A new blog, A Flock of Crows, was recently a WordPress “Featured Blog” with a post titled, Mind the Gap: I’m Gay and Christian. The blogger is a sixteen year old lesbian who is in the closet, and an excellent writer. Comments are now closed on that post, but I recommend you go over there and subscribe to her blog. She’s someone to watch.
When hundreds of replies are posted, you know how the conversation can wander. One poster, Sybaritica, commented that “The Bible is misogynist from cover to cover.” Of course I felt compelled to reply.
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Sybaritica, the Bible really is not misogynist from cover to cover. Misogyny is obviously present, and misogynist verses are used to proof-text fundamentalist misogyny, but there’s a lot more to this issue than what you’ll hear from fundamentalists. There are many voices in the Bible; the variety of voices make it not only an interesting book, but an incredibly useful book as well.
In the O.T. Book of Judges, chapter 4, two women figure highly. Deborah was the leader of Israel at that time. She was a Judge, the chief military and judicial leader. In the same chapter, a woman named Jael (or Yael) assassinated a gentile king, an enemy king named Sisera, with a mallet, pounding a tent peg through his skull with such force that the peg went into the ground where Sisera had been sleeping prior to his unexpected demise. This eliminated his tribe as an enemy. Thus, two very strong women figure highly in the history of Israel, and they are recorded for us.
The “roll” of women in church life is an excellent example. In the book of Acts, Paul and his missionary team “entered the house of Philip the evangelist . . . and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.” (Acts 21: 8-10) Prophesying was speaking the very words of God, and here are four women who did precisely that. There is no hint at all in the Acts text that Paul disapproved of women prophesying in church.
Despite his apparent “policy” of women being silent in church gatherings, Paul still manages to discuss women praying and prophesying in N.T. church meetings, and said they should have their heads covered. You may not like the “head covering” stuff, but Paul nevertheless acccepted the fact that women prayed and prophesied in church. (I Corinthians 11: 4-6). Again, there is no hint that these women were doing anything wrong–except not wearing a scarf. (That is a complicated cultural requirement that there isn’t space here to discuss.)
Is there a lesson here? At least one lesson could be the model Paul gives us of flexibility in the application of policies, even his ability to reconsider a policy and amend it in the light of changing circumstances. There are many Biblical examples of this precise ability to change policies.
And very significantly, Paul said in the letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) This statement is an overarching theological statement. As a theological statement, it governs, or “trumps,” any subsidiary “application” verses like the one where Paul doesn’t allow women to speak. Paul said there is no difference between male or female, that these distinctions do not matter, because we are one in Christ.
We know for as fact that women DID pray and prophesy during Christian meetings, and that Paul expressed no qualms about it in those passages.
These Biblical examples are embraced by much of the church, and form the foundation and legitimacy for women’s ordination. Conservatives disagree, but you know how they are about changing anything!
To measure the Bible’s view of women based on O.T. Levitical cleanliness laws and Paul’s statement about women keeping silent in the church is a very incomplete picture. Did Paul have personal probems with women and sex? That could easily be the case. Fortunately Paul is but one voice in the scriptures, even if he is a major one.
I didn’t discover these arguments. This Biblical evidence has been discussed as long as I’ve been alive. Groups like the Pentacostals and the Salvation Army have been ordaining women long before that, and their justification against fundamentalist critics were the very passages I noted above. Numerous dissenting Christian sects throughout history have elevated the roll of women above that of the established churches.
We need to understand that the Bible is multivocal. It records many voices, some of whom disagreed with one another. This in itself is a kind of parable for us. Since the various books of the Bible coexist with one another in the same book, we too can coexist with one another, with our different beliefs and convictions.
As a personal example, I identify with the skepticism of the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s impious attitudes resonate for me. I have called myself “an Ecclesiastes Christian.” If the book of Ecclesiastes can be in the Bible, then I can be in the church.
We need to stop the habit of talking about “contradictions” in the Bible, worrying about “contradictions” in the Bible, or laboring to resolve all those alleged “contradictions.” Those passages don’t contradict one another, the compement one another. The different people in any congregation who disagree don’t “contradict” one another, they complement one another. We all, in our own ways, are able to approach situations that others are not, because we see things differently. This is a strength, not a weakness. And the varying perspectives in the Bible make it a useful tool for a huge variety of people in a huge variety of settings and cultures.
A religious community that does not have an agreed upon resource with which to explain any course of action that changing situations may require is poorly equipped to meet those changing situations. Martin Luther King had recourse to the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had recourse to that Bible, and Mother Teresa had recourse to that same Bible. And each was quite different from the others.
Is there a misogynist theme in the Bible? Obviously. Are there feminist themes in the Bible? Absolutely. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” Even “contradictory” purposes, even if I may not like it.