If the Bible's teachings on gender roles don't seem all that clear to you, welcome to the majority of CT readers. The most recent gender survey conducted by Christianity Today Internationals research department shows that most CT subscribers are unsure what the Bible really means in what it says about the roles of men and women.
Eighty-eight percent of 750 respondents agree that "there is a lot of confusion about male and female roles in the Christian world today." Only 19 percent say that the Bible's teachings on the matter are "very clear and plainly understood," while 39 percent say that the teachings are "clear in principle, with much room for personal choice and practice." It's no wonder, then, that 78 percent of respondents think that "Christian leaders need to speak out on proper roles for men and women," while only 9 percent say they don't need such guidance.
Who's in Charge?
Eighty-nine percent of our readers agree with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's tenet that "God made men and women to be equal in personhood and value but different in roles." But, when asked specifically about the often-debated roles, a surprising number of respondents seemed to move away from the belief that men are by divine right in charge of churches and families.
Only 38 percent agree or strongly agree with the complementarian contention that "only men should be ordained," while 47 percent disagree or strongly disagree. Fifteen percent are unsure.
Tipping the scales toward the complementarian position, 55 percent agree or strongly agree that "the husband holds ultimate responsibility for all major decisions in the family and the home"—while 37 percent disagree or strongly disagree, and 7 are uncertain.
As many as 69 percent of respondents say the husband is the spiritual leader of their homes (12 say the wife is, another 12 say "none or doesn't apply," and 7 say "both"). Interestingly, 70 percent of those who say that the husband should be the spiritual leader of the home also say that men are attracted to "self-sufficient women" rather than "dependent women."
Another twist: Even though 69 percent of respondents designate the man as the spiritual leader, 73 percent of women and 83 percent of men say they share major family decisions; 41 percent of women and 44 percent of men say they share in initiating or leading devotions and Bible studies. Seventeen percent of women and only 4 percent of men say the wife leads or initiates devotions or Bible studies; 29 percent of women and 41 percent of men report that the husband mainly does that.
Is there a pattern in these numbers? CT asked Jack O. Balswick, professor of sociology and family development at Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Psychology, to analyze the survey results. He made a keen observation: Both sexes seem to over-perceive their own involvement in roles typically performed by the opposite sex—or under-perceive the other spouse's involvement. Husbands report doing a greater share of traditionally feminine chores than wives report them doing. Likewise, wives report doing more yard work and car maintenance than husbands report them doing. This is probably more telling about human nature than about gender roles.
In this survey, the respondents' opinions about gender correlate more closely with their theological self-identity than with their sex, Balswick says. This is especially true for those who identify themselves as evangelical.
For example, among evangelicals, 15 percent of women and 14 percent of men strongly agree that "only men should be ordained." Among self-described conservatives, 27 percent of women and 46 percent of men strongly agree. Among those who called themselves fundamentalists, 33 percent of women and 21 percent of men strongly agree.
But regardless of their sex or theological affiliation, over 80 percent of all respondents agree on one thing: Gender roles will continue to change.
— Agnieszka Tennant
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