Category: Church

Women and the Church: Breaking the Stained-Glass Ceiling

With all the sexual harassment claims and domestic violence accusations in the news these days, a person would have to be living under a rock not to notice.  Fortunately, for now, none of this has yet washed up on the church’s shore, but with a major tenet of its doctrine being that wives are to be submissive to their husbands, there is, metaphorically, a ticking time bomb that is certain to go off at any time.  Count on it.

Thinking that women are supposed to be submissive to men is about to become an anchor around the church’s neck.

All too often and for the wrong reasons, the church seems to find itself on the wrong side of history related to social issues and cultural dichotomies.  That is because, good or bad, the world is able to adapt to an ever-changing social landscape better than the church has ever been able to do.  That is good when the world tilts away from God’s nature, but it is extremely bad when the church has to play catch-up in situations where the world presents a better reflection of God.

Racism and sexism are two high-profile examples.

For centuries, the church was eerily silent as women and minorities fought for equal footing, while many church leaders sat on their collective hands.  There were times when the church had the opportunity to wash the feet of entire generations by fighting discrimination, segregation and inequality, while some churches muddied the water by becoming its poster child.

It’s hard to spread the gospel when you look nothing like it.

Sexism is just the church’s latest and largest boondoggle, as the church continues to treat women as second-class citizens by not allowing their spiritual potential to blossom in whatever direction God’s gifts direct. That road has been washed out, simply because, long ago, men in the church beat women over the head with their Bibles.  Unfortunately, those of us who grew up in the church have allowed this to continue.  Shame on us.

Imagine how differently the world would be if the church had awoken from its theological stupor when the 19th Amendment was passed and immediately started treating women equally.  It may have still taken decades for women in the church to feel fully free and thrive in the spiritual power of God’s gifts.   Certainly by now, our mothers, daughters, and grand-daughters would have already learned to soar, lifted by their faith instead of being marginalized by old men guarding church doctrine.

Are we currently utilizing the gifts of the best available preachers, leaders, and teachers to share the gospel of Christ to a world in dire need of it?  We will never know because currently, it requires a “Y” chromosome to get into the club.

What has been termed “the glass ceiling”, a metaphor for the barriers minorities face to achieve equal footing, the same applies to women and the church, related to limiting their potential.  In all aspects of Christianity, nobody in the church should ever be treated like a second-class citizen.  Nobody.

What does Scripture actually say about women’s roles in the church?  Perhaps, not surprisingly, it is absolutely nothing like what is currently being taught in the church.  The same aberrant theology that decided Joan of Arc, as a teenager, should be executed as a witch by the church and many like her, has also kept women under thumb for six more centuries by using the same flawed approach.

Here are six Scriptural building blocks for actually determining women’s roles in the church today:

 

Herd Mentality- Matthew, Mark and Luke record the Sadducees’ effort to discredit Jesus’ teachings about resurrection with a “what if” query about who, at the resurrection, would be the husband of a woman who married each of seven brothers in succession upon the previous brother’s death, following the Law’s directive.  But wait a minute:  Why in the world is she forced to marry a man she did not choose, in the first place?  Why is she forced to have sex with a man she does not love?  One after another after another?

From Deuteronomy 25, which serves as the basis for the Sadducees question, does God actually force women to have sex with men they did not choose nor love, ultimately becoming genealogical prostitutes to grow the Hebrew herd and keep a lineage alive?  Of course, every other civilization was facing the same reality, where strength in numbers meant superiority.

Since men could not grow their numbers by themselves, they, by hook or crook, needed women to carry the load, hence the manipulation, or worse.   But sexual intercourse was supposed to be the most sacred and intimate interaction between a man and a woman, for which he would leave father and mother to become one flesh.

For women in almost all ancient cultures, childbearing had become a commodity.  Coercing women to have sex in situations where love was not the primary currency simply to increase numbers and propagate someone’s lineage cannot possibly reflect God’s nature- do you really believe the events and directives described in Deuteronomy 25 are borne of God?  Should women today follow the Law’s directives?

The reason I ask that is that Paul, in the first century, noted that Gentile women in the church should be submissive to their husbands because that is what the Law says they should do (I Cor. 14:34).  Let me say that again: the sole reason for women being theologically coerced into submission in Christianity, over the centuries and even today, is because Paul said Gentile women back then were to do it because the Law of Moses said they had to.  Not that the gospel of Jesus told them to, mind you, but that the Law of Moses said they should.   Yes, gentile women.

If you believe women should be submissive to their husbands in the church today, then, by definition, you also believe that every other tenet of the Law of Moses should still be followed.  That means that if a couple had a dozen children who were all girls and then the husband dies, that the wife has to marry her brother-in-law.

 

Submission 101- When Sarai could not conceive, she instructed Abram to have sex with Hagar, her Egyptian slave. As a slave, Hagar was not given a choice- she was ordered to have sex with Abram as often as needed to conceive, even if she had planned to save herself for marriage.  Had she been given that option, the Ishmaelites would have never existed.

What about Zilpah and Bilhah, the handmaidens of Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, who were instructed to marry Jacob and bear his children?  Or about Judah’s mistreatment of Tamar?  And what about the 400 women of Jabesh Gilead that the Benjamites kidnapped and forced to be their wives so they could keep the Benjamite lineage alive?  Submission and freedom are both critical aspects of Christianity, but they are mutually exclusive when unequally yoked.

 

As the Saying goes, When in Rome………      In I Timothy, Paul instructed Timothy to require Gentile women in Ephesus, the home of Artemis and the seat of women’s rights in the ancient world, to submit to their husbands. Why? Was it because women were incapable of thinking for themselves? Seeing women now running large corporations and being educated at the finest institutions on the planet, it is obvious that women have as much intellectual and spiritual firepower as any man.

Paul told Timothy that wives needed to be submissive to their husbands because, well, uh, Adam was formed first, even though Gentile women, especially those in Ephesus, could have cared less about Adam or Eve, or any character from Hebrew history for that matter.

Basically, Paul was trying to get Timothy to try to sell Gentile women on their need to keep quiet in a man’s world, which was the metric in almost all cultures on earth.  So Paul wasn’t re-inventing the wheel; he was just trying to keep it on the rails.  Imagine the repercussions if a woman, exercising her new-found freedom in Christ, walked into a synagogue and started sharing Christ.   How embarrassing that would have been for Paul and how disruptive that would have been back then.

What would have happened to Apollos had Aquila been struck by a dump truck, leaving only Priscilla to instruct him?  I guess Apollos would have continued to peddle defective goods.

 

Dying to the Law- Paul told the Galatians that he had died to the Law (Galatians 2:19), but that was just not the case.  Not only did Paul not die to the Law, he continued to embrace it to the day he died.

As Acts 21 notes, Paul and James were totally focused on keeping the Law of Moses devoutly and that Paul was “living in obedience to the law”, even 25 years after Jesus’ death.  The reality is that if you took all of Paul’s letters written to Gentile congregations and removed all references to the Law and the prophets, there wouldn’t be much left.  He continually tried to convince his Gentile audiences that they needed to follow a Law he had supposedly died to.

 

Salvation through childbearing- I Timothy 2:15  states: “But women will be saved through childbearing….”.  First of all, childbearing has absolutely nothing to do with salvation- Paul was just grabbing at straws trying to give Timothy something different to tell Gentile women that Paul hadn’t already tried on them (and failed) himself in his letter to the Ephesians.   Women weren’t saved because they were having sex with men they did not choose nor love, which produces children, but perhaps he was saying that there is a special place in heaven for women manipulated into doing that.  But it does reinforce Paul’s mistaken premise that Gentiles were to live by Jewish customs.

Interestingly, Paul told men that they were to love their wives, but he never told wives to love their husbands.  He told them they should respect their husbands.   How can you love someone you did not choose?  Respect is earned; love has to be grown.

Long before Ivan Pavlov formulated his theories about conditioned responses, the church used Pavlovian indoctrination to coerce its members without a “Y” chromosome into compliance.  But women in the millennial generation raised on the Internet are leaving the church in droves, perhaps realizing how obtuse this thinking is to the nature of God.

Here’s the reality: the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is not dependent on the Law in any way, shape, form or fashion; it just makes it easier to believe.  But, after Pentecost, the purpose of the miraculous gifts was to package the gospel so that it would travel well into the Gentile world.

Nathanael did not need the Law to believe.  Neither did any of the fishermen who saw the large catch of fish and left their nets.  Nor the Philippian jailor.

 

Inerrancy and the inspired word. For a people intent on “speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent”, we violate that when we say that the Bible is inerrant.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say that it is inerrant or infallible.  Not that it is or isn’t.   But the intended purpose of the Bible’s inspired writers was inspiration, joy, hope, encouragement, instruction and motivation, teaching tools that cannot be limited by facts or figures.

The best teachers on earth, then and now, make use of all available tools to make an emotional connection, which include hyperbole, exaggeration, personification, and metaphors.  Imagine a football coach trying to inspire his team during his half-time pep talk by talking about what is instead of what could be.  It doesn’t take inspiration to speak in literal terms.

By using parables in his teachings, Jesus utilized each of these devices to make his points.  Do you really believe the Pharisees actually strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel?  Why don’t we allow Moses, Paul and all other inspired writers the same latitude?

We have no problem thinking that Peter was wrong at times; why do we assume Paul’s words must be taken literally?  On a molecular level, what exactly do you think “inspired” means?

 

Human dynamics in the first century were not the human dynamics of the twenty-first century.  In dealing with first century Gentile churches, Paul was focused on maintaining a fragile coalition, not spewing doctrine, so women’s roles in the first-century church had to resemble women’s roles in first-century society already in place.

In the world, “you’ve come a long way, baby!”.  It’s time for the church to play catch up.

 

 

 

 

Moving Women from the Back of the Church Bus

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.

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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:

 

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

A Millennial’s Guide to the Bible

From the time a child enters school when they are five or six years old to the time they finish twelve to twenty years later, they will be issued dozens if not hundreds of text books for the subjects they will study. In first grade, they will be given first grade level text books. In second grade, they will be issued second grade level books, and so on, as they progress from one level of understanding to the next, until the day they walk across the stage for the last time. Fortunately, these textbooks are provided each year as needed and not issued all at once on the day they first enter school. If that were the case, they would probably need something much bigger than their little red wagon to carry all of those books around.

 

As Christians, we have only one textbook. One. But just as a school’s text books can provide a wealth of knowledge and understanding through a progression of information, our one textbook can do the same for every conceivable subject under the sun. And though it was written thousands of years ago, it can provide the answers to subjects and issues not yet considered. When allowed to seek each generation’s intended trajectory through a thoughtful and thought provoking evaluation of each culture’s ways and means, its writings truly comprise the most fascinating and effective collection of material ever written.

 

Like any other discipline or field of study, that certainly doesn’t mean that everyone will learn the material at the same level or speed. In fact, centuries ago, differences in theology and doctrine seemed to originate from dissimilar levels of understanding of the same passages, rather than merely from differences of opinion. In this Internet generation, these interpretations are now scrutinized from all directions, and anything that will not pass intellectual muster is marginalized and dismissed. Unlike previous generations that catatonically followed in the footsteps of their family’s religious choices, millennials are not slaves to the religious traditions of their parents and grandparents. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as spiritual; in fact, they are probably more so. It just means that they won’t blindly follow religious teachings in directions contrary to intellectual analysis. In effect, millennials aren’t running away from God’s Word; they are running away from the way it is taught.

 

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One example of this would be the pyramids in Egypt. Comparing the chronological data from Egyptian records and biblical information, the pyramids would have been built about 300-400 years before the flood that was supposed to have eradicated life on earth, not counting the centuries it would have taken to learn how to build them.   And where did Moses acquire such linguistic skills for writings more indigenous to much later times, when his Egyptian training would have likely been limited to hieroglyphs? And who of these former slaves could have actually read it? And is neuroscience wrong to assume that temptation is due to misplaced neurons, making Satan just a teaching mnemonic?

 

We shouldn’t wait until the world ridicules the church’s teachings before confronting these issues; that is the role of the church. When we send kids to college unprepared for these types of questions, theologically they end up with dunce hats on their heads, because these things have never been explained to them. It’s not that these are hard questions to answer. It just means we have to unlearn the things we were taught for any exploration of Scripture to uncover new treasures.

 

Imagine that Albert Einstein was going to teach a group of quantum physics students, ranging in age from six to twenty-six. On a given day, Einstein would present twelve one-hour lessons to students grouped by age, so that he could teach each group at their particular level of understanding and aptitude. The first hour’s lesson would be to first and second graders while the lesson the second hour would be presented to third and fourth graders.   This would continue throughout the day, so the last lesson would be presented at the college level to graduate students seeking their doctorate degrees. Imagine how different the first and last lessons would be from each other. Now imagine the transcripts of these twelve different presentations are published, for all to read. Which of these twelve books would actually be considered “Quantum Physics”? All of them. That is because they all cover the same subject, just at different levels.

 

Jesus, Himself, even chided his followers for not progressing in their ancestors’ teachings. In the Law, the Jews were told not to kill, but Jesus told them they should have progressed in their understanding of the Law, so that behavior control would be a precursor to the control of one’s spirit. The result: not hating. And it shouldn’t take a genius for anyone who has ever worn a wedding ring to understand why lust might eventually lead to adultery, based on the same reasoning. Cause and effect: progressions of understanding.

 

Discerning ancient writings related to what the author intended his audience to take literally or to take figuratively seems to also define the separation between milk content and meat content. The most important means of making that distinction always begins with the context of the writings themselves. Who wrote it? What motivated the author to write what he wrote? What was his intended outcome for writing it? Who was it written to? What was their education level? What was their religious background? Etc.

 

By pulling the camera back, the whole of Scripture can be seen against the backdrop of each generation’s paradigm. For example, although Luke may have been a doctor who included his limited understanding of biology in his writings, he could not have possibly anticipated everything science and medicine would have learned during the next two thousand years, related to heart and mind, addiction and temptation. Nor does that include how archaeology, thereafter, discovered the existence of dinosaurs or how the Wright brothers taught mankind how to overcome gravity, ultimately exposing dimensions of God not fathomable in ancient times.

 

That said, it was not the responsibility of the inspired writers to connect the dots; as Bible students, that is our job, as we carry out the hunt for God’s treasure. If someone thinks Moses’ description of the Garden of Eden about a talking serpent and trees with names resembles a Saturday morning cartoon, and is, therefore, metaphoric, while another person assigns the same literary device to John’s Revelation letter of encouragement to the troops back home, why should that matter to someone who doesn’t? Or vice versa?

 

Since the ultimate goal should be to develop a strong and resilient faith, it doesn’t actually matter how a person gets there. However, generations of Christians who were indoctrinated into their faith while not being allowed to question their teachings, should not expect college students and millennials of this Internet generation to fall prey to the same tactics. By the same token, millennials should not expect everyone to buy into their own way of interpreting the Bible, either. After all, unity of spirit is not dependent on unity of thought. Being on the same team means everyone being focused on achieving the ultimate goal of living the love of Jesus, rather than worrying about how everyone arrived at that conclusion.

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