Thursday, June 7, 2012

shackles shook

I was raised in a Baptist church that was and still is a very conservative place. We lined up to sign petitions against the institution of gay marriage, having been told that it would lead us down the dreaded slippery slope (to hell I guess, no one was ever very clear about what slope we were in fact sliding down.) Women made up almost the entire body of Sunday school teachers, but females in leadership positions were always referred to as 'Director' of 'Worship Leader'. And when the Fellowship held a conference on whether or not to allow women in pastoral positions, the final verdict was that each church could determine this for themselves (and for a bunch of conservatives, that's actually quite progressive).

photo credit: julie busby

After some time away at school, I found that I no longer fit into this body. I had no peer community, I felt like just another body in a huge crowd, and my experiences with other Christians (in particular the dreaded Pentecostals) had caused me to seriously doubt the interpretive authority of my home church.

Similarly, today, I find myself struggling to accept the authority of any teacher who tells me that women are secondary members of the church; by virtue of gender and Paul's teachings, we (the whole lot of us) are not intended to lead and never to speak to men with authority. Just as my nineteen year old self knew something was wrong when a pastor told me that manifestations of the Spirit had ended with the Apostolic age (I had witnessed otherwise for 8 months), I now know in my gut or soul or spirit or wherever it is that we know that we know, that there is something deeply wrong with the complementarian view, wherein women cannot teach or have authority over men.

I was a stubborn, ridiculously strong-willed child. I was the kid, sent on a time-out, who put in my minutes on the stairs only to return with a renewed will to resist, on principle, my mother's authority. I was also the kid who remained close with my family, volunteered at church and camp, was a wonderful babysitter, a creative and hard-working student, whose greatest moment of rebellion led her to moving out (and going to a crazy-conservative Bible college just across the river from home).

I was such a badass. And yet, wasn't I? I know what my heart was like, and though my actions were seemingly harmless and I never "got into trouble", there was pride, rebellion and darkness guiding these actions. I wanted what I wanted and there would be hell to pay for anyone who stood in my path.

So I know, you see, what I'm capable of. I know the pride and stubbornness that so often guides my thoughts and choices. And I also know when I am motivated by something else. I know my gut a lot more than I used to, having made it my business to figure out who I am, how I got here and how I can actively end bad patterns born out of family, sin and circumstance.

So when you tell me that the Holy Spirit either no longer chooses to be present, or can't (I'm not sure exactly which view is most common), or that it's the church's mission to battle against gay people getting married, or that God has no place for women's voices in his kingdom, something rises up in me, and its not pride and its not just stubbornness. These words cut deep into me, because I actually care enough to think about. I follow the thread of supposed logic that says we're equal but different and I come up at a frayed end that says there is no such thing. Or if there is, it doesn't look like what we're making it look like.

"It has been pointed out that as long as Christians remain embroiled in endless debates about what women can and cannot do for Jesus, we are only utilizing half the Church. Women have so much to bring to Christianity --- so many gifts, so many insights, so many new ways of looking at things, expressing things, enacting things, and questioning things. I am convinced that the gospel will only benefit from more women preaching it." 

At the heart of the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate is this: are women as much an image of a Holy God, as are men? If not, then it does follow that in matters of teaching, where thinking, reasoning, insight and relationship with God are key, women should be excluded. However, most complementarians will argue adamantly that women are in fact, made in God's image. 

"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
~Genesis 2: 26~

And this would have been the point, would it not, where God would have declared the second-placeness of women. Here, as he decrees their role on the earth, as creation is beginning and mankind is being sent off to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...", would have been the time to say "and I will not permit a woman to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." But these aren't God's words and they're not from Genesis. They're from Timothy 2:11-12 and may not even be Paul's words (though they have long been attributed to him). This passage has been considered "gospel" by complementarians, who pointing to verse 13, claim a "creation argument" makes their stance indisputable.

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and become a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing---if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
~Timothy 11:13~ 

But to take Paul's interpretation and message (which was  a personal letter to Timothy) above the words of Genesis is concerning at best. Take note that I added Paul's words after Genesis 2:26. God's statement regarding man and woman as image-bearers, is followed in Genesis by a statement of hierarchy. Man and women, together, over the earth. 

"To the women he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for (or against) your husband. and he shall rule over you."
~Genesis 3:16~ 

This is the first scriptural mention of a gender-based hierarchy and appears in what is commonly known as God's curse on mankind, following their first sin. Nowhere in Genesis 3 does God imply that Eve's "deception" of Adam makes her more sinful. Nowhere does it imply that Eve used her "feminine wiles" to seduce Adam against his better judgement. They both desired power and independence from God. They both disobeyed. Does it not follow then that later interpretations of such material (Paul's for example) are culturally and specifically relevant, just as his viewpoint when writing was shaped by his culture and the specificity of the situation to which he wrote.

And it is now, finally, after several cold, silent and heartbroken months, that I pick back up the book that led me to my Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. I have been afraid. Afraid that somehow I would be wrong, that the creation argument would trump my well-reasoned cultural argument. That in one fell-stroke, I would be forced by the very book that promised to bring Life, to exist silently on my knees. 

But that is not the God I know. And I choose to trust that his words, as I read them for myself with a heart humbled by what I am and who He is, will shine a light into these dark, broken places. I choose to trust that he will use me when I am not ruled by fear. I choose to trust that this heart, this brain and this strong-willed spirit were his gifts to me, to share for His kingdom. I have a story, a voice and a God worth sharing.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."
~1 Peter 5:6-7~

"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all."
~2 Thessalonians 3: 16~ 
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
~2 Peter 3: 18~ 

Written as a part of my process and in conjunction with Rachel Held Evans' Week of Mutuality 2012. What a lovely many voices are taking part; makes my soul feel just that much lighter.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. So honest. I do believe we are equal but different, but that, as you suspect, that doesn't look like what we're making it look like. Also I think some of the verses used to hold women down need to be understood in their cultural context. There were many women in leadership positions in the early church, which simply wasn't done in that society. Jesus respected women immensely and associated with them in ways that were counterculture. In the footnotes of my Bible, it explains about the oracles at Delphi and how the word Paul uses for not speaking means not making loud nonsensical utterances like the pagan oracles... I'm kind of carrying on, you can look into it yourself. But one thing I can promise you, the Word of God will never disappoint or fail. Often things we read which challenge our faith serve to strengthen it as we seek Him further and dig deeper into the true meanings of that which we fail to understand. And we can only understand through His Spirit, as He builds His Word in us precept upon precept. Love you!
    Just found this article: