I was sitting in the van with some colleagues from work. We were on the way back from a series of meetings in Chicago. I was newly engaged at the time; the big day was less than a year away.
Seeing as I was the only unmarried person in the van… and it was a three-hour drive back to Grand Rapids… and my coworkers had plenty of marriage advice to dispense, I was in for an earful, whether I wanted it or not.
One of my coworkers said to me, “Look, it’s fine if you want to believe all that stuff about husbands leading their wives. Just don’t try to make your marriage work like that — if you want your marriage to work, that is.”
The advice kept on coming.
Sitting behind me, characteristically quiet, was a man named Stan Gundry. Stan was no stranger to the gender roles debate. I was still in diapers when Stan was forced to resign from his teaching post at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute because of his wife’s egalitarian views.
I had heard of Stan long before we ever met. He’s a well-known biblical scholar, respected by even some of the most dedicated proponents of complementarianism. (It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s their publisher, but still.)
I knew Stan had been a complementarian at one point, and I was curious what had changed for him. But I was also a little intimidated by Stan. Or maybe I was just worried his answer might force me to rethink my views. Still, I asked.
As we broke free of the Chicago gridlock, Stan told me his story. I won’t repeat all of it here, because he’s already shared it at length in a post well worth reading, called From Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers to Woman Be Free.
(In case you’re wondering, the title is a reference to two books — one his fundamentalist father gave him and the other a book his wife wrote, which led to his dismissal from Moody.)
Stan told me how when he was a young pastor, his wife started asking questions about the Bible’s teaching on women. He confessed to being troubled by her questions at first — largely because he didn’t have very good answers.
Inspired by his wife (and by his own desire to read the Bible more holistically), Stan began reassessing his views. Gradually, they began to shift.
The final nail in the coffin came when Stan was researching American church history for his doctorate at Chicago’s Lutheran School of Theology.
He told me how one night, he was studying arguments used by 19th-century theologians to justify slavery…
- They argued that slavery was sanctioned by Scripture.
- They said that certain groups of people were intrinsically subordinate to others — by God’s design.
- They accused abolitionists of capitulating to the worldly whims of a godless culture.
- They insisted that to reject slavery was to reject the Word of God.
That night, as Stan was fighting his way home through the Chicago traffic, it dawned on him that he’d heard these arguments before. As Stan later wrote:
In fact, at one time I had used [these arguments] 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 where it hit me like a flash: Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defenses of slavery.
By the time we pulled into Grand Rapids, I was an egalitarian. I came to realize that any theology which insists on subjugating an entire class of people cannot be reconciled with “in the image of God he created them.” It flies in the face of “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.”
Using the same arguments once used to justify slavery should be a huge red flag that our theology isn’t merely flawed. It’s dangerous. It stands against everything the early church stood for: upending the social structures that kept some people down and creating an alternative community where all could stand on equal footing before the cross.
The next day, I told my fiancé about the conversation on the way home from Chicago, and how I felt that I was called to submit to her just as much as she was to me. Given that we attended a church where women were taught to unilaterally submit to their husbands, I wasn’t sure how this would go over with her.
I should’ve known.
She was already ahead of me.
After 10 wonderful years of marriage, I can say one thing: I’m glad I caught up to her.
P.S. Matthew Paul Turner’s blog has a guest post on Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers by the great-grandson of the book’s fundamentalist author.