Fellow saints and sinners have left some interesting comments during the last few days! Someone with the online name of “Roodness” writes the following in response to my “Coffee with Jesus” lampoon of manliness pastor and cage fighter Mark Driscoll’s remarks on women in leadership (see http://blog.beliefnet.com/fellowshipofsaintsandsinners/2012/01/coffee-with-jesus-jesus-sits-down-with-mark-driscoll.html):
“…It really comes down to: do we take the Bible literally? How can women pastors in good conscience teach the Bible which itself teaches that leaders within the church (and the home) are to be men? This article creates controversy on this subject, but the issue has already been settled in Scripture: 1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:7-14, Ephesians 5:23, and others. The pro-women-in-leadership arguments are glaringly missing any scriptural support – it’s all secular reasoning. There are a lot more differences between men and women than having a penis and vagina – that’s adhering to the Marlo Thomas “Free to be you and me” philosophy. We need to respect the One who created men and women differently – equal in His sight but different, with different strengths and weakness – instead of ignoring His creative design.
Let me end with this extremely important approach to questions:
“Trust in the Lord, with all your heart, and DO NOT LEAN ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5&6.”
Roodness, I’ve been doing some more thinking about your above comments- this after my original reply in which I thank you for reading and share that I couldn’t disagree with you more. (These two things still hold true, by the way! I do hope you keep coming back to the Fellowship and feel free to share your views, because I take them seriously- maybe even more so when I disagree.)
With that, here goes…While it may be enough to say that “Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so,” it is not enough to ground arguments against women in leadership in a “literal” rendering of Scripture. My husband put it well the other evening: “a literal reading of Scripture is not a faithful reading of Scripture,” he said.
A faithful reading of Scripture recognizes the deeply contextual nature of much of Scripture. The pastoral letters, which Roodness references above, are a great example. The apostle Paul makes his prescriptions around women in leadership for a church that looks very different from the church in the twenty-first century. If we were to take these references “literally,” as Roodness suggests we should, then we would also need to take other prescriptions literally. So, for instance, we would have to forbid women from wearing gold jewelry (1 Peter 3:3), and we would send all of our longer-haired gentlemen to the hair salon for a regular clip (1 Corinthians 11:14).
Can you picture it? A whole new diaconal training course for hair policing, maybe with instructions for how to do an emergency cut on Easter Sunday? Ushers with baskets ready and able to confiscate the loud, gold necklace you wear only because it belonged to your grandmother?
If such things belong to the world of biblical literalism, “contextuality,” or a sensitivity to biblical context, on the other hand, looks very different, as N.T. Wright explains in Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. (Incidentally, I was going to do a series on how to read the Bible and the issue of biblical authority when I discovered Rachel Held-Evans’ series on the subject, “Learning To Love The Bible For What It Is, Not What We Want It To Be;” I commend it to you.) Held-Evans outlines Wright’s five recommendations for reading the Bible- a list at the top of which is “a totally contextual reading of Scripture.”
Here is Wright, compliments of Held-Evans: “Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its on chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural, and indeed canonical setting…Such a contextual reading is in fact an incarnational reading of scripture, paying attention to the full humanity both of the text and its readers. This must be undertaken in the prayer that the ‘divinity’—the ‘inspiration’ of scripture, and the Spirit’s power at work within the Bible-reading church—will thereby be discovered afresh.”
Where does this leave us with respect to the issue of women in church leadership? It seems to me that discovering the Bible afresh in its context means being attentive to the work of the Spirit within our world even as we seek to uphold the general “rule” of Scripture, which invites us into a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God He is birthing in this world. It means reading the contextual letters of Paul next to other parts of Scripture where Jesus, for example, conscripts women as disciples (the woman at the well, for instance, as arguably the first evangelist).
The longer I’ve been around the church, and the older I get, I must admit to having increasingly less patience around arguments against women in leadership based on Scripture. My husband, who is my biggest supporter in ministry, said to me the other day that he harbors a deep suspicion of any institution that in the twenty-first century rejects women in leadership. “I wouldn’t join a club that keeps women out,” he said. “Why would I join a church that does this?”
This rationale was the basis for our leaving a church that we loved in every other way. Theologically, I was in total agreement with the church’s preaching and teaching, but when we began to consider the meaning of membership in this church, the fact that my ordination would not be recognized simply because I am a woman was enough to send us looking for another church. We knew we wanted to be in a church where my daughter would grow up being able to see women like myself in leadership next to their brothers.
So biblical literalism, as I see it, is little more than veiled misogyny, and it does a deep injustice to Scripture, the church and most of all our world- for which the church exists in the first place.
Contextuality is also critically important when it comes to the issue of boobs in church- more specifically breastfeeding. A number of you have weighed in with comments in response to “Boobie Traps: Breastfeeding in Church” (see http://blog.beliefnet.com/fellowshipofsaintsandsinners/2012/05/boobie-traps-are-you-church-enough.html).
Allison writes: I am trying to figure out how to work this out in love in our church — changing churches is not an option! We do have a room set aside for nursing moms at the end of a hallway, but apparently since there has been a blooming of babies recently, there are many mothers in there and some choose to nurse elsewhere (in the narthex, etc.) and it is making some men uncomfortable (even with nursing covers!) We are from a Southern genteel culture that is more modest and conservative, I think. In fact, we were asked recently to put a screen in the room because the men who check the halls were uncomfortable! I wanted to speak to the persons who made the complaint, but since it was by way of someone else, I couldn’t. As a nursing mom myself, and on my third, I’m much more bold (I nursed my youngest during MANY church meetings with men present), but I know too that I need to be respectful of others and do things in love and not out of pride. Still, I will hide away sometimes in dark places so that my baby won’t be distracted, now that he is older, but not for any shameful notion or felt need to be modest on my part. There are so many layers to this, but most of all I try to be supportive of other nursing moms and take their side as much as I can. I remember being asked to leave a dept store once. I wish we could see this conversation continue…”
Emily suggests the following approach: “…Perhaps the room that is available to make women ‘more comfortable’ when they are nursing should be made available to those who are uncomfortable with a woman nursing. Let them sit in there until you finish.”
A big “thank you” to all of you for sharing your feedback! Come back and visit again sometime soon!