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Essentially any book on New Testament backgrounds will include some description of the cultural values of honor and shame. (For a full and admirable treatment of the subject, see David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture [InterVarsity, 2000]). Simply put, most people in the Greco-Roman world were constantly conscious that their social status was potentially in flux, moving up or down by accumulating honor or shame, respectively. Some aspects of a person’s shame would be unchangeable fixtures, such as being born into an unimpressive family. Other shameful realities were more up for grabs, such as failing in a trade or not getting an education. Though shame could be acquired by an individual’s actions, such actions tend... Read more
There are still church pastors and church leaders worldwide who believe women have no authority to pastor and should remain silent in the church. It is further exacerbated by the misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Saint Paul wrote these scriptures to guide a troubled, first century church, not to create a discriminatory church policy against women in the 21st century. Yet, the reality is women are being discriminated against. It is a silent and stifling church policy that must come to an end! Sacred scriptures are misused to silence women and some stop them from pastoring because there is no biblical model. The truth is some men use sacred scriptures to limit competition for pastoral jobs, church management, and remain in power. There are some churches founded by women, bu... Read more
For Women’s History Month, I thought it would be appropriate to remember the early Christian martyr, Blandina, whose story is told by (pseudo?) Irenaeus in his “Letter of the Churches of Vienna and Lugdunum to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia” (A.D. 177) and later recounted in Eusebius’s Church History (c. A.D. 300). What follows are excerpts of the letter, which can be found in volume 8 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (now public domain and online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library). While this martyrdom account needs no commentary, I find it striking how Blandina’s Spirit-filled strength defies the stereotypes (gender, age?, disability?) of her torturers and onlookers, including fellow Christians, so that, as the author writes,... Read more
Exhorting the Church of England (CoE) to "get with the program" dilutes the argument for women bishops. "But that would be putting the clock back," gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?" "I have seen them both in an egg," replies the young hero. "We call it Going bad in Narnia." Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women's ordination will never appear in full strength. "Now that we live in the 21st century," begins the interviewer, invoking the c... Read more
Perhaps, like me, you've been asked, "If you could give someone only one argument for egalitarianism, what would it be?" Perhaps, like me, you don't like that question because the answer differs depending on the audience. I know people who would respond best to an appeal to theology, focusing on the loving and freeing character of God. I know people who would respond best to an appeal to Church history, focusing on the stories of certain women over the ages. I know a few people who would respond best to an appeal to the social sciences, focusing on how modern research upholds egalitarian ideals. Most of the people I know, however, would respond best to an appeal to the Bible. More specifically, most people who ask for an argument in favor of egalitarianism are in fact ask... Read more
Synopsis of the situation: Mordecai, a Jew, is an important man, known to the leadership of the Medes and Persians. His cousin, Esther, whom he raised, is now queen of the Medes and Persians. Haman is a very high official who hates Mordecai and has set up a law so that Mordecai and his entire community will be exterminated. Whether by revelation or just giving him wisdom, God shows Mordecai that Esther must save her people. Mordecai tells Esther this. Esther knows she can be executed for approaching the king without an invitation, queen or not. She’s afraid, but she submits to Mordecai as being a messenger from God. So far, so hierarchical: God tells man, man tells woman, woman obeys. But… Whether by revelation or just giving her wisdom, God shows Esther what she and th... Read more
“Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes, it’s just plain yella’.” That one-liner is one of my summary takeaways from Christians for Biblical Equality's conference in Houston. The gathering was a multifaceted engagement with God’s calling of women into all ministries of the church: there was teaching, digging into scripture, and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of storytelling. Women in many parts of the church are told, through word and deed, that they are not needed for the church’s work. Not only are they in denominations that will not ordain them, they are in worship services where women will never be able to read scripture or preside at the table or, in some places, take the offering. Dear everyone: this destroys women. Listen to t... Read more
Throughout much of my childhood, I possessed my home congregation's three unofficial requirements to serve communion: a sport coat and tie, a family that arrived on time, and a Y chromosome. Therefore my brother (who not surprisingly met the same criteria) and I served communion almost every Sunday morning and evening from seventh grade well into college. As a result, when I am asked to serve the Lord's supper today, I usually give no more than passing notice to the high privilege that such service is. In contrast, I know several women who never served communion until their 30s or 40s, and without exception they were deeply appreciative of the opportunity when it finally came their way. Helping to distribute the elements of the Lord's supper is service, not leadership. No bi... Read more
Being so close in age, my younger sister and I developed a helpful system of negotiating disputes, justice, and restitution in our growing up together. Generally our methods of reconciliation worked pretty well. But there were occasions when our communication failed to reconcile an injury or injustice, compelling us to appeal to the highest court—our parents. We made our appeal only rarely because we recognized that in soliciting our parents' judgment, there would be no turning back. Our parents would provide the ultimate answer. In a similar way, Christians have taken their concerns about gender and authority to the highest court of appeals—to the Trinity. Those who see women as equal in being to men but unequal in authority search for parallels in heaven—where they... Read more
Over the past three weeks I have been challenging the idea that there is a “masculine feel” to Christianity based upon the nature of God, our language for God, and Scripture’s explanation of male-female relationships. Today we will tackle another factor contributing to the mistaken idea of a “masculine Christianity”—the perception that only males held positions of prominence and leadership in Scripture. Some Christians point to the twelve male disciples as evidence that church leadership is limited to men only. At face value this may sound compelling. However, the twelve were not only male, they were also Jewish. In reality, it is much more important to consider the ethnicity of the twelve. Apart from this, their gender is insignificant.... Read more