A short-haired woman leaving the Equip 2017 conference in Sydney on Saturday was overheard to remark: “I wonder if I should grow my hair. But it doesn’t suit me and never has!”
She had just heard teaching from the evangelical women’s conference that confused and offended many of the 3000 women in the audience.
In her talk on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, on male headship, Carmelina Read said women should examine their reasons for cutting their hair short.
She showed a picture of actress Kristen Stewart with a “fierce” new buzz cut which had been hailed by media pundits as a sign of female liberation.
She believed it might be more in line with God’s good design to have long hair because it was a visible sign of the difference between men and women in which God delighted.
The advice was presented in the context of a difficult passage of Scripture that teaches that the head of woman is man, just as the head of man is Christ.
Many were upset by the comments on hair – and several young women left before the end of Read’s talk. One conference delegate commented while she was uncomfortable with the “complementarian” theology being taught, what really riled her was extending the female role as “helper” to the workplace.
“Complementarian” theology holds that men should hold leadership roles in marriage and church life with women as “helpers”, while in “egalitarian” theology men and women are considered equal to the task of leading the church and equal in marriage before God. However, the speakers offered a radical version of complementarianism extending it to the workplace, which surprised many in the audience. This is sometimes called patriarchy.
“When Isobel mentioned that it made my blood boil.” – Equip delegate
One speaker even said that if a woman became a CEO she should perform her role in a way that was helpful to men. In a video shown during the conference, a female minister says what makes her happy is when she is able to make her male colleagues “shine,” a point that was taken up at the end by Equip chair Isobel Lin.
“When Isobel mentioned that it made my blood boil,” the anonymous delegate said.
“If my son were a girl, or if I have a daughter, I’m not sure that I can be teaching her that thinking.”
This delegate said she felt more kinship with the feminist Read said she used to be.
Read, who is Dean of Women at Christ College in Sydney, said she had come a long way from her university days, when she believed Scriptural teaching on headship was “cultural” rather than a “timeless reality.”
“God calls Christian men and women to realise the reality of headship and honour headship in prayer (talking to God) and prophecy (talking about God),” she said.
She also came to realise that she could not be a feminist and a Christian woman.
“It involves visually acknowledging your gender. And for the Corinthians that meant men should uncover their heads when praying or prophesying, and women should cover their heads when praying or prophesying. This is demonstrated in God’s purpose in creation order, in nature, and in universal Christian practice,” she said.
“Feminism and other voices trick me into thinking that God’s design isn’t good.” – Carmelina Read
Revealing that she had struggled to accept this passage of Scripture, Read said she had to recognise it was her sin that was getting in the way. She also came to realise that she could not be a feminist and a Christian woman.
“We need to be clear that violence against women is a function of sin and not headship. Biblical headship is opposed to violence against women. Domestic violence is nothing like Jesus and his headship over man. Men and women are designed by God to work together and headship is actually a gift to protect us from abuse. Violence in any form is a distortion of headship,” she said.
“Feminism and other voices trick me into thinking that God’s design isn’t good. I want headship; I want control. Especially when men shirk their responsibility like Adam. Recognising my sin helped me to stop fighting my sin.
“More and more the world thinks in a gender-neutral way … But God delights in the beauty of our gender.” – Carmelina Read
“We need to keep noticing positive experiences of biblical headship. Like us, men are sinful, so we’re always going to see examples of them acting poorly. But if we look around, we’ll also see examples of them sacrificially leading. I try to stop complaining and model the goodness of God’s headship over me.
“More and more the world thinks in a gender-neutral way, that we’re people and not men and women. But God delights in the beauty of our gender.
“We want to live in a way that celebrates that God has made us women. That shows we delight in the way that Jesus delights in submitting to his father. No longer a Christian feminist but a Christian woman.”
In response, Louisa Macourt, who works in the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Sydney, decried this teaching in an article published in Sunday on the Fixing Her Eyes blog, titled I Am an Egalitarian.
“I found this incredibly heart-breaking. Particularly as it makes such broad sweeping statements about what the purpose behind feminism is and, I think, in the subtext, what egalitarianism is – that the sole reason for these beliefs is to make myself powerful, that it’s all about me. What I can achieve and where can I get all the authority and control.”
“I am an egalitarian because I believe that it is true to the Bible. Yes, I’ve read the challenging verses and wrestled with them.” – Louisa Macourt
She believes this argument completely misses the point.
“If being an egalitarian or feminist was just for me I would give it up tomorrow. If it was just so I could preach or lead then I would sacrifice that calling for the benefit of others. If I was just seeking my own power and authority I would give it all up.
“But it’s not because of any of this that I am an egalitarian. I am an egalitarian because I believe that it is true to the Bible. Yes, I’ve read the challenging verses and wrestled with them and prayed over them and asked God to show me if I’ve misunderstood. But I keep coming back to the same place – that God has gifted both men and women equally and he wants all of us to use our gifts to glorify him and the whole church. Men teaching men and women and women teaching men and women. And submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.
“It is not as was suggested that there are weak men in my life that I want to overpower or take control of. The men in my life are humble, gentle, strong, courageous and leaders in their own right. They do not fear women who share these qualities; they want to partner with them in serving the kingdom. Partnering together in teaching, leading, evangelising, growing, serving and loving those who are in the church.”