Tag Archives: theology

Gender Equality and Homosexuality in Scripture

17 Jan

Yesterday, the linking of gender equality and homosexuality came up twice.  The first time was in the context of a class, and the second came over dinner with a friend.  It seems that some folks are putting the two issues in the same camp, assuming the arguments are congruent for both, and that support of one equates to support for the other.  I’ve even had a man tell me he couldn’t support women in ministry because it was a “slippery slope” towards ordaining gay people.  While it is certainly true that a proponent of marriage equality is more likely to promote equality amongst the sexes, the same cannot be said in reverse.  I say that for one, very good reason- the arguments in favor of gender equality are completely different from the arguments for Christian gay marriage.    

Biblical egalitarians, like me, have come to this position after wrestling with texts and evaluating the tensions within the biblical witness.  The point is -there are tensions!  Not every passage of Scripture that deals with women is in agreement with the others.  Yes, Paul limits women in 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14, but Paul also praises women as leaders in Romans 16, and writes with the assumption that they will be praying and prophesying  in worship in 1 Cor. 11.  He also has the gumption to say things like, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:28-29 NIV).  On top of Paul’s testimony, we have four Gospels which portray Jesus’ counter-cultural encounters with women.  Not only did he offer deep respect for women, but he also brought women into discipleship (think Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Joanna, Susannah, Mary of Clopas, etc).  The conversation gets even larger when we bring in the dozens of Old Testament passages which deal with women.  Often, egalitarians are accused of disregarding Scripture passages we just don’t like.  In reality, however, we’re engaging all of the biblical witness, and interpreting two small passages in light of the entire biblical witness.  We aren’t disregarding passages.  We’re evaluating them within the entire canon of Scripture (the same thing we do with slavery by the way). We not only have the freedom to do this, but also the responsibility, because there IS tension within the text which calls for careful study and interpretation.

The same cannot be said for homosexuality in the Bible.  There are no tensions within Scripture when it comes to homosexuality.  Admittedly, addressing homosexual relations does not seem to be a high priority for any of the biblical writers.  That being said, the matter is addressed in both the Old and New Testaments.  In every instance, the practice is forbidden.  That’s it.  There are no contradicting texts.  There are no writers who disagree with those who came before.   The biblical witness is consistent.  As a progressively-minded person, I would LOVE to say something different.  But I cannot make claims about the text which the text doesn’t make for itself.  

I understand the motivation to link these two issues. After all, proponents of biblical equality and marriage equality are both concerned with the honorable treatment of all persons.  Throughout history, both women and LGBTQ folks have been treated as something less than human, undeserving of love and respect.  Such behavior is unbiblical and unchristian. Period.  Every human has been made in the image of God and has inherent and sacred worth, regardless of that person’s actions or beliefs.  But that’s where the link between gender equality and homosexuality ends. 

My friends, however tempted we may be to link gender equality with marriage equality, these two conversations should be had separately.  Scripture doesn’t link them.  The arguments for/against them are not the same.  Please don’t misrepresent advocates of either by assuming the two positions are necessarily linked.  The church needs to engage both of these issues, but the Bible doesn’t deal with them in the same way, so we shouldn’t either.    

Advertisements

Pride, Humility & Seminary

8 Aug

Confession time- I struggle with pride. 

Perhaps I can best illustrate the intensity of this battle by sharing a humorous anecdote from my years in undergrad.  

I was taking a post- 1945 American History class.  We were discussing the changes that occurred on the American religious scene.  Naturally, Billy Graham was part of the conversation.  My professor mentioned something about Graham still being alive.  Now, please keep in mind that Bill Graham was ancient on the day I was born.  So by the time I was old enough to discuss his ministry in HISTORY class, I just assumed the man was already kickin’ it in Glory with Jesus.  I told my professor as much.  He assured me the good Reverend was still living, and I assured him the man was deader than a door nail.  Obviously, I was mistaken, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if I hadn’t also said, “I’m a youth minister.  Religious stuff is kind of my thing, and I KNOW he is dead.”  A classmate settled the debate by googling Billy Graham and confirming that he was, in fact, still alive.   

I was humbled that day, and rightly so.  I needed to be knocked down a few pegs.  Little did I realize at the time, that the experience of being humbled was to be repeated over and over again when I went to seminary. 

When I started at Asbury, I was the most theologically minded person I knew.  I loved to study Scripture, church history and I’d even read a few books by legitimate scholars (granted I didn’t understand most of them).  I knew I had a great deal to learn, but I never imagined the sheer magnitude of what I didn’t know.  There were things I’d never even thought about- let alone formed intelligent opinions on.  On top of that, I’d picked up enough bad theology that I had almost as much to un-learn as I did to take in. 

I’ll never forget my first day of seminary.  The professor of Inductive Bible Study (David Bauer) recited half the New Testament in Greek.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but that’s what it seemed like at the time.  Then I went to church history and realized many of my classmates knew who Dr. Collins was talking about when he dropped names like Origen or Tertullian. Heck, I was still pronouncing Augustine the same way I say the name of the town in Florida (August- een instead of A-gust-in).  The day finished off nicely in “Foundations of Youth Ministry.”  My prof for that class went through the syllabus and explained we were going to write a paper describing our theology of youth ministry.  In the midst of that conversation, he used words like soteriology, Christology, incarnational, pneumatology- and probably a few others that I couldn’t figure out how to spell.  To my embarrassment, I had to make a special appointment with Dr. Hampton just so I could figure out the fancy theology terms that went along with the ideas I had. 

For me, seminary was a lesson in humility.  I’ve heard many a fellow-seminarian remark that one class or another was “humility 101” for them.  My whole first year in seminary was humility 101, 201, 301, and 401 for me.  In fact, by the end of my first semester, I was only convinced of three things.  1) I loved God more than ever.  2) I was in precisely the right place, at the right time, and 3) I still had so much to learn.

But a few more years into this process, something has happened.  Instead of seminary feeding my humility, it now has a tendency to feed my pride.  You see, all those words I didn’t know in YM class are now part of my everyday vocabulary.[1]  I’ve read the works of those church fathers I’d never heard of, and even though I still can’t recite the New Testament in Greek,  I can find all the structural relationships you want in a pericope.  See, I even use the word “pericope!”

All this knowledge has made me a better student and preacher of God’s word.  It’s definitely made me a better follower of Jesus, but it’s also given me another notch in the proverbial belt which I am constantly tempted to show off.    Even this week, I almost pulled out the “I know more than you” card in the midst of a disagreement over a passage of Scripture.  Thankfully, God gave me the self-control not to do that, but the inclination was still there.  The experience sent me into some prayer and reflection, and God reminded me of this truth, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble,” (James 4:6).

I’m not sure whether to call for a collective “Amen,” or “Ouch” because I suspect I’m not alone in this.  When we commit the sin of pride, we’re not just putting ourselves in opposition to God, but we’re also putting God in opposition to us.  That’s not the place I want to be in

So my prayer for this semester is that God allows me to approach my theological education with the same sense of wonder- and humility- that I did that first day.

What makes your pride rise to the surface and how do you stay humble?


[1] When you marry a seminary trained academic, theology and philosophy are everyday topics.

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Junia

3 Jan

ImageGreet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. –Romans 16:7 NIV

Today we are discussing a third woman whom Paul’s hails in Romans 16.  Her name is Junia.  Believe it or not, Romans 16:7 is a verse that is heavily disputed amongst Bible translators.  There are two issues they just can’t seem to agree on.  The first is whether or not the figure of Junia was a woman (as the feminine name suggests) or male, in which case the name should be translated as Junias.  Check the Bible on your own shelf.  Depending on your translation, you will either see Junia or Junias.  The second item that is disputed is whether or not Andronicus and Junia(s) were well known among the apostles, or well known by/to the apostles.  Again, check your own translation.

Because of the issues with translation, today’s blog is a little longer and more technical.  Please bear with me on that.  For this blog, I have referenced 24 different translations.  At the end of this post, I have included a graph, which shows you the different ways the most common and available translations translate Romans 16:7.

It’s All in a Name

Let’s look first at the issue of the name.  Is it Junia or Junias?  In most of today’s translations, you will see the name Junia.  There are several reasons why I think that’s correct.  1)  The earliest New Testament manuscripts we have use the name Junia.  There are a couple of very old manuscripts that have “Julia” instead, but that’s still a feminine name.  The older the manuscript, the more likely it is to reflect the original, thus, Junia is more likely than Junias to be the correct name.  2) The name “Junias” has never been found in any other source.  There are no extra-biblical writings, such as literature or histories; no monuments; and no burial sites that use the name Junias.  As far as scholars can tell, the name never existed.  Junia, on the other hand, was an extremely common name in the Roman Empire during the lifetime of Paul.  3) The church fathers used the feminine form of the name and referred to Junia as a woman.  John Chrysostom commented on Romans 16:7 by saying, “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”  Given the testimony of the text (which are as close to the original as we have available), the context of the Ancient Roman Empire, and church history, it seems pretty clear that Junia is the appropriate translation, and that Paul was speaking about a woman.  Calling her Junias became popular around the 13th century.  I suppose the early translators simply could not imagine a situation where a woman would be called an apostle, thus they chose to “correct” what they assumed was a mistake.

Was Junia an Apostle or Not?

Before we can answer that question, it must be stated that every translation is an interpretation.  I’ll say it again:

Translation = Interpretation

I think Bible translators are faithful, hard-working men and women who sincerely work to offer up to us a copy of God’s word which we can understand and use.  English translations are reliable, but those of us who are using a translation rather than the original language need to recognize that translators make interpretative choices, and some translations do that more than others.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to translation.  There’s formal equivalence – which tends to be “word for word”- and then there is dynamic equivalence- which is thought for thought.  For a more in-depth description of the differences, check out this website:  http://voices.yahoo.com/how-choose-bible-version-formal-dynamic-equivalence-2101594.html?cat=9   Whether they favor formal or dynamic equivalence, all translators find themselves in situations where they have to make interpretative choices (though the latter requires considerably more).  Often, those decisions reflect the theological position of the translator.  For example, the NASB and ESV tend to be more popular amongst reformed folks, whereas Wesleyans will prefer the RSV or NRSV. While interpretative decisions don’t really alter the general message of the Gospel, they can make a difference in smaller doctrinal issues.  Romans 16:7 is a perfect example of that.

ImageI wish I were a Greek scholar, who could wow you with my skills of Biblical translation and explain to you exactly why Junia was well known among the apostle, as opposed to being well known to the apostles.  Sadly, I don’t yet have those skills.  What I do have is access to twenty-four different English Translations.  I decided that I would compare the way these versions translate Romans 16:7 (again, reference the chart below).  Going into this, I developed a hypothesis.   It seemed to me that no one worried about whether or not Andronicus and Junias were among the apostle or simply known by them.  The reason being, of course, is that Junias is masculine and no feathers were ruffled by that.  It wasn’t until the resurgence of using Junia, that people felt the need to re-examine her place (or lack thereof) among the apostles.  Thus, I hypothesized that translators would only use “to/by” if they also translated the name to the feminine.  That way they could rightly use the feminine name, without admitting she was among the apostles.  My chart details my findings.

With one exception, my hypothesis proved correct.  There is only one translation that prefers to say Andronicus and Junias were respected by the apostles, and that is the Contemporary English Version.  The other four translations who use “to/by” also translate the name into the feminine, Junia.  Thus, from them we read that Junia was well known to the apostles instead of being one of them herself.  This conclusion, however, is definitely in the minority.

As you can see from my comparison chart, nineteen of the twenty-four translations I looked at believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles.  That’s 79%.  Interestingly, the five translations that state Andronicus and Junia(s) were known to/by the apostles (the Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Version, the Lexham Bible and the New English Translation) are either affiliated with, or edited by Southern Baptists, who oppose egalitarian views of womanhood.

Given that the vast majority of translators believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles, and that all of the opposing translations have been put forward by a particular tradition who are biased against women in leadership (and the 79% who use “among” represent both ends of the theological spectrum), I must conclude that Junia was an apostle. 

Translation

Use Junia

Use Junias

“among the apostles”

“to/by the apostles”

American Standard Version

Amplified

Common English Version

Complete Jewish Bible

Contemporary English Version

Darby

English Standard Version

God’s Word Translation

Good News Translation

Holman Christian Standard Version

King James Version

Knox Bible

Lexham English Bible

New American Standard Version

New Century Version

New English Translation

New International Version

New International Version 1984

New King James Version

New Living Translation

New Revised Standard Version

Revised Standard Version

Wycliffe Bible

Young’s Literal Translation

Conclusion

Though Junia is only mentioned in passing, it’s clear that she was a woman whose life and ministry Paul greatly respected.  She was a Jewish Christian, and was apparently converted early- even before Paul (who converted approximately three years after the resurrection).  We’re also told that she was so dedicated to her faith and the gospel that she was imprisoned alongside Paul.  Even if Paul had stopped there, we would know that she was a godly woman and a great example for men and women alike.  But Paul didn’t stop there.  He said that she was “outstanding among the apostles.”  As an apostle she would have been responsible for planting churches throughout the Roman Empire, and functioning as a leader over them.  What’s more, Paul says she was outstanding at it.  I hope we keep her life and ministry in mind when our denominations make decisions about who we call apostles today. Image

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Priscilla

28 Dec

Today we’re looking at another woman whom Paul mentions in Romans 16.  Her name is Priscilla, and she is listed along with her husband here:

“Greet Prisca and Aq′uila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house.” – Romans 16:2-5 (RSV)

Under normal circumstances, the mention of a husband/wife ministry team would give no one pause (Complementarian nor Egalitarian).  However, we are fortunate enough to have the back story of these two, which makes their mention a little more interesting.  It can be found in Acts 18.

There, we’re told that Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla, in Corinth.  They were Jewish believers who had recently come from Italy (almost certainly Rome) because the emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from the city (around 49 CE).  They had immigrated to Corinth where they worked as tent-makers.  Paul lived and worked with them.  When Paul left, Priscilla and Aquila joined him.  The three arrived in Ephesus and began ministry, but Paul eventually left the couple there.  We know from from 1 Corinthians 16 (which Paul likely wrote from Ephesus) that Priscilla and Aquila began a church in their home in Ephesus.

While Priscilla and Aquila were living in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos came to the city.  He was from Alexandria and was a believer.  Apollos was a powerful speaker on behalf of Christ, but he only knew the baptism of John.  In other words, he had not been instructed fully in the Way.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of the Lord more fully to him.  After their tutelage, Apollos left and became a very influential teacher and leader in the church (Acts 18).

ImageIt appears that Priscilla and Aquila returned to their home in Rome when the edict of Claudius expired.  At the very least, they seem to be located there when the letter to the Romans was written.

So what does this missionary couple teach us about Paul’s view of women in ministry?  Quite a lot actually.  First, we see how valuable they were to Paul’s ministry and to the ministry to gentiles in general.  The three worked (and lived) very closely and supported one another in ministry.  Even the use of “Priscilla” which is a diminutive of “Prisca” reveals how close they were [It’s like calling me Katie instead of Kate or Kathryn].  On top of that, they led churches in Ephesus and in Rome, and served as teachers to one of the most influential apostles of the early church.  They were super-duper important!  They are a testimony to how powerfully God uses marriage and married couples.  Neither Priscilla, nor Aquila, was every mentioned individually (at least not in the Bible).

Most Complementarians will stop right there- arguing that married couples indeed minister together.  They would, however, contend that Aquila functioned as the spiritual leader of the two in marriage and in ministry.  As you can probably imagine, I’m going to suggest something different.  Priscilla and Aquila are named seven times (see acts 18:2, 18,19,26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; and 2 Timothy 4:19).  In five of those seven instances, Priscilla is named first.  [If you want to check for yourself, click this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=priscilla&qs_version=NIV ] That may not seem significant, but it was, at the very least different.  Imagine if I introduced a newly married couple as Mrs. And Mr. Smith- instead of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  It’s just not how we do things.  Saying it sounds weird and wrong, because it’s not how we introduce married couples.  Now, think about how it would have sounded to Paul’s first century audience when Priscilla was mentioned first.

There are two possible explanations for this. 1) Priscilla was from a superior socioeconomic class than her husband.  I am not inclined to believe this for one simple reason.  Paul never seemed to give much preference to class anywhere else in his letters.  Why should we suppose he cared when it came to his tent-making friends? 2) Priscilla could have been mentioned first because she was the more prominent figure of the two.  Given the unlikelihood of the first possibility, I am persuaded to favor this explanation.  In addition, there is nothing in the text that indicates Aquila was the “real minister,” while Priscilla stayed in the background doing women’s and children’s ministry. Quite the opposite, actually; because the text tells us that Priscilla and Aquila offered instruction to Apollos.  I hope you find it as interesting as I do that this woman is being praised for teaching a man.

What I think it most significant about Priscilla and Aquila, though, is the fact that their ministry was done together- seemingly with mutuality and equality.  If Priscilla was more prominent, then she never chose to minister without the partnership of her husband.  If I’m wrong, and Aquila was more prominent, it’s clear he never chose to subordinate the ministry of his wife.  That’s a great picture for Christian marriage, especially for those of us in ministry.

In my own marriage and ministry, this seems especially relevant.  As far as church ministry goes, I am more “prominent” because I am the pastor, but my husband partners with me in that ministry.  His advice, accountability, and wisdom are indispensable to me.  He has been my most valuable resource in ministry.  We are equals, even if I’m the one who has the title.  I am confident it will be the same when RC ministers to the academic world.  He will be the doctor, the professor, and eventually the writer.  In the academic world he will be the prominent one.  However, he would never elevate his role in ministry over mine.  That’s mutuality.  And let me tell everyone from first- hand experience, it is much harder to live out mutuality than hierarchy. But then again, I’ve found that the Way of the Lord usually is much more difficult- yet much more beautiful- than any other way of life.

In conclusion, Priscilla and Aquila give us a great picture of God’s design for couples in ministry.  They also reveal how highly Paul viewed the ministry of both Priscilla and Aquila.

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Phoebe

27 Dec

I am currently studying for my blog on 1 Timothy 2, which is the passage most frequently used to limit women in leadership.  In that chapter we find the only explicit prohibition on Women teachers in the entire Bible.  Yes, I really just said that… the ONLY explicit restriction in all sixty-six books of the Bible.  Part of my premise- with regard to that particular passage- is that it should be read in conjunction with, and in light of, all the passages in which Paul affirms women in leadership.  However, it may be difficult for readers to do that, if they are not familiar with such affirmations in Scripture.  Thus, in preparation for the big “Shi-bang,” we will begin, first, with Romans 16.

In the first 16 verses of this chapter, Paul gives a list of 27 people.  Ten of them are women.  More than one third of the people Paul either wished to greet or commend are female.  In a male dominated culture, that alone is worth mentioning.  However, what is more significant is the way he speaks of these women and the titles he gives them.  Today, we’ll be looking at Phoebe.

PhoebeImage

Phoebe is the first person Paul mentions.  The title she is give varies upon one’s translation.  She is called a “servant” (NASB, CEB, ESV, KJV), “minister” (Darby), “deaconess” (Amplified, RSV,), “leader” (CEV), “helper” (Expanded, NCV, New Life Version), one who “has devoted her services” (Knox Bible), and “deacon” (NIV, NLT, NRSV).  In Greek she is called a diakonos.  Between all of Paul’s letters (at least all those tradition holds as Pauline), he uses diakonos a total of 23 times.  In the KJV- which I use along with Strong’s Lexicon/Bible Dictionary), diakonosis translated as servant ONLY when used in reference to Phoebe.  Three times it is used to refer to a deacon.  The rest are ALL translated at minister.  This is interesting since there is no contextual evidence to suggest “servant” is a more appropriate translation than “minister.”  Granted, newer translations use servant for diakonos much more frequently.  Personally, I feel that diakonos is best translated as servant, minister or deacon (in that order).  Deaconess, no matter how similar, in my humble opinion, is a poor choice because the Greek term is masculine, thus it would be inappropriate to make it feminine in English.  However one chooses to translate this word, it’s essential that we recognize Phoebe was being recognized with a title Paul ascribed to himself.  In 1 Timothy 3 we even see a list of qualifications for anyone who wished to become a deacon.  Clearly, Phoebe was not merely a helper or a good Christian woman.  She was a servant, perhaps even a minister.  Paul even names the church in which she served.  Paul goes on to commend this woman, and calls the church to show her hospitality and to help her in any way she requires, because has provided such help to others, even Paul. 

 

Tradition also holds that Phoebe was the carrier of the letter to the Roman Church.  Thus, Paul was using these verses as a way of introducing her.  Paul’s introduction is also consistent with the way non-biblical authors introduced letter carriers.  The role of letter carrier conveys the level of responsibility Phoebe was entrusted with.  Some historians believe the letter carrier was also the first reader or “lector.”  This would make Phoebe the first expositor of the book of Romans!  While this is somewhat debatable, what is certain is that the letter carrier (even if he/she wasn’t the first reader), was privileged to know the author, as well as the author’s context and intent.  Thus, the letter carrier was the go-to persons for questions concerning the letter.   Here’s a great little article on the issue of letter carrying:  http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/phoebe-carrier-of-pauls-letter-to-the-roman-christians/

 

There are some who have challenged the notion that Phoebe’s role as deacon equated her with some level of spiritual authority.  They also maintain that Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is transcultural and for all time.  To those people, I ask these questions:  If there is no authority in the office of deacon, then why was Paul so concerned that only appropriate candidates fill that office?  If women were not permitted to speak or teach under any circumstances, why does Paul choose a woman to be the letter carrier and perhaps even expositor?  What do you think?

Why I’m Writing this Series: My Story

22 Dec

Hello Folks,

I’ve been thinking the last few days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I should have shared my personal journey towards Biblical egalitarianism before beginning this whole process.  It is only through sharing my story that I believe people will understand why I am so passionate about this topic.  Secondly, I think I need to clarify what my motivation for this project is.

I was blessed with two great parents who affirmed my gifts and talents my entire life.  In my home, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling.  I had many different career aspirations:  dentist and mommy, teacher and mommy, archaeologist and mommy, lawyer and mommy, back to teacher and mommy.  I always wanted to be a mommy, and have always been a “girly girl.”  Aside from that, my gender had very little impact on what I wanted to do with my life.

As I grew older, I began to notice some stereotypes, but I disregarded them.  “Girl Power” was something we cheered on the playground, and I distinctly remember telling my Dad that I liked Star Trek Voyager because the captain was a woman (I still like Voyager as a matter of fact).  My pseudo-feminism was never a problem, because I was living in a secular world that (for the most part) never prescribed my role to me.  Then I became a Christian.

At fifteen I gave my life to the Lord and I joined a United Methodist Church.  I was fortunate to witness many women in leadership at my home church.  Granted, the minister and youth minister were both men, but the worship leader, children’s director and director of Christian ed. were all women.  To be honest, I didn’t think about it much until I started reading Scripture.  I felt like Jesus reached out to women and included them, but there was that darn verse in 1 Timothy, and some weird things about silence and head coverings in 1 Corinthians.  Naturally, I was confused, and my confusion was exacerbated by the fact that I was growing into a leader and sensing the beginnings of a call for ministry.

When I was a senior in high school, I started meeting with a wonderful woman from a different theological tradition.  [If she’s reading this, I hope you know how much I value our time together and I am incredibly thankful that you challenged me to really dig into Scripture and to let it be the authority in my life.]  She pushed me to walk the walk, and to give God my all, but at the same time, she taught me that women were meant to be secondary to men in the home and the church.  Being young, impressionable, and eager to please God, I bought in.  I stepped down from all my leadership positions (because they effectively put me over the boys), and I accepted my role.  I even got upset when my college had the audacity to allow a woman to teach the New Testament class!  While I know this was not my mentor’s intention (or the intention of any Complementarian I might add), the notion that I was somehow “less than” proved damaging to my faith over time.  You see, my gifts and my passions were for ministries forbidden to women (or so I thought).  I was good at speaking, teaching, leading, etc.  I tried to apply those gifts to children’s ministry, but I was miserable and not very good at it.  At first I just thought my gifts and passion for ministry meant I was rebellious or power hungry, but after sincere striving to fit into the mold of good Christian woman, I started to question God.  I was angry at him, for making me “unfit” to do the things I was good at.  I didn’t understand why my passion for ministry was so repulsive to him. This little identity crisis-combined with some other wounds- led to my temporary exit from the church.

To make a long story a little shorter, my Complementarian ideologies were challenged when I met a woman named Linda Fox.  We were working on a retreat together and I knew she was a pastor (ordained in the Southern Baptist church back when they still did that).  I recoiled from her a bit at first, but as I watched her minister I saw the fruit.  She was good.  And God was CLEARLY using her in powerful ways.  That really threw me for a loop.  I had thought God didn’t honor or bless women pastors.  She wasn’t power hungry, or eager to usurp men.  She simply lived out the call and used the gifts God gave her in the places he told her to go.  Wow!  On the same retreat, a woman who is now my dear friend, told me after some prayer time that I was anointed for ministry (something I’d felt before but buried).  At that point, I decided I needed to really study ALL of Scripture and figure out what God really thought about us women-folk.  That process took several years.  To be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced until the summer before I took my first paid ministry position.  The Holy Spirit convicted me that to continue to run from my calling was disobedience to my Lord.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Since then, I have been blessed to serve God and his beloved children (of every gender) in ministry and leadership.  He has continued to develop my gifts and has opened the door for me to be a pastor of a church.  On top of that, God has blessed me with a husband with whom I share an unbelievably intimate relationship that is based on equality and mutuality.  Having been on both sides of the Egalitarian/Complementarian fence, I am truly convinced this side bears more fruit.

I have been accused of being “liberal” as of late, and the word “feminist” has been thrown around as if it’s a curse word.  Liberal and conservative are rather subjective terms.  Compared to a fundamentalist, I am pretty liberal.  On the other hand, if you compared me to someone on the far left of the theological spectrum, he/she would say I was very conservative.  If you want to know what I believe, look at my statement of faith.   I am orthodox, which means I believe everything the church fathers deemed essential for Christian faith.  You could also put me in the Wesleyan camp (if you want to get more specific).  As for feminist- I am one.  You probably are too if you go by the definition.  According to the dictionary, a feminist is a person who “advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” I am a feminist because I believe God created men and women for intimate, loving and mutually submissive relationships in which they could experience complete unity.  The unity of Eden was marked by equality.  I believe it is sin that has created the great divide between the sexes.  As a child of God, and participant in the covenant community, I believe I am called to live into Eden, rather than the curse.

My motivation for doing this little blog series has little to do with a “feminist agenda.”  I’m honestly not trying to change the mind of complementarians out there.  Truthfully, I think the best way to accomplish that task is simply to be a woman in leadership and to do it well.  I would be lying, though, if I said I don’t have an agenda, because I have two.  The first is purely personal.  This subject is very important to me and this little project has been fun.   My primary motivation, however, is driven by my love for young people.  I’ve been part of youth ministry for years and I have seen several young women with gifts and graces for ministry.  I also know, first hand, that young women are put down- their gifts buried- and their calls dismissed because they are female.  At the same time, I have seen young men inundated with false expectations of marriage, fatherhood, and responsibility in the church.  My hope is that young women and men -who don’t have the benefit of a seminary library or egalitarian role models- can read this and see the dozens of passages that affirm women, mutual submission, and gift-based leadership, as opposed to the four Scriptures that appear to limit women.  At the very least, there will be some exposure to the “other side” of the issue.

PS:  This picture is of my husband, Linda Fox, and me, on the day that Linda married us!

Image

The Unsubmissive Wife the Bible Praises: Abigail

20 Dec

The Story of Abigail can be found in 1 Samuel 25.  The following is a summation of her story.  Abigail was married to Nabal.  Nabal was a fool, but Abigail waImages beautiful and intelligent.  At this time, Saul had just died, and David had essentially been living in hiding (Saul wanted to kill him).  After a while of living in the vicinity of Nabal, David sent word to the wealthy man, asking him to share some food with David and his men.  David reasoned that it was only fair because David and his men had not stolen or acted wrongly towards Nabal’s.  They’d even protected them in some ways.  But Nabal is as greedy as he is foolish and refuses to share anything with David.  Keep in mind that hospitality was HUGE in ancient Israel.  Not sharing food would have been highly offensive to David. Thus, when David receives Nabal’s reply, he gets very angry, and tells his men to armor up and prepare for battle.

Meanwhile, one of the servants goes to Abigail.  The servant tells her about Nabal’s lack of hospitality toward David and how good David and his men has been to the people.  Sensing the danger, Abigail secretly loads some donkeys down with food and sets out to meet David and his men before they attack her household.  She is doing this in direct disobedience to her husband’s command.  When Abigail meets David and his men, she offers the food and pleads for him to forgive her husband’s insolence.  David is won over by her and does as she asks.  Thus, a crisis is averted, and Abigail is praised for her wisdom.

Abigail is not what we would call a leader, but she is hailed precisely because she took the lead in a crisis situation.  Had Abigail followed the rules of wifely submission, she would have honored her husband’s commands, and then everyone in her household would have died.  I recently watched a video clip where John Piper (a Reformed pastor and Complimentarian) urged women to submit to their husbands unless/until the husbands wanted their wives to sin- even in situations of abuse!  But here, Abigail is praised for doing the exact opposite.   Her story proves that even in the intensely patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, there is a limit to wifely submission.

Another thing I find interesting is the way Abigail speaks about her husband to David.  She says, “Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him,” (1 Sam. 25: 25).  I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think it’s good for marriages when one spouse puts another down- especially in public.  I think the goal of every husband and wife team should be to out-do one another in love.  However, the fact that Abigail spoke out against her husband- even calling him a fool- reinforces the idea that women are not helplessly bound to their husbands’ stupidity.  They can, and should, stand up for what is right and for themselves.

At the conclusion of this story, Nabal died.  He went into a sort of coma when Abigail told him what she’d done.  He lingered for ten days before dying.  When David learned of the fool’s demise, he sent his men and asked Abigail to be his wife.  She accepted, and lived out her life as one of King David’s queens.  The moral of this story (just in case you haven’t picked up on it yet), is that there are limits for wifely submission, even in the Old Testament.  Abigail lived in a patriarchal culture, where women were expected to strictly obey their husbands and never bring them disrespect.  Abigail both dishonors and disobeys, and yet, the Bible teaches that her actions were right.  This is food for thought for everyone who is wrestling with to understand the extent to which wives should submit to their husbands.