Thursday, July 19, 2007

Does what's in your pants determine who wears the pants?

Today begins a study of gender roles and the Bible that will continue for several weeks.

Why do I feel the need to re-examine this very sensitive issue? Several reasons:
  1. Beliefs should always be subject to challenge and re-examination. That's the only way growth happens.
  2. I have come to the realization over the past few years that many of the things I was taught about the Bible were either wrong or grossly oversimplified.
  3. I see this a an issue of utmost importance for Christianity in modern times.

What makes this issue so important?

  1. If the Scriptures do, in fact, place limitations on the role of women in the life of the church, then Christians need to prepare for an increasingly intense reaction to standing by this teaching. To be sure, this reaction has been growing in intensity since the advent of the women's rights movement and will continue to do so. Fear of the reaction should never determine our conclusions, but when our conclusions will elicit intense reactions, we must prepare ourselves.
  2. If the Scriptures do NOT place limitations on the role of women, or if we place stricter limits on women than do the Scriptures, then we are crippling God's work in the world. Women have always been more involved than men in church-going. Yet we only allow the men to have full participation, thereby only using less than half of God's workforce to do God's work!
  3. Our world, including professed believers, is increasingly uninterested in participating in church life. If our restriction of women is biblically unnecessary, then we place an unnecessary hurdle before those who may otherwise entertain the idea of participating in church life,
  4. Women are leaving the COC over this issue.
  5. Women in the COC feel unable to answer God's call if it is not a call homemaking, women's ministry, or children's ministry.

Let me be clear that reasons 2-5 are irrelevant if the Bible clearly imposes limitations on women. Let me also be clear that I have NOT yet reached a conclusion on the issue. Therefore, this series will be unlike most posts, as I will be reflecting on my study even when that study has not been concluded. Hopefully your comments will add to the discussion.

Where I'm Coming From

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, allow me to place my comments in a fuller context. I was raised to believe that women were to have no part in leading the church. They certainly could not be ministers, elders, or deacons. The only sound made by women in public worship was in congregational singing. I even remember one church debating whether women should be allowed to speak up from their seat in order to correct or update an announcement! Even in private settings, women could not start songs or lead prayers in the presence of men. Women could not baptize. It was debatable whether Christian women could teach non-Christian men in an evangelistic study. Even chain prayers in youth groups would skip over the women. Women were welcome to teach other women and children. However, the definition of children became ambiguous when 10-12 year olds were baptized. In those situations, the church's male leadership would usually simply either ask a male to teach the class or send the baptized students into a class with a male teacher. Of course, we just wanted to "be safe." But when a more "liberal" church down the would hire a woman to serve as a "Children's Minister," we felt uneasy. We would never do that; it just didn't SOUND right. And, of course, we wanted to "be safe."

I see inconsistencies with our practice, though. A woman could read a scripture in Bible class if the male teacher called on her, but couldn't read a scripture in the service even if a male asked her to. A woman could stand up, walk down her pew to hand a communion tray to someone at the other end of the pew, but she could not stand up and walk down the aisles to hand the tray to someone on a different pew. In a small church with no men capable of leading singing, a man would stand at the front and inaudibly mumble the lyrics to a hymn while a woman sat in the pew and carried the congregation, but if that woman dared stand and face the congregation, she was viewed as stepping out of her role.

Clearly, even if our biblical position was correct, our practice was illogical and inconsistent. So either our position needs to change or our practice needs to. What will it be?

The Plan

I plan to discuss this issue in 6 posts. However, more may be added if there is a specific passage or area of research that I think warrants an individual post.

  1. The Creation Account
  2. The Old Testament
  3. Jesus's teachings
  4. Paul and the restof the New Testament
  5. The Voice of Church History
  6. Conclusions and Suggestions

As always, I hope that you will join me in this discussion. I will simply be starting the conversation. This study will be most effective when many of us are willing to comment.

So, to begin the discussion, what are your experiences both positive and negative with women's roles in the church. Also, for any female readers, how do you feel about your role in church life?


Richard said...

First, let me say that I am so glad to share a ministry context with someone who is so willing to investigate before he pontificates.

Second, I think this study is deeper than the average person realizes and probably a lot more complex than those of us in the professional community realize.

Finally, I hope to be able to share some thoughts as this study progresses, but I have to admit that when I start thinking about sharing thoughts on this subject I get a little apprehensive. One, because I know so little in relation to what is knowable about this subject. And, two, because like you I was raised to see the issue through heavily tinted lenses.

Let me pose this question for you the readers: If a Bible writer/speaker makes an argument based in creation in one context (or even more than one), does this necessarily apply as a universal argument? This is a perplexing one for me -- one that I am still weighing. Any thoughts? I'm betting this is something that will be covered in the creation blog, but I just thought I would throw it out there.

Jeff said...


Feel free to share your thoughts even if they are not firm in your mind. Your hesitant suggestions may trigger a discussion that is very needed.

When we look at Paul's teaching, we will examine the fact that his instructions regarding women are traced back to the creation story. But first, we will look at whether we have understood the creation story itself accurately.

Lin said...

Thank you for starting at the creation account! Without a firm foundation on that...we get all the rest wrong.

When I started studying Gen 1-3 in depth, alone with the Holy Spirit and my resources, I was stunned at how much had to be read INTO it. I prayed for my 'tradition' filter to be taken away. I want to add nothing to scripture or take nothing away. I just want the truth.

I am bookmarking this blog and thanking complegalitarian for the link.