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Topics: Complementarianism, Cultural Engagement, Public Square

Gender, Sexuality, and Complementarianism in Brazil

May 20, 2015

Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Brazil to teach a weeklong, seminary-level class to Brazilian pastors and seminarians. Apart from the fact that I had to leave my family for a week, I had the time of my life. I got to eat at a true Brazilian churrascaria where I had—hands down—the best steak I have ever eaten; I got to experience cross-cultural fellowship mediated through a translator that was at once hilarious and encouraging; and I made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. In addition to teaching through the book of Romans every night of the week, I was given the opportunity to speak to local pastors about complementarianism on two afternoons. Below are three reflections from my experience.

1) America is not the only nation where the biblical position of gender and sexuality is being challenged. Before I arrived in Brazil, I had no idea what were the most pressing issues facing the church in Brazil. So when I was notified that I was to going to be given the opportunity to speak to the local pastors association about a topic of my choosing, I had some praying and considering to do. Providentially, the week before I went to Brazil, our CBMW team had a retreat about international outreach initiatives, and out of this Owen Strachan encouraged me to speak to the Brazilian pastors about complementarianism. Following his advice, when the time came to address the pastors association, I presented a biblical-theological overview on the foundations of biblical gender and sexuality.

Incredibly, after I completed my presentation, one of the pastors stood up and told me that this very topic—gender and sexuality—was the most important issue currently facing the church in Brazil. And because of this, he wanted me to speak to the pastors again—after they had a chance to invite more of their colleagues—on the same topic in more depth at the end of the week. He informed me that just weeks prior, their pastors association had held a vote on whether or not to ordain female pastors. Additionally, another pastor told me about a “homophobia” law waiting to be passed in the Brazilian senate that threatens prosecution for any and all who would “discriminate” against homosexuals and transgendered people, a policy that could have implications for church membership and discipleship. These pastors opened my eyes to a sobering reality: the gender and sexual revolution is not an American-only phenomenon.

2) America is not the only nation that needs an articulate defense of the biblical position of gender and sexuality. When the end of the week rolled around and it came time for me to address the pastors association again, to my great surprise the attendance had doubled from the first meeting. Word had gotten out that I was going to teach on biblical gender and sexuality, and many men and women came to hear the biblical position of gender and sexuality. As I walked through texts like Genesis 1–3, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2, the men and women were attentive and hungry. During the Q&A afterward, I was surprised to hear many of the exact same questions we hear in the States—questions like: What are the implications of 1 Timothy 2:12 on women in ministry? Does the New Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality apply to same-sex attraction as it occurs today? If the New Testament prohibits women from being pastors, what are biblical ways they can minister in the church? Some of the pastors had even encountered complex egalitarian and progressive homosexual arguments that were based on the original languages, and they wanted to know how to counter them.

I was so deeply encouraged by the response that I witnessed as I presented the biblical position. The men and women present did not express indignation at what was taught, but instead they gave understanding nods and even “amens” when I simply took the position of the biblical text. But what I realized is that they need more. They need more Bible-based resources in their language.

This need that I saw in Brazil also exists worldwide, and it is why CBMW has hired Gavin Peacock as our Director of International Outreach, and why we are pioneering with publishers like Crossway to provide complementarian resources to the global church. Because gender and sexuality is not just an American problem, we need to help churches around the world articulate a defense of the biblical position of gender and sexuality.

3) America is not the only nation that has believers willing to stand with the Word of God at all costs. During my presentation, when I wrote the word “complementarianism” on the flip-chart and asked if anyone had heard of it, there was not one person present who had. But while the pastors hadn’t heard of complementarinaism, they did know what it means to be faithful to the Word of God in questions of biblical gender and sexuality. They didn’t need an eight syllable word to be able to recognize and submit to the plain teaching of the Bible on gender and sexuality. In the weeks before I arrived, this pastors association had struck down the motion to ordain female pastors. Though not complementarians by name, they were complementarian by practice. And in spite of the threats of the law in Brazil, these pastors were not budging on the question of homosexuality.

This was one of the most encouraging things that I gleaned from my time in Brazil—the realization that the true, global, evangelical church is not giving an inch, either. The pastors that I met in Brazil demonstrated that a desire exists at their very core to honor God by submitting to the plain teaching of his Word. And they are willing to obey at whatever cost. No amount of celebrity influence, no amount of cultural pressure, and no amount of political coercion is going to knock these brothers off of their commitment to Jesus. Even if—heaven forbid—the church in America decides to follow woolen-clad wolves, I know of at least a few Brazilian brothers who will never bow the knee to Baal. And I know that the Spirit of God working through the Word of God is preserving many like them throughout the globe.

If the Lord tarries, a day could be coming when post-Christian America will receive missionaries from other countries—much like my recent trip to Brazil—and faithful, biblical teaching will need to be translated into English. The church universal by no means stands or falls with the fidelity or infidelity of the church in America. And for this we can be thankful.


Colin Smothers is a Ph.D. student in Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  When not studying, Colin enjoys reading, blogging at his personal website, and spending time with his beautiful wife Elise and his three sweet children.  Follow him on Twitter @colinsmo.

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