Feedback on the above article:
Michael Hawkes (Guest) (13/01/2010 13:33)
Good post Peter. Sounds like a fun dinner. Regarding the topic, I would agree that the conversation about women leaders should be opened up as for many people it is not settled and remains a major barrier for them in feeling able to become or to stay a member of the family of Christ. I know of one woman in my old Church who was severely put off by the conservative approach of the Church leadership towards female leaders and eventually stopped going to Church altogether. She felt that half of the church was being hindered from fully using their gifting simply because of their gender. She felt this was discriminatory and unreasonable.
I would argue that the metaphors Paul used to describe the Church in his letters were based on the cultural norms of his time and so just as he could not imagine a woman being the head of a household, he could not imagine one being the head of a Church. But does this necessarily mean that we should interpret these instructions to first-century Churches as a universal command from God that women are fundamentally unsuited to leadership as part of their physiological makeup? If so then what is it about the female sex that fundamentally prevents any of them from being godly and effective leaders? And have these fundamental female differences prevented leaders such as Elizabeth II or Deborah the Judge of Israel from being strong, godly and effective leaders? It is easy to imagine why Paul looked at women of his time and saw their general lack of education, low social standing, and lack of freedom of movement, economy or self-regulation as hindrances to their abilities to effectively lead a Church in the first century Roman Empire. But we need to ask what God commands to us now, based on the vast changes in society that have led to such a wonderful acceptance of equality of the sexes in our modern society.
I can see no reason to maintain this instruction as it appears clear to me that it is not a command against all women for all time because women are somehow intrinsically flawed for a leadership position, but a cultural command because it made sense for the context of the time. Many Christians across the world have come to accept this interpretation as the best way of interpreting Paul’s instructions and of allowing all Christians to fully express their gifts in Christ, not just half of them. I would personally argue that Magdalene Road should do the same.
The argument based on equating the head of a family with the head of a church is a circular argument. Paul used this argument because everyone knew what a woman’s role in the household was and so he argued that the church should follow the same lines. But the roles of women in households have changed since Paul wrote. Therefore the basis for the argument collapses in on itself, unless you approach it with already-held assumptions of the roles of the sexes. But just because you would still call your father ‘Dad’ even though ‘mum’ is more gifted conveys nothing about the status or ability of that man. ‘Fatherhood’ is not intrinsically equatable with ‘headship’. This is an assumption that has been brought into the argument but it has not been backed up with evidence or argument.
I agree that a mum and a dad can have different roles in the family based on their talents and gifts, that is obvious. But these should be based on the gifts each has in each specific case, not generalised based on nothing more than their gender. That is prejudiced and unreasonable. It may be that in many cases the man is more suited to the leadership role. If that is the case then he should take that role and the woman should take the role she is more suited for, based on her individual gifts. But if in some cases the woman is more gifted in leadership than the man, why on earth should the man still expect to be ‘head’ purely because of his gender. What is it about his gender that automatically trumps any gift, ability or skill that any woman can possibly have? That is the question. And I have never heard a good answer, except repeated appeals to Paul’s culture-based metaphors as though they are universal commands from God, an interpretation that is not clear from the text, and not reasonable based on an understanding of how God has revealed that He views both halves of humanity. “In the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.” No distinction, no hierarchy intrinsic to their creation, both created in the image of God, both genders equal in His eyes.
This is just my opinion, and it may be that everyone disagrees with me, which is fair enough. But I think it is an important enough issue to discuss at least. It will certainly be interesting to see what other people think on this.
Alison Young (Guest) (18/01/2010 21:09)
I’ve been pondering about whether to post this or not. And, inevitably, the post has grown as my pondering has continued. But, I decided today, that I’m going to try a few new things this year. So here goes – with apologies for length, but I’m not forcing you to read it!
Reading about the lunch time conversation made me imagine what the conversation would have been had this been raised in our house. My guess is that, if this conversation were to take place in about 9 years time when Imogen is the same age as Tim, she would not have let Duncan (if he were explaining Peter’s sermon in the same way) get away with this response. She would probably have said the following:
‘Yes – sure I’d call you my Dad, even though (she’s cheeky now, so there’s no way she would go with ‘if’ when she gets even cheekier as a rebellious teenager) Mum has more gifts than you, but that does not prove anything. I call you ‘Dad’ because you are my Dad by virtue of the relationship you have with me. But that does nothing to define precisely what that relationship should be. And, yes, I know that men and women have different skills. But these are, for the most part, generalisations that may accrue to a greater or lesser degree in different men and women. And yes, I recognise that the Bible sees men and women as having equal value, but different skills and different roles, but given the nature of these necessary generalisations, how do you know when the instructions in the Bible are statements of principle that have to be adhered to and when do you see these as rules, based on generalisations, that are of necessity over and under-inclusive and therefore may need to be modified when they no longer fit these generalisations to ensure that the principle is not defeated?’
And no – I’m not kidding about how she would respond. If anything, she’d also add in a discussion about the meaning of authority, Wittgensteinian family resemblance concepts and throw in Kant’s categorical imperative, or the rule of law (her current favourite means of winning an argument) for good measure.
So – what would she be getting at? Well, one of the problems we have with this passage is that it does not seem to fit with the world today. So, the question is, when we see this disparity, are we ensuring that we apply the Bible to today’s world, or are we trying to apply today’s world to modify the Bible? And, given that this is such a sensitive area, it’s very tempting for women and men to modify the text in order to fit the world, as opposed to the other way around.
The first problem we have is the very general nature of the instruction in the passage. Women are to remain silent. They are not to contribute. We can narrow this down to ‘not contributing to the interpretation of speaking in tongues’ by reading it in its context. But even this looks a bit suspicious if we are to be true to the text, because although coming in this context, the embargo on questioning in church services and asking your husband questions when you get home seems to be much more general. But, if we read it as a general embargo, we start running in to problems again as previous passages in Corinthians suggests that women can pray in services and can prophesy. So, to resolve this apparent contradiction, we have to narrow down the general embargo on contribution to services.
To do this, Peter, rightly, focused on other principles that run through the Bible. In particular, he focused on clear Biblical principles that:
(i) Different people had different gifts and men and women have different gifts
(ii) Although we have different gifts, we are all equal in God’s eyes. No one gift is more important than another and we all need to use our gifts for the good of the body of Christ - the church - as a whole, not just for ourselves
(iii) The Bible is clear that women are not to have authority over men (I’m assuming, for now, that this is a principle. Though I think this is maybe not as clear cut as some would like to make out!)
In combination, this produces the outcome that the text can be limited to not allowing women to contribute and to remain silent when it comes to authoritatively determining the meaning of a particular occasion of speaking in tongues. But (sorry Peter) Peter seemed to vacillate between ‘women should be silent when this occurs’ and ‘women should not authoritatively determine what the particular instance of speaking in tongues means’. For good reason, I think - because the statement that ‘women should be silent when we are interpreting the meaning of tongues’ is an over-inclusive rule.
What do I mean by this? Well, rules are generalisations that are invented for simplicity. They include things that ought not to be included in the rule (over-inclusive) and fail to include things that should be in the rule (under-inclusive). Take the classic rule ‘no dogs in the cafe’. Why is the rule there? It’s there because we want to ensure that cafes are hygienic and that they are pleasant environments in which to meet, drink coffee etc, where you are not disrupted, inter alia, by riotous animals. Why dogs only? Because normally it’s only dogs that people tend to take on walks and maybe to cafes. But, it is over-inclusive. It excludes guide dogs, thereby excluding a dog that is trained not to be disruptive and stopping blind people (and others) from going to cafes. Hence – you get the ‘excluding guide dogs’ note at the end of the rule. However, imagine I’m a typical eccentric Oxford don. I have a pet crocodile. He’s pretty harmless provided he has been fed, but I’m guessing most people are not going to be happy with a crocodile turning up to the cafe – he’s likely to be disruptive. And even if he has been fed, he likes to eat rotting meat and is not that fastidious about using toothpicks, so I’m guessing he’s not going to contribute to the maintenance of good hygiene in the cafe. But, as the rule stands, he can go to the cafe. The rule is under inclusive. But the principle – you can bring animals as long as they are not going to disturb others or cause hygiene problems – is hard to apply. The poor cafe owner would spend ages in battles about which animals were and were not allowed. Given human nature, some of us would take delight in bringing in different animals just to see what the cafe owner would do. So, we go for a rule. And hope there are not all that many odd Oxford dons around with pet crocodiles!
The principle that women should not have authority over men does not require women to be silent. It requires, in combination with the other principles and the context of the passage, that they do not authoritatively determine the meaning of tongues. Women could contribute to the discussion without breaching this principle. This is because of what is meant by ‘authority’. If someone has authority over me, it means I have a reason to do something, even if I don’t think that is the right thing to do. So, if Duncan has authority over me as my husband, it means that if he tells me that the best thing for our family would be for him to set up his own business, then I have a reason to go along with this, even if I do not think this is the right thing for our family to do. We would hope that, as my husband, Duncan would only take this decis
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