Such separation between egalitarianism and complementarianism is unpleasant, and people are going to be genuinely hurt on all sides as it works itself out, but it is hardly ungodly by either side (apart from the ungodliness inherent in whichever position one thinks is in the wrong).
Women bishops who don’t have authority like any man bishop are still second class, and the problem of not treating women as fully equal still hasn’t been solved for the true-blue egalitarian. For the complementarian, women with authority over men is a culpable rejection of the authority of the word of God, and an endorsement of a wrong-headed vision of love, authority and equality that harms everyone caught up in it, male or female. The middle ground position that just wants everyone to get along because we all love Jesus is, on a question like this, blind to the stakes at play. Each side believes the other is either fundamentally denying the gospel, or starting a process that will finish with a fundamental denial of the gospel. And unity in the truth is difficult when the disagreement is at that level of order. It is of a similar kind of order as trying to get Protestants and Catholics to reunite, or getting racist Christians who don’t allow non-whites to be stake holders in their church with non-racist Christians who do to work together.
Finally, while one can find egalitarians in complementarian structures, and complementarians in egalitarian structures, the two positions cannot live together. A denomination or diocese or local church has to choose one or the other, or is in transition from one to the other. Both sides call good evil and evil good as far as the other side is concerned. Like abortion, or gay marriage, or whether or not one baptizes infants, the room for compromise is vanishingly small. You either do, or you do not; there is no ‘try’—and there’s no middle ground either. In the church’s public life it has to back one side or the other in this debate, or it is in transition from one side to the other. You cannot, as an institution, both restrict women and not restrict them from having authority over men. You have to choose. And so institutions—local churches, dioceses, parachurch organizations and denominations—are separating out as to whether they do or they do not.
For my money, while I hate any division between people who carry the name of Christ, I think this is a separation we need to have. Christ did not come to make peace, but to bring a sword, as much as I personally will take peace over the sword any time I can get away with it. I think if egalitarians think I am guilty of a kind of apartheid they probably should separate from me. I hate to think of what it would do to the moral credibility and conscience of someone to maintain unity with someone that considered that immoral. And I think that if complementarians like me see a link between being pro-women having authority in church and liberalism, we should start asking harder questions of people who are in favour of some kind of egalitarianism before allowing them into leadership roles in any context that we have responsibility over.
So, over the course of various posts next year, I intend to discuss this issue of egalitarianism and complementarianism from a number of angles, exploring some of the points that I think complementarians tend to pass over: how both sides see the nature of authority and equality; the relationship of authority and love; the problems with an egalitarian vision for marriage and the nature of the ministerial role, and their understanding of who God is in Christ Jesus; and their view of how our salvation relates to the incarnation and God’s own nature. The issue is, in my view, enormously important, and we are in a time of changes. So it’s worth discussing the issue again, and to try to raise some issues that I think could do with being wrestled with afresh. But for the moment, we’ll start by looking at some of the pressures that are going to be on egalitarianism as it wins institutional power, and how that might present a teaching moment for some of its adherents.