A listener named Beth writes in, “Hi, Pastor John. I’m a woman who enjoys being a woman. I have no desire to be a man or to compete to be better than men at being masculine. For a couple of years now I’ve felt drawn to police work as a vocation. I am unmarried, and should I become married and my husband object, I would discontinue work as a police officer. At this point my question is a question of principle. Can a single Christian woman who is a complementarian become a police officer?”
I love Beth’s spirit and I hope I can be of help without telling her what she should do. Here’s how I’ve approached these kinds of issues, because the question of becoming a police officer is just one of so many questions that arise if you want to be a godly man or woman and walk in paths of relationships with the opposite sex that are pleasing to the Lord. I’ve tried to wrestle with the scriptures, which is, I hope and pray, my final authority in these matters, and I’ve come up with a general definition of what I think the heart of mature manhood and the heart of mature womanhood are. I’ve argued these and spelled them out in a little book called What’s the Difference? These are really foundational for me, and they help me answer a lot of questions.
No Simple List
Let me give you the definitions and then try to show how they apply to this. At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way the husband will, but he will be a man.
At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationship. I take a whole little book to unpack those two definitions.
Now in the home the Bible makes plain that these definitions imply a leadership role for men that bears the burden of loving and leading the wife like Christ, and they imply in the church that men bear the responsibility to lead the church’s elders.
But what about outside the church in thousands of possible roles that men and women may fill in society? My sense is that it is unwise to make a list of women’s jobs and men’s job. There is simply too much diversity and too much flexibility in how many jobs there are, how the jobs are done, and what the various relationships with men and women are in all the various jobs; it just won’t work to try to make a list like that.
So instead of a list of whether policeman is on the “man job” or the “woman job” list, I’ve tried to provide guidelines for men and women who sincerely want to be submissive to the Bible. And that really is the key: If a person approaches this and just says, “I’m going to do what I want to do,” then I don’t have much to say to them on this score. But if the aim really is: Does the Bible have something to say here at the root level of my manhood and my womanhood that would affect the kind of work I do in relationship to the opposite sex? Then I want to submit to that and go for it because that would be God’s best for me.
Principles for Discerning Roles
So here’s one possible set of criteria that I’ve tried to develop over the years in assessing which roles are appropriate for men and women. It seems to me that all the acts of influence or guidance or leadership between men and women can be described along two continuums, and I’ll mention these and then show how they apply.
There’s a continuum from very personal influence — very eye-to-eye, close, up-front personal influence — to non-personal influence. The other continuum is very directive — commands and forcefulness — to very non-directive influence.
And here’s my conviction: to the degree that a woman’s influence over a man — guidance of man, leadership of man — is personal and directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order. To an extent, a woman’s leadership or influence may be personal and non-directive, or directive and non-personal. I don’t think those would necessarily push the limits of what is appropriate.
That’s my general paradigm of guidance, and you can see how flexible it is, how imprecise it is, so let me give some examples. A woman who is a civil engineer might design a traffic pattern in a city so that she’s deciding which streets are one-way, and therefore she is influencing, indeed controlling in one sense, all the male drivers all day long. But this influence is so non-personal that it seems to me that the feminine/masculine dynamic is utterly negligible in this kind of relationship.
On the other hand, a husband and wife relationship is very personal, and hence the clear teaching of the New Testament that the man should give leadership in the home, and that she should give glad partnership in supporting and helping that leadership come into its own.
On the other hand, some influence is very directive, and some is non-directive. For example, a drill sergeant might epitomize directive influence over the privates in the platoon, and it would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant — “hut two, right face, left face, keep your mouth shut, private” — over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.
I know that the world we live in has gone completely the other way on these things, so I know I’m an absolute dinosaur when I’m speaking these things, and I doubt that moving away from dinosaur truth has been good for the world, or will be good in the long run, no matter how sweeping the day is in regard to making sexuality and gender issues in relationships negligible.
Submit to Scripture
So if you combine those two continuums that I just mentioned, I would say it like this: if a woman’s job involves a good deal of directives toward men, they’ll need, in general I think, to be non-personal, or men and women won’t flourish, I don’t think, in the long run in that relationship without compromising profound biblical and psychological issues.
Conversely, if a woman’s relationship to a man is very personal, then the way she offers guidance and influence will I think need to be more non-directive.
My own view is that there are some roles in society that will strain godly manhood and womanhood to the breaking point, but I leave women and men in those roles to sort that out. I’ve never tried to make that list. So the key is: Do they deeply want to shape their whole lives by Scripture? And we may come to different views on some roles, but that submission to Scripture is a great common ground.