By Bob Allen
An online petition posted recently at Change.org challenges the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to apologize for what the sponsors say is the misuse of Scripture to keep women in their place.
“At a time in our church history that the main focus should be on winning lost souls and spreading the gospel to a hurting world, we fear for the future because the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has placed a greater priority on women’s submissive role rather than on the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says the petition, which surpassed 100 signatures March 20.
The petition is sponsored by the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition, a group that made similar demands in 2010 after a conference promoting women’s equality in the church and home in Orlando, Fla.
Shirley Taylor, the founder of Baptist Women for Equality who drafted the petition, said the group is renewing its demand because previous petitions went ignored. Taylor, a lifelong Southern Baptist who worked nearly 15 years as a ministry assistant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, launched Baptist Women for Equality in 2009.
Taylor says many people in the pews are unaware of “complementarianism,” a theology popular among leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention that she says was behind changes to the Baptist Faith and Message in 1998 and 2000 declaring that women cannot be pastors and that a wife is to “submit herself graciously” to her husband in the home.
Taylor co-founded the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition with Jocelyn Andersen, an evangelical author and speaker who described her story as a survivor of domestic abuse in a 2007 book titled Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence.
Cynthia Kunsman, an author and blogger who specializes in the topic of “spiritual abuse,” says complementarianism is an attempt “to make patriarchy and gender hierarchy more palatable to modern Christians.” While the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood states that man and woman are “equal but different,” she says, the group defines “different” as “very much unequal in privilege, power and function.”
Kunsman said in a March 24 blog that teachings such as Eve, the first woman, was responsible for original sin and that women are the derivative or indirect image of God because Eve’s source material was taken from Adam’s body make women “readily available dehumanized scapegoats who deserve an ill fate.”
Kunsman said the complementarian paradigm also sets up a false dichotomy between the sexes, presenting the wife as an adversary out to usurp her husband’s authority. Therefore it’s understandable if he beats her, and if he does, the Bible says she cannot divorce him but is to remain in submission as a witness in hope of converting an unbelieving spouse.
But Kunsman said she is most concerned about the movement’s doctrine of God. Complementarian theologians claim that roles of husband and wife are modeled in the Godhead, and if the Son is “eternally subordinate” to the Father in the Trinity, godly wives have no right to complain about their “helpmeet” role in the church and home.
The petition says men are being taught that they are “god-like” in their relationship to women, and “this doctrine is setting them up for failure as Christian fathers, husbands and sons.”
It says church leaders commit sin “when they deny the love of Christ fully to women simply because they were born female” and that giving headship to husbands and fathers causes harm to families.
The statement also expresses concern about “wife abuse, girlfriend abuse and abuse to female children that takes place in many homes where evangelical men are taught that they have earthly and spiritual authority over women.”
The petition asks the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to apologize for harm done by The Danvers Statement, the group’s statement of core beliefs, which has been adopted at SBC seminaries with the result that female professors are no longer permitted to teach men.
Owen Strachan, executive director of the council based in Louisville, Ky., with offices on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did not respond to a request for comment by email.