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Gender roles and pastoral ministry: Q and A with J. Ligon Duncan, Part II

October 25, 2004

The following is Part II of a Q&A with J. Ligon Duncan, chairman of the board of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The following is Part II (see Part I) of a Q&A with J. Ligon Duncan, chairman of the
board of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. recently
interviewed Duncan-who has served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of
Jackson, Miss., for the past nine years-on issues of gender roles as they relate
to the pastoral ministry.

Last summer Duncan was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), placing a committed complementarian at the
head of one of the fastest-growing denominations in the United States.

Q: How often do you teach on gender roles at First Presbyterian?

A: We did an entire series on manhood and womanhood last summer. Our
motto at First Pres[byterian] during the summer months is ‘we don’t gear down,
we gear up.’ Even though we have an affluent, transient congregation that has
second and third houses and jets around the world and stuff, we can have some
pretty impressive consistent summer attendances, not only on Sunday mornings and
Sunday evenings but also on Wednesday nights. We spent the whole summer on
manhood and womanhood. Furthermore, it is something that is taught every time
that officer elections come around in the church. We explain why it is that we
don’t have female elders and we don’t have female deacons. It gives us an
opportunity [to reiterate that] this is not an act of chauvinism, it’s not a
blind act of traditionalism, this is something that is a biblical conviction.

We do it at the point of new members class as inquirers come to the church.
We want to explain why it is when you look around when the Lord’s Supper is
being served and you don’t see any women serving that supper, it is because all
of our elders are male. And we touch on it whenever it comes up in the text.
When I’m preaching through Genesis, it’s going to come up in the text. When I am
preaching through 1 Timothy, it’s going to come up in the text. When I preach
through Titus, it’s going to come up in the text…We’re not going to dodge it. I
write about it. No doubt there are some people who have gotten their noses out
of joint on that, but we’re going to do what the Bible says. That’s our

Q: Wayne Grudem has said that feminism is the entry point into the church
for wholesale liberalism. Is he right?

A: That is so far beyond being an intriguing theory that it is to the
point of being an incontrovertible fact. You can chart every denomination that
has placed women in leadership in the last 120 years and you can chart their
numerical decline in the western world and their theological decline. When our
evangelical egalitarian friends whine that we are using an illegitimate slippery
slope argument, this is not some sort of wild-haired spin theory that we are
coming up with. It is a fact.

Just go look at the denominational statistics, look at the denominational
histories of the last 120 years and you cannot find an exception to this trend.
In the Church of Scotland in 1960 when they began hammering for women elders-the
argument was ‘we don’t have enough elders in our churches, this will revitalize
our churches to get women elders’-the Church of Scotland is on chart to cease to
exist in 2034. Somewhere between 1964 and ‘68 was when they brought in women
elders and women ministers were not far following that. I can show you that
trend everywhere this issue has been compromised. So as far as I am concerned,
Wayne is irrefutably correct on that particular point.

Q: What about evangelical groups like CBMW, groups seeking to promote
complementarianism in the home and in the church, how effective are we

A: I think CBMW has been very effective and if there were no CBMW out
there, I know that even denominations like my own-the Presbyterian Church in
America-which are constitutionally, as well as instinctively, complementarian,
CBMW has played a role to buttress our commitments to Scripture because it is
hard to hold these commitments. People with genuine evangelistic desires will
sometimes sort of keep them in the closet. They will say ‘this is going to cost
us converts, it’s going to impact our witness, I can’t have this as an up-front
issue because I’ve got to show how we embrace women’s leadership.’ You feel for
people who are wrestling with those kinds of issues. But having the CBMWs around
to keep this issue on the plate, when there are many around who are good and
godly guys who would really like this to be off the plate, there are ways that
CBMW and other organizations have helped in that regard.


This is a cultural war that we are losing and there is no sign that we are
not going to lose the cultural part of the war more badly than we are losing it
now. When you’ve gotten to the point where you can’t get clear on homosexuality
and homosexual marriage, male-female role relationships are rather pedestrian in
comparison. The culture war is going to be lost and has been lost in the
mainline churches. The question will be, ‘will evangelicalism hold?’ That, in
large measure, is going to depend in large measure on evangelical Baptists,
Presbyterians, and low-church Anglicans. The Anglicans will be mostly in the
developing world because many Anglicans in the English-speaking world have ceded
on this issue. But there are 50 million of them-50 times more of them than there
are of American Anglicans. Thank God, these folks are strong on this issue.

I think organizations like CBMW play a vital role of educating pastors on the
issue. One of my favorite things about the Journal on Biblical Manhood and
is the review of literature. That is hugely helpful for me as a
pastor. I try to keep up with this literature myself but that review of
literature is exceedingly helpful to me. There are a variety of ways that
organizations like CBMW are able to keep this issue on the front burner, rather
than it being put where a lot of folks would like for it to be put: in the
closet somewhere.

Read Part I of the interview here.

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