This post is not about gender. It’s really not. It is about experiences. And we all experience the world, in part, based on the skin we are in. In truth, I love being a woman, and the gift of motherhood is perhaps the most amazing and mysterious blessing. Ever. I am thankful.
There are many awesome aspects of being female. There are also some unique struggles and experiences women face simply because the world has been conditioned to treat us a certain way in certain realms: usually inferior and less capable. Yet, in the very beginning of the Creation narratives in Genesis 1:27-28, we learn that both male and female are made in the image of God and both are to be co-creators. We are supposed to be a mutually affirming team, looking primarily to God for guidance.
I am a licensed pastor within the United Methodist Church, a denomination that has been ordaining women since the 1950’s, but has an even longer general history of welcoming women into the clergy. And by welcoming, I mean slowly coming to accept a woman’s presence at the table and recognizing that..oh yeah…she is made in God’s image too! That’s ok…progress is a good thing.
Many denominations ordain women, to be sure. And many do not. Sadly, two ill-interpreted and harmfully applied scripture verses hold many, many women back from ever realizing their God-given potential. From ever realizing that God could be calling them. Even though the major themes in Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s letters speak to gender barriers being torn down and all persons having an important role to play in the Body of Christ, many people to this day fail to take into consideration the historical context of Jesus’ time when reading and attempting to make sense of the New Testament. Perhaps people do not stop to think about the many forces at work in a patriarchal culture that treated women inferiorly and a church that was trying to take root in such culture?
Could you imagine how difficult that would be?
This would be like attempting to visit a foreign country where a different language was spoken, customs were unfamiliar and different traditions were upheld, without first gaining a good understanding of the culture. Nothing would make sense. Your eyes would see and process things through YOUR OWN experiences and world view, not theirs. You would impart YOUR understanding of the world on them…without realizing they may have a completely different understanding of the world around them.
The same thing happens with the Bible.
Some churches believe that the Bible is to be read literally and exactly, meaning the English words found on paper are the inerrant Word of God. Read literally and exactly through the lens of a middle-place American in 2014?! In English? Now, I find it extremely odd that many of these same churches often only apply literal meaning and application to verses that seem to advance their own viewpoints while being completely oblivious to the hypocrisy in brushing off and skipping over countless other literal applications.
Do you still stone your unruly children? Deuteronomy 21:18-21
Does your wife (or you) cover her head every time she prays? I mean, every time! 1 Corinthians 11:5
If your hands have every caused you to sin, have you cut them off? Mark 9:43
And you are looking excessively adorned today, with your fancy new hairstyle, makeup, & jewelry! All of this is a big No-No, per 1 Peter 3:3-7
Do you own some slaves? Are they obeying you today? Colossians 3:22
Now, I know. You might be saying, “But wait! Those verses aren’t to be taken literally.” And to that, I would gently say, “But you wait.” How are you determining which verses are to be taken literally and which to be taken figuratively? How are you determining what is, in fact, God’s literal word and what may have been a story to demonstrate an underlying principle? How are you determining which verses were contextually significant and meaningful to a particular audience and may not mean the same for all persons? How are you determining any of this?
Because what I have come to realize, through my own life’s journey and personal experience, is that people learn these biases through one-sided teachings of certain branches in the church. One-sided teachings that never seem to acknowledge their blatant hypocrisy and somehow believe that wrestling with the intent and meaning of scripture somehow lessons the significance of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Could God ever be made less? As if our wanting to fully understand God and God’s Word is somehow disrespectful to God. As if our wanting to fully live out God’s purpose in our life somehow is offensive to God. As if our wanting to understand the history, context and people who were written about within our Bibles passages somehow challenges God authority. All of which, I believe, is completely bogus. God is still God and we all all still his children.
God wants us to know him, I believe. To earnestly seek him and follow him into the world. Its’s the evil one who throws up all of this junk in between. Who tries to make us believe there is supposed to be all of these barriers and ill-contrived systems. The evil one who prompts egos and pride to get in the way because if pride and ego get in the way, we spend ourselves battling one another and not evil. So, it is not God who creates these divisions. Jesus was the one who told us he was tearing down that man-made temple, remember?
I truly believe Jesus intended women to be active participants, leaders and teachers in his ministry. My brain and spiritual gifts are valid. So are yours. We did not give them to ourselves. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t be walking this path. If I believed Jesus did not want women to be preaching the gospel or teaching, I wouldn’t be doing any of this. Why? Because I care what God wants from me. My greatest desire is that I get smaller and God gets bigger; to be recklessly abandoned to the One who created me and designed me for his purpose. I want to answer God’s call on my life just like you may want to.
So, for those two-verse literal interpreters who try to keep women from preaching and teaching, are you sure, absolutely sure that Jesus didn’t intend for women to preach or be leaders in the church? Are you sure those verses didn’t possibly have a very specific situation they were referring to? If you believe those verses are blanket statements of truth, then:
Why were the first two people whom Jesus told to “Go and tell…I am not dead” women? It seems to me the first two preachers of the gospel were Mary and Mary. If women were supposed to be quiet about the Risen Christ, wouldn’t Jesus have chosen males to “go and tell?”
Why does Acts 2:17 say that “Your daughters will prophesy,” that is, proclaim the gospel?
Why does Paul go to great lengths to speak about there no longer being male or female? Doesn’t he seem to be implying Christ calls whom Christ calls? Galatians 3:28
And what about Junia, in Romans 16:5 who was prominent among the apostles? Apostles!
And how about Deborah in the Old Testament. Civil and spiritual leader. Judge. Warrior. Was her leadership just a mistake? Can God make mistakes? Was she an anomaly to be disregarded? Or, should we look closer?
So, before we think we can just read words and know what was being talked about, we can all do ourselves and the world around us a favor and try to get a better understanding of what was going on. Those two verses that are used to prohibit women from preaching and teaching, 1 Corinthians 14:35 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, actually contradict Paul’s praise for women ministering publicly in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and other areas. In addition, those words must be read in their setting. A setting that looks nothing like today. It seems that the disciples didn’t even get Jesus’ intent to break down gender barriers. Jesus broke all sorts of cultural normals by being in ministry with women. Yet, we all seem to have missed that point entirely.
What I am getting at here is that it is tricky. I wrestle with this a great deal. It is not easy to simply read controversial passages and think we know what they mean. And if it’s not easy to simply read words on paper and magically know what they mean, then we need help. Teachers, scholars, and others who can help us understand the history and context and people. We need people who will present BOTH sides to controversial issues, not just their own opinion. Because you know what? There usually are at least two sides to controversial issues in Scripture. Both backed by theologians and scholars who make it their life’s work to make sense of these passages.
Why am I telling you all of this? I’m writing this because sadly, the Bible has been used throughout time to hurt many people. To keep the powers to be in power positions and the weaker classes and gender out. And that just doesn’t sound like Good News to me; and it doesn’t resonate with the big themes of the Bible.
I am a woman: a wife, a mom and a pastor. And I believe God called me to each of those ministries. And I take each calling more seriously than you could ever imagine.
When the Holy Spirit dishes out spiritual gifts, it is not done according to gender lines. When we are born with certain gifts and talents…seeds to be developed…one does not get to choose her or his natural talents.
Yet, I would have never known God was calling me to be a pastor and preacher until I saw another female doing what my heart finally connected with. And I wouldn’t have known this because for many years we attended churches that subscribed to the literal meaning of those two verses mentioned above. Because of those years spent in churches that taught one-sided teachings, I first had to wrestle myself in order to believe God was calling me, a female, into the pastorate.
Do you know how crappy that is? To actually have to wrestle with God, who is calling you to do something that you yourself don’t believe could be possible, because of what others have told you about your gender and God’s intent for that gender. It’s crappy, friends. And it was even crappier for our marriage…which had to dig out of teachings and beliefs that had historically told us “he does this” and “she does this.” Not fun!
And it doesn’t end there. With wrestling myself or rebuilding our marriage. Sadly, there are less-than-brave people who want to share their disapproval with seeing a woman pastor or hearing a woman preach. And how do they do this? Oh, they are so brave that they cannot even address the person they disagree with. A few months ago, a woman friend of mine was preaching and received an anonymous note on the connection card stating, “What? Does 1 Corinthians 14 not apply anymore?” To which I would love to ask why Ephesians 4:29 wasn’t taken into consideration before writing those words. Does that verse not apply to you, dear anonymous writer? And just last weekend after I preached, a gentleman (a father of three daughters) went out of his way to visit our church website. And look for the staff page. And send an email. Not to me, but to a male staff member. Why wouldn’t he have just emailed me, I thought?
But then I remembered: he didn’t email me because I am supposed to be silent and therefore would have no means to respond. 😉 Or, he was just a coward.
Because why can’t people discuss this? As adults. Christian adults at that. If we disagree about something so big…that affects more than 50% of the population…we should probably at least have a discussion about it? You present your views, I present mine. We might not agree, but that is OK. We would at least walk away knowing both sides were heard. Something that rarely, if ever happens in one-sided teachings. You might be challenged. I will probably be challenged too. You’ll remind me that the disciples were all male, and I’ll remind you that the males probably just didn’t count the females as true disciples. And we both learn something about the other.
Because it’s just not that easy. It’s not that simple. And if I have learned anything about the Bible it’s that if I am ever tempted to use the words on a page in the Bible to arrogantly spew a self-righteous attitude toward another, I’d better darn well be sure to read up on all those verses on not judging others, lest I be judged by the same measuring stick. I better darn well realize who I am apart from God and who I am with Christ in me.
Perhaps we all need to pause a little more often to reflect on and to understand our own biases when reading scriptures? We all have biases: middle class, lower class, male, female, Asian, Latin American, African American, power class, powerless, etc. Each of those categories gives us different lens through which to read scripture. In addition, perhaps we need to understand whose feet we are sitting at and figure out if those feet smell anything like the feet of Jesus?
Because we seem to have taken Jesus’ intent and created systems and structures that simply weren’t built into the gospel messages. And then, society built upon and built upon cultural messages, as opposed to gospel ones, that perpetuate barriers and divisions, rather than keeping them torn down. Jesus was the barrier-tearer-downer…and we just went and built it right back up.
Again, this post is not really about gender. It’s about biases and culture and how our bibles have been used and abused. It’s about experiences, the life God calls us to, and the ambition to fully experience all God has planned for my life. And the hope that you run after all God has planned for yours.
The overall premise of this post is just another reason why I believe Jesus tried to make is simple for us. Love God and love others. If we could master those, I wholeheartedly believe everything else under the sun would take care of itself.