Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I do not permit a woman to speak (and other really messed up things we have too easy a time reading in the Bible).

 I have friends who sincerely believe that only men can pastor or preach and teach. I even know women who believe this. And even though I disagree, I understand why they believe this. Every one of them that I know believes it from a desire to be faithful to their scriptural tradition.

I once had a radical feminist in my church who came from a church that didn't allow women to speak. Even she respected the people from her old faith tradition. Still, she wasn't there, and her radicalization was also partly due to her background.

After writing my last entry on 1 Timothy 2, I couldn't shake just how much the conversation upset me. I really feel like there are 1000 others we could be having that could do us (Christians) so much more good. Why do we lift this issue out of the Pastoral Letters as a focus when there are others (like slavery) we ignore? I offer what I wrote next as a more personal open letter, rather than notes on the passage. I desire unity, not division. I know we're all on a journey. Here's part of mine.


Pastoral Letters Series
1 Timothy 2:11-15:

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Seriously, I hate this conversation. I hate that we still have it. It burns me so much inside that we can so casually talk about "the role of women in ministry" the way that we do in church.

I'm sick of feeling political and careful and . . . nice . . . every time it comes up. I hate that I feel reduced to passive-aggressively reposting humourous jabs about the issue online instead of just saying what I think.

The truth is, many of our churches are seriously (messed) up, and half the time we don't even know, never mind preach, the gospel, the GOOD news of Jesus.

Jesus said that he came to set the oppressed free. He said he was anointed to preach good news to the poor. He said people in prison would be released. This is the result of the gospel. The whole order changes.

The first Christians went to their graves at the hand of the violent Roman empire. We follow a man who was executed as an insurrectionist. Where did we get the idea that Christians were supposed to be "nice"? Jesus wasn't nice. He walked into a courtyard where bankers and business owners were taking advantage of people because of their religion, and he destroyed their property. He viciously chased them out. He replaced them with a crowd of the poor and dispossessed.

How do we go from that to polite conversations in air conditioned mall-like church buildings about whether or not women are allowed to serve in ministry or teaching positions? Forgive me, I know that the system has taught many that this is what God wants, and they do not want to rebel against God . . . The people who say these things are not bad people. But I can't keep excusing it on that basis alone. People can be sweetly, sincerely, and faithfully wrong. It's possible to be a good person who believes bad things.

I believe that our interpretations and assumptions about these passages reveal as much about us as they do about the scripture themselves.

My first assumption about these verses is not what it once was. I used to read "women should not have authority over men", and think it meant women should not speak in church. Since this did not match my experience (I was raised by a powerful woman, and the community of churches in which I was raised was co-founded by a fiery woman preacher), I just took it as probably culturally specific, disregarded it, and left it at that.

But my first assumption reveals how I've changed. I am so convinced of the gospel's radical message now. I see Jesus inviting people to leave the prison of the empires of this world and enter a Kingdom garden beyond its walls. I see mutuality and freedom and equality between every person.

So now when I read it, my very first thought is this:

   Women are oppressed in the systems of this world.
   The church is a place that gives everyone a voice, and an opportunity to give in community.
   In this context, people who have been oppressed in their former lives subject to the empire may, in their journey of freedom within themselves, respond to people with the oppression that they had learned.
   No one has an excuse to use their power over another in any way. Even if someone has experienced abuse, they are not excused or justified in abusing others.
   Therefore, just as no one is allowed to have corrupted authority over another as the empire once taught us, women are not permitted in their healing process to have that power either.
   We have one authority, and that is Jesus. We are all working out our stuff together. Let us not in our personal journeys from oppression allow anyone to become oppressors themselves.


Why isn't that our first assumption when we read the passage?

I'm not saying this interpretation is correct. It likely isn't. In a document this old, written so many cultural degrees separated from me, I have doubts that it could fit my worldview so perfectly.

But this I know: I will do more than "permit a woman to speak". I will actively seek opportunities to let them do so. And then I'll listen, and hear the words of Holy Spirit as she speaks through those women.

Because that is how I understand the gospel. I don't fully understand these verses. I do understand that in practice, they don't look like Jesus to me. When I'm in doubt, I'll go with trying to look more like Jesus.

The early church did the same. Outside of these and other similar scriptural instructions, we see in the history of the early church a community that radically departed from the patriarchal systems in which it lived, enabling and encouraging women and foreigners and slaves to live as free citizens. In resistance to empire, these early churches would gather with all labels left at the door, giving every member equal voice. Women who were seen as property by the empire were given full status in the community, even being allowed to own land, and keep their own identities into their marriages.

So there is that.

The church should be less like a cog and more like a monkey wrench.

I long for the day that we stop squabbling in church over these issues that make us look just like the oppressive systems in which our churches live. I long for the day that the church looks so radically different from the world that we no longer fit within it. I long for a church that looks like a movement that truly changes the world.

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