This Saturday we had another great porch meeting talking about women’s roles. The readings for this week were on Genesis 1-3 and I Cor 14 (where Paul says women should be silent in church) and we read articles interpreting these texts from both sides (egalitarian/feminist and complementatian/hierarchical).
Genesis 1-3 has a number of important passages: a. humanity being referred to as ‘man’ (adam) a masculine form b. woman being created after adam and named by him c. woman being created from adams rib. d. woman being deceived and the resulting curse.
In brief the complementarian/hierchicalist we read first pointed out that man and woman are equal in worth insofar as they are created in God’s image, although they don’t necessarily have the same roles. He also said that it is significant that God refers to humanity with a masculine form (man for ‘mankind’ or humanity) and the order of creation (woman coming after man and from his rib) and the fact that man named woman (as he did all the animals) is significant in showing us the order of creation. He also characterized the egalitarian as holding the view that male headship is perceived as part of the curse from which women are freed in Christ. Ortland (the author) was clear also to point out that his view is not a male-domination view (that men should dominate women and oppress them) but was a view that male headship basically was about leading and initiating, not making all the decisions.
The egalitarian/feminist take on this passage was that it doesn’t make much sense to think that since man was created first, that he is more important, because the squirrels were created before Adam, and the fish before that, according to the account in the Bible– which would make fish more important than squirrels and adam, etc. On the other hand, it seems that the Created things constantly get better actually as you go along (fish, then land animals, then adam–) but then Eve is created last so on this timeline view, woman must actually be the pinnacle of creation and superior to adam… (but in fact the temporal sequence seems to be insignificant).
The fact that woman was created from mans rib need not imply anything more than that they are one– made of the identical stuff of flesh.
The egalitarian sees the curse of the fall in chapter 3 NOT as male headship being put on her, but rather the curse is primarily about dissention and disorder and broken harmony. Humanity will fight against the earth now, man and woman will both strive against each other, and there is a need for healing to this broken state. The idea that the fall happened because the woman did not properly submit to adam seems to be a reading that distracts us from the fundamental issue of pride and self-gratification and self-glorification driving adam and eve to disobey God.
That the Hebrew refers to humanity with a masculine term is more a matter of Hebrew language than of any sort of substantial point about God’s placing man over woman.
One final point we discussed was that the hierchical/complementarian seemed to view egalitarianism as the view that there are no differences between men and women by nature, and again, that view doesn’t seem to be the egalitarian viewpoint. Most if not all egalitarians, like feminists, believe that women do in fact possess ablities unique from those of men. Women are unique. Ortland characterized the egalitarians as promoting sameness without difference (the idea that women and men are equally good at all things). But thats not it. Perhaps a better phrase is different with differences– women and men are generally different, but even those differences can vary and differ depending on the person. The key for the egalitarian seems to be to not pigeonhole one’s giftings and abilities according to their role rooted in a metaphysics of gender ‘hardwiring’. Rather than saying women can lead in particular circumstances (like the complementarian who says they can lead other women or children) the egalitarian says women will lead in different ways– not all women will lead exactly alike, but its likely women will as a rule lead differently than men would.
I Corinthians 14: Women Silent
I Corinthians 14 is where Paul says women must be silent in church. We came to realize that neither side generally holds that women should always be silent. The complementarian normally thinks that women can prophecy and pray in church, but shouldn’t teach over a man.
The egalitarian reading of this passage was that a lot of this is cultural. Some of us discussed our experiences in foreign middle east countries where even today women can’t touch any man even with a handshake, and speaking to a man you are not related to is considered to be unseemly. The reading pointed out that the house church teachings/sermons, like most ‘lectures’ of that time period (and likely most synagogue instruction as well) were situations where the teacher would be regularly interrupted by questions form the group, in a back-and-forth style. (see Plutarch’s “lectures”) Women were taught by Paul not to ask questions in this setting. We discussed why, and while some argue that it could be because women in general were not well educated and perhaps were regularly sidetracking discussion with very basic questions (jewish men were trained as boys in the Torah– young girls were not generally). It may also be a matter of protocol in such a culture for women to not ask. Again, in discussing contemporary middle eastern countries, we talked about how that there it is almost unseemly for a woman to ask questions in a public forum to a man, because it can seem she is questioning him and that is culturally problematic. In such a culture, it would be good to do as they do, but in our own culture, where it is not problematic for a woman to publically ask questions in a public forum, it seems such prohibitions don’t really apply. Paul seems to be focusing on two general isues in this chapter overall– making sure the church has some order and structure (not chaos) and to make sure that the church considers how it appears to outsiders who might visit. Both of these considerations, it was argued, prompt Paul to want women to comform to the cultural expectations of the surrounding society, while he also does in fact want them to learn.
It was also pointed out that the fact that Paul told the men to help their wives understand at home meant he thought women could be taught– which was in contrast to many thinkers of his day who thought women were not capable of learning, so it should be left to men.
Overall it was a great week for discussion. One thing we pointed out was that it seemed that often men don’t think about their role much, which leads either to a male-domination mode, or to a passive shadow role, and both of those are not good. A good complementarian guy will not simply lord it over a woman, and a good egalitarian guy will not simply relinquish his responsibility to act with concern and courage. Thoughtful egalitarians OR complementarians are more likely to be better leaders than either unthoughtful passive or domineering ones. May God have grace and mercy on us all.