You’ve certainly come a long way, baby!
Finally unchained from the bonds of servitude their lack of a Y chromosome imposed on them throughout history, women now have unlimited possibilities in front of them. It’s not that they somehow discovered their Y chromosome, which magically leveled the playing field; in fact, it seems to be quite the opposite. Companies are beginning to realize that the attributes of nurturing and listening, which appears more naturally in women than in men, are far more effective business tools in this ever-changing business environment than the good-ole-boy network could ever accomplish. That is why women are becoming a greater presence in the corporate landscape. Although the glass ceiling which separates them from their male counterparts in the workplace still exists, it continues to shrink as more and more successful women weaken its framework.
With more frequency, they are becoming presidents and CEOs of companies, architects, inventors, Secretaries of State, and members of Congress. They are pilots and astronauts, bankers and engineers, even while raising their families and caring for their parents. It’s not that they couldn’t have performed these duties long ago, had they the education and training as the foundation for such work; it’s just that they were never allowed the freedom to see how high they could soar while chained to the ancient cultures men created. That is why Solomon’s description of the virtuous woman would probably include far more multi-tasking had he written it today.
For thousands of years, testosterone-laden armies set out to enlarge their borders by conquering weaker neighbors, with gold and silver, women and children taken as the spoils of war. As the physically weaker sex, women were at the mercy of the consciences of those in control regarding their safety and well-being, as their ability to bear children became their greatest asset toward survival in a semi-civilized world. The story of Ruth, a Moabite, and Boaz follows these realities and emotions as Ruth seeks to have Boaz marry her and become her kinsman-redeemer, which, for a foreign woman in a strange land, was like hitting the lottery. That is how Ruth became King David’s great-grandmother, and the rest is history.
In Bible times, few women were educated and since they were physically weaker than men, their help and support was needed in a man’s world. That is not debatable. What is debatable is how women should be treated in the church today, in a world where those metrics no longer apply. The reality is that at no time in history have women been as educated as they are now, perhaps even more so than men are.
For the most part, in the church today, women are treated as second class citizens, metaphorically relegated to the back of the church bus, not because they read their Bibles and determined that is where they needed to sit. Rather, centuries ago, at a time when they could not read it for themselves, women were told that was the place they needed to be, to follow the apostles’ instructions. Who told them this was the case? You guessed it: men, who interpreted Scriptures to say that their wives needed to be submissive to them.
The reason that is still the case today is not because a complete study of the Bible would yield the same interpretation. In fact, it would not. The reason is because, even in this Internet age where knowledge flows from all available angles, the church does not allow its ancient teachings and interpretations to be challenged. If it did, young people and millennials would not be heading for the exits. If there is one organization on earth that is on the cutting edge for fostering the unity of the spiritual gifts of men and women, it should be the church. That is not the case.
Imagine that a fourteen year old girl in your congregation has done what you hoped she would: read the Bible through, from cover to cover. And from this analysis, she determined that men and women are equal in all things in the church, including teaching, preaching and leadership. How would your church handle that? Would they have her parents try to do a better job of indoctrinating her, hoping this time it sticks?
While doing research for “Heaven’s Gold”, I interviewed dozens of young ladies who had permanently left the church. In seeking reasons for leaving, to a person, they all said the primary reason they left was because of the way the church treated them. Let’s face it, having one half of an organization be submissive to the other half, is not a good sales plan. Ultimately, it was not Jesus’ message driving them away; rather, it was the way that message was being taught, filtered through centuries of testosterone.
The most important aspect of any consideration of Scripture is context. Context, context, context. Consideration of any letter in the compilation of inspired writings we call the Bible, should always begin with the following: why did he write it? From where did he write it? Where was he writing it to? Who was he writing it to? What were the cultural realities? Was he trying to fix something? Was he successful?
Concerning the roles of men and women today, these questions come to mind from ancient cultures: were the wives educated? Could they read and write? How old were they? Did they choose their husbands or were they chosen for them? Were they property of their fathers and then their husbands? What rights did they have?
These seem to be the relevant points that arise from that contextual consideration about the roles of men and women in the church, then and now:
- Nowhere in Scripture does Paul tell women to love their husbands. Although he continually tells men to love their wives, he tells wives to respect their husbands. Respect their husbands? Why is that? Was it because they were much older? Was it because wives didn’t choose their husbands, but were chosen for them? Were they property?
- Peter tells wives to submit to their husbands “in the same way” slaves are to submit to their masters. Are churches saying that women today should submit to their husbands that way? Is it barely possible that the situation in the locales the apostles were speaking to are extremely different than they are now?
- By definition, the young wives did not love their husbands. Paul tells older women to teach young women to love their husbands. Why would they need to be taught to love someone they already loved? And one thing that is typically missed in that passage in Titus is the two words included in that admonition: “and children”. Paul instructs older women to teach younger women “to” love their husbands and children, not “how to” love them. How young would a girl have to be that she has to be told to love her children? 12? 14? 16?
- In I Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to do something he couldn’t do himself: get the women in Ephesus to submit to their husbands. What were the odds that Timothy would be able to do something Paul couldn’t do?
- Adam and Eve. Paul told Timothy to tell those gentile women that because Eve (not Adam) sinned that they had to submit to their husbands, and would be saved by being barefoot and pregnant. But in his letter to the church in Rome, he told them it was Adam (not Eve) whose sin started the ball rolling in the wrong direction. Expediency? Paul found out how difficult it was to get gentiles in Asia Minor, home of the temple of Artemis, to go along with Jewish customs.
Paul and Peter were dealing with cultural realities that are nothing like today. Today, women are not property and they can choose their husband for themselves. They are smart, they are educated, they are spiritually-gifted, and they can support themselves. When Paul was in prison, he wrote letters to three churches: Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi. The one letter he did not mention wives being submissive to their husbands was the church in Philippi, where he stayed with Lydia, who ran her own business and was able to fend for herself. Running the church as a male-dominated, top-down organization instead of a servant-led body, has turned Jesus’ teachings into a religion instead of the way of life it was intended.
That doesn’t mean that women should be given leadership roles, either. Spiritual leadership is not a right based on chromosomal organization. It is a calling. People will follow those who passionate lead in the direction that best serves others, whether male or female. Whoever happens to be the best leader in patience, joy, love, kindness, etc. should be followed. Church leaders should be the ones who best exhibit these qualities, regardless of gender.
This is not intended to tell people or churches what they should or should not believe about the roles of men and women or any other issue in the church. It is, however, intended to foster an open dialog between all members of the church, considering the entire Bible, and not just hand-picked passages.