Has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something? And then you just can’t wait to prove you can?
I had that experience two years ago when the drain valve on my hot water heater was leaking. My father in Montana told me that I couldn’t repair it and that I’d be without hot water for a week if I didn’t hire a plumber. You’re right. I couldn’t wait to prove to him that I could do it.
I had an experience that was even more invigorating in a local Protestant church whose policy prohibits women from teaching males of junior high age or older except under male supervision. Furthermore, all teachers are subject to the board of elders, which is strictly composed of married men.
Let me tell you (1) why such beliefs are important to us as women, (2) where research is on our side, and (3) what actions we can take.
First, why are these beliefs important to us?
With Bibles found in 92 percent of homes in America, even if this book is not a part of your belief system, it is an ingrained part of our culture. Furthermore, our country’s largest Christian church denomination still bars women from priesthood. Do you think these beliefs are left behind in church on Sundays? Did you know that members of this most prominent denomination make up more than 27 percent of today’s 104th Congress? I conclude that you and I are impacted by beliefs of such people, whom I refer to hereafter as traditionalists.
Secondly, where is research on our side? While there are volumes of documented research, I will address three issues: women as teachers, women as elders, and headship.
Traditionalists use certain Bible verses to exclude women from teaching in the church. One such verse is I Corinthians 14:35 where Paul states that “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
John Temple Bristow (in What Paul Really Said About Women) unveils how, before Paul’s time, women were not allowed in church or given education. They were accused of near adultery if they talked to any man except their husband. Paul clearly included women in worship services. Of thirty Greek words that can be translated “speak,” here Paul did not use one of the five words which denote preaching but instead used the word laleo which means to converse. Because women were not accustomed to being taught and to listening, he was instructing women not to converse in church. Paul, who personally taught a woman named Priscilla, was revolutionizing the role of women.
Bristow develops his case with statements that Chrysostom, a fourth-century church leader, credits Priscilla for being a teacher of Apollos, a pastor of the church in Corinth after Paul left. This is concrete evidence of a woman teaching a man. (See Acts 18:24-26.)
Traditionalists also use biblical verses to exclude women from being church elders and deacons, citing I Timothy where Paul insists that elders and deacons be the husband of one wife. However, Bristow supports the role of women as deacons by quoting Romans 16:1 where Phoebe is a deacon of the church of Cenchrea.
Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, author of Beyond Sex Roles; suggests that statements in I Timothy were written for specific circumstances and may not be universally applicable. In fact, he notes that, to apply marital status as restriction for church office would disqualify Christ and Paul, who were unmarried, from church leadership!
Traditionalists also support female submission by quoting Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Here Bristow argues that the original Greek word for “head” does not refer to a position of authority. Where Paul could have used the Greek word arche to express authority, he chose the word kephale, which was used militarily to refer to the first soldier into battle. Kephale did not denote “general” or “captain” and was never used to mean “leader,” “boss,” or “ruler.”
Third, what actions can we take to challenge these beliefs? We can become aware, get involved, and most of all, PROVE that “we can do it.”
We can become aware by reading and doing our own research.
We can become involved in strengthening the role of women in the world through activism in groups such as Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. We can join Christians for Biblical Equality in denouncing sexism and racism.
Most importantly, we can PROVE ourselves. For example, Bilezikian watched in awe as his wife oversaw their household during his year overseas. Also, at a religious educational institution, he replaced an incompetent male department head with the female assistant who made things happen. It was these women PROVING themselves that inspired Bilezikian’s research.
By the way, that Saturday after I spoke to my father on the phone about the hot water heater, I went to work. I got some necessary parts and information at the hardware store, got out my tools, changed out the leaky drain valve, and took a hot shower that evening— all without calling a plumber.
The next time someone tells you that you can’t do something, go ahead. Prove that you can!