“Why The Silence?” Forgive me the Cynicism … (on Women in the Church)

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this it shocked and appalled me.

During the times of Jesus, the religious leaders prayed at least three times a day and always thanked God for three specific things:

  • Thank God that I am a Jew and not a Gentile.
  • Thank God that I am free and not a slave.
  • Thank God that I am a man and NOT a woman.

In the Babylonian Talmud, a Rabbi still says that one is obliged to recite the following three berakhot daily: “Who has made me a Jew”, “who has not made me a woman”, “who has not made me an ignoramus.”

Ouch!  I’ll bet a lot of men in seminary today secretly thank God they are not a woman or an ignoramus, that is if they think of women at all.

I love pastor Eugene Cho’s reflection thanking God he is a man (tongue in cheek kind of) saying:

“There’s great privilege and power in simply being a man. This is why I contend that the treatment of women is the oldest injustice in human history. We can talk equality and equity all day long and while we can acknowledge how far we’ve come, we still clearly live – even in 2011 – where there’s great advantage in simply being a man.”

This is why the message of Jesus is so powerful.

The apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28 subverted the dominant worldview by saying in the Kingdom of God, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Powerful, meaningful words to me of the way God intended things and what he promises to restore in us all.  And yet, I easily become discouraged about the state of things.

I needed prudence yesterday when within the same hour I read two very different posts.

One was this post by a pastor saying that women should not read scripture in church.  Apparently, according to this writer, women are not to read scripture out loud in public. WOW.   I post it just to give perspective to some of my more progressive and enlightened friends about why I always seem concerned with women in the church.  It’s sexist crap  and I found myself  wishing a Bible scholar like Scot McKnight, or Sharon Hodde Miller, or Mary Elizabeth Fisher would please take him on.  I wrote him asking where he got the idea that only MEN should be the ones to do public reading of scripture.  It was is a sincere question as a Christ follower who loves scripture passionately, because I have never seen anything there that prescribes such an action.  He promised to write on it soon.

And then I saw this ebook by one of those wonderful people by Scot McKnight, titled Junia is Not Alone. You must pick it up.  You must read it.  He encourages more women to study, research and speak out on “women in the ancient world, about women in the early church, and women in church history … many whose stories are untold.” Amen!

Amazon says:

It tells the story of Junia, a female apostle honored by Paul in his Letter to the Romans—and then silenced and forgotten for most of church history. But Junia’s tragedy is not hers alone. She’s joined by fellow women in the Bible whose stories of bold leadership have been overlooked. She’s in the company of visionary women of God throughout the centuries whose names we’ve forgotten, whose stories go untold, and whose witness we neglect to celebrate.  But Junia is also joined by women today—women who are no longer silent and who are experiencing a re-voicing as they respond to God’s call to lead us into all truth.

Scot says:

Moving toward my second decade of teaching college students, more than half of whom grow up in a church, of this I am certain: churches don’t talk about the women of the Bible. Of Mary mother of Jesus they have heard, and even then not all of what they have heard is accurate. But of the other woman saints of the Bible, including Miriam, the prophetic national music director, or Esther, the dancing queen, or Phoebe, the benefactor of Paul’s missions, or Priscilla, the teacher, they’ve heard almost nothing.

Why the silence?

Why do we consider the mother/wife of Proverbs 31 an ideal female image but shush the language of the romantic Shulammite woman of the Song of Songs? Why are we so obsessed with studying the “subordination” of women to men but not a woman like Deborah, who subordinated men and enemies? Why do we believe that we are called to live out Pentecost’s vision of Spirit-shaped life but ignore what Peter predicted would happen? That “(i)n the last days… your sons and daughters will prophesy…” and that “(e)ven on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.”

You can buy the ebook for $2.99.

Sometimes God answers your prayers in strange ways.

Not a direct response obviously, but rather this was an encouragement to me.  Women are quite literally being silenced in the church by men like Tim Challies and Piper who talks about women’s submission even with in abusive marriages.  And movements like Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church and his crazy notions about men and women.

In my article, The Voice of The Feminine I said:

I’ve been thinking about the lack of presence and example of women in the Church.  That Sunday* at my church in particular, women were simply spectators, the audience, the bystanders, the recipients and beneficiaries.

And the more I thought I could not remember the last time one of the teaching pastors suggested a book they were reading written by a woman.  Women are never quoted in my church.  Female theologians or scholars are never referenced or even mentioned, probably because the pastors don’t read them.  I can’t remember the last time, if ever, a pastor in my church has suggested or referred to or quoted a female theologian, religious author, or historian.  Am I the only one that notices these things?

The entire thing makes me very sad.  And so tired.  I am tired of the male dominated culture on the platform, as authors, as experts, as theologians, as speakers at conferences and in the Church at large. Considering women are half the church (some would say more) I do not buy the argument that there aren’t capable women to select from, though I’ve been told that very thing.  “The women haven’t risen up who have the gift of teaching.”

Risen up?   To be honest, one would think in a service-by-gifts based church there must not be any qualified gifted female teachers.   I attend an EFCA church of 5,000. You do the math.

*this is not always true!

But there are wonderful people who are articulating a different reality.  And I am most grateful to them. Perhaps in the coming weeks I will try to highlight more of them.

I worry at times that I think about this topic too much.  My overwhelming focus when it comes to thinking about injustice is the place of women in the church, their identity before God and whether they are using those talents for the purposes of the Kingdom.  I care about whether women, my daughters, who are made in God’s image too, know that they are indeed made to be that way.  I think about it all the time.  How much is too much?

Theologian Willard Swartley talks about the degree to which our ideologies warp our reading of Scripture.

 “Our willingness to be changed by what we read, to let the Bible function as a “window” through which  we see beyond self-interested ideologies, and not a “mirror” which simply reflects back to us what we want it to show.  Biblical interpretation, if it is worthy to be so called, will challenge the ideology of the interpreter.  It can and will lead to change, because people do not come to the text thinking as God thinks, or even as the people of God thought in serving as agents of divine revelation.  Interpreters [must] listen to the text carefully enough not to like it.  [When they do so] it powerfully demonstrates that the text’s message has been heard and respected.”

This is challenging because I am full of self-interest when it comes to being a Christian woman.  I am a proud woman and this is my tribe which I feel a responsibility to care for, not because I crave authority, but because I long to see every women and girl carrying out every gift from God in their lives, not just in the marketplace, but within the church!  I am hopeful that this will happen in my lifetime.

Much of the church is stifling more than half of the church  and our “interpretations” are silencing many incredible women.  My heart weeps with that thought.

MHH

Other things I have written on the subject:

There is more, just search for WOMEN in the categories.

7 comments

  • I am so glad that you have not become weary in doing (this) good.

    Having been in InterVarsity in college and working for IV after, I saw so many women in leadership (Karon and Mary and Paula and you) that being out in the “real world” church felt like taking a huge step back.

    I am guilty of having been slightly relieved to have boys because a.) although we are raising them in an egalitarian-led house and b.) although I tell them I believe that women should have a full life in the church, I have not *had* to fight the fight in the trenches for the sake of my daughters like you have.

    Nevertheless, I am still a voice to our church leadership about women in ministry. I know for a fact that my pastor changed a sermon and added another illustration of a strong woman in the Bible after a talk I had with him.

    It’s just sad that I have to be.

    Like

  • Thanks for this; though it often seems as though we are trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, every voice raised against this age-old injustice gives us hope.

    Like

  • Hi Meg,

    I just found your “voice” here “randomly”. I write over at http://www.realmamareallife.com about my journey out of an abusive relationship/marriage…and how I think gender injustices were a huge part that led me into this. I cannot wait to read more on what you have written…as soon as I find the time. I too have 2 boys and am thankful for that in a way. At least I can hopefully teach them God’s truth…not mans…

    Like

  • Just a couple more thoughts as I read the rest of your post:
    1) I am going to seminary…and though I do not plan to get my Mdiv for I do not feel called to be a pastor…I am conscious that I might very well being stubborn on this telling God that I don’t want to be a pastor. This thought has only come to me in the last week…and I will continue to pray about it and pray for the willingness just to pray for about this subject. The “funny” thing is just a year ago I would have said women have no business being pastors…this is how entrenched into the wrong doctrine I was.

    2) I love what you say about half (or more) of God’s church is being silenced. I feel so called to speak on this subject based just on what I have seen in my own life. I feel the “submission” of our sisters leads to many abusive marriages…and one of the things an abuser will go after in order to keep a woman “in her place”, to make her feel insignificant and horrible about her self – is to take her best gifts, her best talents and tell her they are her worse attributes. How much more crafty could the devil be in order to keep the church down? Keep half of the workforce down and you cannot do the mission of God nearly as effectively. But…I dream of a day when abuse of power in the home and church is rightly routed out of God’s body of believers…the the workforce is unleashed on the world and God’s mission rightly becomes the focus of the world once again.

    I really have no idea how I am part of this awakening…just know that I am and am SOO THANKFUL to have found you just now as I’ve been really struggling with my divorce and where I am…but this has given me hope!

    Like

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