Evangelical Questions: Men and Women
by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC
Welcome back to Come Follow Me with FAIR: Faithful Answers to New Testament Questions. My name is Jennifer Roach and today we’re going to talk about the interdependence of women and men. As you know we’re going through the Come Follow Me readings and addressing common questions that Evangelicals ask about our faith as we go along. Our purpose here is not to fuel debate but to help you understand where your Evangelical friends and family are coming from so that you can have better conversations with them, and perhaps even be able to offer them a bit of our faith in a way they can understand.
In a past episode, we talked about the role of women in both groups -there are some similarities and some significant differences. So I don’t want to rehash that part. But what I want to talk about has more to do with the way both groups see the interdependence of men and women. We’ll use 1 Cor 11:11 as our jumping-off point:
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
I’ll start by saying neither group denies this verse. You’d be very hard-pressed to find an Evangelical who is going to write off any of Paul’s words and Latter-day Saints certainly embrace this idea as well. The difference is in how each group plays this out. And really, the short summary of that, is that Latter-day Saints generally think in a more communal mind-set than Evangelicals do. Let me give you an easy example.
I like to listen to audiobooks while I’m doing things around the house and lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with books on the history of the Western states, especially as it comes to water issues. So I’ve been listening to a classic in that genre called, “Cadelic Desert.” The early part of this book is about the history of the irrigation system in the West and the author is explaining the challenges and extraordinary effort required to bring water to the right places. The thing that caught my attention is that as he goes through this though is that he says, in many different ways, the “Mormons” figured out irrigation systems early on because they were a tight-knit society where the communal good could be more easily be put ahead of the individual good. Now, that doesn’t always work out, and certainly worked out easier in the 1910’s and 1920’s that this author was referring to.
So today what I want to talk about is some of the factors that cause Evangelicals to think about the individual and the community slightly differently than Latter-day Saints do. And then we’ll apply those thoughts to the concept of how gender roles play out differently for each.
We’ll start with some history. The Evangelicals are really influenced here by their desire to react against the Methodists. When the Evangelical movement begins – think early Billy Grayham, 1960’s – the largest player in the Protestant world in the United States are the Methodists. Today you can find Methodist churches all across the spectrum from very conservative to extremely liberal. But back then, Methodism mostly meant, “Your grandmother’s church.” There’s a lot of cultural upheaval at this time, rules in society are changing, and the early Evangelicals want to attend churches that feel like they’re keeping up with the times. In some ways, the early Evangelicals are in “reactionary identity” – meaning that they’re doing what teenagers sometimes do: first decide what they don’t want to be, and usually it’s, “I don’t want to be like my parents.” In their early days, Evangelicals were in this reactionary-identity mode of, “I don’t know what I am yet, but I’m not a fuddy-duddy grandma church.” So their initial starting place is: We want to be opposite of what is currently happening.
And really, they start with the most basic question: How does one enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ? For a very long time, the answer is: Well, not the way my parents did it. And how their parents did it, in the Methodist churches of that time, was infant baptism. Now, Methodists don’t conceptualize infant baptism the same as Catholics do, and I don’t want to get into the weeds of what that’s all about, but suffice it to say that the early Evangelicals were very clear on not wanting anything that seemed too old-fashioned, so they reject the Methodist practice. But every movement, especially a brand new one, needs allies and mentors, and the early Evangelicals found that support in the Southern Baptists. Why are they called “Baptists”? Because they believe in credobaptism, which basically means the individual person should be old enough to make a decision about baptism on their own. The opposite of that is pedobaptism, which is the fancy word for “infant baptism.” So it’s not even that the early Evangelicals were theologically set on credobaptism, they just knew they didn’t want pedobaptism. But that move sets them into an alliance with the Baptist churches – which are nothing if not independent. If you’ve been a Latter-day Saint your entire life this might take a moment to wrap your mind around, but Baptists are technically not considered a denomination. A denomination has some kind of central authority, the member-churches must follow certain rules and policies, as well as receive direction and over-sight from the central authority. Baptists conceptualize themselves as a “convention,” that is a group of like-minded churches that want to associate with each other – but who operate entirely independently and have very little responsibility to their headquarters. And if they want out, they can easily leave. Historically they disagree with each other on just about everything and for the most part that is not a problem. Though you might have heard in the news this year, one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, Saddleback Church in Southern California, left the Convention over disagreements about the role of women.
But when the early relationship with the Baptists only gets them so far. By the time the late 1960’s come around the Evangelicals are trying to reach the hippie flower children and want to even further distance themselves from the “grandma church” culture (as they saw it – grandmas hold the churches of the world together, truth be told) so they start to remove the concept of baptism at all. It takes decades for this move to fully take effect, but today baptism has been sidelined in many Evangelical churches. It’s seen as an optional thing you might do if you feel led to do so, but it’s not necessary for salvation by any means.
This creates a problem for them though – if you’re not going to teach people to, as the New Testament says, “believe and be baptized” then how are people to identify themselves as believers? They invent something that today is called, “the sinner’s prayer” where they ask Jesus to be their “personal Lord and Savior.” Do you catch that word, “personal” – we’re talking today about individualism and community, how that has developed, and what it means for women and men. That phrase, “personal savior” comes to symbolize their entire stance toward their faith – it is a relationship that is entirely between you and God and no one else really gets a say in it. So from very early on in their history, Evangelicals are shaped by this idea that their faith is theirs alone, no one else can do it for them. And to this day that is a strong value for them. In 2020 a book came out called, “Jesus and John Wayner,” which is a critique of the Evangelical impulse toward rugged individualism.
Latter-day Saints on the other hand have spent most of the last 200 years being in a different situation. Because of the situation the early Latter-day Saints found themselves in, they didn’t have the luxury of straying too far away from the main group – they needed each other in order to survive. So from the very outset, Latter-day Saints are being formed as a people who rely on each other, sometimes for very basic survival. And though this is not as true as it used to be, you still see it play out in television and movies. A few weeks back at the FAIR conference Derek Westra gave a talk about this and how Latter-day Saints are portrayed in the media. Derek works for the church in the communications department and his job is to keep tabs on how our church is portrayed in the media. He showed example after example of recent shows and movies that portray Latter-day Saints as insular, afraid of outsiders, and as “not allowed” to reach books that are not printed by the church. The kind of communalism that I’m talking about is probably lower now than it has been in 200 years, but it’s still significant enough that outsiders see it and exaggerate it for entertainment.
Let me give you one more example of how Latter-day Saints have been shaped by a communal mindset. In contrast to, “you must ask Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior,” Latter-day Saints have been formed by these words, “How are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah.” We are formed not by a reactionary identity but by trying to link the entire human family together. It’s the opposite of Western Individualism or John Wayne Christianity. This is kind of a dumb analogy, but Evangelicalism is like team gymnastics. You’ve seen the Olympics, each team is made up of a certain number of athletes, and each athlete contributes their individual score to a group total. No gymnast can do anything to help the others. She is responsible entirely for her own performance which is then added to the group total. But no one helps her. Contrast that with baseball (or softball, or kick ball) if the bases are loaded and you’re up, you know what your job is – get your friends home. They can’t progress without your effort.
And that brings up to the interdependence of men and women. One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked by friends outside of our church is something like: Has it been hard for you to “lower your status” as a woman? Or, “What does it feel like to now be in a church where women have no voice?” And sometimes I don’t even know how to answer that question because the context is so entirely different. Before I was baptized into our church, it’s true, I had some opportunities that I don’t have now. I was ordained, for example. That is not open to me now. I’m 100% fine with that, and let me explain why. If I were a gymnast and I were told, “You’re not allowed to do any of the coolest tricks,” I’d be upset for myself and for my team, “If I can’t do the coolest tricks, how will I ever contribute a high score to our team’s total?” It would be insulting because I know I can do more and I’m being artificially held back. But when you’re playing a team sport like baseball the whole thing is set up so that certain people are in certain positions for reasons. The pitcher isn’t placed there because he’s bad at catching, he’s placed there because he can pitch. The outfielder isn’t there because he’s bad at being a catcher – he’s there to play his role for reasons and without him the game would be lost. So, if I have a choice – and I do – between being just an individual and trying to get the highest score I can all on my own, and being part of a team where we’re meant to help each other get home, I know which one I choose.
Okay, that’s all the time we have for this week. Next week we’re talking about prophecy and how all of that works for both groups. I will see you then.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.