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.