries. After three years in Nigeria they returned to the States on regular furlough so my mother could deliver her second child (me) and so my father could receive a much-needed medical check up. Because my fatherâ??s hearing was being destroyed by quinine, the drug of choice to treat malaria, they were unable to return to Nigeria. Throughout the years leading up to World War II and during the War, my father was a â??tentmaker,â? eking out a barely adequate living, first as a warehouseman and then as a farm hand. On Sundays he would preach in small rural churches and Sunday Schools.
During this time, he gradually came to the conclusion that he was a Baptist, a Fundamentalist, and a Separatist. As is so often true of those in that tradition, he was legalistic and rigid to the nth degree. But he also loved God, loved people, knew his Bible exceptionally well, and had a fervent desire to be â??true to the Bible.â? He was remarkably free of narrow, idiosyncratic views of biblical teaching, with only a few exceptions. One of those exceptions was â??the place of womenâ? as he would have put it. His views on this subject were so extreme that they would almost make Wayne Grudem seem like an egalitarian by contrast. He made sure that the women in his congregation, and especially his wife, knew and kept their â??place.â?
A fitting metaphor for my fatherâ??s view of the place of women was the title of a little paperback book prominently displayed on his bookshelf. Just to the right of his study desk was Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers, authored by the well-known Fundamentalist evangelist of the second third of the twentieth century, John R. Rice. The title said it all. Bobbed Hairï?¾women as a sign of their submission and obedience to men were not to cut their hair. Bobbed hair was a sign of rebellion against husband, father, and God. Bossy Wivesï?¾the man was the head of the wife and the home, and the wife was to keep her place and obey her husband in all things, even if the husband was unsaved. Women Preachersï?¾heaven forbid the thought! Eve had led Adam astray in the Garden and ever since women had been the source of false teaching and the temptresses of men! Obviously they should not be pastors or teachers of men.
My father kept extra copies of Riceâ??s book on hand to give to those he thought needed its instruction. The summer I left for college, I received my copy, along with a subscription to the paper Rice published, The Sword of the Lord. I confess that I read neither of them. I did not need to; I had been thoroughly indoctrinated by my fatherâ??s teaching and modeling. My mother never cut her hair (at least not that anyone could tell), and though the women in my fatherâ??s congregation were less compliant, my father regularly alluded to their rebellious actions from the pulpit. Women could hold no offices in churches my father pastored, could not preach, teach, or otherwise lead men. Women could â??testifyâ? on Sunday evening; pray publicly at the mid-week service, but not on Sundays; could participate in special music, but could not lead congregational singing or a mixed musical group; could teach Sunday School classes containing boys, but only until they became teenagers. Yes indeed, I had been thoroughly indoctrinated by word and example and really did not need that copy of Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers he gave me as I packed my bags for college.
I suspect my father was fairly confident that the apple would not fall too far from the tree. But if that was the case, there were three things that he did not count on. He did not reckon with the possibility that I would meet and marry a wise and strong woman who thought for herself, asked hard questions, and would not be satisfied with canned answers. In fact, he probably did not consider that I might actually think for myself on this matter, or assumed that if I did, I would come to the same conclusions he had. But my father also failed to realize the consequences of another rather radical idea he had instilled in both of his sons. He taught us to test everything by scriptureï?¾to be â??true to the Wordâ? to use his phrase, to follow that out no matter where it might lead.
I donâ??t remember precisely when I began to realize that the woman I would marry might challenge everything I had been taught about the place and role of women. Perhaps it was when we discussed deep philosophical and theological questions in the college library, and she just assumed that she was my intellectual and spiritual equal. Perhaps it was when she questioned why the president of the small college we attended would call on two or three of the young women to lead in prayer in chapel, when it was apparently sufficient to call on only one of the young men to pray. Over time it became clear that Patricia Lee Smith was a seeker after truth and she would pursue that path no matter whom it made uncomfortable, whether that was the college president, me, my father, my mother, or anyone in the male church hierarchy.
One event stands out as a defining moment and a turning point for Pat. It would also have profound implications for me, though I did not realize it at the time. It was November 1964, one year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was my second year as pastor of a small, rural Baptist church. Our church had invited a pastor from Everett, Washington to lead a weeklong Bible Conference. He had the reputation of being an able Bible teacher. One evening we entertained this well-known pastor for dinner. The conversation over Patâ??s spaghetti and meat sauce started out on a congenial note. Chuck was an out-going conversationalist who laughed and joked easilyï?¾that is, until Pat asked her question. She started out by saying that sheâ??d been curious about the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and she wondered how he interpreted it.
Instead of treating the question seriously and deserving of a reasonable answer, he rudely and abruptly demanded, â??Why do you want to know?â? Though I had no good answers to Patâ??s question about the passage either, even I was shocked by the dismissive nature of Pastor Chuckâ??s response.
At that moment Pat realized Chuck did not know how to interpret that portion of scripture, and he did not want to talk about it. Yet he was willing to restrict the role of women in the church based to a large degree on one of the most difficult passages to understand in the New Testament. Pat resolved to search for the answers to a matrix of questions surrounding this issue and to share the information with other women, questions like:
â?¢ If women are not to be the leaders and teachers of men, how does one account for Deborah, Huldah, Phillipâ??s daughters, and Priscillaâ??s role in the instruction of Apollos?
â?¢ Why is it that Paul instructs women to be silent in one place and acknowledges with apparent approval that women publicly pray and prophesy in another?
â?¢ Doesnâ??t the prominence of women among the followers of Jesus and in the Pauline Epistles suggest something significantly more than women leading and teaching children and other women?
â?¢ How is it that in the church the benefits of Galatians 3:26-28 apply equally and in very tangible ways to men, Jews, Gentiles, slaves, and those who are free, but not to women?
â?¢ If a woman is to obey her husband, is she not responsible directly to God for her actions? Is he in effect a priest, an intermediary between her and God? Is she to submit and obey even when his instructions are morally wrong or contrary to her understanding of Godâ??s desire for her?
â?¢ Arenâ??t husbands and wives to mutually submit to one another as all believers are to submit to one another, and how does this qualify the presumptive one-sided submission and obedience of wives to husbands?
â?¢ Are all women to submit to all men?
â?¢ Is the husband to be the leader of the home even if the wife has better leadership skills, or the husband is disabled, or the wife has greater spiritual insight and sensitivity?
â?¢ Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately continue to teach him, and if women really are not to teach men, isnâ??t it odd that women are allowed to teach them in their most formative years?
â?¢ Does it make sense that God would endow women with gifts but disallow women the privilege and responsibility of using those gifts to their fullest, or for that matter disallow men from the benefits of those gifts?
â?¢ In fact, doesnâ??t the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers give the lie to the view that women are to submit to and obey men? And of all Christians, shouldnâ??t Baptists and others in the believerâ??s church and congregational traditions who claim to most consistently live out that doctrine, as well as the doctrine of soul liberty, extend those doctrines to women, acknowledging women as equals in all respects?
â?¢ And isnâ??t it more than a bit inconsistent for women to have an equal vote in congregational decisions, especially in the selection and/or discipline of male church leaders, if in fact they are to submit to men?
Looking for Answers
I am quite sure Pat already had most of these questions in her mind as she looked across the bowl of spaghetti at Chuck. But he cut her off before she got a chance to ask them. My suspicion is that this man who later went on to become first a seminary and then a college president cut her off because he did not know what to do with 1 Timothy 2. Not only that, he also knew he did not have good answers to the questions he feared would follow. This not-so-pleasant encounter with Pastor Chuck in 1964 was the catalyst that prompted Pat to get really serious in her search for answers.
I was not much help to Pat, especially in the early years of her research. While I (eventually) acknowledged the legitimacy of her questions, I had few answers, except of course to say that if the Bible says a woman is to submit to her husband, then of course she is to submit. And if the inspired words of Paul are that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men, then of course that settled the matter. And whatever prominence women had in the New Testament, it was nevertheless clear that they were not to be pastors or elders
Pat was no more satisfied by my rote responses than she was with Chuckâ??s brush off. But through her own reading, research, and study of Scripture she gradually began to make her own discoveries and form her own conclusions. In 1968 we moved to Wheaton, Illinois, and I accepted a faculty position at Moody Bible Institute. Frequently in the evenings after I returned home from the long commute to Chicago, she would share with me what she had discovered others had written and bounce her own ideas off me. Sometimes weâ??d debate the issues late into the night. Patâ??s a night person, and the later it got, the more cogent her arguments seemed to me, and eventually I would reluctantly agree, or give an inch or two, only to have second thoughts the next morning and recant a good deal of whatever I had conceded the night before. My reservations about where she was headed and wanted to lead me would resurface when I awakened. Why? I wish I could say that my only motive was to be faithful to the Bible. That certainly was a key element in my thinking. But in retrospect, I have had to acknowledge less honorable motives that can be summed up in one wordï?¾fear.
Fear. Fear of where it would all leadï?¾could Pat be right and what seemed like the rest of the church wrong? Fear of losing my job at MBI, though there was no credible basis that I was aware of for that possibility. Fear of being taught by a woman, or worse yet, fear of admitting I had been taught by a woman, my wife.
This last fear was the most pernicious and enduring of all. I remember with great shame an episode in the early 1980s, well after I had become an egalitarian, indeed after I had been forced to resign from the Moody faculty for supporting my wifeâ??s egalitarian views as expressed in Woman Be Free. I had been invited to Houghton College to debate the womenâ??s issue with a gentleman who held the traditional hierarchical view. Even back then I normally refused to engage in point by point argumentation of the issues. I simply told the story of how I had become an egalitarian and what I had found compelling that changed my mind, but with one huge omission and distortion. I failed to acknowledge Patâ??s key, indeed pivotal part in my journey to biblical egalitarianism. Why? Fear. So I want to say with unambiguous clarity now, Pat started me on this journey and was my teacher along the way.
But I have run ahead of my story. Throughout the rest of my time as a pastor and in my early years on the faculty of MBI, I continued to be troubled by the questions Pat was raising. Over time I came to accept the urgency of the questions and eventually her questions truly also became my questions, and more than a bit more slowly, some of her answers began to become my answers. But I remained troubled by many of the â??problem passages,â? those passages that had seemed to clearly reflect a predominant pattern of male leadership of the people of God in both testaments and those that seemed to explicitly teach the submission of women to male leadership in the home, church, and perhaps even in society.
In this early phase of my journey it was really Pat who was the researcher. She discovered Godâ??s Word to Women (Katherine Bushnell) and The Bible Status of Woman (Lee Anna Starr) . She would bounce her ideas off me, occasionally asking me to check out something in the Greek or Hebrew for her. Gradually she began to find answers; a bit more graduallyï?¾no, a lot more graduallyï?¾I began to accept some of those answers as possible answers to some of the questions that prevented me from embracing the full equality of women, an equality that did not recognize gender as a disqualification from spiritual privilege or any aspect of Christian ministry.
Understanding the Big Picture
In the early 1970s I began to view and understand the Bible less atomistically and more wholistically, and this was a shift that would profoundly affect how I understood the texts related to the womenâ??s issue. And for this too I am indebted to Pat. One of her great strengths is that she has the ability to think syntheticallyï?¾the ability to have a grasp of the details and then stand back and look at these details, many of which may appear to be disparate, and bring them together in a congruent whole. That is what I observed her doing with the body of evidence related to the womenâ??s issue in scripture. And as we discussed these matters together, I began to see that the passages that were barriers to my moving to a fully egalitarian position needed to be understood in terms of the big picture. It is the big picture that establishes the context for understanding the difficult passages. If one has the big picture right, it is acceptable to admit that for some passages there are several possible interpretations. It is alright to say, â??I donâ??t know, but here are some possibilities.â? This insight from Pat was the piece that began to put the rest of the puzzle together for me.
By 1974 in my lectures and discussions with students at Moody Bible Institute, I was affirming a view that was essentially egalitarian. I had come to believe that though it was important to understand isolated texts on their own terms, it was nevertheless futile to believe that the debate between egalitarians and traditional hierarchicalists could ever be settled by debating the exegesis and interpretation of individual texts in isolation. For me, the more significant question had become, how is the grand sweep of biblical or redemptive history to be understood? What is redemptive history all about, and how do the relevant texts fit into that?
When examined with that question in mind, it seemed to me that hierarchicalism, if consistently held and applied, was its own undoing. This view holds that women are by Godâ??s design inherently disqualified from leading and teaching men. It goes against the creation order itself. But if that is indeed the case, scripture contradicts itself, because women throughout the biblical narrative did lead and teach men, with Godâ??s apparent approval and blessing. Further, if the hierarchical view is correct (submission to male leadership/authority and silence), certain things should follow. Women should be allowed absolutely no public roles within the church, whether that be in worship, prayer, or any other form of public speaking such as teaching, preaching, or prophecy. They should not be allowed to participate in congregational decisions. Nor should they ever be allowed to teach a male, even in settings that are not public. Why? Because it is essential to the very nature of being female. If it is not essential to the nature of being female, the whole hierarchical edifice begins to fall apart because that is the foundation on which it is built.
Relatively few hierarchicalists follow the implications of their foundation to its consistent and logical conclusion. To do so would be the demonstration of the absurdity of the premise. It would be clearly inconsistent with the many indications of scripture that women did in fact do the very things that the foundational premise of hierarchicalism implies they should not do. How then do they deal with the biblical indications of women in these unlikely roles, and how do they justify even the limited participation of women in similar roles in their own churches? The devices are ingenious but hardly convincing even if one accepts the premise. Some instances are viewed as exceptions to the rule, allowed by God because men did not step up to the challenge. Or, women can prophesy, but not have the office of prophet. Or, women can teach, but not authoritatively. Or, women can teach and preach, but only with the permission of or under the authority of her husband, or of men in general. These explanations strike me as contrived and desperate attempts to save the system and to preserve the benefits of male privilege that are built upon it. Itâ??s no wonder that hierarchicalists cannot agree among themselves on just what a woman may do and under what circumstances. As Pat pointed out recently, the only thing that hierarchicalists agree on is that it is the men who get to tell women what they can do.
If the foundation of hierarchicalism is that the creation order itself establishes that for time and eternity women are subject to men, they also see this order reinforced in Godâ??s word to Eve immediately after she and Adam disobeyed Godâ??s command in Eden, â??Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over youâ? (Gen. 3:16). Instead of understanding this and the other aspects of the so-called curse on both men and women as the natural consequences of human sin, hierarchicalists understand this particular result of the Fall as reinforcement of the divine ideal for humankindï?¾male rule and female submission, in other words, patriarchy. This is the filter through which hierarchicalists view the rest of the Bible, including those passages that would otherwise seem to imply or explicitly support full equality, and, contrary to the patriarchal conventions of the biblical world, are examples of women leading, teaching, prophesying, or ruling.
Yet this is the polar opposite of what was already hinted at in Genesis 3:15 when God said to the serpent that Eveâ??s seed would crush his head. As the NIV Study Bible so aptly puts it, â??The offspring of the woman would eventually crush the serpentâ??s head, a promise fulfilled in Christâ??s victory over Satan, a victory in which all believers will share.â? From Genesis 3:15 onward, the overarching theme of all scripture is the defeat of Satan, the redemption of humankind, and the reversal of the effects of the Fall. This includes not only the restoration of the divine/human relationship, but also the restoration of broken human relationships in general and male/female and husband/wife relationships in particular.
When I began to view the Bible and redemptive history in this manner, the big picture began to emerge that helped me put the pieces of the biblical puzzle together as it related to men and women. Starting at the beginning in Genesis 1-3 we are clearly and unambiguously told that both were created in the image of God. They were created for fellowship with God and with one another. Though Adam was created first, Eve was created of the very stuff Adam was made of, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, a â??suitable helper,â? one that corresponded to him. And lest we think Eve the helper was a flunky assistant, the text uses a Hebrew noun (â??ezer) that is elsewhere used to refer to Yahweh; in fact, four times the Psalmist refers to the LORD as â??our help and our shield.â? As full and equal partners Adam and Eve were responsible to tend the garden, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, to subdue the earth and to rule over the creatures. In other words, together they were given stewardship of the earth because they were equals. And because they were equals, they were each fully responsible directly to God to obey his commands. Thus, when they each sinned against the command of God, each was accountable directly to God for their transgression.
The Fall turned everything topsy-turvy. After the Fall, the relationship between man and woman is quite different than it was before the Fall. It morphed from one of equality and complementarity to one of male domination and patriarchy, and that is the backdrop to all that follows in the Bible. But as alluded to earlier, immediately after the Fall the story of redemption begins, and part of that story is the restoration through time of what had been, and what still Godâ??s was desire for the world and for humanity. God, though, does not in one instantaneous snap of the fingers restore what the Fall had destroyed and distorted. Instead, in his dealings with humankind God accommodates himself to the realities of the fallen world. Patriarchalism, the result of the Fall, remains, and it is accommodated in Godâ??s relationship with and rule of his people Israelï?¾the patriarchs, the judges, the prophets, the priesthood, the monarchy. But it is mere accommodation to the reality of the times and culture; it is not a reflection of the divine ideal for humanity. When the Old Testament and Old Testament history are viewed from the perspective of this big picture, the Old Testament women who break the patriarchal paradigmï?¾Deborah, Jael, Abigail, Huldah, Esther, and the wise and virtuous business woman of Proverbs 31 are not embarrassing exceptions to some divinely instituted patriarchal creation order, as hierarchicalists are compelled to say. Instead, each of these women is an affirmation that the Fall is not the end of the story, that patriarchy is not the divine ideal, and that restoration of what originally was is coming once again.
The Incarnation is the central and decisive event of redemptive history. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Of course Jesus was a male. But more significantly he was human (flesh) so he could be the savior of all of humanity. He who crushed the serpentâ??s head and took the curse upon himself, repeatedly broke the patriarchal conventions of his time by honoring women and welcoming them into this band of disciples. By his life, death, and resurrection he got the victory over Satan and all the forces of evil, he died in our place and bore the punishment for sin, he conquered death and gives us resurrection life, and he provided for us the supreme example of love and obedience. So, in Christ right relationships are restored and in him â??there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.â? â??All are one in Christ,â? and, â??If you belong to Christ, then you are Abrahamâ??s seed, and heirs according to the promiseâ? (Gal. 3: 28-29). It could hardly be more clear that patriarchal order is not the ideal.
Nevertheless, the full realization of the divine ideal awaits the end of history when redemptive history is consummated. In the church of the New Testament era, there were still plenty of accommodations to the realities of the fallen patriarchal orderï?¾the Twelve were all men; and however one understands the polity of the New Testament church, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the elders, pastors, or bishops were likely all men. But if we keep our eye on the goal toward which redemptive history is moving, the apparent limitations on women evidenced in the New Testament are best understood as temporary and ad hoc.
In other words, when the big picture of redemptive history is kept in mind, the New Testament is seen as a huge leap forward toward full restoration of what was lost or distorted in the Fall. When I came to understand Scripture in this manner, the problem passages that had troubled me, and that are so often used by hierarchicalists to justify the submission of women, are understood as ad hoc accommodations to the fallen patriarchal culture. And the many scriptural examples of women doing what allegedly they are not supposed to do can be given their full evidential weight of how God, as an â??equal opportunity employer,â? really values women.
Resolution and Confirmation
My journey to biblical egalitarianism was essentially complete. While I did not, and do not now, claim to have the final answer to every question or difficult passage, I was convinced the framework sketched above was clearly a superior way to account for the varieties of biblical evidence. It has an elegant simplicity that is consistent with the authority of biblical texts. I find it far easier to live with the unresolved problems of egalitarianism than the problems of hierarchicalism, problems that seem to me to be far more serious, calling in question the very unity of the Bible.
But there was one more piece to my journey that is important, though seemingly small and unrelated to anything that had happened up to this point. It was the final piece that confirmed for me that I was on the right path.
In early 1974 I was preparing for a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from some of the more important primary source documents representative of that history. When I came to the early and mid-nineteenth century, I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition. The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states were especially fascinating. Whether the men were from the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, or Roman Catholic traditions, the biblical and theological arguments in defense of slavery were essentially the same.
Abolitionism was said to be anti-Christian. Defenders of slavery claimed that abolitionists got their ideas from other sources and then went to the â??Bible to confirm the crotchets of their vain philosophy.â? Scripture, it was repeatedly argued, does not condemn slavery. In fact, scripture sanctions slavery. In his parables, Jesus refers to masters and slaves without condemning slavery as such. In the New Testament, pious and good men had slaves, and were not told to release them. The church was first organized in the home of a slaveholder. That slavery was divinely regulated throughout biblical history was evidence that the institution was divinely approved. When scripture, as in Galatians 4, uses illustrations from slavery to teach great truths, without censuring slavery, it was considered more evidence that the institution had divine approval. The Baptist Declaration of 1822 did accept that slaves had purely spiritual privileges [as Christians], but they remained slaves.
The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point and all developed their defense by appealing to scripture in much the fashion I have summarized above. With one voice southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God.
I had heard about this line of reasoning before, but to actually read it for myself was an eye-opening experience. I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority. How could churchmen and leading theologians have been so foolish and blind? I had been reflecting on these readings several days, then on one, cold, Chicago-gray wintry day as I crept home on that parking lot known as the Eisenhower Expressway, it slowly began to dawn on me that I had heard every one of those arguments before. In fact, at one time I had used them to defend hierarchicalism and argue against egalitarianism. By this time I was close to home and I still remember the exact spot on Manchester Road just west of downtown Wheaton, Illinois where it hit me like a flash. Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the churchâ??s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defenses of slavery.
For me, that was the piece that once and for all put Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers in the waste basket. And it confirmed my determination to stand with Pat as she completed the book that would eventually be published by Zondervan as Woman Be Free.