The Other “F” Word

n-FEMINISM-628x314Feminism has become the other “F” word. Speak it in any friend circle and you’re likely to provoke a myriad of emotions and strong responses. You either embrace the movement or you hate it; there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground here.

A colleague recently shared with me the sordid details from her book club’s current selection. Just one chapter in and she was quite shocked with the steamy storyline.   Being the helpful person that I am, I recommended the book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. My colleague caught up with me a couple of weeks later to let me know that most of the women in her group were receptive to the title, but at least one replied “Uh (insert friend’s name here), please- you know how I feel about that (feminism).”

The rest of our conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, let me get this straight…it’s okay to read about giving your BOYFRIEND a blow job, but it’s not okay to read a wholesome book from a Christian perspective about the radical notion that women are people too?”

Colleague: “Yep, pretty much.”

Me: Very loud sigh of frustration.

I used to be a closet feminist. I believed (still do) in the movement, kept myself apprised of the movement’s progress and educated those closest to me about the movement, but my thoughts and opinions went no further than my inner circle for fear of judgment. My turning point was five years ago when I became an ordained minister. My teenage daughter was attending a Christian fundamentalist high school at the time and for the next four years she was ridiculed for both her feminist beliefs and my ministerial ordination. She was called a Nazi Feminist, told that women cannot be president because they are too emotional and challenged daily on her interpretation of the Bible as it relates to female pastors.

Two of my closely held beliefs are: (1) People fear things they don’t understand and (2) People need to be educated. Since I was a lead pastor at the time my daughter was in the frying pan, I began to preach more on egalitarianism and the dangers of patriarchy. I didn’t saturate people with the ideologies and I ensured my approach was gentle; I literally preached on these topics maybe once every other month. On one occasion, a female congregant told me that I might want to consider backing off.

What makes a person a feminist and aren’t feminists man haters? I’ll answer the first part of this question by providing a definition of the term in a moment, but my response to the second portion of the question is CERTAINLY NOT! I am not a man hater! I am married to a man, I have two sons and two grandsons and I love each of them dearly.

A quick search on the Internet returned the following definitions for feminism:

  • The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.
  • A range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.
  • The radical notion that women are people too.

If after reading the above definitions, you still firmly stand against feminism- you really need to ask yourself this question: “Do I really believe that all human beings deserve equal rights?” Because at its core, this is what feminism is about…equal rights. Whether you love or hate feminism, every woman alive today has benefited from its fruits. Here is a short sampling of our benefits:

  • The right to own property
  • The right to vote
  • Access to contraception
  • Higher education
  • Access to broader job selections
  • Equal pay
  • Decrease in domestic violence rates

I encounter a lot of folks who are happy to share in the benefits of feminism as long as they don’t have to do the hard work to bring about equality or claim the feminist label. All I am promoting here is the notion that we need to be having open conversations on this topic instead of running from them and spewing unkind words at each other. When we come from a place of understanding instead of fear and hatred, the world is a nicer place for all of us!

 

 

In Praise of Female Pastors Part IV: The Interpretation

Silence

The church has used Paul’s words in the following passages to silence women for centuries:

  • 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 (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, NIV).
  • A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Timothy 2:11-12, NIV).

Did Paul mean to apply these statements (and others like them) to all women for all times or could Paul have been speaking to a particular group in a particular church at a particular time in history to address a particular problem? Women along with children, slaves and the poor assembled in great numbers wherever the gospel was preached. The gospel represented a new message that affirmed their human dignity and worth. Women were not educated beyond their domestic duties in the home during this time so obviously they had no formal training in interpreting the Scriptures. The “women” in the Corinthian Church would have been zealous over their new freedoms in attending church and began disrupting the meetings with their questions and opinions. Paul asked them to quiet down and speak with their husbands at home. He was actually encouraging them to learn and participate, but he wanted order not disunity and disorder.

The Epistles are letters written thousands of years ago. At the time Paul was writing these letters, he was living in a patriarchal society and women held the legal status of slaves; they were not considered worthy to even hear the law read or explained and could not enter the inner courts of the Temple. Although the Bible was written for us, we were not the original audience. If  we want to understand what application the Bible has for our lives today, we must approach it responsibly so we do not dishonor the original intent of the message.

Paul was not restricting women, he was giving them opportunities to sit quietly and learn; something not previously available to them. Paul had a high view of women and acknowledged them as deacons (Romans 16:1), co-workers (Romans 16:3) and apostles (Romans 16:7). Women were vital in Paul’s ministry and were leading, teaching and prophesying in the community at the time Paul was writing these letters. Women were fulfilling Peter’s prophetic words, “In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants- men and women alike- and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:18, NLT). Paul had full knowledge of these female leaders and they had his blessing.

Every Bible study I’ve been a part of used the words of Peter and Paul as the gold standard for a “biblical marriage.”

  • Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV).
  • Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:18-19, NIV).
  • Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives (1 Peter 3:1-2, NIV).

At the time these letters were written there were Greco-Roman household codes in effect that recognized the hierarchy of male authority in the home. These household codes were part of the Pax Romana law. These teachings from Peter and Paul would have aligned with the laws of their day. We do not have to mirror Greco-Roman culture; we live in America and a marriage model from ancient Middle Eastern culture should not be our standard just because it is biblical. After all, it is biblical to force a woman to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), it is biblical for a man to have multiple wives (Exodus 21:10), and it is biblical to sell your daughter as a servant (Exodus 21:7).

If you want to know what a God-designed marriage should look like, you only need to go as far as Genesis 1 & 2. In Genesis 2:18 & 20, God made for Adam an ezer kenegdo translated as “strong power.” Eve was created as Adam’s perfect match, neither superior nor inferior. Eve, God’s first daughter was named after our Heavenly Father. Ezer is a name God uses for himself numerous times in the Old Testament in the military context when he is rescuing Israel. So in the context of marriage, the ezer kenegdo is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband and her brothers in ministry. When women are silenced, forced to take a back seat, minimized or downplayed, they are not functioning in the way God intended.

I have a definitive moment in time when God called me to ministry as a minister of the gospel. I have preaching and teaching gifts that have been affirmed by the Church. I have an education and I am ordained. I am an ezer kenegdo, a strong power- a warrior! How can I not preach or teach?  I don’t know about you, but when any human organization, church included conflicts with God, I am going to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). If you know a female pastor, please encourage her- she needs it! If you are a female pastor, God bless you richly!

References:

Bessey, S. (2013). Jesus feminist: An invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women. Howard Books: New York, NY.

Evans, R.H. (2012). A year of biblical womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN.

In Praise of Female Pastors Part III: The Debate

 

In the West, two polarized groups are used for defining the standard roles of women in the context of the home and church: complementarians and egalitarians. For clarity’s sake, complementarians believe that God established a biblical hierarchy by placing men in authority over women and that he calls women to submit to male leadership. Within this view, only men are to assume leadership positions in the church, with women filling in the supporting roles (i.e. administrative assistant, children’s director, nursery, choir, etc.).

On the other hand, egalitarians believe that God does not use gender as the qualifying basis in determining who holds leadership positions within the church- rather it is determined by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit. God did not intend to equip his daughters with certain gifts and talents and expect them to bury those talents in the backyard (Matthew 25:14-30); all believers are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). At the core of this debate is whether or not we believe God has placed restrictions on what women can and cannot do in the home or church or if he has given them freedom in Christ (John 8:36) to use their gifts and answer his irrevocable call (Romans 11:29).

It seems Christians simply cannot agree on this matter- you would think we would agree to disagree. But no, in our desire to be right we are divided and use the Bible as a weapon to argue and prove our interpretation is the right one, even to the point of verbally attacking women who preach from the pulpit. In 2008, Jackie Roese preached her first sermon at Irving Bible Church in Texas before a 3,500 member congregation. She was called a “cancer in the church,” a “dangerous sign,” and a “threat to Christianity.” Members left the church, and others boycotted the service. In essence, we have become enemies of the Gospel. Sarah Bessey hits the nail on the head, “…there is no more hateful person than a Christian who thinks you’ve got your theology wrong” (2013, p. 15).

When I need to remind myself how God feels about women and how he intends for me to use my gifts and calling as a pastor, I can look to the Old Testament or the New Testament for examples: Deborah was a prophet and judge (Judges 4:4), Miriam a prophet and leader in Israel (Exodus 15:20),  and Huldah a prophet in Israel (2 Kings 22:14). There are others, but I want to move to the New Testament. If you hold to the virgin birth [a central tenant in Christianity], it cannot escape us, that God brought his only begotten Son into the world through a woman (Mary), without the physical assistance (in an intimate sort of way) of a man whatsoever. Anna was a prophet (Luke 2:36) who served in the temple where Jesus was circumcised and recognized Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer.

Jesus elevated women and treated them with dignity and respect; he gave them opportunities to learn (Luke 10:39) and share the gospel (John 4:39). There is not a shred of evidence to be found indicating that Jesus thought women were/are subordinate to men. Women loved Jesus, they flocked to him and they were vital in his ministry and indeed, they were last at the cross on Calvary and first at his grave on Resurrection Day.

I will address Paul’s statements on women, submission and silence in Part IV of In Praise of Female Pastors.

References:

Bessey, S. (2013). Jesus feminist: An invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women. Howard Books: New York, NY.

Cowles, C.S. (1991). In praise of women preachers: An analysis of Paul’s position of women in ministry. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.us/place.praise.html.

Evans, R. H. (2012). A year of biblical womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN.

James, C. C. (2010). Half the church: Recapturing God’s global vision for women. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

In Praise of Female Pastors Part II: The History

 

In the history of mankind, women represent the most discriminated against population in the world. Across every culture, race and nation, women have been viewed as second class citizens. They have been denied education, the right to own property and the right to vote (until 1920 in the U.S.). Some cultures have viewed a woman’s sole purpose in life as that of bearing children and attending to every demand of her husband. Women have been treated as property to be bought, sold or cast aside when they were no longer needed or wanted.

Even today in some Middle Eastern countries, women are required to wear veils that cover their facial features and hair. In yet another culture there exists female infanticide due to the existence of a one-child policy. Male babies are preferred over female babies so much so, that parents opt for the termination of their female fetus through selective abortion. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, authors of Half the Sky (2010) write “It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century” (xvii).

Thankfully, in 21st century America, women have gained equality in nearly every facet of society. The exception; however, seems to be in the local church. Several Protestant denominations continue to hold to a patriarchal leadership system, restricting church leadership positions and ordination to men only. Churches in holiness denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene affirm women in leadership positions, including pastoral roles.

The fact that certain holiness denominations allow women all the rights and privileges in leadership has created a divide among Christians. I have witnessed arguments concerning this issue on social media that ultimately led to pressing the “unfriend” button and “blocking” the contact permanently. The controversial issue of female leadership in ministry has long been debated. It is rooted in various Old Testament Scriptures and statements made by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. But, is it really as simple as reading these passages in the Bible and taking them so literally?

A responsible person approaches the Bible with the understanding that it is not an American book and is about as far removed from ancient Bible culture as you can get. When we approach the Bible through our Western eyes only, its message tends to lose some of its clarity. In a sense we are unaware and culturally blind; guilty of tunnel vision, yet absolutely sure without knowing anything about ancient biblical culture that we are able to explain the Bible’s message to ourselves and others.

Jewish women in Jesus’ day held the legal status of a female slave; heads were covered, faces veiled. Women were the property of their fathers until marriage and then ownership transferred to the husband. Only the husband had the right to divorce his wife and he could do so for any reason, including finding more pleasure in another woman. Women were forbidden to enter the inner courts of the temple and were not considered worthy to hear the law read or explained because it was a woman (Eve) who was deceived and brought sin into the world. The Bible is replete with examples of male patriarchy with women under the dominion and rule of men. That model however, was not God’s design. God’s original design is seen in Genesis 1:27-28:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (NIV).

The Bible speaks clearly here of Eve’s fundamental equality with Adam. They shared the same essential nature, she was in no way inferior to him and she was not made to serve him. She was his spiritual counterpart, his intellectual equal and his perfect mate and companion. There isn’t a hint of superiority in this text. Eve was given the same instructions as Adam: to have dominion and rule over the earth. I am familiar with the argument that Eve was subordinate to Adam because God created Adam first, but if we follow that logic then Adam is subordinate to the seed bearing plants, trees (Gen. 1:11) and animals (Gen. 1:20-25) that were created before him. This argument simply does not make sense.

Genesis 2:18 tell us that the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (NIV). The word “helper” used here and again in verse 20 in the Hebrew language means ezer; a term God uses at least 16 more times in the Old Testament to describe himself and how he always comes through for his people in times of great need. If Eve was Adam’s subordinate, why would God use the term ezer,  a term he used for himself meaning “strong power” to describe Eve?

Things begin to change; however, in chapter 3 after the couple eat from the tree God commanded them not to eat from. In Genesis 3:14, the consequences of disobedience begin and in verse 16 he said “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16, NIV). This was a prophetic statement from God that meant, the relationship status between a man and a woman would now change. The great news is; however, that what was turned upside down in the Garden of Eden was turned right side up in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus not only reconciled the relationship between God and people, he reconciled the relationship between men and women!

Stay tuned for more good news in part III of In Praise of Female Pastors.

References:

Burden, S., Sunberg, C., & Wright, J. (2014). Reclaiming Eve: The identity & calling of women in the kingdom of God. Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, MO.

Cowles, C.S. (1991). In praise of women preachers: An analysis of Paul’s position of women in ministry. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.us/place.praise.html.

James, C.C., (2010). Half the church: Recapturing God’s global vision for women. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Kristoff, N.D., & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Random House: New York, NY.

In Praise of Female Pastors Part I: The Call

ordination

 

 

 

People have been discriminated against for centuries based on their gender, skin color, preferences, socioeconomic status and abilities. Although clear and measurable progress is duly noted, it is unlikely (in my opinion) that discrimination on all levels will be abolished until Jesus returns and the first heaven and the first earth have passed away (Revelation 21:1). Until those events occur, my desire is to share what I  learn based on my education, experiences and Bible studies. The longing of my heart is to “set the captives free” (Isaiah 61:1).

I recently read two new books (titles and authors views will be shared in a later post) that I feel perfectly articulate what I have sensed in my soul for so long, but have been unable to verbalize. Both of these books affirm women in church leadership. The reason this material is so dear to me is obvious (if you know me): I am an ordained minister in the Nazarene church. I am also a licensed counselor and I find the two roles impossible to separate. I am a shepherd. What does a shepherd do? A shepherd cares for and feeds the flock of Jesus. I have been educated and trained in all kinds of counseling theories and techniques, but the Holy Spirit is the True Counselor (John 14:16) and He lives inside of me, enabling me to care for the flock.

I have never felt discriminated against, until I became a pastor. At times I am given the “cold shoulder,”  when I share that I am an ordained minister. Through my interactions with other Christians (mostly outside of my denomination), I receive comments such as “What’s the point of that?” and “Oh…” with a confused look, or I am simply ignored.

A few years ago, the pastor of a community church (where my children happen to attend school) held a luncheon with a motivating message for local pastors. The secretary called me because we knew one another; she wondered if I would extend a verbal invitation to the male pastors at my church. Since I was serving as an Associate Pastor alongside those brothers, I asked her if I was invited as well, to which she nervously responded “Oh, I’ll have to ask.” Sometimes I feel the church is the only place where you can still discriminate against women and not get into trouble.

These interactions have been hurtful to say the least, so most of the time I don’t even tell people that I am a pastor until I know them better. However, God has revealed to me that I have erred in hiding my calling. My education has been endorsed by an accredited university, my doctrine is sound, my understanding of Scripture is solid, my teaching and preaching gifts have been affirmed by those in leadership over me and appreciated by those who have learned from me. My call has been acknowledged by my denomination and sealed in an ordination service in Black Mountain, North Carolina on June 7, 2013. I have entered into a sacred covenant with God to teach his word at all times and I will endeavor to do so with excellence.

I have a burden to share a series of posts that I believe are liberating. I invite you on this journey with me as I write this four part series. I will share with you what I have learned from some amazing authors and women of God, the Holy Spirit and a proper exegesis of Scripture.