Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8
It seems that when it comes to seeking answers, the words of Bible is the best place to start for some. It can provide hope, redemption, and peace – and as much as one would like to claim it inspires the utmost faith, the words I have read in it has not done so for me. And the impasse is almost unbearable.
When I think about women and religion, there are so many questions, yet my heart and mind connect on one thing – some churches do not allow equality for women.
I picked up my Bible and read it cover to cover over the past two days. I have numerous articles on why or why not 1 Tim. 2:11-12 is accurate (this is the most common scripture used to justify women’s submission in the church).
Indeed, during times of changing culture, many Christians remind us this world does not matter and not to get caught up in this world as it is a sin; not to want too much because it’s a sin; not to question God’s accuracy for the Holy Spirit guides us in its understanding; to rejoice in God’s natural order and not to worry about these cultural issues as they distract us from our real duty of living as Christ did or from delivering Christ’s message; and ultimately, biblical order is vital for understanding God:
“God created manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex because He wanted us to have symbols, images, and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who He is and what a relationship with Him is all about. Without manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex, we would have a tough time understanding concepts such as desire, love, commitment, fidelity, infidelity, loyalty, jealousy, unity, intimacy, marriage, oneness, covenant, and family.”
“Sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.”
“The question is do we have the humility to trust in that way when it doesn’t make sense to us? There is a trust in God’s goodness and perfect will that comes into play. Gender-bending – and all of its cultural manifestations – is the subtle symptom of an outright rebellion.”
“The Holy Spirit, for his part, was to glorify Christ. If God gives me, as a woman, a task, that is the place and position from which he wants me to glorify him. I have noticed that when I desire to be submissive to the Lord, he has a way of letting me know what is in my heart in relation to my husband.”
“However, if God gives a woman leadership abilities, he will most likely give her a realm in which to exercise them for his glory. (See Proverbs 31 for some ideas.) How about leading her children? A mother may and must lead her children, but, even there, she is still to be in a position of submission to her husband. How about leading other women? The apostle Paul spells out very clearly that the older women should teach the younger ones. (What he tells them to teach the younger women is also worth pondering.) Here is a built-in, significant role for every Christian woman! Thus, a wife’s stronger personality does not indicate she is free to be the head in the marriage; neither can it be used as an excuse for the husband to abdicate his God-given position. Even so, I dare to say that the presence of gifts or talents does not necessarily mean we will always have a realm in which to exercise them. We may be called on to relinquish them for a time, even to die to them or to the way in which we thought we were to use them. It may be that God is after my humility more than my gifts.”
In order to bring clarity to believers, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is a widely used source. The above statements were found through their Web site. Their mission includes “to help the church defend against the accommodation of secular feminism. At this time many evangelicals were beginning to experiment with an ideology that would later become known as evangelical feminism. This was a significant departure from what the church had practiced from its beginning regarding the role of men and women in the home and local church.”
I am not picking on them. It appears this organization is what many others seem to point at in justifying their stance on this issue of female roles in church.
I am of the mindset that we have God in all our hearts. If we want to search for answers, we need to look no farther than to our heart. How can it be that if we are all created in God’s image, why can I not trust myself for the answer I seek? For me, this idea of examining my life fits perfectly with the idea of the noble pursuit of searching for my personal truth: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” – Mathew 7:7.
For me, these last few weeks have been hell as I try to find my way through all this. I have read many books/articles including The Case for Christ, ReligiousTolerance.org, Evolving in Monkey Town, Love Wins, Insurrection, and Mere Christianity.
I deeply believe it is only through questioning our values, beliefs, and assertions that we become authentic, faithful to ourselves; likewise, we become faithful to our highest purpose – exercising mindful awareness: giving full attention to the present moment with acceptance; experiencing grace through self-kindness: treating yourself with care instead of beating yourself up; and connecting with others on the basis of common humanity: the understanding that sometimes suffering is part of the human experience & we are not alone in it. While some of you may be shocked that my life purpose isn’t to serve God, I do want to be clear that LOVE is the answer for me. I may not classify it as God but it serves the same purpose – my life is driven by it. Peter Rollins, author of Insurrection, reminds us:
When God is treated as an object that we love, then we always experience a distance between ourselves and the ultimate source of happiness and meaning. But when God is found in love itself, then the very act of loving brings us into immediate relationship with the deepest truth of all…God no longer pulls on us as something “out there”; rather God is a presence that is made manifest in our very midst. Here meaning is not found in turning away from the world but in fully embracing it through the act of love.
It is through this act of love that I went on this search. So many times I have seen men and women alike unquestionably highlight the submissive role demanded of women. For me, to use my brain, my heart, my ability to question everything means love – love for myself and love for others as I am doing the work they are sometimes overwhelmed to do.
People have misused scriptures in order to keep people from questioning authority and questioning those in power in the church under the guise of God’s commandments, especially denying women this right since they are to be silent.
And how do we stop people without the power questioning those with the power: convince them they don’t have power in the first place.
And this is where we start with women in the church. In my search, I noticed that women are usually divided into two categories: they are either idealistically highlighted as Mother Marys or stigmatized as seducing Eves. They are either scripted as an unselfish mother or a tempting woman distracting men from the church.
Do these roles translate to responsibility or power in the church? Can a woman who gave birth be more aligned to God? If so, why isn’t she offered more leadership roles and ample opportunity to shed light for others on how this relationship brought her closer to God? This shows to me the mother relationship is honored as long as it keeps her busy and diverted from the real work of leading the congregation in service. I know plenty of women who lead a household of four children, and two dogs, gracefully and respectfully, yet because she is a woman, her leadership capabilities must be restricted to the childcare duties and go unrecognized as an asset to the leadership mission of the church.
What a benefit she may serve as a spiritual leader to all – not just the women’s ministry or children’s ministry but to the whole congregation. What a benefit she is to engage her children’s minds, to facilitate growth, and to teach her children how to relate to others in a loving way, respecting diversity of opinion.
And where is the line that we should tell our sons to start being a leader even though his mother has led him for most of his life? When does he need to recognize because he is a man, he needs to lead his female mother now? What a tricky place for many sons – How do they honor the upbringing their mothers have given them but also have it somewhere in the back of their mind that this mother is also a female and must be designated to a lower status in the church as a thing not powerful enough to know the way to Christ on her own?
And if we aren’t a mother, we are to be out of disregarded because we are more closely aligned with Satan and the desires of the flesh. I am so tired of men blaming women for men’s lack of sexual integrity. It is a woman’s fault for being beautiful or distracting. It’s easier to blame someone else that they tempted you instead of analyzing your own weakness. There are indeed women out there that think sexual attention is power and definitely use this to their advantage, but that wouldn’t be an issue if this Eve connotation weren’t in place. Instead of teaching men women aren’t evil and tempting, we are actually telling women and men due to this saint/whore dichotomy that these are the only two roles for women to be, and thus, there are only two ways for men to treat women. The easiest way to prevent sexual disgrace is to have women blocked from sight, blocked from value, blocked from power because they may tempt men in power (The military used to use this as their ammo when women came knocking on their doors). Women need to be respected as valuable human beings regardless if their biological parts work or not, regardless if they represent a threat to the status quo. Are we getting these messages from the pulpit?
Instead of allowing real power – power as an expandable resource that is produced and shared through interaction by leaders and followers alike – we are given an illusionary title as mothers that, in effect, do not involve shared power in building our local communities or families. This concept of giving a noble title but not having any real influence is another tactic to reduce women’s status. We did this when we were kids – magnifying the greatness of someone else’s toy as a distraction method so they won’t want to play with our toy: “Your superhero has a long cape – that must be a cool dude to fly around – my dude only came with a helicopter.” If we only focus on the reproductive ability of women as the prime channel for them to be closer to God, women aren’t having a role in a the building of a ministry or community. Those in power, those who make rules, who decide the fate of all, due to this fake out, maintain power.
Likewise, there a psychological way we learn: constructed knowledge. We build our beliefs and values around gaps that we sometimes can’t fill in – we don’t pay attention to the gaps because the overall system gives us enough meaning to get by – consequently we presume over those gaps. If I were to illustrate this idea to you, I would ask you to remember a list of words as I say them aloud: tired, bed, pillow, snooze, blanket, etc. Then, I would ask you to write them down. People get close to writing them all down but they always add one: sleep – which isn’t on the list. All the words singularly may be effective in providing a larger concept – like nighttime or sleep or nap or rest, yet taken as a whole, we build over the gaps to a patterned, constructed meaning, and that meaning shifts according to our individual experiences. We build up a concept because it fits a pattern instead of allowing a meaning to naturally manifest.
This effect can be witnessed in respect to the roles of women in the church. If women are to be submissive and quiet, you may infer women might not have anything important to say or they aren’t powerful enough to listen to. Even if you have the best intentions and want shared power in your relationships, you might subconsciously have the assumption women are not worthy in your mind because of this proven psychological mode of learning and that one scripture constantly is highlighted. Would we have this idea about women without this weight on ONE SCRIPTURE and unjust interpretations of the Bible?
As I look around, I see what a blessing it is to have women leaders in all areas of life:
Having women in business is profitable –
“[T]here is increasing evidence that companies with more than three women on their board have a higher return on investment…This does not mean women are better than men, or would be better corporate board directors than men; rather it means they are different—and tend to bring what can be termed ‘added value’ to a corporate board. This is because they ask different questions, are concerned about process, and tend to complement the attributes of their male colleagues…The ‘terrible truth’ is the growing knowledge that women tend to exhibit different leadership attributes than men, not better or worse, merely different. They tend to be holistic rather than linear thinkers, they tend to negotiate in a win/win rather than a win/lose manner, they tend to be sensitive to subliminal cues, and comfortable with ambiguity. Sometimes male attributes are needed and sometimes female attributes are needed. However, in today’s fast changing global environment, which is culturally diverse, and characterized by ubiquitous social, political, and economic uncertainty, female attributes represent ‘added value.'”
Having women in sports is entertaining (and makes colleges money) –
Regarding 2011 Women’s NCAA Championship between Texas A & M and Notre Dame – “Christine Brennan crunched some numbers:
Consider that just 94 points were scored in Connecticut’s ugly victory against Butler on Monday. But the women? They reached 94 with 14:25 to go in their game, then added 52 more. Combined, the men shot 26% in their title game. The women, 50%.
It’s not fair to judge the two games against each other, but that’s certainly nothing new for women’s hoops. It just so happens that this is one of the first times the comparisons favor the women. It was the first time no 1-seeds made the title game since 1994, and instead of chalk, the women’s tournament got some refreshing parity, a few big name stars, and a classic final that we’ll remember for a long time. And, for once, a much more entertaining game than the men’s side.”
Having women in health care benefits both the individual patient and the world –
“An increasing number of women actually want to be General Practitioners at graduation, which must be better than having failed male specialists making up the bulk of the vocational training intake. Consultations with women doctors have been shown to be more patient centered and informative than with male physicians, and equally satisfactory for both male and female patients in primary care. Women are more likely to work with marginalized and vulnerable communities and to be a major source of clinical input to maternal and child health (a WHO and UN priority). The inclusion of women as equal partners in society is recognized as a key determinant of health and development by WHO, and more women in the work environment may increase emotional supportiveness, and team working for both staff and patients. However, it may be that we could get more out of our women doctors if residual prejudices and barriers did not continue to impede their performance and contribution.”
Having women in the military is an asset –
“White, like other female soldiers working with special operations teams, was brought in to do things that would be awkward or impossible for her male teammates. Frisking burka-clad women, for example.
Her death, in a bomb explosion in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, underscores the risks of placing women with elite U.S. special operations teams working in remote villages.
Military leaders and other female soldiers in the program say its rewards are great, even as it fuels debate over the roles of women in combat.
“We could do things that the males cannot do, and they are starting to realize that,” says Sgt. Christine Baldwin, who, like White, was in one of the first groups of women deployed to Afghanistan this year as specially trained “cultural support” troops.
Male soldiers often cannot even speak to an Afghan woman because of the strict cultural norms that separate the sexes and the tradition of women remaining behind closed doors most of the time. Forcing the issue has yielded only resentment, military officials say, and has jeopardized the trust and cooperation of villagers.”
These are just a few examples of how increasing women’s roles in the world benefit us all. But why don’t more churches have more spiritual leadership roles for women?
1 Timothy 2:11-12 states, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (see the many ways to interpret this here as I there are many articles on this scripture alone).
Yet instead of unifying this with other scriptures that want the same things for both men and women, this scripture – THE ONLY ONE IN THE BIBLE ABOUT THE ROLE FOR A WOMAN – is used as a way of finding difference instead of unity – diversion instead of connection – discord instead of love.
Doesn’t God want humility, submission, and obedience from a man as well:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you– Hebrews 13:17.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2: 5-8.
But we could play scriptural battleship all day and get nowhere. The only true power comes from our choice. For me, my heart, my mind, and my belief in love are at peace because I know what is true for me.
Throughout this search, I keep returning to how language is used, how knowledge is constructed, and all the ways my heart shouts out that I am worthy of sharing my spiritual gifts with others too.
In closing, I am reminded of an article I came across about the power of language and how a monopoly on terms can be used as a way of silencing –
From “The Ways of Silencing“:
It is possible to silence people by denying them access to the vocabulary to express their claims. One of the best investigations of propaganda was presented by Victor Klemperer, in his book “The Language of the Third Reich.” The data for Klemperer’s claims was the language used by the Third Reich. But the points he makes are applicable to propaganda in the service of much more mundane endeavors, be it to pass health care reform or to increase or decrease taxes. The use of propaganda is not limited to a single political affiliation or intent.
As Klemperer writes in “The Language of the Third Reich,” propaganda “changes the value of words and the frequency of their occurrence … it commandeers for the party that which was previously common property and in the process steeps words and groups of words and sentence structures in its poison.” When writing these words, Klemperer was thinking of the incessant use of the term “heroisch” (“heroic”) to justify the military adventures of the National Socialist state. Obviously, the mechanism described by Klemperer is not used for such odious purposes today.Nevertheless, there has been a similar appropriation of the term “freedom” in American political discourse.
Most would agree that heroism and freedom are fundamentally good things. But the terms “heroisch” and “freedom” have been appropriated for purposes that do not have much connection with the virtues of their original meanings. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is difficult to have a reasoned debate about its costs and benefits when the invasion itself is called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Similarly, whatever one thinks of tax-cuts, or the estate tax, it is difficult to engage in reasoned debate when they have been respectively relabeled “tax relief” and “the death tax.” It is difficult to have a reasoned debate about the costs and benefits of a policy when one side has seized control of the linguistic means to express all the positive claims. It is easy to say “a tax cut is not always good policy,” but considerably more difficult to say “tax relief is not always good policy,” even though “tax relief” is just a phrase invented to mean the same as “tax cut.”
Silencing is only one kind of propaganda. In silencing, one removes the ability of a target person or group to communicate… However, I do think that given our current environment — of oppression, revolution, intervention, war, pseudo-war and ever-present human power relations — it is worthwhile bearing in mind the dangers of the manipulation of language. What may begin as a temporary method to circumvent reasoned discussion and debate for the sake of a prized political goal may very well end up permanently undermining the trust required for its existence.
Misappropriating the word “authority” or “biblical womanhood” in church contexts this same way has made it ever illusive for women to achieve any real authority, status, or responsibility, and ultimately, silences us, for it does not allow sincere opportunity to question or search for our place in the church and keeps us forever ancillary regardless of our spiritual gifts and leadership opportunities. Wherever it is expressed, this idealization of “biblical womanhood” or even “motherhood” in speech operates as compensation for inferiority of status. The more woman is exemplified in speech, the more she is marginalized in practice and in responsibility. Using these terms as a mask for subjugation is wrong, and ultimately, it weakens her faith in her capabilities and ultimately the church.
This doesn’t make religion bad or make those who accept long-established beliefs at face value less passionate, but rather makes freedom of religion more important and an examined life that shows reverence to something higher than ourselves – truth, goodness, and most importantly, love – vital.
I praise and honor all the women who work within this limiting structure to change it from the inside by example – those amazing religious teachers, scholars, and connectors that may not have the title of pastor, but do the same work.
The church is a living, breathing thing, just as much as the individuals who make up it. Love is an action and a commitment to something higher than one’s own preferences or one’s own fulfillment. The more you are in possession of love, the more you can spread it. For me, the ideal of love changes from self-sacrifice to self-assertion – without works, faith is dead.
Let’s work more on love than maintaining this defunct inferred social order.