I have been noticing a pop-up in some of the websites I have been that make the statement, “President Obama wants moms to go back to school” Let’s set aside the question of what President Obama actually think about moms going back to school. I believe this is a call to take advantage of government programs to help some women go back to school to earn a degree, which is not wrong in itself, especially if a woman needs to have a better job to be able to take care of her children.
However, I see another message behind this appeal. Why are moms being called to get a degree? Is the insinuation that they are not doing anything worthwhile with their lives, therefore they should get a “real” career? Don’t get me wrong, I am not a male chauvinist who thinks women should just be in the kitchen. However, if women want to spend their lives caring for children, GOD BLESS THEM! It is a challenging and important task. Children need stability in their lives and a mother (or a father) who spends the whole day training their children is giving that child a great foundation for life. It is a shame that many segments of society degrade the vocation of taking care of children. Instead of supporting mothers, segments of society have degraded them.
I believe that feminism has driven women to be ashamed of their desire to take care of their children, by lifting up the career woman as the ideal. Instead of women being free to be who they are, feminism has enslaved women into striving for position in society, when both men and women are to be serve the people under their care. Many women are being shaped by feminist expectations. I am not saying that all women should be mothers and not strive for leadership in society. In fact, I believe that everyone, men and women, are to serve society in the way God called them to; as lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. If a woman is called to full-time motherhood, then she should be encouraged. I would even go further to say that women should have any position in church and society that God calls them to.
As I think about the issue of women in ministry, I ask the question, can women be whatever they desire to be in the church? Many people, whom I deeply respect, say that there are positions that should be off limits to women. This discussion will be divided into two sections, spiritual gifts and leadership. Before we go into these two issues, I want to talk about respecting gender.
Is gender part of who we are? The biblical data says that God created human beings male and female (Gen 1:26-27). What is the implication of this? Sometimes my daughter would say that she is a boy, and I say to her "God made you a girl and it is good". Boys are not better than girls, and vice-versa. Maleness and Femaleness are part of our make-up and it should be respected. How can we show respect to our gender? There is the prohibition of people of the same gender having sexual relations (Lev. 18). Sexual relations are to be between a man and a woman, and a man lusting after a man, or a woman lusting after a woman, is unnatural desire (Rom 1).
Some people say that maleness and femaleness are social constructs, and there is no real difference between the genders- despite different anatomies and physiologies. Although I believe that the roles of men and women are flexible- God did not clearly specify roles and activities for men and women, I do not believe we can just ignore social constructs. Those who do not have respect for social constructs have not thought out how those social constructs originated. Just because society makes explicit or implicit rules does not mean that those rules do not have transcendent value. For some reason, people see an undeniable difference between men and women that should be maintained (1 Cor 11, where the tradition of women wearing headdresses and men not doing so is upheld). If men and women are made in the image of God and imbued with conscience, it behooves us to listen to the voice of conscience in the hearts of our ancestors and in our own hearts. I believe that in creating humans male and female, he meant for maleness and femaleness to be shown, not hidden by ambiguity (using cultural standards, males wearing female clothing and vice-versa). The principle of letting maleness and femaleness show forth, without ambiguity, needs to be upheld if we are to honor our creator. Feminists are wrong for degrading women who want to take on traditional female roles (housewives) and putting up the "powerful" woman as a standard.
In honoring gender identity, are we to tighten up on what males and females can do, or what boys and girls could play with? I don't think so because it is the same as judging a person's heart. Traditionalists are also wrong for berating women who enter the workplace and leadership as if they are disrespecting gender identity. Think about the ideal woman in Proverbs 31- she is both involved in the home and in the marketplace. There are male hairdressers that just enjoy working with hair, and they do not feel less masculine doing it. There are women who can play sports better than some men, and they do not feel less feminine. I know this is a complicated and unclear issue but here is my personal opinion on the subject. I know there are those who will disagree but this is the best I can do in forming an opinion about gender identity.
I work with children and sometimes one kid is provoked and the other kid says he did not provoke the other kid at all. This issue of whether words are provocative is similar to the issue of whether a person is not respecting his gender identity. It is subjective. However, just because something is subjective does not mean a value could not have been violated. A child who feels provoked is provoked, even if the other child did not intend to provoke him. He has to apologize because he hurt the other child. If a person believes that a man is not acting like a man, then the proper response is not, "no I am not, it is just your opinion" but "how so, let's talk about it". Because men are physiologically stronger than women, there are valid expectations for him- I leave this up to your imagination. Because women are built to be the nurturers of life, there are also valid expectations for her- I also live this up to your imagination. A man who is not using his strength to serve and a woman who is not using her natural nurturing spirit to serve, could both be questioned about how they are living out their gender identity. This is an issue of conscience, and despite the subjectiveness of gender expectations, gender identity is a transcendent value. There is a God who made a distinction between male and female.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
There is no qualifier here. The gifts of apostle (missionary), pastor, teacher, prophet, evangelist, are not reserved for men. There are women prophets. They speak for the Lord, and men and women listen to them. Priscilla, a woman, taught Apollos alongside her husband.
It is also worth noting that the offices are gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are not positions to be strived for. Ordination should be a recognition of the spirit’s calling, not position attained. It is an error to correlate the Old Testament priestly ordination to the pastor’s (or catholic priest, deacon, elders) ordination since the office of priest is fulfilled in Christ.
Feminists see the conservative position of no women in leadership as a violation of women’s rights. They urge women to fight for position. However, that fighting for position breeds pride. Instead of growing in humility, women become grabbers for position. If a woman is in a church that does not allow her to have a recognized position in church, she should quietly find ways to serve the Lord and his people with her gifts. She should be joyful that the Lord has granted her the privilege of being used by him, even if the church leadership does not acknowledge her.
Now that we establish that God gifts women and men in the same way, this does not establish that women can have leadership positions.
Let’s think about hierarchy first. Is there supposed to be a hierarchy, with men being on top of women? I believe that hierarchy is a product of the fall, not the original intent of creation. After Adam and Eve fell, God said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."(Genesis 1:16)
What does the second part of this phrase mean? The husband will rule over the wife is self-explanatory. The phrase “your desire will be for your husband” speaks of the drive to dominate. The word “desire” is the same word used to describe sin’s action as it seeks to overcome Cain who eventually sinned by killing his brother (Genesis 4:7). There is a conflict between the man and the woman but the man will rule. The point is that this conflict and man’s subsequent rule is a product of the fall. Man will rule probably because men are usually more powerful and dominant, but because of sin, man will use that power to dominate.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as 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. (Epehsians 5:21-24)
The coming of Jesus signifies the reversal of the fall. Instead of the rule of domination, there should now be mutual submission. That mutual submission begins in marriage. The man, as the more powerful one, must use his power sacrificially for his wife. The wife, as the less powerful one, is to stop usurping her husband, but instead respect him. There is mutual submission instead of hierarchy. This should be the case in the church, and in society as the power of the gospel affects all areas of life. This does not mean that God does not gift certain individuals with vision and the ability to get people to follow in God's direction. Leadership is a gift of God for the edification of the church. He gives this gift to men and women alike.
Does God ever call a woman to be leader over men? I believe he did and he did not say there is anything wrong with it.
“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4)
Miriam is considered by God, alongside Moses and Aaron as the ones who led Israel out of Egypt. Miriam, along with Aaron, tried to make themselves equal to Moses because God spoke through them also (Numbers 12:2). God did not rebuke Miriam because she is a woman, he also rebuked Aaron. He rebuked her because she was trying to usurp Moses, whom he specifically appointed to lead.
What do we make of the Apostle Paul saying that women should not speak, not teach men, and not have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
I don’t think the prohibition to speaking and teaching in church is absolute since we already talked about Ephesians 4:11-14, where the gifts are given without regard to gender. Besides, the gifts are given for the edification of the whole church, men and women. Therefore, I don’t believe teaching men is absolutely prohibited. I believe that in that local situation, for whatever reason, the apostle Paul prohibited women from taking a teaching role in the church. Maybe there are women who want to usurp the leadership in the church.
I do believe that because men are stronger, he is called to step up and use his strength to maintain order. It is more natural for a man to fight chaos, and it is more natural for a woman to nurture. That is why it is assumed that the elders of the church, who are charged with guarding the doctrines of the church, would be men. Because of a man's calling to use his strength, he is more inclined to exercise authority and must exercise his strength for service (leadership is service). Does this mean God would not put a woman in leadership? He did that before and I believe some women are put there by God to be in authority for a time. For example, I think that Elisabeth Elliott should have led the church when the church plant to the tribe in Ecuador who killed her husband was still new. She was the only one who is in position to guard the doctrine of the church, and shape the community. I don't think it was necessary for her to defer at that point, until there are men with a warrior spirit more peculiar to maleness, who has the knowledge to take on that role. I hope that God’s calling for a woman will not be mixed with a feminist drive for power and to be other than who she is, but in a spirit of deferment to God's movement. However, I would say that if all the men are passive, then they are not using their God given power for the good of the body, and that should not be taken lightly.
At first glance, an egalitarian position (men and women allowed to exercise their spiritual gifts, including leadership, in the church) seem to go against the universal practice of the church to reserve leadership positions to males. Some may suggest that the egalitarian position is an accommodation to culture, likening it to the accepting of homosexual practice in the church. Some may suggest that this debate shows that the church could not be trusted to be a moral guide to the culture because of its unclear stance on some issues. For example, slavery used to be accepted by some Christians while other Christians oppose it.
My response is that the Spirit guides the church not necessarily by the words of scriptures but by the trajectory of revelation. I believe there is a trajectory in which God calls us to walk. God is not a revolutionary who seeks to destroy institutions. He is a God who transforms institutions and make them conform more to his image in a loving way. Let me illustrate what I mean by dealing with the issues I presented above.
Concerning homosexual practice, what clues can we glean from scripture (as a Christian, my committment to scripture is the foundation of my thinking)? Scripture does not have any indication that it condones it. I understand that there is a trajectory of acceptance in scripture. Jesus welcomed sinners in his presence, seeking them out and bringing them to God, not shunning them. But does this mean Jesus condones sin? No, he places high value for example in sexual fidelity, that he tells his disciples to pluck their own eyes if it causes them to sin. He is even more stringent in his fences telling his disciples that just looking with lust at another is already sin. With the trajectory of acceptance comes also a trajectory of holiness. Jesus' disciples should get a sense of sin's seriousness just as he should get a sense of his acceptance. I get a sense that many "Christian" leaders responds to sin by minimizing or declassifying it. It seems that their intent is to become more acceptable to their culture- conservatives who minimize gossipping are just as guilty as liberals who declassify homosexual practice as sin. This is not right. We all need to be serious about sin because it is only through the background of sin's seriousness could the gospel of God's acceptance becomes beautiful. Christians are to be humble and joyful. Humble because he knows the seriousness of his sin (nature and actions) and joyful because he is accepted.
Concerning slavery, kidnapping a person to make him a slave is always prohibited and it was never condoned. However, there are conquests where enemies become slaves. Also, slavery was regulated although not condemned. We must be careful of correlating the African slave trade with slavery in biblical times. I am not an expert in this area but it seems in the information I glean, slavery is almost like being an employee- it could be voluntary and even today's employees feel that they are slaves, probably meaning that the company owns them and does whatever it pleases with them. A person sells himself to pay off a debt but that slavery ends when the debt is paid, and also in Jewish law in the year of jubilee, which points to the idea that slavery is not to be permanent, unless the slave wants it to be. Saying that, I believe that in this situation and other situations where there are leaders and servants, the coming of Jesus inaugurates a new trajectory in human dealings with each other.
Sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “ If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35
I see this statement as evidence for a trajectory of equality. The apostle Paul called Christians to imitate Christ's humility by looking at the interests of others. I believe that this thinking creates a culture of equality. Decisions being made with consideration for subodrinates creates a sense of equality. The master is to see himself as accountable to God, just as the servant. Humans are to be treated with consideration- this is a biblical basis for the abolition of slavery and all discrimination against people. What happens to leadership? Leadership, casting vision and leading people, is a gift. This gift, just as any other spiritual gift, is poured out on everyone who believes in God's messiah, without regard for race or gender. However, gender influences man and woman's natural propensities, and those propensities needs to be honored.
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