Friday, February 23, 2007

Gender Roles

One subject on my "issues I desperately want to re-examine" list is gender roles in the church.

I was taught that, in mixed assemblies, women are allowed to sing, but nothing else. I remember as a child a church deciding that it was inappropriate for women to speak up during the announcements to give an update on a sick family member! I was also taught that a woman can teach children and other women, but not men. More specifically, not baptized males, even if they are 12 years old. There was considerable controversy in the circle in which I was raised over whether this extended to a woman teaching a non-Christian male. I was taught that, in Bible classes, women can be called on to read Scriptures and answer questions, but they cannot lead a discussion or a prayer.

As my thinking and my approach to the Scriptures have changed, I have come to see the blindingly obvious -- that these arbitrary rules developed my men. With much clarity, I see the spirit of the Pharisees in this thinking. Rules were created to enforce what was believed to be a biblical teaching. These rules are are then made into spiritual law. Violations of the law put one's soul in jeopardy and will certainly bring condemnation without repentance.

While I have at this point rejected my previous APPROACH to the issue, I have not entirely rejected my CONCLUSIONS. To be sure, I have also not endorsed my previous conclusions. At this point in my spiritual journey, I am unsure of where I stand. (Hence, my desire to re-examine the issue in more detail.)

Here are the pertinent questions as I see them:
  1. Does the Bible teach male spiritual leadership in the church? I believe it does. The question is whether this teaching is simply factual or if it is normative. That brings me to the next question:
  2. Is that teaching to be viewed as normative teaching for the church in all ages, or is it to be seen as a cultural expedient in the biblical times? Clearly, the 1st century was a patriarchal time. In fact, the biblical teaching on women, while considered by modern American culture to be unfairly limiting to women, was actually quite liberating for women in that time. It was within this male-dominated culture that the passages dealing with male leadership were written. So do we view the male leadership that is endorsed in the Biblical passages as normative in a culture that is much more gender inclusive? Or, should we see these passages as illustrations of a different binding principle altogether -- namely, that cultural norms and expectations can be accommodated in Christian ministry when those norms and expectations don't violate any other clear principles of God? I really don't know the answer to this! What do you think?
  3. If male spiritual leadership is the biblical norm for today's church, how is that leadership maintained while allowing women the greatest possible opportunity to use their spiritual gifts? Would it simply mean that those in the pastoral roles are to be men, and they can delegate responsibility to anyone? More simply put, if a woman is asked by a male elder to lead a prayer in the assembly, would male spiritual leadership be sacrificed by her doing so?
  4. What light is shed on the issue by the great leadership shown by the women heroes of the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Phoebe, etc.? I think we have been guilty of much eisegesis in our treatment of these stories (i.e. we read into the passages what we've already determined is the answer).
  5. Once the biblical teaching is discovered, what is the most expedient way to implement it into church life? There are problems with either position. With the traditional position of male leadership, one has to seriously grapple with the question of how to reach the culture which is increasingly gender inclusive. If the traditional position is rejected in favor of one allowing expanded roles for women, one must wrestle with how to allow women the freedom that God allows them while being sensitive to the sincere objections of many in the church.
As you can see, I have a lot of questions and not many answers. But the first step to discovery is asking the right questions! What do you think? Am I asking the right questions? Have I missed any? What conclusions have you reached on this issue?


Dana said...

I have struggled with the roles of women in the church my whole life. I believe in the Bible's call for male leadership but where does that leave me? What CAN I do? The list of cannots grows daily. Am I restricted to potluck dinners and small children? There are so many days I feel called to so much more but have been engrained to accept my role as a female! I want more than the "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" role I've been raised with! (I hope that is OK to say!) Grrrr.....

Radian21 said...

Hi Jeff. This is Tara writing. I don't think I ever saw the e-mail that told us about this blog but I was searching for something else today in our e-mail and ran across it. Of course this post caught my eye since this is a topic I've done a lot of studying and thinking about over the years. Although I've done a lot of reading about this topic for years and years, a book Andy bought me for Christmas is a compelling and easy read. It's called What Paul Really Said About Women and is by Dr. John Temple Bristow. It's a short easy read that basically asks and answers the question "what if our traditional understanding of what Paul wrote is all wrong?" Although I had already reached the conclusion through other study prior to reading this book that I believed that God never intended for half of his creation to hide talents and feel less than, this book addresses biblical conundrums that I had not addressed prior to reading it! If you can't find a copy to pick up, let me know and I'll send you mine.