Sunday, February 05, 2006

feminism or Biblical? Biblical or racism?

So here’s something that I’ve been thinking about most of my life.

I grew up in a denomination that will not ordain women, nor even allow them to serve as deacons. At least not in America (and I’ll come back to that in a minute). I’ll pause here and suggest that any church that will not allow a woman to serve as a deacon has not understood the definition of a deacon. In fact, a deacon’s job is to do what most of society thinks a woman should be doing anyway, serving others. Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten deacons and elders mixed up. But I digress.

The idea of not ordaining women has always puzzled me because, as a child, my church celebrated the lives and ministries of two great women missionaries. We also supported the ministries of many women missionaries serving over seas. I never could figure out why it was ok for women to preach to men in Africa, but not to men in the U.S. ??? Today it has left me wondering if my childhood denomination has a streak of racism running through it? Again I say, why is it ok for a woman to preach to and teach a congregation of men in Africa, but not in the U.S. Is it because we don’t see African men as men? This has always been my one great question concerning women in ministry.

The second goes beyond mere puzzlement and points directly to the Bible. How is it that we as Christians are so often prepared to base entire doctrines on one verse out of the Bible, while leaving out twenty other verses that suggest something different?

The verse in question today is 1 Timothy 2:12 where, in the verse, Paul seems to suggest that he does not permit women to have authority over or to even teach men. The verse further suggests that women should remain completely silent while in church. I think it would be fair to say that even the most fundamental of churches (for the most part) have been happy to forget about that last part. It seems that, even the most chauvinistic among us aren’t prepared to enforce the idea that, once a woman steps through those church doors, she shouldn’t be heard from until she steps back out again. We give no reason or justification for ditching that part of the verse. We just know that it’s a bit ridiculous, and so we let it slide, hoping that nobody will bring it up. A similar phenomenon takes place when we read 1 Timothy 2:9. After all, for many churches, Sunday morning is a fashion show!

I could go into great detail about how many of today’s Biblical scholars believe the church to be reading 1 Timothy 2:12 out of context. About how Paul never meant for this verse to be read as a generalization, but that it was written for a particular church, in a particular city, for a very specific period of time. But all of this would simply be thoughts and opinions, and I’m not prepared to argue translation. What I am prepared to argue though, is that the Bible is full of women who held authority over men.

First of all, Paul himself (in 1 Corinthians 11:5) takes the time to advise women how to dress when they preach. And, in his letter to the church at Philippi (Philippians 4:2-3), Paul acknowledges the women Euodias and Syntyche as leaders and cofounders of that church.

Peter (in Acts 2:17-18) also discusses women in ministry making it clear that the Holy Spirit will give spiritual gifts that will not be limited by social, cultural, popular, or even traditional assumptions. In this passage he goes on to talk about both sons and daughters prophesying (or preaching).

In his record of Acts, Luke makes it clear that the husband-wife team of Aquila and Priscilla taught Apollos his theology, even correcting him in what he was preaching (Acts 18:26). Furthermore, all four daughters of Philip became preachers (Acts 21:9).

In the Old Testament (Judges 4:1-4), a women named Deborah (who was also a prophetess) served as a judge over all of Israel.

In Romans 16:1-2, Paul refers to a women named Phebe who (wait for it) was serving as the deacon for the church in Cenchrea.

Finally, and I think this one may be the most telling of all, in Romans 16:7, Paul sends greetings to Junias whom he recognizes as an apostle. But Junias is not an accurate translation of the name. Uncomfortable with the implications of a female holding the highest preaching office in the church, the mostly male translators of many Bible versions render the name as the masculine Junias. Fortunately there are better translations-like the new TNIV-that recognizes the apostle as Junia, a female (sometimes translated Julia). In his book, Adventures in Missing the Point, Tony Campolo suggests that, “When men start imposing translations on the Bible that agree with their theology, they are walking on thin ice.”

Even in my own childhood denomination, which does not ordain women or allow them to serve as deacons, there have been women pastors. Many Baptist churches in 19th century Maine and Wisconsin were pastored by women because no men were willing to take the positions. Today many Baptists explain away those older churches as mere splinter congregations.

And, for the record, this post isn’t a rip on Baptists. Many denominations share this “good ole’ boy” belief. I just think it’s time to call it what it is. At best, a convenient way for men to stay in power and, at worst, racism.

Comments on "feminism or Biblical? Biblical or racism?"


Blogger Cari said ... (10:01 PM) : 

You gotta wonder...I think Paul was very much speaking in a time when women were always in the backgound for the cultural purposes of the time, not as a standard of the Christian churches today. I think probably I have more respect for male preachers, but is that learned behaviour, preference, or just plain wrong? Most of my friends are male. I have few female friends and I still have problems with female sports casters. I think I have to admit to a little jealousy, though.

What of Mary Magdelene and the role she played in Jesus' ministry, before and after He ascended? So many questions. So few answers. I was asked to speak at the Deacon's Christmas Dinner, though. That was pretty cool. They were very supportive. The preacher sat in the back and did the wave with the other ministers. Very spiritual.


Blogger peter said ... (3:53 AM) : 

This is such a big issue for churches today. By suggesting that woman are unqualified to preach or teach I think we perpetuate the idea that the church is full of judgemental racist, sexist, hypocrites.
God can and does use women in many denominations and I think we do ourselves a major diservice by preventing them from speaking more often.
As both you and Cari have pointed out, the cultural context of that passage has to be considered and shouldn't be misunderstood.



Blogger BrownEyedGirl said ... (5:06 AM) : 

Not only in the N.T. but also in the O.T., Women were appointed leaders over men. Take Deborah, a prophetess. She was not only appointed the Judge over the nation but a closer look at the scripture would tell us she was a married woman when she held that position. Oh, no!! the scandal of it all! What was God thinking!? Was Paul contradicting himself when he said "there is no male or female that we are all one in Christ Jesus"? And when he wrote that we are “all part of the body” and “all have gifts” useful for the kingdom was he writing only to men? If yes, than what parts of the Bible are not divinely inspired for me as a woman? Is the Holy Spirit restricted by genders? Thanks for this post….I wish more people knew or at least asked why we believe what we believe about women preachers. Not just what we have been told but what the Bible teaches. (and not just what the ego can or can not handle.) Some men may have used the position of that one verse to control or for power but I know women who have hid behind it.
God will hold us accountable for what we say and for what we don’t say. If His spirit commands us to speak we must speak. Better to offend man than God.


Blogger surrendered said ... (8:11 AM) : 

Hey, have you read the latest issue of JAC over at ArmyBarmy? it's got an article by Danielle that touches on this very subject and it's worth a read, I think.


Blogger Bill said ... (8:18 PM) : 

The best book is Stan Grenz "women in ministry" For me this is a dead issue I am not sure so many struggled with it when I was in college. But my own expirience in the Army tells my that often the husband should sit down, shut up, and let his wife preach. So there is my two sense.


Blogger Dusti said ... (7:44 PM) : 

I do agree with everything you've said. Trey & I are in a church that allows and celebrates women as deacons and heads of ministry and teaching. I personally am involved in a great deal of leadership, though i'm not gifted in preaching. In fact, I recently turned down a request to serve as deacon because of other ministry committments to which I was called.

However, I would like to comment with complete ignorance on my part to your reference to the TNIV. I haven't examined it at all, myself. I have heard, however, that it seemingly has an agenda of not distinguishing between male and female. The comment I heard from a pastor who much supports women in ministry and leadership was that a reference to Jesus that has always marked him as a man was changed to "human". If that's true (and I admit I'm speaking completely second-hand), I do think you have to be careful.

In one of the texts Tim referenced (1 Cor 3...), Woman is clearly identified as coming out of Man. This makes it important that God chose to send Jesus as a man, who came out of God. I do believe that women have every right to serve as called by the Spirit in EVERY country, but I don't think we should ignore the fact that women are a different creation and ultimatly Man is the head over Woman (1 cor 11:3)

I think we should be careful that we don't take the opposite extreme. In the fall, woman's curse was that she would have a desire (to control, as I have heard it taught) man. If we fail to keep our Head in mind, both Christ and Man, we are likely to follow the curse into leadership that excludes male authority altogether.


Blogger shaun said ... (7:50 PM) : 

I’m a little behind on reading your page so I just read this string today. It’s pretty likely that I will get slammed for the following (lengthy) statements, but I suppose that is the nature of blogging. Here you go:
It seems that there are actually 2 issues here that are unnecessarily getting fused together. One is whether or not the church has demonstrated feminism, which it certainly has and the other is the exegesis and implications of the texts. I think it is important to say that the case that some in the church are misogynous does not preclude a person hold to a view that makes a role distinction (based on biblical exegesis) while upholding the value of women, even in full time ministry. Many have held untenable views of women based on abuses of proof texts and have done so in sin. It is absolutely necessary to repent of depersonalizing women but this does not mean rejecting what may be a biblical truth concerning roles and ecclesiastical offices (notice that value is not the issue).

As to the translation issues, the words deacon and apostle have semantic ranges that must be taken into account. diakonos can mean both servant as well as a formal office in the church. The key is to interpret whether or not we’re talking about apostles or Apostles; deacons or Deacons. As Adam Duritz has said, “not all Marias are Maria.” Also, interpretation is absolutely required in translation. There is no way around it and it has important implications. See for example Luther’s struggle to translate the genitive phrase “righteousness of God” (dikaiosune theou) in the book of Romans. The TNIV is painfully interpretive because of a particular translation philosophy.

As to women in biblical history; Deborah and others like her should be read as extra-ordinary events where men refuse to lead in the roles to which they were appointed by god. That is part of the point in the book of Judges in particular where the author is showing that Israel’s rejection of her true covenant-mediator-king led to everyone doing what was right in their own eyes (and the mess in chs 19-21).

As to the issue of building a theology on one verse, how many verses are necessary to hold something as biblical? Is there a quota that must be met or should our “one verses” not color how we read the others as well?

On context, context is critical and there is some discussion among commentators about what exactly the context was in I Tim 2:12, but the context doesn't support the idea that the church in Ephesus was denying women a place in the church, quite the opposite. A group of women were disrupting the public worship and Paul was seeking to remedy that so that the testimony of the church might be preserved against false teachers. He does so by looking back at the creation order. But even still, when read the rest of I Timothy especially chapter 3 we see that Paul lines out the office of elder and deacon as also forbidding unqualified men.

All that said, if my attempt to submit to the text of scripture makes me a “good ole boy” than I’ll be damned if that isn’t what I am. But I would still submit that a person can make an exegetical distinction regarding role and office while still honoring and valuing the place of women and the leadership roles that they are called to carry out.


Blogger BrownEyedGirl said ... (2:31 PM) : 

Desire to control? I have never heard it taught that way and would have to look at the original text. This I do know....hwater desire for her husband means as part of the curse....In Christ Jesus the curse is broken and we are restored.
In reference to Deb in Judges. I would like to know where the verse is saying that a man was appointed but refused to do his duty so Deb stepped in? God appointed her for that time. It was a difficult time, people were not following God. But she was chosen not by men but by God.
All scripture should be looked at together in context. The Bible also gives scriptures concerning slaves and what type of slaves you are allowed to have. We have learned to explain these verse and give freedom and dignity to all men...neither slave nor free....maybe now is the time for the end of that verse also to become true....niether male nor female for we are all one in Christ Jesus. ( without exception)Not to lord it over but to work fully side by side for God's glory and not man's or woman's or human's.


Blogger shaun said ... (6:52 PM) : 

That Deborah was appointed by God still does not get at the heart of the issue. Can we argue that because God did this here that it is necessarily normative? It has been a while since I have seen the ground swallow anyone up or see the shadow of the sun move back a few steps. Also, the whole book of Judges is most likely an apologetic for Davidic kingship. That is, leadership by a certain person, from a certain line, for a certain end. That God would call Deborah to lead this group of Israleites who had rejected the requirements of the Deuteronomic covenant serves the book's purposes even more fully.

Also, if you are referring to Gal 3:28 with regard to slave/free, male/female, then it may be helpful to note that it is within a discussion on the nature of salvation not offical offices in the church. Surely in salvation there is no distinction (who in their right mind could say otherwise with their bible open), but to assume that this means that there is then no male/female distinction with regard to anything is to press to heavily on the text and to hold to a untenable theology of creation.

My point, by the way, was more to say that it is possible to hold to a view that church offices are reserved for qualified men, and do so in good conscience in light of biblical interpretation, and still uphold the honor, value, and leadership roles of women who just like men are made in the image of God. Degradation of women is sinful and abhorrent and men should repent OFTEN of the ways in which we miss the mark in this regard, but the scriptures have every right to push on our cultural conceptions in either direction.


Blogger Mhairi said ... (2:36 AM) : 

Oi Shaun!
So, in not allowing women to be involved in the leadership of church, and to keep them from the giftings that God has bestowed on them; be they preaching or any other kind of leadership - that would not be considered at all degradation of women? Pray tell me how that is so! I cannot get my limited brain around that! I cannot get that you can even comprehend Scripture to right off women in that regard - what exactly can we do in church then?

Tell me, was the fact that Deborah was leading such a shocker to society because it was new, or because God had said that it was wrong? In OT, where does it say that women have to follow - is this my ignorance or are there is a strong case to suggest that women up until Deborah was wrong? Really, I'd love to know.

I have an issue with feminists; can't stand the way they male-bash and claim that anything males can do, they can do also. Just a lie, they can't father children, they can bear them though! I understand that there are differences - I happen to interpret the passage where women have to shut up, in the same regard that I want to tell feminists to shut it - wait til you have something useful to say! Or even, "Just cause you can, doesn't mean you should!"

However, many women can, and therefore should; we cannot blanket women with the judgement that they cannot - it just doesn't even make sense!

As I have said, I struggle to believe you believe this - I think you are just playing devil's advocate! Good job, you had us all going there!


Blogger shaun said ... (3:48 PM) : 

ok, so i'll try one more time to say what i have apparently not said very well then we can all move on to read tim spilling his spleen on other issues. this is after all his blog. I'm not trying to play the devil's advocate...that isn't a game i'm interested in. At the same time though, mhairi, it seems you are hearing in my responses things i'm just not saying. Let me try again and address Tim's original quesiton which was (I thought) the office of elder.

Here is what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that women can't hold leadership roles, can't teach, can't be used mightily by God. Some women are gifted in these areas and may in fact be better suited to some of these things then some men are. Maybe it even continues the biblical theme of God using weak limited people to serve the body of Christ. But what I AM saying is that Timothy and Titus point to the office of elder as being limited to qualified men and whether we like it or not we have to deal with the text as it is. If we submit to the text as the authoritative word of God the we have to bend to IT and figure out how to value and honor both genders within the confines that the Lord sets. That really is what I'm saying. I know that some hold this view with a "good ole boy" mentality and that is wrong, but that does not mean that it is impossible to hold this view without a "good ole boy" mentality.

The Deborah issue is peripheral to this issue but... in Judges 4 God used Deborah (who was in fact fulfilling a particular leadership role in Israel) to call Barak (who was to fulfill a diffferentleadership role). It was Barak's disobedience that led to Deborah filling a role that was someone else's. This is not normative. Israel needed a king and the accounts of all the judges prove this. That king was to come in David and more fully in david's greater Son.\

now i'm on to look at some pictures and listen to the latest venting...


Blogger Dusti said ... (4:45 AM) : 

Just to check myself, I did look up the "desire" passage in a commentary I have. I does describe that word as a "desire to dominate". Same word used in Gen 4:7 when "sin desires Cain".

Christ certainly freed us to again be in full fellowship with the father, but He did not free us from the consequences of our orinal in point, childbirth is still painful.


Blogger Pete said ... (7:28 PM) : 

Okay, got it.


God creates man

Man/Woman sins against God

God curses man and woman

God gives the Law as a covenant between Him and Man

God himself comes and dies on a cross to break the chains of sin forever

God's accomplishment is great, but not great enough to let women preach

..or be Deacons

Okay.. thanks for straightening me out. It makes perfect sense now.


Blogger Tim said ... (7:46 PM) : 

Evidently this is the case. Jesus was able to overcome death, hell and ALMOST every curse on mankind...but not women in leadership. Maybe Jesus should come back and give it another go?


Blogger Pete said ... (10:24 PM) : 

And don't forget that the order you are created in is extremely important - everyone knows this (universally accepted).

So pagan worshipers are the most enlightened, followed by animal idolaters, then male chauvinists and dead last are feminists - dirty infidels!!

Actually, maybe the scientists working on SETI win? I'm so confused - maybe I need to go to conservative seminary and get smacked in the side of the head with a doctrinal 2x4 to straighten me out.


Blogger bec said ... (4:00 AM) : 

I love that you can tell controversial posts by the number of comments. My personal understanding of all of this is that different exegetical practices apply to different texts in the Bible and to apply the same one to each type is to get it wrong! My understanding with regards to letters is that they were written to a specific group of people, for a specific purpose regarding a specific issue. This means that you can't always take everything in there as an exact directive for your life. These letters were never originally intended to be so. So I guess it does mean that some things can be Biblical (found in the Bible) but not scriptural (is that the right way around to say that?) The other thing with understanding scripture is that you need to take everything in the light of the whole message of the Bible. That means that if there is something that is contradicted by a number of statements, it may have been a situation specific comment. It's interesting to note that no fundamental Christian belief is contradicted in Scripture, but some auxillary ones can be. So I didn't actually speak to the topic but maybe to the methodology? Who knows. This is probably too long ago for anyone to read this anyway!


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