How We Teach about Gender Roles in the Church at Wheaton College

Wheaton College is a diverse community of students, faculty, staff, and administrators committed to liberal arts excellence in a Christ-centered context, with the mission of educating the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide. We view both men and women, co-image bearers of God from the beginning, as having important roles in these endeavors. However, we also acknowledge that the specific ways in which men and women may appropriately contribute to those tasks are not viewed similarly by all students, faculty, and constituents, or by the churches to which they belong. Therefore, this document seeks to clarify—for students, prospective students, and their families—how Wheaton College approaches the teaching of gender roles in the church in a manner that intends to be sensitive to the practices of Christians of different traditions. This document also serves to orient new faculty—especially those who teach in the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership and the School of Biblical and Theological Studies—on Wheaton’s perspective.

We affirm first that God created humanity as male and female with purpose and intention and called this very good. We also acknowledge that how gender roles are taught is not insignificant, and that it can have real and immediate impact on one’s life. Career choices, dating and marriage relationships, the bearing and nurturing of children, and church membership and leadership are just some of the areas affected by the theological conclusions one draws related to gender roles. Therefore, we seek to approach the topic with the weight and respect it deserves, being committed to equal status and respect for each member of the College community, as all are given opportunity to express opinions and communicate theological convictions.

We acknowledge second that various traditions, denominations, and individual churches endorse different understandings of the appropriate roles for women and men in the formal ministry of the church. These positions are routinely described as complementarian: men and women are created equal but have distinct roles and authority in the home and in the church. Certain positions of pastoral leadership are restricted to men. And, egalitarian: men and women are fully equal in regard to authority in all aspects of life, including the home and church. God calls both men and women to use their gifts in all roles of pastoral leadership. We recognize the limitations of these categories and seek a way forward that provides greater clarity and collaboration, and less polarization.

The College does not have an institutional position on this matter and recognizes that people with different perspectives uphold biblical authority with integrity. They seek to be responsible interpreters of Scripture and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Evangelical Christians who genuinely disagree on this significant biblical and ecclesial matter make common confession of the essentials of orthodox Christian faith as found, for example, in Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith.

As a Christian liberal arts institution, we strive to prepare individuals to engage pressing contemporary matters while displaying the Spirit-led virtue of Christian unity. Our pedagogical goal for teaching about issues outside Wheaton College’s Statement of Faith is to form students who can come to a place of personal biblical conviction, while also maintaining a spirit of generosity in understanding the convictions of others.

Faculty, especially in Bible and Theology courses that cover these matters directly, address biblical, theological, and pastoral aspects of various positions, seeking to equip students to represent accurately the arguments of each main view, defend their own convictions, and show respect for those holding differing perspectives. We teach students to read individual biblical texts in the context of the wider scriptural witness with an eye towards a coherent synthesis of theological ideas. Faculty point students to a variety of biblical texts—including texts beyond those most frequently cited in this discussion—that shape an understanding of gender and gender roles. They identify significant contextual and linguistic elements that contribute to interpretation and highlight how church denominations and traditions have varied in their understanding of the roles for men and women in church practice and ministry. All of this is done with the entire scope of the biblical narrative in mind and in the light of theological reflection on topics such as anthropology, Christology, and ecclesiology.

Faculty are committed to presenting all positions accurately and hold as a value and practice the teaching and modeling of respect for positions that are not their own. They encourage thoughtful dialogue among students with the aim toward teaching a humble posture of appreciative inquiry. Although faculty do not have the goal of persuading students to adopt their own convictions, they may hold their positions with transparency and are encouraged to demonstrate continual growth in their own understanding through research and conversation.

Faculty note the harmful effects of sexism, marginalization, and abuse that can arise from misinterpreting or disregarding biblical teachings on gender, as well as the dangers of disparaging traditional family roles. They also recognize and respect how widely understandings of gender can differ in diverse historical, social, cultural, racial, economic, national, and other contexts. They understand the importance of allowing Scripture to speak into our contexts as opposed to imposing our assumptions on the biblical texts.

Teaching on gender roles affects people in very real ways. We recognize that faculty members’ sex, ethnicity, and race, as well as marital status and ecclesial affiliation, will shape their teaching. We also acknowledge that our students are in a formative time of life when they are reflecting intensely on vocation. We recognize that gender is not merely an abstract topic for disinterested debate. It is deeply personal and therefore needs to be treated with sensitivity and respect. In particular, female students face a variety of challenges as they explore complementarianism and egalitarianism in light of their church backgrounds, social expectations, and their own sense of identity and calling. Female faculty members may experience similar challenges as complementarians or as ministers who embody an egalitarian conviction. In our instruction and through our actions, we are committed to presenting rigorous content, maintaining a confident yet humble disposition, creating an inviting classroom and campus ethos, and nurturing the gifts and callings of all our students.

Committee Co-Chairs

  • David Lauber
    Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies
  • Rochelle Scheuermann
    Associate Professor of Evangelism & Leadership; Director of M.A. in Evangelism & Leadership; M.A. in Missional Church Movements; M.A. in Ministry Leadership

Committee members

  • Vince Bacote
    Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics
  • Laura Barwegen
    Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Christian Formation and Ministry
  • Greg Lee
    Associate Professor of Theology and Urban Studies
  • Esau McCaulley
    Assistant Professor of New Testament
  • Amy Peeler
    Associate Professor of New Testament
  • Kelly Urbon
    Ministry Associate for Care and Counseling
  • Greg Waybright
    Interim Chaplain

June 15, 2021