Struggle

 

When I started looking into Christianity seriously it was fair to say that I was more than a little gun shy concerning the role of women. In fact, I still struggle with it frequently, but in a different way than I would have imagined (don’t worry, we will get to that). I have always considered myself a staunch feminist, which is to say that I believe men and women to be different yet equal. Men can & should cry in public, dance ballet, and be stay at home fathers if they please and if women want a career or to race cars who should stop them? It’s about capability not gender. It was my belief going into reading the Bible that I would be forced to throw all of that out the window and make myself a subservient doormat.

I was more than a bit amazed when I read the New Testament and the way in which Jesus spoke to, interacted with, and included women throughout his ministry particularly in light of how women were treated at the time culturally. It was clear to me that Jesus, too, was a feminist. I felt a weight lifted off of me. 

As I continued to read I was thrown back off track by the words of Paul as he laid out for the Church the rules and regulations of roles and conduct. When I first realized that Paul was originally Saul, a non-believer who murdered the disciples of Christ until his own divine encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, I was astonished to say the least (Acts 9). Little did I know I would quickly begin to dislike Paul even more. Reading the works of Paul throughout the new testament were some of the hardest. I set down my Bible time after time in tears and in anger. Through Paul I read beliefs such as man is head of the woman, that women are not allowed to preach in church or to teach men. He even goes so far as to say that women should remain silent in church asking questions of their husbands once they got home and covering their heads during service. I couldn’t understand what prevented me from having equal use of my gifts inside of the church walls. I couldn’t understand why some passages we abided by strictly and others we took as “cultural”. Why do we so strongly abide by 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and require our women not to preach sermons, but disregard the call for head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11? Why cannot my wisdom be of use inside the house of God when men are so unwilling to speak but on the street it’s completely acceptable?

I don’t know that I have an answer for it, but I have some theories. Remember, I am not a theologian and that even theologians have battled about this for thousands of years now. Instead, I am giving you what helped to still my heart some and continue to love and trust God.


Theory 1:

I’ve read articles about 1 Timothy 2 that discuss the words Paul chose and various interpretations. If you’d like to read the article please click on the link below. Otherwise, for discussion purposes I will include  brief excerpts. We need to remember that 1 Timothy is a “pastoral” letter. These letters were addressed to church leaders and outlined their pastoral duties. This one was written to Timothy, a believer in Ephesus who had worked and traveled extensively with Paul. The Christian church in Ephesus was falling into serious error: a form of gnosticism was corrupting church teachings.

“…nor to have authority over [authentein] a man…”
Exousia is the normal word used for “authority,” a carrying out of one’s official duties. But this is not the word Paul uses here. He instead picks the word authentein and it is the ONLY time this word appears in the New Testament. Exousia, however, appears over 100 times. Other uses of authentein from the same time period show that this word does not simply mean legitimate or routine authority, but carries violent, sexual, and dominating meanings.         
From <https://christianfeminism.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/the-mistranslation-of-1-timothy-211-12/>

Knowing the history of the time period, particularly of this region is important. The Greek goddess Artemis was the city’s favored deity—the Temple of Artemis, located in Ephesus, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—and pagan beliefs were seeping into the young Christian church. Many of the pagan rituals were led by female priestesses and included various sexual and orgy type behavior. Timothy’s charge was to urge the Church to stay true to the Christian faith.

Knowing this, this is a very strong and alluring argument. Is it right? I don’t know. I hope to ask Paul himself one day. When reading the Bible I tend to see 1 Timothy 2 as more of an anomaly; a letter written particularly for the Ephesians, for the times and the circumstances occurring there. If anything, I see 1 Timothy 2 to be more “cultural” in basis than the talk of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 (but let’s save that for another day).


Theory 2:

submission-umbrellasOver and again it is declared that man is the head of woman as Christ is the head of man. This does not make man more important than woman, but does put him in a role of leadership. Think about it, you can’t have a company run by all employees equally. It just wouldn’t work. You have to have someone in charge- their job isn’t any more important (despite how our culture tends to view this monetarily) because the job can’t get done unless both people are working at a common goal. However, this does put the man (or manager in this scenario) in charge of making decisions about the greater good, but also the one who incurs the disapproval or wrath when things go wrong. This idea is also based off of a perfect union where we are all working together in harmony with our gifts to glorify God. We just manage to muck it up with all our ego, desires, and sin. If everyone at the company worked for the greater good of the product it wouldn’t feel like you had a “boss” so much as and “orchestrator”. Perhaps God set it up this way, men being those to function as elders and preach His Word, in order to build up better leaders because God knows better than us. We are just learning how far things can fall apart in our world when our men aren’t strong husbands or fathers and young men lack role models and young women don’t learn to expect more; when men allow sex to become a commodity rather than a spiritual blessing shared within marriage it damages wives, daughters and women everywhere. God knows the importance of men as leaders to allow women to thrive in all aspects.

 

 


I‘m not sure which way I’m leaning. Probably a chocolate vanilla swirl of both. Either way, if you are still questioning the righteous beauty of women and God’s reliance on her (and your) gifts then read through the Old Testament, too. The scriptures are ripe with stories of amazing women, many even prophetesses.

The Bible identifies ten female prophets in the Old and New Testaments: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah,  Isaiah’s wife, Anna,  and the four daughters of Philip. In addition, women like Rachel, Hannah, Abigail, Elisabeth, and Mary are described as having prophetic visions about the future of their children, the destiny of nations, and the coming Messiah.      
From <http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders>

I rely on my knowledge that God used women frequently for good, important, powerful roles. There is story after story in the Bible of women as leaders (Miriam, Micah 6), as judges (Deborah, Judges 4), as game changers (Rizpah, 2 Samuel 21), and disciples (Tabitha, the one woman in the New Testament who is distinctly identified with the feminine form of the word “disciple”—mathetria. Acts 9). I am reassured by this that God does not see me as less with this I know no man can argue.

Last Christmas, our pastor asked for men who would be willing to stand in front of the congregation and share scripture that they chose and prepared ahead of time. I was slightly miffed by this being a lover of words and the scripture, but it wasn’t until the service rolled around and only one man was willing to stand to read from the Bible (and finally a second after some lengthy awkward pausing and slight pressure) that I became truly angry. I found myself sitting in a church I love feeling like a lesser Christian. When those who were supposed to lead and teach us were unwilling I felt only more bridled; held back from sharing God’s Word because of my sex. Discussing it later with my husband, I understood his point that our church believes that it should be men who teach the Word in church, though it brought back those old questions of why? and is that really what is meant? What was happening, however, was that I was feeling angry about my desire to read going unfulfilled and not how it shed light on the sad affair that there was only one man in the church willing to stand up and praise God by teaching from His Word. That is where the real trouble was; my anger was just selfish and sinful. No church can survive with only strong women and weak, quiet men no matter your belief..

No church can survive with only strong women and weak, quiet men no matter your belief.
In the meantime, I feel that my best option is to pray- to pray for clarity where it is needed, to pray for wisdom for all, to pray for patience to endure God’s answer, to pray to be led to follow God’s will and not my own. Right now, that means not pressing the issue inside of my church; if that is needed I know He will guide me when the time is right. Right now, it means not moving to a more liberal church either; if that is needed I know He will guide me in this also. Perhaps I am an agent of change. Perhaps I have something to learn.

As for the awkward pauses in church where our men feel sheepish and ill-equipped to stand and teach, I choose to see this as an opportunity brought by God to show our congregation that our men need support. I see it as a light to each of those men upon their role and pray that it encourages them to read more, pray more, and find the strength and courage to be a role model. Men in the church are important. Fathers in the home are important. Strong Christian men in our community are important. Perhaps this service will serve as a wake up call.

That may sound lame and as if I am stagnating. It may sound hard, and nearly impossible to do- it is some days! I’ve always considered myself a feminist and will continue to do so, but how I view myself and my role on Earth may not be God’s intended role for me. Perhaps 1 Timothy 2 is as it is interpreted- If that is the case it means simply that God knows more than me for he is all knowing and all wise. That His plans are greater than my weak eyes can see is no suprise. So I shift my focus and I look at my children and how I can best raise them to be followers in heart and in mind. I focus on supporting my husband when he is weak, disengaged, or beaten down as he does for me when I am in those shoes (which can feel often). I focus on my everyday encounters at home and in the community, because really, I think those mean more than anything I could ever hope to share with my church congregation who already know and love our Lord. 

I am reassured by this that God does not see me as less- with this I know no man can argue.