The never-ending conversation

Last Tuesday our seminary cohort sat down to (try to) tackle 1 Timothy 2 and the issue of the role(s) women should play within church. It has been years since I have heard anything new in this conversation. Basically, it’s all in how you read the text, how you understand the ancient context, and how you hold the whole Bible together. Reading only one of Paul’s passages on women or one of the Gospel stories where women play a major role or one of the Old Testament narratives involving women is dangerous. It’s dangerous because then one misses the depth and the contradictions that lie within the passages of this Book that we call our Authority.

As I wrote my paper last week and continued to think about this issue once again, this thought occured to me: my call in Christ, whatever specifics it might hold (preacher? teacher? pastor? shepherd? leader? who knows!), is a call to lay down my life just as Christ did. This call that I claim is a call to service, to slavery, to self-emptying love. Yes, even those who suffer injustice, whose voices are ignored or marginalized, who are abused and neglected— the call is the same for everyone. Part of me recognizes the deep truth in that and responds to it. Another part of me rages against that. I was born with a very sensitive justice radar, and my instincts rise up and urge me to take a stand against injustice. Someone has to name what’s wrong in this world WRONG. I am realizing now that this urge to stand against injustice is a gift, a very good thing, as long as I am using it on behalf of OTHERS rather than myself. My call is to lay down my life and not to take it up again. Ouch.

This is not say that I think I should stay in a situation where I am being marginalized or my voice is not taken seriously. I think at times in our lives, it may be completely appropriate to step away from a task for the sake of our own mental, emotional, spiritual health… perhaps even for the health of the group in which we were serving… and to state the reasons why: “This position was not life-giving for me. I found it difficult to function in healthy ways here. I do not believe I was a good match for this group.” On the other hand, if we are stepping away out of a desire to punish them for what they did to us, or to teach them something or get back at them… can you sense the difference in the attitude? One is Christ-like living. The other is not.

Here is a great quote from The Shack by William Young (p. 148ff):

[Jesus is speaking here] “Mack, don’t you see how filling roles is the opposite of relationship? We [God] want[s] male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely by [the Holy Spirit] from whom all true power and authority originates… I came as a man to complete a wonderful picture in how we made you. From the first day we hid the woman within the man, so that at the right time we could remove her from within him. We didn’t create man to live alone; she was purposed from the beginning. By taking her out of him, he birthed her in a sense. ” “Oh, I get it, ” Mack interjected…”If the female had been created first, there would have been no circle of relationship, and thus no possibility of a fully equal face-to-face relationship.” “Exactly, Mack… Our desire was to create a being that had a fully equal and powerful counterpart, the male and the female. But your independence with its quest for power and fulfillment actually destroys the relationship your heart longs for… Just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own.”

In Genesis 1 & 2, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2, I see this theology. Mutuality, partnership, mutual submission, servanthood, a willingness to empty oneself for the other. There is no grabbing for position or power. There is no concern for proper hierarchy or positional authority. The concern is an unbroken circle of relationship.

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, but ALL THINGS COME FROM GOD.” 1 Cor. 11:12

Do I still get angry when I encounter systems that marginalize and devalue female wisdom and leadership? Yes, of course I do! Am I learning to let God be the justice-bringer? Am I learning to love and serve those who believe differently than me? I sure hope so. I want to be faithful to Christ’s call.