Although the circles of young people where I minister rarely have a problem with women’s ministry, many young men and women are looking for more models of what it means to be a “real” man. Although some hold traditional and others hold egalitarian ideals of marriage, many of the young women who would like to someday marry lament the fact that there are not enough respectful Christian young men to go around in society as a whole.
Among reformed Christians (a term which includes Presbyterians, Calvinists, Lutherans, and many others who do not formally use those labels) this is the week in which Reformation Day is celebrated. For it was on October 31, 1517 – the eve of All Saints’ Day – that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety Five Theses, “for the purpose of eliciting the truth,” to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg.
We were treated this fall to the sad spectacle of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas. Because in my professional life I am both a cross-cultural psychologist and a gender studies scholar, I had students, colleagues, and others asking me what I thought about the Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill episode (one hesitates to use the term “affair”) which recently pre-empted the nation’s soap operas in an unprecedented weekend of media sleaze. My inquirers often seemed to be looking for a neat and clear response from me, but in fact I had no neat conclusions to offer. Because the entire process was such a three-ring circus of political self-interest mixed with ill-disguised racism and sexism, and because no clear conclusions were drawn about the truth of either party’s testimony, I suspect that no neat conclusions are possible. So let me instead share some reflections on this episode, taking it as a classic example of our continuing need for national reformation – specifically reformation in race and gender relations.
The recent news has been permeated with two contradictory “epidemics” characterizing Americans: anorexia and obesity. However, maybe the larger paradox is the way in which the Church has embraced the same standards of beauty that the larger culture has. In many cases, the Church has adopted cultural standards of beauty and views physical bodies as representations of spirituality. This appears to be a modern version of the “health and wealth” gospel in that “Christ is reflected in one’s physical appearance.”
The Christian egalitarian woman is in a difficult position. If she truly believes God calls women to engage in the same types of ministries and offices of the church in which men engage, and if she is also committed to living a life that reflects God’s character, she is faced with a quandary.
Of all the social problems confronted by the church, domestic violence is surely one of the most misunderstood and mismanaged by church leaders. I still look back with deep embarrassment on the time when, as a young pastor, I was offended that our women’s ministry had invited a special speaker to address the topic of domestic violence at the mid-week women’s Bible study. I was certain they were simply stirring up trouble where no real problem existed. After all, we were an evangelical church and abuse did not happen in our church. In my youthful naivete (and chauvinism), little did I realize that abuse does happen in evangelical churches. In fact, at that very time, one of the church elders had been beating his wife for years and had put her in the hospital several times. I also did not realize that one of our pastors was about to be arrested for child abuse. Like most clergy, I had gone into the ministry with a deep and genuine desire to serve and help others, but because I was clueless regarding the reality and dynamics of domestic violence, I was unable to minister to abusers and their families. In fact, I made matters worse.
Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them;hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?
This paper argues that a close reading of Deborah's story and song reveals an ’eshet hayil, a “woman of valor” (cf. Ruth 3:11, Prov 12:4, 31:10). This is evident not only in the direct references to her, but also in the narratives regarding her associates Barak and Jael.