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.
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.
Almost everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of another person, either intentionally or unintentionally. Smaller offenses such as snapping at someone due to stress or forgetting a lunch date with one’s spouse can usually be forgiven rather easily and can even be forgotten after a little time has passed. More serious; however, are offenses such as abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), infidelity and lying to name a few. These violations can actually leave soul wounds; such an imprint can carry life-long implications.
Considering the emotional suffering associated with soul wounds, it seems only natural to react in anger and desire revenge. The mere suggestion of forgiveness, seems not only unfair, but ludicrous. Yet forgiveness is the exact healing agent needed in order to move forward and live freely. I can identify three foundational reasons to forgive.
1. Forgiveness breaks the bondage of hatred and pain and sets the captives free. Retaliation is a typical response when one has been hurt, it’s human to want to make the offender suffer in similar ways. Left unchecked, bitterness grows like cancer and infiltrates an already calloused heart. Before long the injured person has unintentionally created an emotional prison filled with anger, hatred and pain. This leaves the guilty party in a position of control as they continue to yield power and influence as events of the transgression are replayed over and over in the theater of the mind.
Remaining in unforgiveness is like picking a scab from a wound before it has a chance to heal. Clearly, the benefits of forgiving far exceed the alternative…remaining in unforgiveness. The greatest benefit is often experienced by the person extending forgiveness because it offers release from a self-created emotional prison. The act itself is contrary to the flesh and a near impossible task without Jesus.
2. Forgiveness is both, an act of grace and a gift. Forigiveness is not to be confused with a “pardon” which is letting the perpetrator go free without punishment, it’s not letting them off the hook and it’s not pretending the transgression never happened. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to cut the cords of an oppressive burden and let it roll away. Forgiveness is an act of grace [the giving of something that is unearned and undeserved] and leaving room for God “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NASB).
3. Offering forgiveness improves the quality of one’s relationship with others, allows for spiritual growth and may lead to better health. Dwelling on past hurts robs precious time from those who matter the most (family and friends). Choosing forgiveness frees up the mind and emotions to be present here and now and opens the door to enjoy greater intimacy with God while experiencing inner peace and compassion for others.
Releasing the strangle hold of unforgiveness and choosing forgiveness makes room for emotional health and can lead to lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, and a lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse (Mayoclinic.org, 2011).
After two people have so seriously injured one another, even after apologies have been exchanged, regaining spontaneity and carefree affections doesn’t happen overnight. Some relationships may even be irreparable, but you can walk in peace knowing you did the right thing.
Although many Christians may have the best intentions, they all too often judge and reject others without even realizing it. In doing so, they push people further away from Jesus rather than bringing them closer. Most non-Christians say Jesus stood for love more than anything else and they are right. Jesus said the world will recognize Christians as His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). But there doesn’t seem to be much love going on when those who claim to be Christian speak with judgment or in disparaging ways towards others.
A careful reading of the Gospels, reveals that Jesus didn’t get angry with sinners and he never turned them away. Jesus actually drew them to himself…by the multitude. He even made them feel at ease and was known as the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus had harsher things to say to the religious folk of the day because they were judgmental hypocrites who failed to extend any measure of grace or love. They believed God was about regulatory compliance (i.e. rule keeping). Jesus taught the people that God’s greatest “rule” was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and to love others as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). God didn’t send Jesus to condemn sinners, He sent Jesus to save sinners (John 3:17).
The Pharisees loved rules and laws and were devoted to keeping them and they thought everyone else should be “rule keepers” too. Oddly, the greatest opposition Jesus faced came from the Pharisees, because they missed a crucial point, God wasn’t concerned with all their rule keeping, He was concerned with people. So while the Pharisees were busy crushing people with their unbearable religious demands while never lifting a finger to ease the burden, Jesus was drawing crowds and teaching about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ teachings were a radical departure from what ordinary men and women were used to hearing from their pious leaders. Grace, love, mercy, forgiveness…all wonderful new concepts and these teachings were turning people away from organized religion. The Pharisees should have celebrated this renewed interest in God because the citizens were coming in droves to hear Jesus preach. Instead, they were disgusted that Jesus was so willing to associate with lowly sinners. In response, Jesus had some intense things to say to the religious leaders. Jesus used names like hypocrites, blind guides, filthy and full of greed, whitewashed tombs, snakes and sons of vipers (Matthew 23) to describe these leaders.
The religious leaders didn’t love God, perhaps they thought they did, but they weren’t fooling anyone, certainly not Jesus! Oh, they loved the Scriptures and searched them diligently because they believed eternal life was found in the written word, but the Scriptures they so loved, pointed straight to Jesus (John 5:39). In short, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were really just putting on an act; they weren’t authentic lovers of God. Truth be known, we too are sometimes guilty of faking our affections for Christ. We fake our affections when we just go through the motions at church or when we judge someone because they don’t share “our values” or when we intentionally fail to extend love and grace. When we deceive others and lie about the motives in our heart or when we think we are superior to other people because we are more “mature in our walk with Christ,” we are faking our affections.
Jesus warned his followers numerous times about such hypocrisy and judging others in four broad expressions.
1. The Motives of a Person’s Heart
You can really tell the motive of a person’s heart if after doing a good deed for someone, it is kept in confidence or broadcasted to the universe on Facebook or some other media outlet: “I helped buy groceries for a needy person today!” “I sponsored an orphan in Africa!” “My family adopted a huge family at Christmas and donated 10 Operation Christmas Child boxes!” Such a person is really using God rather than allowing God to use them and stands in stark contrast to the way Jesus told his followers to give when helping the needy, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:2).
2. Judging the Sin of Others
Believe it or not, there are plenty of “Super” Christians who go around judging the sins of other Christians as well as non-believers. These “Super” Christians see themselves as the standard for everyone else to follow. They believe they should be emulated in word, deed and action. This is nothing more than spiritual pride and they are practicing “a more sinister and deadly sin than the sins of those they are denouncing” (Hamilton, 2010, p. 15). Jesus said if you are going to judge the speck of dust in your brother’s eye to first get the log out of your own (Matthew 7:1-5).
3. Getting Sidetracked
In their quest for rule following and keeping the details of every law, the Pharisees forgot how to love people. Sometimes, God’s children do the same when we argue, divide and split over matters such as female preachers, who can partake in the elements of communion, forms of baptism, speaking in tongues, homosexuality, science, politics, other religions, and interpreting the Scriptures. When we get sidetracked on these issues, we are pushing would be believers away from Jesus rather than drawing them closer. Jesus said our love for one another is how the world will know we are his followers (John 13:35).
4. Backstabbing Other People
Have you ever met someone who presented as a warm, kind and loving soul, but the more you got to know them, you realized they were the antithesis of who you first believed they were? Jesus knew a few people like that too and he had this to say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23:25-26). You would think Jesus was speaking to the unchurched, the sinners, but he was speaking to the religious people and his message still applies to some Christians today. They are adept in “religious” talk, they raise their hands in worship and go around talking about “God’s will be done” and they’re always “praying” for someone. However, their religion doesn’t change their values or how they live their lives. As an example, these are the folks who are gossiping about other people’s business, or slandering another sister’s name behind her back while hugging her on Sunday morning, or sharing confidential details that were sworn to secrecy. Their religion is for show- it’s an act.
We need to clean the inside of our cup to match the outside as Jesus commanded the Pharisees and live out our faith and beliefs caring about what God cares for: people, grace, mercy and justice. Most people including atheists struggle with hypocrisy and judging. It’s all too easy to do the right things for the wrong reasons and it’s easy to point out the sins of others while neglecting to see our own. Most of us has pretended to be someone we are not, but it is only when we recognize our penchant to be as Pharisees that we have any hope of getting it right.
When Christians act in ways that are hypocritical, compassionless, hurtful, and cold hearted, we are behaving in ways that are unchristian. Paul used these words when describing how Christians should behave: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23). When Christians get it right, love is the motive. We are most like Jesus when we are building friendships with those who are outside the church rather than condemning them and preaching sermonettes on all the things they are doing wrong. As Christians, we should remember that it isn’t our job to offend others- that’s the job of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). When Christians get it right, people are drawn to rather than repulsed by our faith. They want what we have and they want to serve the God we serve.
Reference: Hamilton, A. (2010) When Christians Get It Wrong. Abington Press: Nashville.