After Pence and Princeton

I saw that the main question was: what constitutes right relationship between men and women?

The brouhaha over America’s Vice-President Mike Pence’s dinner rule three weeks ago has given opportunity for us to hear and consider two views of gender relations. One view is, through restricted and limited relations with the opposite sex, there will be less suggestion (temptation) and likelihood for infidelity and sexual harassment. The second view is, through restricted and limited relations with the opposite sex, there will be reduced and unequal opportunity for women to obtain mentoring and professional development.

In my context, view one is the Golden Rule or the Common Sense* that Christian men and women are taught to follow. In my context of seeing infidelity happen firsthand in one of my closest circles, I adopted such a Common Sense quite easily. But view two also made interesting sense. You can read the commentaries on view one on Patheos, The Gospel Coalition. View two on The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Christianity Today, Fortune.

This discussion followed hotly (about a week) after Princeton Theological Seminary withdrew the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life from Tim Keller after protest from its seminarians. The outcry revolved around his stand against the ordination of women and LGBTQ. While Keller has contributed significantly to public theology, his complementarian position on women ordination runs contrary to Princeton’s on inclusiveness for women. Interestingly, Keller represents the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), while Princeton Theological Seminary is aligned to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Huh? What? Say that again?

Put together, I believe these two discourses present concerns that cut across public office, church and marketplace. I saw that the main question was: what constitutes right relationship between men and women?

Prior to these events, the local Anglican Church is faced with the task of voting for the ordination of women deacons. People I know are doing their homework, reading up on the papers written. Recently, the Malaysian Theological Seminary (STM) conducted a biblical class series on gender, showing the emerging importance of this topic today.

However my own journey to answer the main question of “What constitutes right relationship between men and women” started about 3 years ago when leading a cell group as a female cell leader. How do I minister or offer help to my brothers? How can I harness the strengths of the men and women in my cell group to build each other up, as brothers and sisters, in a non-marriage setting? My contribution to this was that, acknowledging the gifts of all, I intentionally encouraged mixed groups of sharing, for men and women to have the opportunity to hear the other and respond.

During this period, as I read and spoke to friends, I learned and ruminated around the concepts of patriarchy that feminism gave voice to. At that time, it seemed a highly subversive concept and, surely in my mind, not the source of earth’s problems. At the same time, as we continually hear messages that men are prey to their proneness to sexual immorality, and new terminologies and methods were devised and propagated to secure safeguards against infidelity, I began to wonder if men were prone simply because they were told that they are so. I wondered why fallen natures were affirmed as innate in men, and women should therefore tiptoe around it.

And so these two cases of Mike Pence and Tim Keller has pushed me to take the bull by its horns and look at it again. With the information I had gathered about patriarchy, women leadership in the Bible, I then sought out the arguments from the egalitarian view I had never quite studied before.

It brought me to a few other questions to note:

  1. What were the state of things at creation? How were relations altered after the fall, if any at all?
  2. How did Yahweh relate to the male and female of Israel?
  3. How did Jesus relate to women?
  4. Was Jesus’ disciples, and the early church leaders, male-dominated?
  5. What about the overt instructions that pointed to women having to be silent and men to lead?

I realised that all these points needed to be taken into consideration and read together. No point is more important than another, but read as a whole.

As I reflected on these matters, my thoughts centered on this verse:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

and my question changed to this: What constitutes a Christ-redeemed, Christ-reconciled state of relations between male and female for our time?

It is a big topic, at least for me, and I’ll need a few posts to share it.

*I reckon that Common Sense is less common than we think.


Centre for Biblical Equality.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.


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