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Complementarian Rhetoric Revisited: Al Mohler, Methodists, and a Hasty Generalization

Updated: May 17

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The Complementarians are at it again. "At what?" you ask. Al Mohler, in a recent episode of The Briefing, is once again misrepresenting Evangelical Egalitarians as finding "a way to get around those passages" of scripture which Mohler thinks bar women from pastoral ministry. The comment came in an analysis of the recent move by the United Methodist General Church Conference to fully and officially affirm and embrace the LGBT agenda. Instead of respectfully saying that some evangelicals disagree with an interpretation of scripture (his) that restricts women from pastoral office, Mohler suggested that egalitarians (like me) are playing fast and loose with the text by rejecting the clear meaning in order to accommodate culturally influenced but biblically disallowed sensibilities. This, of course, is not only uncharitable; it's also untrue. Here's the quote in context.


The Slippery Slope of Women Pastors: The Hermeneutic That Leads to Women Pastors is the Same Hermeneutic That Leads to LGBTQ Inclusion
But as a theologian, I have to make one further comment here about one additional issue. The United Methodist Church years ago decided that it would ordain women as pastors and later as bishops. Now, I believe that’s contrary to Scripture. And yet, you had conservative United Methodists who’d basically been at peace with the interpretation of scripture that allows them to look at certain passages that make very clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture, and they found a way to get around those passages.
I’m just going to suggest that what the liberals have done in the current United Methodist Church at its General Convention is apply pretty much the same kind of rule to the issue of gender, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, you name it. If you adopt a system that allows you to get around the plain teachings of scripture in one area, you are going to have a very hard time closing the door on someone else using your same argument on a different issue. I am glad to say that there are many conservative Methodists who love the gospel and preach the word and who are now in the main outside the United Methodist Church. As for the United Methodist Church, it has made its point emphatically clear. And as should also serve as a parabolic warning to all of us, the change in that church came very slowly right up until it came very fast.
So, the bottom line again is that I think this is going to be long remembered as a key moment in modern church history, and it is over an issue that is definitive of Christianity. No apologies there. At least on this issue, at this point both sides recognize that we’re talking about two absolutely contradictory and incompatible arguments, two incompatible readings of Scripture and the authority of Scripture.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it's demonstrably false. Are there some who use the same sort of arguments for LGBT affirmation as they do for women in ministry? Certainly. Are there others who employ a consistent interpretation grounded in substantive original language exegesis combined with attentiveness to the social and cultural history of the text, all the while upholding a high view of scripture as the trustworthy and authoritative word of God, who ultimately determine that scripture rules out same sex practices but authorizes women in ministry? Absolutely. For Mohler to lump all egalitarians in the same interpretive camp and then to suggest that conservative Methodists don't take the Bible seriously, having found a way to get around the relevant texts is intellectually dishonest and misleading. It's simply not true.


It's also important to recognize that Mohler is committing the fallacy of a hasty generalization. He's taking what's true about a subset of egalitarians (that they disregard scripture) and generally applying it to all egalitarians. But the generalization doesn't hold. Evangelical egalitarians strive to deal with the whole of the Bible. As my friend and colleague, Andy Miller III, recently remarked on his podcast, "We affirm women in ministry, not in spite of the Bible, but in because of the Bible."


Women Pastors and Traditional Sexuality

The point is made in part by highlighting that there are numerous conservative Christian denominations operating in the United States that ordain women and hold to traditional Christian sexual ethics.


  • Assemblies of God

  • Free Methodist Church

  • The Wesleyan Church

  • The Church of the Nazarene

  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church

  • Global Methodist Church

  • The Salvation Army


Perhaps these churches didn't realize they were standing on a slippery slope? Or, perhaps, the slippery slope isn't real. Beyond this, there are many, many biblical scholars and theologians who affirm women in pastoral ministry and who also hold to traditional biblical sexual ethics. Does Mohler really think someone like Craig Keener has found a way to "get around" the obvious interpretation of the relevant passages?


So what's with the rhetoric?

Good question. Without commenting on Mohler's motives, we can still recognize that the slippery slope argument is rhetorically useful for hard Complementarians in the Southern Baptist Convention. A growing number of SBC churches are increasingly open to having women in pastoral roles. It's an easy rhetorical move, even though it's intellectually dishonest, to suggest that women in ministry inevitably leads LGBT affirmation and inclusion. Mohler knows his SBC audience is opposed to the latter; so it's rhetorically advantageous to connect the latter to the former. Unfortunately, the rhetoric lacks both charity and any semblance of nuance. The slippery slope isn't real, but the hasty generalization certainly is.


Looking to the Future

I don't expect Mohler's fallacy-laced argumentation to subside any time soon. So, it remains for evangelical egalitarians, who both affirm women at every level of ministry and hold to traditional biblical sexual ethics, to keep making the biblical case for women in the pastorate and calling out the fallacies when they surface. Let us not grow weary in doing well.

 

Dr. Matt O’Reilly (Ph.D., Gloucestershire) is Lead Pastor of Christ Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Director of Research at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians. A two-time recipient of the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement, he is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations: A Devotional for Short-Term Missions. Connect at theologyproject.online and follow @mporeilly.

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3 Comments


Egalitarians are all gay.

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I'd like to see the Biblical argument for women in the pastoral role again. I say "again" because I've always been a bit of an agnostic on this topic. A few years ago, I found myself defending a particular woman pastor's legitimacy, but today I have been shown more scriptures on the other side than I had before and am now leaning strongly in the other direction. I'd really like to see both arguments laid out, more or less, in full.

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Thanks Matt, great article. Can I suggest you change the first line to say, "Al Mohler is at it again"? If the concern (which I agree with) is that Mohler lumps all egalitarians together, let's not return the favor with lumping all complementarians in with him.

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