Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Women should remain silent in the churches..."

Today, my good friend, John Dunne, published a blog post on 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 which has given me a chance to do some reflection (NOTE: If you decide to stop reading here, at the least click on the "John Dunne" link and watch that video... that was a funny night).

1 Corinthians 14: 33b-35 says:

"... as in all the congregations of the Lord's people.
Women should remain silent in the churches.
They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.
If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home;
for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

John's main point in writing the blog post was to take a poll on whether or not people thought this passage was original. There is some evidence that convinces people to believe it is unoriginal and for this argument I would ask you to head over to the post and check it out. It's short and concise and worth your time if you are interested. He is also very interested in having a variety of comments whether you are religious or not, so please feel free to comment here or on his post, and he will be able to read comments in both places.

I would like to respond here in a more personal way. To be honest, I am usually terrified to bring my emotions into this argument because that is one reason why many complementarian men say that women shouldn't be in roles of leadership - because we are "emotional". Even over thanksgiving my sister's boyfriend (who is not religious) said that a woman shouldn't be president because what if she had to make a decision "about war and was on her period?!" Let me remind all you men out there to hold yourselves back from saying things like these at a table with your girlfriend, her three sisters and mother. My father has learned well to say the words, "Whatever you want, honey." (Note: I truly adore my sister's boyfriend).

Back to an "emotional argument" - I have also learned over the years that though an emotional argument is not respected, it is the only argument that can be received because complementarian Christian men do not think that women can hold authority to teach on doctrinal issues to men. If you are reading this right now and thinking that I cannot possible be speaking truth, I encourage you to read through the comments John's post has received so far. You will be even more shocked.

Put yourself in our shoes
Speaking of comments, this brings me to my first point. I am always interested to know how men would feel if they were spoken of in a way that women are spoken of within this conversation. For example I am going to take one of the comments received from John's post and insert the word MAN or MEN anywhere that the writer is referring to WOMEN or WOMAN:

"...it only makes sense given all of Paul’s other concerns that he clearly elucidate a hierarchy and behavioral expectation. Of course we recognize that MEN have a valid job to perform in the Church. It is simply not to be in the open, and not in any sort of leadership position. Can a MAN serve in children’s ministry (at least from a Complementarian perspective)? Certainly, so long as HE is not in authority over women and so long as HE is ONLY working with leadership over minor children in teaching. From a purely textual perspective, it comes back to the same question: where are the lines in the sand being drawn? As long as they abide by the restrictions placed by Paul clearly in 1st Timothy, and as long as they fit within the paradigm set up in submission to a wife figure, it seems less relevant. A comment on the earlier statement though: it is a fight for the soul of the American Protestant Christian community over the parameters of doctrine when we seem to have so many churches “ordaining” MEN in clear violation of 1st Timothy and its negative command. In that sense, then, John, I think 1st Corinthians 14:34 becomes even MORE important form the sense that if we do not have a clear and unambiguous understanding of where MEN stand, we can get muddled, confused, and wishy-washy in our theology."

This makes me smile. Or laugh... one of the two. This commenter is fierce, isn't he? Whew!

I have to be honest, reading these kinds of things after living in Berkeley for a few months really feels unnatural and twilight zone-ish. I am extremely wrapped up into social justice, and one component of social justice is equality, so these complementarian concepts have become farely foreign to me. It's truly strange that I used to live in this world where I was expected to submit to authority within the church purely because of my sex. My point in saying all of this is that I wish men would understand better how it makes women feel when they speak about us this way. It must be really easy to keep someone else down when you think that scripture is giving you so much power and authority. Scary.

Don't speak
My second point that I brought up briefly was the fact that as women in the church, we have no voice. Oftentimes when I find myself in conversations over this issue, I can feel this underlining attitude from complementarian men that whenever I am standing up for equality, they have an instant "out" because as a woman I should not be speaking this way to a man. This reminds me of a scene from Mad Men. Unfortunately I couldn't access the embedded code, so CLICK HERE FOR MAD MEN CLIP. You can watch all three minutes or fast forward to 2:30. In the scene Don is surprised to be meeting with a woman seeking out business matters, and by the end of the meeting becomes upset with her and exclaims, "I will not let a woman speak to me like this." This is pretty much how I feel every time I have a conversation with a complementarian on a women's rights issue. If women are not allowed to speak for themselves and actually be heard, how will we ever find ourselves in a different situation?

This may seem too extreme for some but I have to make the comparison to slaves (NOTE: I will focus on African American slavery to make this point). Africans were brought to America to be slaves and had absolutely no voice. For hundreds of years, Christians made justifications through their theology, and continued to tell their slaves that this is what God has called them to do. I am reading a Michael O. Emerson book and in it there was an example of what used to be posted back in the 1800's in regards to slaves. I found it fascinating because one of the "social reasons" for slavery that had been listed was, " Just as women are called to play a subordinate role, so slaves are stationed by God in their place." Even in the early 1900's Africans could not officially be American citizens because they were not White. They had absolutely no power, and White men had all the power. How could their voices ever be heard? Well we all know how that story ends, and now magically everyone thinks slavery is wrong (it always was!). Is it really going to take something like the civil rights movement for women to be seen as not subordinate?
Could men be the answer?
I am not sure if I could ever see a movement like the ones that have gone before us for the sake of equality for women in the church. This is mostly because there are many churches that already adhere to equality, and for the most part, there aren't many women who would like to be ministers. PLUS, like I have already said, men don't take a woman's stance on this issue as authoritative. So what is the answer? The answer is simple - it's John Dunne! Okay, I won't give him that responsibility. But in a way, women's future roles in the church DO lie in the hands of men like John Dunne and his male colleagues who are up and coming in this "church world" of Protestant Evangelicals. We need more men to be sensitive with these issues and not come to conclusions so quickly, and spew out their information so harshly, but actually realize that this is a bigger issue than it may seem. This issue is about your wife, daughters, mothers, and sisters, whom you love. This issue should be thoroughly thought out piece by piece in not only a theological way, but also taking into consideration culture and life experiences. And most importantly, it's time to listen to women!

God has given me a love for ministry. He has also given me a love for leadership. As a woman, these things don't mix well and I had to change directions in my life to receive the love and support I really needed. Imagine someone telling you that you could not be authoritative on something you have a degree in because you of your sex. It is extremely hurtful and has changed my life in many ways.

There is much more to say about this issue and I don't mind answering more specific questions within my comment section. And for my not so religious friends or friends who have left the church because of these reasons, please know that I have faith in the church because I have faith in God. God is good and people will never be perfect.


Steph said...

Along a similar line, I think the whole, "We are selling out to our culture" argument put forth by individuals, is really interesting since women in American society today are still being treated unequally as compared to their male counterparts.

I think this shows up in wage discrepancies, domestic violence statistics and in the fact that less than a quarter of the members of congress are women. I think that societal treatment of women has definitely improved, but even as the number of women seeking higher education out grows men, the more education a women receives, the less she can expect to be paid as compared to a man with the same degree and position. Also, while the gap has been closing, men with advanced degrees are more likely to be married, while women with advanced degrees are less likely to get married. Obviously, there is an issue of interpretation with all statistics, but I think it is safe to say that at the very least, our society still carries some gender biases.

Carrie Allen said...

Very good point! I know there are so many other things to talk about within this issue and that is definitely one of them. Even within our schools current dean search we only have male candidates. It's still a man's world because of the oppression women have faced for so long.

Andrew Faris said...

Hey Carrie,

Obviously, you and I have talked about this issue in the past, so I'll leave out a lot of it. But I'll mention two things briefly.

1. I can't help but wonder if your feeling of never being listened to because of your being a woman when discussing things with complementarian men has more to do with you than the men, at least in some cases. Of course I don't doubt that there are such men, but if it is the case that, as you say, you feel this every time you talk with a man, well, it becomes hard to think that it is always their fault. Does that make sense? I don't mean this at all as a shot, by the way.

2. This, like many other issues, really comes down to one thing for me: what does the Bible actually teach? And I think you overlook that some in this post. The language you use here frankly reads very much like, "I can't believe we aren't past this ancient mumbo jumbo. Haven't we moderns figured out by now that we're not in the caveman era anymore?"

My hope for this whole thing is more people clinging as expressly as possible to the Bible, and that is the case on both sides. I want women to approach this by saying, "God's plan for me, my marriage, and the Church is better than mine, even when that's hard to understand." I want men to say, "I won't be more complementarian than the Bible, and the Bible never says anything about women being dumb, foolish, or worthless, so I'll make a point of valuing, empowering, and listening to them in every possible way I am called to." It seems to me that complementarian men are really prone to speak poorly about this issue in all kinds of ways.

I suppose also that there is a third thing: we need to be a lot better about being gracious to each other as we figure this out. Women need to be gracious with men who really, honestly are trying to submit themselves to the text of Scripture. Ladies: many/most of the complementarian men I know absolutely want to honor God, men, and women in all of the appropriate ways. When there is sinfulness and misunderstanding mixed in, be gracious. And men: I've known a lot of women who feel squashed and undervalued by men. We've got to be better about listening to those things and honestly assessing where our share of the blame is on that. We also need to get a lot better about leading by serving, if that's really what God calls us to.

And in the midst of all that, we need to be really, really quick to give each other grace rather than hold sins and misdeeds against each other. I don't get how it's possible for us to be so incredibly slow to forgive each other, and so quick to pounce on everything the other side says that we don't like.

OK, sermon finished. Thanks for the post, Carrie.


Carrie Allen said...

Hey andrew thanks for the comment! Yes, we have talked about this issue quite a bit in the past.

To address your first point, I know you well and so I won't take it as a shot but I think you are missing my point (which may be my fault for not being clear) and I am not clear on what you mean by it being "my fault" what is my fault? My interactions with complementarian men are all going to be very similar so I think the point I was trying to make was more about the closed-mindedness of these men I speak to... I can't get anywhere with them. They don't listen to me because I don't hold authority to speak on these issues. I wouldn't exactly count you being one of these conversations because I feel like you do listen to me... But do you see my point? It's not that I am blaming them for this, I understand this is what they believe they are being commanded to do, but because their belief is to not be instructed by a woman, how will I ever be respectfully listened to? I don't think this is my fault.

In regards to your second point, I intro'd my blog saying that I was going to express my viewpoint from the emotional side of things so that is what I have done. I feel at this point it is useless for me to express biblical egalitarian arguments because #1- complementarians know what those arguments are and dismiss them and #2 - as a woman I am not allowed to speak with authority on these issues. This is why my final point was to express how we needed Christian men to defend us.

Sometimes I know with these issues, we tend to read blogs with all of our emotions and don't really pick up on the point of the blog... If you have time could you read it again? I just want you to hear what is coming from my heart.

And finally, if the answer was so clear cut in the bible then we wouldn't be having these issues. Of course I want to stick to what the Bible says but I am not a fundamentalist. I believe that we must take into consideration culturally relevant things as we make our interpretations. I know this is where a lot of Evangelicals stop the car and say no way get out. But my point is, these two opposite sides are both entirely convinced that "this" is what the bible is saying. So you are right in your final points on being patient with one another... But there is still a lot of work to be done. I really hope that this new generation of evangelicals can figure out how to express themselves better within this argument.