Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


On Being a Christian Woman: Joan Ball

posted by Scot McKnight

JoanBall.jpgJoan Ball has a wonderful story to tell, and her memoir (Flirting with Faith) will be published early in 2010 — but she is writing a guest blog for us today on what it was like to enter the Christian world and discover the “Christian woman.” Joan blogs at Beliefnet at Flirting with Faith.
This could be a fantastic topic for conversation today but we’ll need some folks to stick out their neck.

Questions: What was it like for you to hear, for the first time, what the Bible says about women and submission etc? How was it presented? Have embraced that or have you shifted? Did you have struggles and what sort where they? Did you have mentors to help you through these issues?

What does it mean to be a Christian woman?

I faced this question for the first time in 2003 when, at age 37, I had an unsought and
unexpected conversion to this surprising and challenging faith. Before that morning, I had never really considered what kind of woman I wanted to be. Sure, I always knew I’d like to get married and have kids some day. But I also knew that I would have a career and pursue the promise that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard and put my mind to it. Raised in a secular home on cultural cues that set the bar for the ideal woman who could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man”, I never once thought I would have to choose between family and career. I just assumed that I could and would do it all. Despite some ups and downs along the way, my great marriage, healthy and happy children and six-figure salary told me that this assumption was correct.

Then, for reasons that I will never understand, I unexpectedly found myself a Christian after years of rabid atheism and agnosticism born in addiction recovery. Here I was, a working wife and mother in my 30s, tasked with learning what it meant to be a modern woman practicing an ancient faith. Easier said than done.


Of course I was the biggest part of the challenge. Old habits die hard, and supplanting living my life for me with living to follow and serve required some major rewiring. But, I’d experienced an old school, come-to-Jesus, awe of God kind of smack down, so I was willing to do whatever it took. But what did it take? This was the million-dollar question.

I had spent most of my adult life considering Christianity (admittedly negatively) from the outside looking in and was now forced to recalibrate my life around a faith I knew very little about. It took about 3 weeks for the dust to settle and for me to get the bright idea that reading the Bible might be a good starting place.  So I got my hands on one, opened it up and read my first-ever scripture.

“…Wives submit to your husbands…”

Are you kidding me, God? I had been on my own and taking care of myself since I was 18 years old. I had married, had two children and divorced by the time I was in my mid-20s, living and working as a single mother for several years before marrying my husband Martin.
We had a great marriage that we approached as equal partners, sharing responsibilities in and outside of the home. Not only did submitting to him defy my independent spirit, it seemed completely unnecessary.

When I showed up home later that day and announced to Martin that, while I thought it was pretty stupid, it appeared that God was prompting me to follow this archaic command, Martin was no happier than I was. He didn’t really want me to submit to him. We shared responsibilities 50/50, no need to create some random hierarchy…

As with most things I have encountered since coming to faith, you can find a group to justify almost any way of “doing Christianity” if you look hard enough. This to submit or not to submit question was no different. I met women and read books that painted a picture of a Christian woman whose life was her husband and children (unless, that is, the church needed hospitality or staff to fill the children’s ministry). Work, if there was work outside the home, was part time and tied to the children’s school schedule.

I attended Bible studies and stadium conferences with these women but, while I truly respect their calling, it did not take me long to figure out that, while they were my sisters, they were not my tribe.
I read more and learned that there was another group out there. Many of them had grown up in the church and come to believe that the “wives submit to your husbands” version of the Christian woman no longer applied. It and certain other teachings of the Bible were either allegorical or no longer applicable in modern society.
They read the writing of new, progressive (and mostly male) authors and felt empowered to do things differently than their mothers and grandmothers before them. They had little sense of what that might actually look like on a day-to-day basis. I respected their desire to find a new way but, in the same way that I had come to despise picking out one or two scriptures to tell people what to do, I was equally suspect of picking out one or two scriptures that I could completely ignore.

There had to be another way.

I began speaking to women informally at writer’s conferences and online. I found that many were torn between these two extremes, seeking spiritual depth and the pursuit of deep and meaningful calling on their lives while embracing rather than abandoning tradition. These women are called to leadership, business, the arts or the mission field but remain committed to family and tradition. They find the women of the Bible to be compelling and gutsy risk-takers rather than the demur party planners. They seek a genuine conversation among those who seek a balance between traditional, power-oriented submission on the one hand and the culturally popular nobody-needs-to-take-care-of-me-I-can-do-everything-on-my-own on the other.



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ChristSpeak

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:32 am


The part that struck me from this was the paragraph beginning with:
“As with most things I have encountered since coming to faith, you can find a group to justify almost any way of ‘doing Christianity’ if you look hard enough. This to submit or not to submit question was no different.”
It’s not my purpose hear to go into exegesis (we’ve been doing that already, Scot :)), but more the prevalence of Christian opinion on various doctrines. Personally, my main area of knowledge lies around Reformed (i.e., Calvinistic) doctrine, and this is something I see a lot from that perspective. Different people say different things everywhere you look — how can you decide?
A train theologian has the tools they need to research things for themselves; they can study the Greek, know their way around the commentaries, etc. But what can the “normal” person do? In a perfect world, every pastor would have spot-on theology that would result in one perfect, Church-wide theological beliefs that no one would be confused about. Of course, that isn’t going to happen any day soon.
Ultimately, is this a justification to choose any theory you wish? Granted, this is just an excerpt, but it seems like Joan sees two sides to an issue and therefore concludes that she can pick either way (or at least try to combine them in some fashion).
I suppose the question boils down to how responsible a non-pastor, non-teacher is for their own theology. Obviously they have less time to research it than a full-time theologian, so it seems like they would be less responsible, but where is the line drawn? Is Joan responsible to learn Greek so she can study the “wives, submit to your husbands” passage more effectively and come to her own conclusion as to it’s meaning (but one based on real research, not ‘pick and choose’)?
I wish I had an answer for that. I’m going (God willing) into a full-time theological career, so I consider myself to be responsible for any beliefs that I accept or teach, but the line is a bit more tricky for those who have callings in other areas.



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ChristSpeak

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:36 am


Oops, I mis-read a bit and thought this was an excerpt from the up-and-coming memoir, not a blog from the author :) So change my phrases from third to second person whenever necessary.



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pastor chad

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:38 am


Sometimes I wonder if we really pay attention to how Jesus responded and treated women, how he empowered them to be a part of his ministry in a culture which excluded them. I was impressed by the context of the parable of the sower in Luke’s gospel, how it came right after a discussion of how women participated and supported Jesus’s ministry (I wrote a sermon about it here)
We should notice and respect the role that women do incorporating their ministry in regular life. I have found women to be much more successful at this then men in general.



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Bob Brague

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:57 am


Speaking as a 68-year-old Christian layman, I think the first thing we men need to do is shut up and let some women respond to this post.
“What else does the box say, Steve?” [from a TV commercial for cereal]



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Tami

posted July 14, 2009 at 8:25 am


Well *glancing downward* I think I qualify on the “woman” part!
My first thought is that it’s 2009 and the first thing that comes up in a blog post about what it means to be a Christian woman is submission.
And not submission as in “submit yourself to Christ” or “submit to one another” sorts either. Just the “submit to your husband” one.
But that thought, tied with the quote about being a modern woman practicing an ancient faith really tugged at me.
I’m a modern woman too. Modern in the sense that I am currently alive not modern in the philosophical sense. But I think that while my faith has ancient roots, it too is very much modern (again with the currently alive definition). Ownership by father then transferred to husband then possibly transferred to oldest son is an ancient practice. Being considered the avenue through which Satan still enters the worls is an ancient belief. Not having basic personhood rights is a part of that ancient faith.
But that ancient word of God still carries that submission word. You know what? I’m called to submit to everyone. I’m here to serve everyone. Not cower before them. Not get their permission/input on any or all decisions I need to make. Not to scuttle all the gifts, talents and abilities I was given so I could follow them around “helping.”
I am here, as a Christian who happens to be a woman, to serve as Jesus served. To help as God helped. To love as Christ loved. That usually means putting others first. And since I love my husband best, I’m going to go even farther to do stuff for him. Because I love him.
Submission is given out of love or it does not exist.
Just my $.02



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Scot McKnight

posted July 14, 2009 at 8:32 am


Tami, thanks. But I have to admit I used “submit” because it tells the experience — and post — of Joan Ball. In some ways, your experience with that word coming up so quickly was Joan’s when she encountered Christian circles.



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Mark

posted July 14, 2009 at 8:54 am


Knowing greek and being a ‘trained theologian’ doesn’t promote uniformity in interpretation either. Otherwise, all greek scholars and theologians would be in agreement… which obviously they are not. :-)



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Joseph Holbrook

posted July 14, 2009 at 9:03 am


This comment as a description of the experience of coming to faith is a keeper:
?an old school, come-to-Jesus, awe of God kind of smack down.?
On the subject of wives ?submitting to husbands, I tend to agree with Tami. Taken in the context of verse 21, ?Submit ye therefore to one another,? submission is an expression of trust and love and must be mutual in some aspect. I look forward to reading more by Joan Ball.



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L.L. Barkat

posted July 14, 2009 at 9:06 am


Just finished writing a chapter on ‘submission.’ And I didn’t even touch the man/woman question. It’s not only contentious, it feels old (in the sense of… we’ve talked about it so many times and we always seem to end up in two camps repeating the same mantra).
So… well I decided we’ve been handed the wrong word. ‘Sub’ means under, but submission really ought to be framed as the “art of working *with*”. That’s what Jesus did. Sometimes this meant acquiescence; sometimes it meant all out confrontation.
As a woman, if I engage in submission, I want it to be this kind… no matter who I’m relating to. Why, I could even apply the “art of working *with*” to my relationship with the rest of the created order. And that might be transformative too.



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ChrisB

posted July 14, 2009 at 10:16 am


People get so worked up about Eph 5:22. IMHO, Eph 5:25 is just as counter cultural (both that culture and ours) and at least as difficult to live out. I don’t see too many people trying to explain that one away, though.



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Ellen Haroutunian

posted July 14, 2009 at 10:25 am


Before talk of submission, woman must first be understood and embraced as the feminine Image of God. She reflects something of the heart and character of God that man cannot and vice versa! I find it much more encouraging and helpful to see my identity shaped as the Image rather than “one who must submit”.
I agree that the “submission=under” is a poor word choice. I think Paul was profoundly pro-woman and the Eph. 5 passage is starkly counter-cultural. For a woman to be created from the same substance as man was shocking, because the Greeks believed her to be sub-human. Then to be told to be “in step with” her husband was even more surprising. Husbands and wives working and serving side by side was a really radical concept then. The terms in the passage have military connotations (I wonder if there’s connections to the “spiritual warfare” in ch. 6) So if there is a “headship” it seems to imply that the man might step out first in battle, as Jesus did for His church. Headship equals sacrifice. Submission one to another (and loving one another) reflects Christ in this world. The larger passage seems to be about mutuality and unity and Christ-like hearts.
I love your sentence, LL Barkat, which says, “As a woman, if I engage in submission, I want it to be this kind… no matter who I’m relating to. Why, I could even apply the “art of working *with*” to my relationship with the rest of the created order. And that might be transformative too”. I think that says it all beautifully! Thank you.



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RJS

posted July 14, 2009 at 10:27 am


ChrisB,
I don’t think that we should explain away either 5:22 or 5:25. But we also shouldn’t try to divorce 5:22 from 5:21 or all that precedes it in Ephesians 5. The whole thing is pretty counter-cultural – then and now.
We have a problem when we remove 5:22-24 from context and set it up as a mystical ideal of submissive womanhood (wifehood).
I think that Paul was speaking into a context of destructive interpersonal relations and directing Christians to walk in light – and in mutual love and submission instead. Certainly we all know of the kinds of destructive behaviors, personalities and problems that can destroy marriage – if not from personal experience, from watching people around us.



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Robyn

posted July 14, 2009 at 10:43 am


Paul tells the believers to each consider others better/more important than him/herself. Jesus tells us that the second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Surely these apply no less to marriage than to any other Christian relationship?
This, I believe, is the core of submission. To put the other person’s best interest above your own. This is how I submit to my husband. We are equals in our relationship. One does not have “authority” over the other as though one is the parent and one the child. I do not believe that the idea is one of “I am the boss of you.” My husband also sacrifices himself (his best interest) in order to put me ahead of himself, as described in Ephesians 5. And, as in the body-head metaphor, we work together as one unit, one flesh, united in all things as far as our human nature allows. There has never been a time in almost 10 years of marriage that we have not been able to speak honestly with one another and come to a mutually agreeable solution to a problem, with prayer and supplication before God.
A husband who “pulls rank” and demands obedience is certainly not acting in the spirit of Jesus, who never forced anyone to follow him, but rather sought after people with love, grace, and mercy.



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Jodi

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:09 am


I’ve had a long journey with the Christian woman stuff. I grew up in a very traditional family. Stay at home mom, chauvinistic but supportive father. Very athletic family as well. I as a good athlete and I inherited my father’s intensity. As I grew as Christian, the whole “gentle and quiet spirit” description of Christian women was a clash with my basic personality and I wondered how a gregarious, out-going, often loud and opinionated woman fit into the Christian woman world. Then I discovered that I had public speaking gifts, but no where in my upbringing was being a (preaching) pastor a career option. I began to think about Christian education. At one point, as a young woman I remember thinking that I’d like to marry a pastor in order to be close to ministry and even said to my mom once, “If I were a boy, I’d for sure be a pastor.” I did carry an ingrained notion that I would need to be able to submit to a man in my marriage and in fact heard so often that I would need a really strong man in my life in order to be able to do so. This led to my being involved in a relationship with a Christian man who totally dominated my identity. The dynamic in our relationship, my need to feel submissive, his need to lead, led to the absolute disappearance of my identity and personality. After that relationship failed, I began to question many things and this is when my pastoral calling re-emerged. I was single for all of my 20’s and early 30’s and so began to wonder what life as Christian woman meant for me. I went to seminary as a single woman to sort out the pastoral question and discovered that I was gifted for ministry. My seminary (North Park) and my denomination (Covenant Church in America) were both affirming of my call even though many churches in the denomination were not. Then I met my husband who was the most affirming male presence in my life I’d even met. He encouraged my pastoral gifts and as our relationship grew and developed, the issues of submission and spiritual leadership never even emerged. We’ve now been married for 15 years and power struggles are not a part of our life together. We make decisions based on what’s good for the marriage. We seek to love and care for one another’s needs. I can’t think of one time in those 15 years that Doug needed to assert himself and just make a decision. When we made the decision to come to Sweden, I was in a very satisfying position as campus Chaplain at North Park University. After we received the call, Doug said to me…I want to go, but this one is your call. I need for you to feel called and if you are hesitant at all, we won’t go. That was Doug loving me as Christ loved the church and I suppose is what made it possible to “submit” to the call to move to Sweden. But Doug first submitted to my happiness. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
My story is further complicated by the fact that Doug and I have suffered the pain of infertility. Never becoming parents has been one the most difficult journeys we’ve ever been on. But because so much of American Christianity lifts up the stay at home as virtuous, here I was again, faced with a situation where I swam upstream. I have been made to feel less than because I’m not a mom and that is painful. And the whispers of “if she wasn’t so focused on her career, God would’ve given them children” have not built my confidence in the Christian community.
OK…bottom line. What does it mean for us to be Christian men and women in the world? What does it mean for wives and husbands to honor one another and Christ? If power is at the center of this discussion, it’s all wrong anyway. Why can’t we celebrate the giftedness that God has given each of us…celebrate the ways in which he uses the diversity of his creation to accomplish his purposes instead of wondering if women should be subservient to men?
I’d really like to see a discussion of what it means for men to love their loves as Christ loved the church. Why isn’t that a hot topic? I guess I have to ask, why are we so interested in submission? It’s not that hard. We are called to submit to one another in love…how we do that usually works itself out in the individual relationships. And again, if it’s about who has the power in a relationship, then we are really way off course.



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Jodi

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:19 am


At the end of the previous post it should say I’d really like to see a discussion of what it means for men to love their WIVES as Christ loved the church. Why isn’t that a hot topic? instead of love their loves!



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Anette Ejsing

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:24 am


I don’t like the idea that I must submit to my husband. Because I don’t have one.
In stead, I have imposed my friendship on married couples who have, in response to that, taken me in almost as a third spouse. Their kids relate to me as they would to a parent. The wife is my girlfriend and the husband is my male friend. I go shopping with the wife, and I fix my car with the husband. I talk about men with the wife and I talk about women with the husband. The wife complains to me about her husband, and the husband complains to me about his wife. The wife tells me why she loves her husband, and the husband tells me why he loves his wife.
And we all try not to show any tears when I have to leave.
A curious thing I have noticed is that my presence will often make the couple talk and communicate more. Not with me, but with each other. It is as if their relationship comes alive when I show up. If they have unresolved fights, they will pick those up again. Or if they have forgotten to love each other, they will pick up that thread again.
There are plenty of men in this world that I would never submit to because I do not respect them. They are unreflective, think more highly of themselves than they should, pretend to care but really do not, fear being vulnerable and do not like to take responsibility.
But then I become friends with a man, I develop respect for him, and I find myself gravitating toward him for the insights he can help me develop for myself. I take his words and advise into account and follow them. Not because I have to, but because I can see that he knows what he is doing and why he is doing it. I trust him.
I have no problem following someone I trust and respect. Over time I will even forget to ask myself if he is worth trusting and respecting. I will just do what he tells me to do. All that has nothing to do with the word submission. It is about our relationship.
For some reason I am more likely to distrust a woman’s advice. Maybe because I know what it means to be a woman. I know how we think and I know what buttons to press when I am looking for certain reactions.
Thank God for the differences in our two sexes. Imagine if we had only one. What a flat experience that would be.



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ChrisB

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:48 am


RJS, no we shouldn’t separate v22 from 21, but we also have to take the whole NT context too.
Christians are expected to submit to the governing authorities, whether they’re just or not. We’re supposed to submit to church elders, whether they’re wise or boneheads. Slaves are supposed to submit to their masters, whether they’re kind or cruel. Believers are supposed to submit to each other, and immitate Christ’s humility. And wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, whether they deserve it or not, giving to the husband what is owed Christ.
I certainly don’t think wives are property, second-class citizens, or inferior in any way. Nor should a husband demand “submission” (as if such a thing was possible). But throughout the scriptures we’re taught that there are hierarchies, and we honor those to honor God.
Excluding the marital relationship smacks of culture-based eisegesis.



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RJS

posted July 14, 2009 at 11:58 am


ChrisB,
And a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body whether she submits or not, whether she loves him or not, whether she respects him or not, whether she nags him or not.
If we take all of this in the whole context I think we really have a deep and intimate mutual commitment. A strong marriage relationship is a beautiful thing – with two become one.
I also think that we tend read to much deep meaning into the specific words Paul uses here to describe how we are to submit to one another in the marriage relationship. And I think that much of his wording reflects his culture not divine command.



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ChrisB

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm


“And a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body whether she submits or not, …”
Agreed.
“If we take all of this in the whole context I think we really have a deep and intimate mutual commitment.”
Absolutely.
“And I think that much of his wording reflects his culture not divine command.”
Possible. I only ask you consider how much of that statement reflects your culture and how much careful exegesis.



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Johanes

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm


The problem about modernity is that a lot of people want to eat their cake and have it. When a person decides to join an association, he or she is obligated to observe and perform all the ethics, rules, customs and the constitution of that association. You cannot be in Rome and not do what Romans do.
I am often dismayed by how quick modern women are to take advantage of institutional benefits granted them by society and in this case christianity but always want to reject the obligations. One may talk about the care and love men are obligated to give to their wives, the protection and providence they need to make for their wives etc. When the woman cannot fend for herself, she relies heavily on the husband for these things but the man cannot rely on the woman for these things. Therefore God in his infinite wisdom stated that man is the head of a woman and that women must be submissive to their own husbands. As was stated in 1 Cor 1:25, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. Therefore if God himself never made the woman the leader and even when he walked on earth did not appoint women ministers; where are we in a hurry to? To the extent that we are even questioning the wisdom of God to ask the woman to be submissive to their husbands.
We need to be reminded that theocracy is not democracy and that christianity is not a way of life but a religion with definite doctrines and principles. As Christians, we need to uphold this principles and respect them. Christ himself said he came to fulfil the law and so must we.
The bible says women should be submissive whilst the men should love their wives. Let us respect God and leave it at that.



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Anette Ejsing

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:38 pm


Johanes,
So what do you suggest I do since I have no husband to lead me? The male leaders in my church community may be good leaders, but they are not necessarily therefore men I can ask to lead me. Because many of them are not in a place to where they are able or comfortable leading someone like me.
You say: “Therefore if God himself never made the woman the leader and even when he walked on earth did not appoint women ministers; where are we in a hurry to?”
I need to live my life and do my job well, because otherwise I would not have bread on my table. Nor would there be anything to fill the hours in my day. To be in the kind of hurry you talk about is the only option I have.
Or?



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RJS

posted July 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm


ChrisB
“And I think that much of his wording reflects his culture not divine command.” Possible. I only ask you consider how much of that statement reflects your culture and how much careful exegesis.
I do think that we need to worry about this from all sides – but it isn’t just exegesis, we also need to consider what scripture is intended to be and what it is not intended to be – and what inspiration is.
But ultimately I also think that when Jesus said that the greatest commandments were to love God and love others as ourselves he meant it – and if this governs all interpretation of NT commands, we won’t go far wrong. Certainly if love for my husband is at the top of the list (or only below love for God) it is hard to go too far wrong in application of Ephesians 5.



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joanne

posted July 14, 2009 at 1:30 pm


submission teachings in my life have been a reason for allowing abuse and silence.(the reason I allowed it) it was the reason, i could not find my own sense of personhood and the reason I could not use my voice to speak up in situations in which i needed to speak. At one point i thought about suicide which is the natural result of have no sense of self.
There was a point in time in which whenever I came to that verse, i wept with a grief that was more about death than life. It has taken a lot of healing and massive study of the scripture to come to grips with a God who really does love women. I still feel a bit of anxiety rise up everytime i hear the word.
And no one taught that text abusively–it was always taught in the context of submitting to one’s spouse who was to love as a servant leader.
The net effect on me was that I could not trust my own voice because i was taught i was easily deceived (which was why i needed to submit) and was designed to be under my husband’s wisdom. I could not trust my own feelings unless my husband could validate them or my own understanding of the bible.
God helped me mature as a person… helped me become adult and take responsibility for my own voice and personhood and for my own learning.
I can honestly say the submission passages as i was taught them actually inhibited maturity and growth as a person in my own right. I so wanted to follow God and the scripture and become a godly woman.
Currently, the submission texts are a thorn in my flesh. Each time I move to a new ministry situation, or meet new christians, men or women question my call and the question is always the same, “Why do you think you have the right to be a pastor and be in authority over your husband?” (first i tell them i do not pastor my spouse) Then the second question is always, do you believe the bible is God’s word. (becuase i am a pastor, i must not believe the bible)
These questions get exceedingly tiresome and are so disrespectful of me and my spouse. (believe it or not, my spouse was questioned in his manhood for supporting my call).
My greatest frustration is having my belief in the bible contineously questioned and having others view me as a feminist who does not believe the Bible or who does not interpret scripture well.



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joanne

posted July 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm


re: what does it mean to be a Christian woman. It means I am a woman who follows hard after God and seeks to live as JEsus would live in a dark world. All of that is applied in my life to marriage, family, parenting, vocation and mission. I don’t think there is a woman way or a man way to follow God… or be a Christian.
It only means that I must follow God in all aspects of my self and life and vocation.
why this threatens motherhood, i will never know.



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pam

posted July 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm


I hope to get through the thread here later this afternoon and comment, but in the meantime I wanted to give my favorite definition of submission. About 20 years ago, my friend (and Pastor at the time while I was in Seminary)defined submission as ‘ducking so God can hit you mate’. That has gotten more and more profound as the years have passed. It always meant mutual submission to him, by the way. Both people learning to sense the right time to duck and get out of the way.



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pam

posted July 14, 2009 at 3:20 pm


Sorry – meant to give credit to that last quote. My friend who gave that definition was Mark Brewer.



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Pat

posted July 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm


I love your statement, “while they were my sisters, they were not my tribe.” Boy, can I relate to that! I’m 44, never married, have worked all of my adult life, been very independent and what does God do? Call me to a church that is overwhelmingly traditional in terms of the woman’s role. Granted, we do have women in leadership, but I would say a large majority of the women in my church have very traditional roles in the home, like getting together in women’s group to talk about safe topics and things that do not interest me. What a challenge. I believe that both sexes are equal, but different. I believe in biblical submission as long as that means that my opinions are valued and I am not expected to check my intellect at the door. I think there is room in the church for both types of women, but as with yesterday’s topic on singles, it seems that the Church has always drifted to one side. In this case, I think the traditional female role has been upheld. So what about the strong, independent woman? Is there no place in the faith for her???



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:22 pm


Hello All: What a wonderful opportunity to meet so many interesting and passionate people. I?d like to post two or three group comments with both specific and general thoughts on your comments. Here goes:
ChristSpeak: I find it interesting that ?research? comes to mind as the first approach to discernment. In my (very uneducated but hopefully Spirit-led) reading of the scripture, this is a faith of the poor and the downtrodden. We come to Christ as little children led by the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, as I understand it, comes as a gift from God to regular folks. Otherwise it would only be the educated who understand God ?properly.?
Tami: Trust me, this would not have been my first choice of scripture. I did not submit myself to ANYTHING when all of this happened (which may be why it was the first place I wound up.) Who knows why, but this is where it began for me and, if there is one thing I am sure of in this crazy journey, it is that I am called to obedience. And I do what I am told even when it makes no sense and leads me places I?d never want to go. Fascinatingly, I have learned a lot about myself by being obedient to these seemingly random things I have been prompted by the Spirit to do. I have felt like a little kid or a new recruit in boot camp. God says, ?jump? and I say ?how high.? He says, ?go? and when I ask where? I usually some form of ?I?ll tell you when I?m good and ready.? Scary? Sometimes. But, looking back on it with six years of blind following in my rear-view mirror, I find myself with a life I couldn?t have imagined. One that I couldn?t have created for myself if I?d tried. So, while I can?t always explain it, I just keep following.
L.L. Barkat: You mention that submission is a subject that has been beaten to death. I think that is true for lifelong Christians, but what about newcomers? As this society becomes more and more secularized I think there will be more and more people like me coming with little or know knowledge of these discussions. It is like an addiction recovery meeting. The dialog takes place at the level of the person in the room with the least knowledge and sobriety, not at the level of the people with 15 years sobriety leaving the newcomer to hope they take something away from it. I think that?s the ?first is last and last is first? scripture in action.
More responses (I could be here all night) a little later?



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:27 pm


ChristSpeak: I find it interesting that ?research? comes to mind as the first approach to discernment. In my (very uneducated but hopefully Spirit-led) reading of the scripture, this is a faith of the poor and the downtrodden. We come to Christ as little children led by the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, as I understand it, comes as a gift from God to regular folks. Otherwise it would only be the educated who understand God.



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Ann

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:39 pm


@ChrisB #17 – ISTM you may have inadvertently hit the nail on the head – yes, Paul taught submitting to governing authorities, but no, it did not mean kissing up to whatever they taught, tried to enforce, or claimed authority (as lordship) over. Otherwise, the same man wouldn’t be saying “Jesus is Lord!” to a government who claimed “Caesar is Lord!” BTW, some of the best exegesis on this passage in Romans is done by German Lutherans who’d been taught to submit like your model, and whose state church became supporters of Hitler and the Nazi Regime.
@ Ellen (#11), Jodi (#14), Joanne (#23), LL, RJS & Pat (#27) – thank you for your thoughts and considerations of this word. As most women [in ministry, but elsewhere, too] know, it’s hard for us to express ourselves non-defensively when the very way this word/subject has been handled historically, exegetically in translation & interpretation(by male exegetes), and within many contemporary churches & denoms feels oppressive. Actually, female subordination is widely practiced in business outside of church spheres, too. (Not to mention, we could prove that point by living in another country where Christianity is a minority religion!) Prior to seminary I worked in economics, banking & investment banking before class-action lawsuits by women leveled the old-boys networks to some extent. To make a pretense that the old ideas about “submission” only apply to women in a “spiritual” realm of church and in Christian families is bogus. This is Genesis 3 at work in our world, today. We’ve brought it into our churches, IMHO, sanctified it into hierarchical structures and claimed it “holy”, contrary to what Jesus and his disciples and apostles taught and modeled.
Jodi & Joanne, our journeys and marriages bear resemblance to one another! Joanne – my commitment to Scripture has also been automatically suspect, and my husband, too, has had his masculinity impugned by men who think manliness is equated with domination.
After Wall St., I had a stint in non-profit financial management as a director of a shelter for battered women and their children. Too many women suffer brutality and dehumanization at the “hands” of the religious who exhort these women to “submit” better or more to a man who violently abuses them.
Finally, please juxtapose Paul’s words in Eph. 5:25 to 1 Cor. 13:4-8, How could the Christian understanding of loving/serving one another be so fundamentally different than the ways of men/women around us?
(speaking passionately but not disrespectfully, I hope!)



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm


Pat: Your question about the strong independent woman is an interesting one and my answer probably isn’t a popular one since much of the transformation that has happened in my time as a Christian has hinged on my becoming more and more dependent – on God, on my family, on others. I was rabidly independent when all of this began. I viewed independence as a virtue. No one had to do anything for me. Since coming to faith I have learned (frequently the hard way) that independence and community are strange bedfellows. Same goes for putting others first while I demand respect.
This faith is so filled with paradox – I am strong in my weakness, the meek inherit the earth. Somehow as I am led in the direction of becoming smaller and smaller, I find that many of the things I formerly demanded either come effortlessly or they have lost their importance. I can have a pastor tell me that he can’t teach me because he does not teach women (yup, had that one in a church with no women’s ministry) and view it as a door that was meant to close and a man I was not meant to learn from rather than a battle I need to fight. I know it isn’t fair. Jesus got a pretty unfair deal as well.



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:48 pm


Joanne: I cannot imagine how I would have responded had I grown up with submission to my husband breathing down my neck in that way. Interestingly I “submitted” to an abusive marriage before I ever came to faith. This speaks to the line between allowing myself to depend on others in community and my becoming co-dependent, a place I frequently found myself before I began to learn how to separate healthy dependence from sick dependence. I suppose the same goes for men who have trouble separating healthy guidance from power-mongering.



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 5:58 pm


Jodi: Thank you for your story. The question of power as central to this discussion is so important. There are so many strong female leaders in the Bible, it appears to be disingenuous to assume that women are not called to be leaders. I have a 10 year old niece that speaks frequently about her call to be a Pastor. That does not come from nowhere. Speaking again to the paradox of this faith, I was led to this passage as one of my first experiences with scripture but have also been led to get both my Master’s degree and now my PhD in the same subject – Organizational Leadership. Who knows how and why God does what God does?



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joanne

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:19 pm


everyone, just to clarigy, i was not in an abusive marriage but a very christian one. the issue for me was what i believed about submission and how it affected my own sense of who i was. the way in which the church taught this idea had drastic consequnces in how i could think about myself. And believing that God made me one down had drastic effects on my ability to trust him.



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Joan Ball

posted July 14, 2009 at 7:42 pm


Joanne: Thanks for clarifying. Did not intend for my comment to appear to put words in you mouth…



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Terry Dischinger

posted July 15, 2009 at 12:59 am


I just wanted to write a quick thank you to Jodi (#14) for what you shared. Your openness and honesty of your journey really ministered to me. Thank you for sharing your hurt and pain with us.
I think that you truly highlight what might often go wrong with this discussion – that many of us spend our time trying to figure out what is right for others more than we try to live out what God has spoken our own hearts through His word. Even if my convictions may differ from another’s, it would be much better for me to make sure that I am truly living out my convictions rather than focusing on how I think others are not in God’s will. I also for years have been concerned that we spend so much time focused on the submission part rather than on loving our wives like Christ loved the church. Regardless of what the submission part means, we men certainly are not living up to our end of the marriage commitment. This is especially true when we spend more of our time trying to help women figure out what they are to do. I have made a commitment in Bible studies and small groups with men to not talk about submission but to focus practically on what it means to love our wives like Christ loves the church. If we take that discussion seriously and try to live out what we conclude, I don’t think any of us will have the time or energy to fret over what submission means and whether our wives are submitting. I also think that it won’t even be an issue because their will be a depth and a freedom that comes in a relationship where love is at the center. We men should get our side of the bargain at the top of our concerns. Until we do that, we best stop talking so much about submission.



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Terry Dischinger

posted July 15, 2009 at 1:21 am


One other comment. After having worked as a missionary in Eastern Europe for many years, I also began to become very suspect of we men who place a high value on submission. The reason is that a large problem in the family of pastors in traditional churches is spousal abuse. Many pastor’s wives suffer from both physical and emotional abuse because their husbands don’t feel they are submitting to their leadership. Therefore, they must help them learn this. I am not saying that believing one way about submission will lead to abuse. I am just wondering why abuse is so often a problem in communities where submission is highly emphasized.



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L.L. Barkat

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:26 am


Joan, that is a very good point about newcomers. :) Yes, I was thinking about the basic community here and, of course, my own long-standing circles. Either way I suppose that discussing submission as the “art of working *with*” could be helpful.
There is this part of me that wonders what Paul would say if he saw how unfriendly people can be with one another over something he wrote in an effort to promote harmony. I cringe, too, to think that anyone would ever analyze single words from my own writing, to somehow exposit my total meaning (note to writer-self… choose words carefully).



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Joan Ball

posted July 15, 2009 at 10:38 am


LL Barkat/Terry: So true about choosing words and picking them apart L.L. Barkat. I think your comment dovetails with Terry’s above. We are all moving from where we are to where we are supposed to be – closer to Christ and growing in holiness. For me – a ferociously independent woman – I needed to move toward greater trust and allowing myself to let go of self as God. For someone else traveling from a different place toward the same place might look very different. It is so easy for any of us to fall into the “my journey should be everyone’s journey” trap.



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joanne

posted July 15, 2009 at 10:51 am


no worries Joan… thanks for your reflections.
i was thinking this morning that it’s all about jesus and being like him and if we sought to be like him, all of life would be completely affected. I think that is what a woman of God really is… someone completely infected with the love, power and grace of God living courageously in all spheres of our lives.



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Joan Ball

posted July 15, 2009 at 11:55 am


joanne: I agree. And I believe that it is when we keep our focus on God-father, son and spirit – that the genuine personal transformation begins to happen. This goes for wives, husbands, single men, single women, pastors,teachers, leaders, all of us. Once that happens the bickering stops and everything just falls into place. The he-said, she-said, this is what women do and this is what men do, that we have created is, in my opinion, fear based. Fear of actually believing God and letting go of control long enough for God to actually call the shots.



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Eleanor

posted July 15, 2009 at 1:24 pm


Joanne (23) wrote: Currently, the submission texts are a thorn in my flesh. Each time I move to a new ministry situation, or meet new christians, men or women question my call and the question is always the same, “Why do you think you have the right to be a pastor and be in authority over your husband?” (first i tell them i do not pastor my spouse) Then the second question is always, do you believe the bible is God’s word. (becuase i am a pastor, i must not believe the bible)
These questions get exceedingly tiresome and are so disrespectful of me and my spouse. (believe it or not, my spouse was questioned in his manhood for supporting my call).
My greatest frustration is having my belief in the bible contineously questioned and having others view me as a feminist who does not believe the Bible or who does not interpret scripture well.

You’ve got an “amen” from me. This is exactly my experience as an ordained, seminary-trained female pastor. I’m 50 now, and dealing with the constant nastiness towards my calling after so many years just wearies me. I’m tired of having the same exegesis thrust at me, without room for dialogue. I don’t defend myself anymore with these kinds of folks because I know from experience I will never get them to accept me.
Sometimes I wonder if male pastors have any idea of what we female pastors bear on top of the usual stresses and hardships of ministry that all pastors experience. To continually have people question your vocation and call to ministry, your fidelity to scripture, and all that Joanne relates—without even getting to know you—just gets very, very old. I don’t expect things to change in my lifetime.



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Eleanor

posted July 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Ugh, sorry. My comments are only the last two paragraphs. The italics indicating I was quoting Joanne should have spread over the first three paragraphs.



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Robyn

posted July 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm


I do not need a man to lead me. I have Jesus Christ. I do not believe that God ordained men (in general), nor husbands (specifically), to “lead” women (in general) nor wives (specifically). Certainly there are earthly authorities to whom everyone must submit, until their demands are unbiblical, but I don’t believe these authorities are drawn according to gender lines.
I don’t need a man to provide for me and protect me, in general. Yes, my husband does both of those things for me because he LOVES me, not because I am innately inferior and incapable, as a female, of doing so for myself. Also, I provide for him and protect him as well because I LOVE him. Gone are the days when a woman had no legal nor social nor economic standing because she was a woman. Thank God.
I can understand Paul exhorting men in a culture that treated women like children or property to do their duty toward their wives since they were unable to be treated as equal human beings due to the cultural and legal mores of the day. But that is not the case, today, in the Western world. Submission/sacrifice/provision/protection/love can look different in different cultures and different even in individual relationships. They are NOT universal laws.
I do not believe that marriage is a hierarchical relationship. Master/slave is, of course, but I venture to guess that you would find few Christians who would claim that slavery is moral or that the bible endorses it. Oh, and I am most certainly a feminist (one who believes in the equality of women and men), a theologically-conservative Christian, and I believe in the supremacy, authority, and inerrancy of scripture–same as many respected Christian theologians who also believe in the equality of men and women.
I have to ask, what kind of a man would be so concerned about having a wife who had no mind of her own? What kind of a man would seek a wife who simply obeyed him? What kind of man would seek a wife who did not want to participate in the relationship? What kind of a man truly wants a wife who is inferior to himself? Not any man I would ever consider marrying. So I guess it’s a good thing I had a choice in whom to marry, and I did not choose that kind of man.



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Your Name

posted July 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm


ChrisB said, “Christians are expected to submit to the governing authorities, whether they’re just or not. We’re supposed to submit to church elders, whether they’re wise or boneheads. Slaves are supposed to submit to their masters, whether they’re kind or cruel. Believers are supposed to submit to each other, and immitate Christ’s humility. And wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, whether they deserve it or not, giving to the husband what is owed Christ.”
I disagree. Unjust authorities may be resisted: ever heard of the American Revolution? Or was that unbiblical? Bonehead elders do not need to be obeyed if they are requiring something ridiculous or unbibilical. What if they are leading the church to financial ruin? You would simply walk off the cliff with them like a sheep? Slavery is simply wrong and immoral, based on biblical principles, so I certainly think that it is acceptable for people to fight against the practice of slavery.
And I will never, NEVER give anyone, man or woman, the devotion, adoration, worship, and obedience I give to Christ. That seems almost sacrilegious to me.
I feel you have the entirely wrong definition of submission.



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Stickler

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:52 pm


ChrisB:
“RJS, no we shouldn’t separate v22 from 21, but we also have to take the whole NT context too.
Christians are expected to submit to the governing authorities, whether they’re just or not. We’re supposed to submit to church elders, whether they’re wise or boneheads. Slaves are supposed to submit to their masters, whether they’re kind or cruel. Believers are supposed to submit to each other, and immitate Christ’s humility. And wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, whether they deserve it or not, giving to the husband what is owed Christ.
I certainly don’t think wives are property, second-class citizens, or inferior in any way. Nor should a husband demand “submission” (as if such a thing was possible). But throughout the scriptures we’re taught that there are hierarchies, and we honor those to honor God.
Excluding the marital relationship smacks of culture-based eisegesis.”
God’s ways cannot be honored while breaking the Lord’s commands – Love your neighbor as yourself and your brother as Christ loved us. Why does this kind of topic ALWAYS put Jesus off to the side? It is because it’s a focus on the flesh (gender) and the flesh “must always abide by law”.
Where’s JESUS?



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Stickler

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm


Someone asked why a focus on submission? Bondage, people are drawn to place others in bondage. It’s work of the flesh and is why the topic of women and submission is so popluar.



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Stickler

posted July 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm


“Excluding the marital relationship smacks of culture-based eisegesis.”
There is no such thing as hierarchal marriage having existed, from the beginning. Any honest scholar knows that this is true because it cannot be proven from Genesis. (And what Paul wrote in Eph 5 has nothing to do with prescribing hierarchal marriage as the context itself Testifies)



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Carolyn

posted July 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm


As a woman who has been married nearly 21 years I am doing my best to learn and study both Greek and Hebrew as I plod along toward a Masters in Divinity degree. I am fully convinced the more I learn the less I know.
For the purpose of this ‘discussion’ my undergraduate is from Northwestern College (Billy Graham 2nd College President). That said, many who know me would agree I am one who favors tradition, and part of the tradition yields to the freedom given in Romans, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind … So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God (14:5, 22 NIV).
My husband, after looking over my shoulder as I learned Hebrew in my first year of seminary decided to apply and join me. I can remember when we were first married I tried hard to sew beautiful Christmas stockings for our family. My husband would have made the Singer family proud. I on the other hand would have been shown the door – LOL. Our house is full of androgyny (two Greek words). My husband is far better at administration and I have been told I am a ‘cracker jack’ when it comes to Scripture memorization.
My role is to submit to God in every area of my life — period. I am a servant of the Most High God and so too is my husband. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, and each member of the Body has a role – none greater or lesser. If our lives reflect the carrying out of Matthew 22:36-39 in all that we do and say then I believe the rest naturally falls into place. I would be remiss if I did not leave a pondering with regard to the ‘fear’ element and its role it plays within the context given here.



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