(There is a caveat at the end.)
Of all the things that I do not understand in the Bible,
these verses about women top my list.
Oh, I know how some interpret them,
but I don’t feel resolution in my heart.
Historically and culturally, they make a little more sense in the time that they were written. And I know the Bible wasn’t written to us today, but written for us as followers of Jesus so how they are being interpreted by many parts of the Church makes no sense to me.
- “A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” (1 Cor. 11:7) –– Inferior to men?
- “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner” (1 Peter 3:7) — Weaker than men?
- “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.” (1 Cor. 14:34) –– Silent?
- “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” (1 Tim. 2:12-14) — Should women not have authority over men?
- If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off.” (1 Cor. 11:6) Must we cut our hair off if we don’t cover it? I just added this one to poke at the cultural differences.
This is just a sampling …. Those verses exist in the New Testament books of the Bible and they are up for great debate. Some people even believe in picking and choosing, some of them are to be followed but not others, which is really silly. But I don’t want to debate.
I would like to share some of my feelings about this, because I have thought about this for some time.
The Church does not seem to believe in women. This undermines our voice in relationships with men as well as in our churches. Underlying these ideas [which say women are subject to men when it comes to the leadership of a church] seems to be these messages sometimes bravely said out loud and most of the time very subliminally communicated:
- the belief that women are somehow not quite able to interpret God’s Word,
- or gain the wisdom needed to lead the church,
- and definitely don’t have the Godly authority necessary to speak and teach (except to each other and children).
- Lastly women are not allowed, by edict of scripture, to be elders of the church. This job trusted to males only.
They do this, because of some of the NT scriptures and yet there are many stories in the Bible of Jesus lifting women up and giving them a voice.
I have thought about two, one being in the Old Testament, Ruth the Moabite and the other is the five women that visited the tomb of Jesus, four of whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna. The other is not named.
Ruth the Moabite
There is a story told in the Bible of a woman who led had great influence over a man named Boaz. Her name was Ruth. a Gentile, an outsider, crop picker in the fields near Bethlehem, and she was a follower of Yahweh. Out of her experiences in life grew a perspective and heart that she turned into a strong voice. Boaz listened to this poor, foreign female as she reinterpreted the Jewish law for him. Boaz was a Jewish landowner who strictly obeyed the Mosaic gleaning laws. But if you were poor and hungry, I would bet the gleaning practices and interpretations would look very different to you than if you were a land owner. The letter of the law said, “Let them glean” and in doing so you are being generous. The spirit of the law Ruth said was “Feed them.” And, Ruth’s perspective opened up a scenario Boaz hadn’t even considered. And he fed them.
What does it mean as a woman to have a Voice in the church? It isn’t just about the authority of eldership, it is more subliminal and it is frustrating and difficult. I have spend years and years of sitting, thinking, stewing, praying, studying, learning, crying, hurting, and wondering.
Ruth seemed to offer Boaz a missing perspective, a compassionate perspective. Boaz followed the letter of the law, and Ruth followed the heart of the law leading God’s people to sacrifice for the good others. And I wonder, how many times a female perspective might have changed the Church, might have changed my church, if women were enriching the highest leadership conversations, the Biblical understanding, and the richness of creative perspective and ideas .
When it comes to my church, there are those that would argue that women are in every level of the church, except Elders and ordained ministers. And that is true. They would say that some day things might change and even go so far as to say, “What I personally believe is women should be elders.” And I want to push back and say … how long do I have to wait? If something is true then let’s be the prophetic voices for our generation of women who are at some point going to reject the form of Christianity that excludes them. Your exclusion of me, relegating me to pour the communion wine but not serve it, reminds me each time it happens what- you- really- think- of- me.
No, I will not impulsively or unthinkingly walk away from the church. No, not today. But I will reconsider how I hear and interpret your teachings in light of what I know you think of me.
The 12 and the five.
I leave you today with this reminder of the twelve disciples and how they served Jesus in the end. It was the women who were full of faith — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna and one unnamed.
Among the many things that need to be said about the gospels is that we gain nothing by ignoring the fact that Jesus chose twelve male apostles. There were no doubt all kinds of reasons for this within both the symbolic world in which he was operating and the practical and cultural world within which they would have to live and work. But every time this point is made – and in my experience it is made quite frequently – we have to comment on how interesting it is that there comes a time in the story when the disciples all forsake Jesus and run away; and at that point, long before the rehabilitation of Peter and the others, it is the women who come first to the tomb, who are the first to see the risen Jesus, and are the first to be entrusted with the news that he has been raised from the dead. This is of incalculable significance. Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. [By NT Wright.]
I believe that all people are equal before God and in Christ. I am coming to understand that I will be held responsible for NOT using my gifts and NOT obeying my calling, as will everyone. I believe God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race and that the body of Christ, in gender, in race, in culture is beautiful when we are all serving.
I must remember it was the women who were full of faith. And as I sit in the pew and consider what the Church is saying to women and I’m thinking to myself “let’s just get on with it.” Perhaps I will. I might just get on with the service to the poor, the widow and the prisoner and find some place where my Voice is considered with mutual affection and attention. Listen, there is so much about this that I don’t get. So much about the Church that I don’t understand. But I can’t believe that a loving God would give me, and half the church, these abilities and talents and ways of thinking that are up to a point appropriate. The glass ceiling of the Church (and my church) seems to be eldership and ordination.
The Voice inside that draws me to stories like this and makes me wonder and question what I am hearing, could it be the voice of God? Am I supposed to feel this disconnect? Am I supposed to feel the strength of conviction that I do, that I am doing what needs to be done; to think, and write, and grapple with and yes, gripe at times. Am I a Voice that needs to be heard?
What do you believe?
*** the caveat ***
Of course I know that there are denominations that are more welcoming to women. And there are days that I wonder what I’m doing. But I am not only at this church for me, I have children who are coming to the age of influence and decision and will need the voices of youth leaders. Tom and I felt, at one point, that we were supposed to go here. (Mostly Tom but still…) because we both needed to be challenged, to have soul-changing business done in our hearts and that happens for us weekly. And I believe that my quite, droning voice will some day make some difference. Some day, some how. And, quite honestly I have run from opportunities at this church because of my painful departure from InterVarsity and a doubt in myself that I had anything to offer because of that experience. It’s taken me years to sort this out. Frankly I was only coming to an understanding of this as I spoke up for Asian Americans and women in the Deadly Viper fracus, that I heard my own Voice and woke up.
I read a lot of stuff, blogs and articles and at some point today I did read an article on this website about Women in Leadership where I was reminded of the story of Ruth and the idea of her using her voice with Boaz. I got that tie-in from the article but I can’t credit it because I can’t find it. Apologies to the author.