Questions We Should Be Asking
I am a product of the 70s and 80s. During the decades when Gloria Steinem and other feminist advocates were influencing everything from advertising to politics, I was growing up. The lyrics to the perfume commercial still sing in my memory…
I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man, cuz I’m a woman (Enjoli).
To say I was shaped by a feminist culture would be an understatement. I really did buy into the lie that women could do it all, and have it all. I didn’t realize how prominent those influences were until I became a mom and realized I couldn’t do it all, wasn’t created to do it all, and I didn’t WANT to do it all.
Simultaneously, my giftings do not lie in the typical female range. I do not have the gift of hospitality or mercy, and my cooking is limited to a few go-to potluck dishes in addition to the drive-thru line at Wendy’s. It’s long been a quandary of what place I have within the conservative church. Mind you, I believe in the conservative church and am a lifelong member of the SBC denomination.
Complementarianism is my conviction, and I disagree with my brothers and sisters who believe a woman can be a pastor. I have disdain for stirring up controversy for controversy sake. However, in light of recent cultural trends and the sexual abuse charges against our denomination and many prominent christian men, I do think it is time to start addressing the elephant in the room. What exactly is a woman’s role within the boundaries of the SBC church, especially when the woman has the giftings outside of normal “female” roles? For those of us who choose to remain in our denomination, rather than run to more liberal denominations where women serve in more prominent roles of leadership, we must be willing to ask some questions.
How literally do we take I Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12?
I wish I had an answer to this question; I don’t. I wrestle with Paul’s words every time I read them. If my place is to sit silently and only make inquiries of my husband once we get home, then I have a lot for which to ask forgiveness. I have been in settings where gifted and well-studied women taught in co-ed classes. I, myself, have led worship for my church and used my gift of teaching to instruct both men and women well-beyond their childhood years. I sit on church/denominational committees and boards with other men where I am allowed and encouraged to share ideas and question thinking.
In many circumstances, it is the literal and dogged adherence to the interpretation of these verses which has paved the way for sexual abuse and cover-up. Do not mistake my intentions, there is and will continue to be sexual misconduct regardless of the literal or loose interpretation of these and other verses. Nevertheless, in our dear SBC it is the mindset around these interpretations that helped to contribute to the scandal of this past spring, and the continued silence of numerous victims.
Do theologians like Nancy Guthrie, Jen Wilkin, Kristi McClelland and others only have a place in teaching other women and children? Is there any added value to the study and perspective of women within our church settings? Could a woman lead a teaching from the platform on a rare occasion while functioning under the headship of her pastor and husband?
Are verses such as these merely cultural representations of biblical time?
This one is perilous. We watch with great heartache and derision as many mainline denominations accept perverse practices within the church membership and the pulpit, all the while contributing many verses (Romans 1, Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6) to cultural context only and thus making them null and void in the 21st century.
The New Testament gives us a clear construct of church structure. I Timothy 3 gives the standard for church overseer and elder. He must be above reproach, the husband of one wife… one who manages his own household competently. When juxtaposing I Timothy 3 with Revelation 21:14 where the twelve foundations will contain the twelve names of Christ’s apostles, whom we know were all male, one contends the structure of male pastorship is not up for debate.
As living sacrifices seeking to be holy and pleasing to God, we cannot fall to the extreme of a culture that demands all be allowed to serve in all positions of leadership. But, is it possible that some of Paul’s admonitions contained cultural mores of his day?
Upon my first visit to Israel, I came face to face with a middle eastern society which degrades and disregards women. The remnants of Paul’s civilization are still clearly seen, even on the steps of the temple mount today. Paul says he does not permit a woman to teach… was this a clear mandate from the Holy Spirit for all times, or Paul’s wise practice given the tenants of his day? Was Deborah simply an anomaly? Are there potentials for any “anomalies” today?
How did Jesus respond and interact with women, and what does this have to say to the church today?
Back to my first trip to Israel. We visited Magdala. On this site is a church; in the main room of the church is a mural of the bleeding woman touching Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:43-48). No faces are painted; only ankles, feet and one courageous, hope-filled hand reaching out for healing and restoration. The first sight of that portrait remains one of the most spiritually-stirring moments of my life.
Jesus elevated women in a time when women were not deemed worthy. From the announcement of his birth and Mary’s Magnificat, to his honor of his mother at the Cana wedding and His cross, to the Samaritan woman, or the woman who anointed his feet, Martha and Mary, a weeping widow whose son had died, and to the woman who received healing from the hem of his garment; there are innumerable places where our LORD lifted the women of His day to an esteemed status.
The most noble status He gave and still gives women, is the salvation He so freely offers to all women, everywhere. The notion that women would suffer victimization and be subjugated to silence for the sake of protecting men and a denomination, does not match with my interpretation of how Jesus wants women to be honored.
There are countless times when Christ answered the questions of women, and allowed them freedom to speak. In Matthew 15 we see Jesus praise the faith of a Gentile woman who has the humility and boldness to persist in her request of Him.
Are we honoring our LORD with the delineation of female service/leadership, and treatment of women in our church? Do we find ourselves making hypocritical decisions that use women’s gifts only when there is not a suitable male alternative around? Does a lack of women in leadership roles within the church contribute to the prolonged silence and abuse of female victims?
What’s the main thing?
My beloved pastor, Rick Ferguson, always said we should keep the main thing, the main thing. Can we have discussion, debate and even disagreement about this issue and not detract from the main thing? We all know, brothers and sisters, the main thing is that Jesus is preached to the lost; we go into all the world to do so.
The main thing is that we make disciples of all men and women. The main thing is that we study our bibles, not simply to find answers to these questions, but to kindle a deeper relationship with the Author and Perfector of our faith.
As believers, we will have questions. I am beginning to suspect some of my questions regarding the murky waters of women in church leadership may not be answered this side of Glory. One thing I do know, there should be no safer place to ask the questions than with my siblings in Christ; siblings who love Him as much as I do, and because we love Him, we love each other no matter what.