Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Missing Out

There's a church I know who has just said goodbye to their Youth Pastor... he was called to new ministry opportunities elsewhere. Now they're on the search for a new Youth Pastor who is, ideally; someone who is experienced in Youth Ministry, loves students, is familiar with how things have been done in the past, already has built a solid relationship with the students, is adept at interpreting and teaching scripture, is organized, knows how to facilitate, and is on board with the direction of the church as a whole. Wait... lucky for them, they have someone with literally all of those qualifications who's already there--the Youth Ministry intern who has been following and learning from the Youth Pastor and is quite familiar with how things work because they have, in fact, been involved in making things work for quite some time. So of course they'll hire her if she applies.

Her?

She?

A woman in ministry?

Unfortunately for her, for the church as a whole, and for the students, and for the life of Youth Ministry in the community, Paul thinks women should be silent in the church...

Said church, I am sure, will not be hiring said intern. Apparently, for this particular church, it's ok for women to be secretaries, interns, probably even janitors, but the word of God is something that only men can really teach about... unless it's in Sunday School (there's never enough male teachers).

This is the point which we should rethink our logic! It's nothing short of oppressive to keep women, whose calling has been felt just as strongly as any male pastor you and I have met, from the pulpit. The church is missing out on their unique message, the youth are missing out, those outside the walls of the church are missing out, they are missing out. Even if the man is the head of the woman (and trust me, there are other ways of understanding 1 Corinthians 11:3) then the man should lead the woman as Christ leads the church, empowering them and calling them saying "as the father sent me, so I send you" (John 20). Once we've realized that if we continue this pattern more and more God sent and passionately qualified women will be answering phones, we must return to the text. If we're going to view scripture as authoritative at all then we must humbly remember that our interpretation is not infallible and we must return to it daily with new challenges and with a renewed dedication to understand what it's really saying, and in doing so, we must hold every "individual" verse in the light of the whole Biblical narrative.

This means that we must hold "women should remain silent in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34) in light of Paul's greater message that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28... also see 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 6:8, Colossians 3:11, and even see 1 Corinthians 14:36). And furthermore we must hold "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (1 Timothy 2:12) in light of the way Jesus empowered women... remember it was the women whom the angel sent to "teach" the male disciples that Jesus had risen... the first people whom God sent to preach the gospel to the world were women. Remember that Deborah led Israel (and nowhere does it say that she shouldn't have because she was a woman) . Remember that Junia was "highly respected among the apostles" and was a follower of Christ even before Paul was (Romans 16:7). And what about Phoebe... I'm sure Paul listed her because she was really good at folding the church newsletter (Phoebe is listed as a diakonos, a "deacon" or as it is most often translated, "a minister." It's someone of authority [Romans 13:4]. Paul even refers to himself as a diakonos in 1 Corinthians 3:5). If we're going to hold to the "literal" and, for some churches, "traditional" reading of the text text without rethinking passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 then something somewhere isn't going to making sense.

I am convinced that when we rethink this issue and educate ourselves on the best scholarship of these problematic texts then we who have been denying women of such things as "ordination" and access to the pulpit will come to some very different conclusions.

We are obligated to our congregations, especially to the women within them, and to the world to reaffirm the empowerment of women and their role in the church as teachers. For we are the "priesthood of all believers" and we are all teachers of the word of God. We must reaffirm the equality of women... even when it comes to that sacred cow we call the pulpit... and their unique prophetic voice in the family of God.

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