It was a normal class. We sat down ready to discuss our weekly readings. Dr. Danny Goodman was a truly progressive professor who had no desire to indoctrinate his students. He required some heady reading and expected intelligent discussion from his students, only occasionally jumping in when the discussion got uncivil, or absurd. Although many of us came from a similar conservative protestant background, there were often disagreements, confessions of doubt, and true critical thinking.
I should have known this particular subject would cause some drama, but when you consider your beliefs the “norm,” you tend to assume everyone is already in agreement or will be by the time you finish your brilliant defense of it. We were discussing the role of “women in ministry,” more specifically the question “Can women teach men?” Even after reading some leading scholars in the field who arrived at varying positions, I came away labeling them “liberal,” or “feminist.” (Labels are a fun way to ignore the questions and concerns of others)
As students began to speak up and share their thoughts about what we had read, I couldn’t help but think to myself “this is way too simple. Why are we complicating this?!” With cold and cocky assurance, I shared one thought. I gave my position solely from 1 Tim 2:12.
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
For me, that settled it. No matter what I wanted to believe, it was clear for everyone to see in scripture. As I got done sharing my thoughts I looked across the room at another student named Shari. You couldn’t miss her. She was the only woman in the class. I knew her. She was an intelligent student, gracious person, and passionate about Christ. I honestly don’t remember the exact words that she shared in response to my position, but I do remember her face. Shari was emotionally affected. Hurt. Angry. I quickly qualified my statements with “It’s not what I want to believe, but its right there. How can you argue with it?” I took pride believing I was above the emotional pull of culture, wondering how someone who believes in the “truth” of scripture could see it any other way. However, as we headed for lunch the discussion continued and a few male students continued to talk with Shari. I remember it feeling different to discuss the subject face to face with her outside an academic setting.
That was the beginning of a journey of discovery for me. As a pastor, my doctrine and the way I communicate and apply it AFFECTS PEOPLE. I no longer have the luxury of being nebulous in my application of scripture in congregational affairs. Hear me. That does NOT mean that my theology should be dictated by the way it makes people feel. However, if doctrine is the guardrail on the balcony of the Church, then I will unapologetically lean as far over as possible with arms extended toward grace and freedom without falling over. As I sought to understand Shari and the beliefs of others like her, I noticed two things.
First, we have often been inconsistent and even hypocritical in our application of doctrine concerning women in ministry. I can honestly understand how the Church has come to varying positions, but I cannot understand why we would hold them with anything but grace and humility. Our beliefs GREATLY affect the lives of people, their calling, and the way they see their creator! How many have been bruised and abused by churches not in theology, but in attitude? What does our doctrine mean? Can we honestly send women overseas as missionaries to teach grown men, but keep them from our Sunday school classes? Can they “share,” but not “preach?” Do they teach men when sharing the gospel? Are women God’s plan B for leadership simply because men have failed? If we are to be consistent and gracious to women in our churches, these things must be considered.
Second, we often claim things as “Biblical,” or “cultural” without taking the time to search the whole of scripture and its background. I have heard both these words used as trump cards that shut down discussion without any real research or fact to support them. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, if we represent Christ, and His church, claiming Biblical authority, then we must give nothing less than our best in understanding His truth no matter the consequence. Fear of being culturally offensive, or irrelevant must not keep us from obedience to the scriptures. Slapping the “cultural” label on something cannot make everything permissible can it? What are the specific contexts to be considered when interpreting the Bible concerning women teaching men?
Although I have spent a significant amount of time over the years studying the Bible concerning these questions, it was only a year and a half ago I felt a real sense of clarity. Over the next series of posts, It’s my hope that you will too. It’s not my desire that everyone come to unity of position, but definitely that we come to unity of heart for Christ and women! This may be a non-essential doctrine for salvation, but it surely feels essential to the gifted women in our churches!