Tuesday, September 30, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 2, Take 2: Painting the Issue Again

As should be clear by now, arguments can be made from Scripture on either side of the church gender roles debate.

Some will say that in 1 Timothy 2 Paul sets out a universal and timeless rule which restricts women from teaching and holding positions of authority, basing it in the order of creation (man first, woman second). Others will say that here Paul restricts women in Ephesus due to contextual circumstances (be they predominant societal norms or local church concerns).

Some will say that the woman was created as the subordinate helper to man and that the Fall into sin perverted and worsened what was to be a complimentary relationship of distinct roles. Others will say that the woman was created as the ally to man and that the Fall into sin added enmity to their relationship of mutual submission and put into effect the seeds of Patriarchy and the patterns of domination/enmeshment that would come to typify gender relations.

Some will say that the Son's submission to the Father presents a pattern which is to be reflected in the female to male relationship and others will say that the Trinity is characterized eternally by mutual submission and that this sets the trajectory of redemption for human relationships male and female.

Some will say that the patriarchy of the Patriarchs is based on a godly foundation and others will say it is one of the ways the Israelite law reflected cultural norms and yet pushed them forward ever so slightly toward higher ideals.

There are arguments to be made on both sides and anyone who has taken the task of figuring this out seriously will be well acquainted with the depth of detail to which interpretive disputes can go. There comes a point, however, where a decision has to be made. The denomination is stuck between a preliminary decision regarding women as elders and the surmounting obstacle of what this means for ordination. Besides this practical consideration, theologically this article is right that a new way forward in the discussion needs to be found.

As John Stackhouse has well argued, both sides of the gender-roles debate need to come to grips with the fact that the other side has difficult texts to contend with. At points in biblical history there have been restrictions placed upon the participation of women in ministry and at other points in biblical history there have been exceptions to these restrictions. Instead of parading one side over the other, a reading that makes sense of both must be sought and, if found, embraced.

Crucial to this more holistic reading will be our understanding that male and female were created to image God in communion, that with the Fall the situation on earth became messed, and that God nonetheless sustains life and works for redemption even within systems of sin and enmity.

Despite the fall, we understand that people die and get sick, work is difficult, childbearing is painful, and male/female relationships have fallen into unhealthy patterns, but we also understand that God saw fit to allow life to continue and to work redemption in time. Thus we strive to make medical advances, to overcome obstacles, to alleviate pain, and to seek healing, even while we wait for the complete (physical, emotional, and relational) healing and redemption to come.

Importantly, however, within a Christian worldview we submit our redemptive goals to the primary calling which is to live for God's overall redemption plan, even at the expense of ourselves.

God had a long term plan for the redemption of humanity: In Christ.

Slavery was not abolished immediately. Instead, the Hebrews were given laws that added dignity, security, and hope for freedom into the societal structure by degree. Even in Paul's day, when one might have expected an immediate cultural revolution initiated by the gospel's promise, instead converted slaves were instructed to stay in whatever situation they found themselves and to take freedom if the opportunity presented itself. Either way, they were to honour Christ by the way they worked and submitted to their master; to the cultural system. Christianity would spread through self-giving love.

Patriarchy was not abolished in biblical times either. Instead, laws and traditions led (at the best of times) to mutually compassionate familial relationships within the gender roles of a nomadic, agrarian society. Even in Moses' day, the daughters of Zelophehad were granted an exception to the rule for the sake of keeping family going. In the time of the Judges Deborah was called to lead the people. She managed to do so, and exemplified her submissiveness at the same time. In Jesus' life it is clear that women held an elevated importance, and yet there was not a feminist revolution going on either. In Paul's day, the cultural norm was maintained and women were asked to continue to be submissive, but exceptions arose and the trajectory was laid for further redemption in this regard.

One must not read Scripture simply to proof-text one's way to a timeless universal law that does not stand up to the very complexities of Scripture itself. Feminists and egalitarians must confess that mutual submission is the highest goal and that some contexts will call for incredible patience and self-sacrifice on the part of women whose interests are primarily for the larger redemption plan (even over and above their own interests or the more immediate and visible redemptive goals that they might rightly hold). Complimentarians likewise must confess that male and female were to be in a relationship of mutual submission, that gender roles were not universally binding in biblical times and that the trajectory of redemption is for there to be no "male and female, Jew and Greek, master and slave" in the experience of Christ's salvation.

In a society that is increasingly accustomed to women teaching and leading, what could be the purpose of restricting them from such activities in the C&MA in Canada except by the same restrictions that are placed upon men (to ensure that properly called, gifted, educated, and humble teachers and leaders are in place)?

Is it not high time to grasp hold of and steer appropriately the societal movement that has as its very impetus the Judeo-Christian values that are so embedded in the western psyche?

Is it not time to further love our wives and mothers and sisters and daughters like Christ loved the church---by empowering them to use their God-given gifts with the leadership and teaching roles that fall within the trajectory of redemption laid out in Scripture?


The Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada is a denomination divided about this. Thus what we need is informed debate and careful movement on this issue. If this is done wisely and with compassion we will be about Kingdom business. If this is stalled by inaction and tainted by power-plays we may only turn out to be more divided and less Kingdom-oriented in our business. Hence I make the upcoming proposal as to how we as a denomination might move forward in this issue while submitting our movement to the priorities of the gospel call to self-giving love and care.

3 comments:

forrest said...

I appreciate your honest views, supplemented with a good argument. And I agree with your questions.

jon said...

thanks forrest. i do hope to propose some answers for the C&MA in the next part of this ever-prolonging "series".


i wanted to address some of the previously posted cautions from nathan and dguretzki, even while i recast the issue with another "take" on part 2.

a) previously, nathan said:
"A small but significant point, for the record: 'usurp authority' is indeed attested as a sense for ... 'authentein' ... but not until much later than the time of the writing of Pastorals. At our period 'have/wield authority' seems to be the usage. So I'm not sure the reading you've offered is the most natural given the evidence."

You raise a good point, nathan, which reminds us that there are a whack-load of detail questions that go into each translation of each word of the Bible, and which goes to show that both our long-held and our newly-asserted interpretations need to continue to submit themselves to the proper exegetical scrutiny.

in this case i raise the alternate redndering of authentein as "usurp authority" because it is quite possible that this is what is meant. of course i do not have conclusive proof that it is, but the context of false teaching and Artemisian goddess cults leans the epistle in that direction, as do some other renderings of the word outside the NT. while i can not study the primary sources in detail myself, i know that in "Two Views on Women in Ministry" (page 96-97) Linda Bellville names 5 first century usages of the Greek word where the proper translation suggests such things as violence, manipulation, and domination.

In the same book (pages 168-169), Craig Blomberg asserts that after the first century, in Christian circles it was frequently used in a more positive sense, but Belleville responds (page 201)that "there is no instance in the Greek of Paul's day (or earlier) of authentein having a meaning like the NIV's routine exercise of authority. This is why all early Latin, Coptic, and Syriac versions of this verse have 'domineer'"

based on the secondary sources i have read, it seems to me possible if not probable that the KJV's traditional rendering of "usurp" ought to be preserved, especially given the context of 1 Timothy. at the very least it is worth raising this exegetical issue in the C&MA because many people too quickly conclude that these verses in 1 Timothy 2 are straigthforward at "face value" and should be given pause in this case.

b) nathan also said: "As much as I'd like to attribute 1 Timothy's to a particular Ephesian situation, the current popular reconstruction (uneducated women 'seizing' authority, in a context where false teaching abounded) which sets the context for Paul's temporary injunction against women teachers because of feels like it gains more of its persuasive power from repetition than from solid evidence."

I think that is an interesting insight. It does seem like this contextual rendering has been beat like a tired drum, and i do want to be careful to not let the interpretation take on a life of its own. however, in my experience this repetition of the point happens needs to happen because people are often reticent (or feel unequipped) to deal with epistles contextually and would prefer to continue to take verses at "face value". The great irony here, of course, is that this "face value" reading is actually just the one that we are most used to hearing and therefore which we see most quickly---in other words, it may be our interpretation largely because it has been repeated so often!

I really do wonder if we should see the issue with Adam and Eve in 1 Timothy as one of "firstness" rather than as one of gender, but i still find myself having to think outside my accustomed reading even to consider it. there are some cautions with this kind of "hermeneutic of suspicion", but in this case i think it is warranted to suspend traditional understandings long enough to consider other plausible readings.

but i appreciate your point. i simply would respond that the question of whether an interpretation carries its own weight or is carried more by the weight of repetition needs desperately to be asked of the traditional rendering just as much (if not more) than the newer one.

i GREATLY appreciate these cautions or qualifications you offered, though, nathan. I do not wish to abuse the text with fanciful interpretations.

c) i'd also like to respond to nathan's question regarding 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. i did not wish to imply that 1 Corinthians 11 "nullifies" or "cancels out" 14, but merely that it challenges the notion that chapter 14 can be taken as a universal and timeless injunction.

However, you made a fantastic point that it is all to easy to treat 1 Cor 11 "like a hermeneutic escape hatch from addressing some of the really tough questions." Egalitarian or not, one must wrestle honestly with why it would be okay for Paul to limit the role of women in his time and place. This is what I hope it is clear I am after.

d) On that note, Nathan rightly asked if people who say 1 Tim 2 (etc) are contextual prohibitions, would we "be willing to enforce Paul's restrictions in certain contexts?"

Probably many of us would not. I want to be open to the possibility that we might, althought I would be more careful than to use the word "enforce". I think there is a need to honour local church contexts when there is a feeling among the leadership that the timing might not be quite right to put the women of their church in leadership. It is fair to recognize a learning curve within communities that have been predominantly patriarchal or conservative. What I object to, however, is an Alliance document that sustains unnecessarily that predominant motif and provides an "escape hatch" from discussion for those churches.

It is not fair for churches to squash further discussion on this issue because the church is not ready. Fact is that most Canadian communities are ready and in need of this discussion, and most if not all churches are as well. Certainly there may be a church context where Paul's injunction might be repeated and the women of that church asked to learn submissively before presuming to teach or have authority. Of course, i think there might be just as many contexts where the men might need to be told that as well, so i'm not sure how ready i am to hear that in our time and place this prohibition is going to apply specifically to one gender as such in exactly the same way as it did in Ephesus then.

e) The only other thing I can think to address from the previous discussion is dguretzki's point that "Egalitarianism and complementarianism alike have used (different) models of the Trinity to support their reading, and ironically, we end up with two competing trinitarian doctrines to correspond to the gender positions, neither of which line up very well with the classical patristic constructions. That smacks, to me, of an illegitimate misappropriation of the doctrine for utilitarian purposes that the doctrine is not intended to speak to. Let's stick to keeping the doctrine of the Trinity as primarily to say something about God. And as for latter issue, the self-emptying of Christ, I'm not sure it is all that easy to draw a direct line from the truth of Christ's kenotic giving of himself to establishment of ecclesiastical gender roles. If there is a line between them at all, it is only a faintly, dotted one--not a solid one for sure."

These are more good comments to be sure. maybe i'm misunderstanding the question or not being precise enough with my theological terms (referring to Christ's self-emptying when i mean his willingly submissive self-giving love) but I guess I would ask:

Should we not be drawing precisely from our understanding of the Trinity and of Christ's self-giving love for our understanding of how human's "image" God? and therefore is it not at least somewhat legitimate to let this inform our understanding of the trajectory for redemption that we might look for between the genders? (especially as we seek to put texts like Eph 5 and Gal 3 into the conversation in a way that makes sense of all the evidence?)


I don't know who is still reading along, I've certainly been slow to respond on one hand and long-winded enough on the other to persuade a few people to look away for awhile! nonetheless, if anyone is still with me here, those are my replies to the cautions raised.

i really want to assert that those were good points raised, however, and despite my rebuttal i must say that i will continue to think about them into the future.


thanks all. i have another "take" on part 2 that i will likely post this week before moving on to part 3. forgive me if i'm belabouring things! until then, fire away!

Tarasview said...

Amen. I remember a lot of this from the class we took- it felt so true to me then and it still feels true to me today.

I think the slavery argument is one of the more persuasive ones for me.