April 14, 2009 by

Continuing the Conversation…


Categories: current issues, healing wounds, theological questions

My new blogger friend Reina, in response to Thursday’s post, shared a link to something she wrote in her own blog in January. With her permission, allow me to share an excerpt:

“…one of the things that struck me [in reading through the Bible] is how many prominent women are mentioned in every culture but that of the Jews and Christians. It would seem that God, my God, the God of the bible, introduced the idea that women should be subservient to men, and his people have been busy making an example of that to the rest of the world. Christians especially, seem to have done a excellent job of setting this example, ultimately culminating in the dark ages, when women were worth less than cattle.

“Now, after 6,000 years of this, women are working hard to dig themselves out of this trench to demand equality and respect. Equality before men AND God.

“So what was the point of this? When I first read through the books of Moses, this really angered me. During the time God was laying out all 600+ laws and instructions to Moses, he couldn’t have said ONE DARN THING to protect women from what he, as God, should have known would happen? It seems clear to me that Jesus respected women, and treated them well, which is probably why he had such a following of loyal women. So why the disconnect? What was the purpose of being such an ass?”

I found Reina’s remarks to be honest and thought-provoking…so for no other purpose than it seems easiest for me to process my thoughts this way, I’m going to write my response here directly to Reina and you can just listen in. πŸ™‚

I mentioned in Thursday’s post that the church’s oppression of women has happened “because we have basically interpreted a few Scriptures in the light of our male-dominant culture, instead of the culture in which they were written.” Reina, my opinion is that this is where the disconnect is–not within God’s intentions for you, or for women in general.

I want to suggest that the reason it appears to you that the Scriptures promote this idea of female subservience is likely because (although you greatly dislike it) you, too, are reading the Scripture through the lens of our culture, rather than its original culture. For most of us, both men and women, this is the only lens we have been given; and so the only options seem to be to accept what we see of the Bible through this lens–or to reject it out of hand.

But if you look at the Hebrew culture, out of which the Scriptures were written, you’ll discover that women actually had a place of honor in that culture. Women were free to own property and conduct business transactions independently of men, and in fact had far more rights and protections against sexual misconduct under Hebrew law than even American law provides. (You did not want to be a man accused of rape in ancient Israel.) And there are prominent females in Scripture; female leaders and “heroes of faith” can be found throughout the entire Bible, although they are not often preached about in churches. The primary focus of the woman was home and family, but as the home was the center of Jewish life (and even of spiritual activity), the woman’s place of leadership and influence was held in high respect, much more so than in our modern culture.

If anything, this legacy of respect was extended, if not expanded, into the early church. You mentioned Jesus’ respect for women; there is also the fact that female prophets and apostles are mentioned throughout the N.T., and that Paul even mentioned some of them as his “co-laborers”. In fact, it was Paul who stated that in Christ “there is no male or female…” It’s highly unfortunate that a few of Paul’s other statements (“women keep silent” for example) have been greatly misinterpreted. If you study that statement in historical context, it reveals that he was addressing some specific issues surrounding that particular church–not establishing a doctrine to exclude women from leadership.

Taken in this light, I believe the Scriptures may seem a lot less male-dominant. I think the reason it might feel otherwise is because our own culture lends that bias, not the Scripture itself.

To shift focus a moment…one question you raised was of particular interest: when you asked why God did not write into the Law of Moses more protections for women against their inevitable oppression. I think it’s important to look at this, because your honest words reveal a deep feeling of injustice about this that may be felt by many women–and anger not just at men, but at God. If God is supposed to be a loving Father, why would He leave His daughters so unprotected? I have a couple of thoughts about this…

First–it occurs to me that this is a question that any oppressed or marginalized segment of humanity might ask. It would be just as relevant to ask why God didn’t write something in to protect people from becoming slaves, or being hungry, or conquering each other. We could bring it into the modern era: Why didn’t He do more to protect the Jews from the Holocaust? Why doesn’t He do something about the horrors of sex trafficking, or poverty, or plague?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making light here at all. I’m just saying there are many examples of injustice that seem for the moment to go unanswered, things we don’t understand. And the answers are hard to come by, because we are finite people trying to understand and predict an infinite God who sees a bigger picture. But one thing I do believe confidently is that just because these injustices happen, that does not mean that God does not see, does not hurt over them, or does not care. By the same token, what I’m saying is that when you see what seems to be a lack of protection here against the male oppression of women…it does not translate to “God doesn’t care about me”, any more than it does in any other case of injustice. Nor does it mean God approves of that oppression. I believe He hurts deeply when a woman is mistreated or marginalized–and just because it looks to us like it goes unanswered does not mean He isn’t going to do something about it.

Second–and this part is just a guess–perhaps the Law doesn’t address female protection more directly because, as I mentioned before, the surrounding culture already honored and respected women. It wouldn’t make sense to make laws or warn a people about the suppression of women if they simply didn’t think that way. It was not until the New Testament, when the church expanded into the Greek culture (which was far less favorable to women) that gender issues were addressed more specifically, and probably (ironically) for the purpose of bringing some protection there. Unfortunately, as we know, these Scriptures were misinterpreted over the years and, used as an excuse for man to outclass and suppress woman, rather than protect and respect her. Just an opinion…

Thank you again, Reina, for being open about your struggle and your thoughts about all this, and for allowing me to share my response in such a public way. Please take my long, rambling response here for what it is…a brother adding his perspective to the conversation, for whatever it is worth. πŸ™‚

UPDATE: Within minutes after I posted this, I found this outstanding post by Jonathan Brink. Everyone, especially men, need to read it.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

4 Responses to Continuing the Conversation…

  1. Milly

    Thank you for posting on this. I’m shocked at times at what women believe and will say. I may attend a Cof C, known for having women stay silent. I don’t stay silent and the shepherds are happy with that. (Well they got over it. ;-} )

    Women palyed and play a huge roll in this world. We should stand proud to be women and we need to stand up for our rights. Our God given rights

  2. Reina

    Thank you Jeff. I appreciate your thoughtful response. I especially appreciate that you left me a comment telling me you’d wrote it! Thanks!

    Two things struck me in reading through the books of Moses. (I’m writing this in class so my details might be a little rusty).

    First, the fall and the emphasis (blame) placed on Eve for the fall. It appears to me that the text reads that Eve was deceived, but Adam chose the sin. I’m not trying to make a judgement about which is the greater sin, but it seems odd that one would be considered worse than the other. (And I’ve heard all the arguments. I’m just saying…)

    The second was during the roaming in the wilderness. At some point (and there is where my memory is fuzzy), Moses is angry with Miriam and Aaron for something they did or didn’t do while he was away talking to God. They were both reprimanded, yet Miriam gets kicked out of the camp for a week with leprosy. If they were both guilty of the same offense, why the difference in punishments.

    It is little slights like this that I notice. And you are correct in saying that I’m viewing it through the somewhat sensitive lens of the oppressed.

    Again, I appreciate your thoughtful response. And honestly, I’d love to study the culture, time, and backstory for all of these writings. I think this would lend a lot of explanation for the word choices and context of the text.

  3. Sarah

    Good stuff. There’s a pretty good book about women’s issues and scripture called “Why Not Women” that addresses a lot of these issues.

    I agree with Jeff on this one. Our western cultural heritage is based primarily in Greek culture. Women were pretty much considered dirt in that culture. (The dirt in which a man could plant his seeds and grow more men… beyond that – no purpose or worth). This is why there was so much homosexuality in ancient Greece – women weren’t thought of as able to have deep, meaningful emotional connections. But I digress…

    I think a lot of the mishandling of scripture in terms of blaming women (Eve as Pandora – another Greek story, right? Woman as the source of all evil), and woman-hating in general has more to do with western cultural heritage. And it absolutely does not reflect God’s heart toward women.

  4. Jeff McQ

    You are “right” about your “rights.” πŸ™‚ As I’ve mentioned before, though, I think it’s more than just women standing up for themselves (because that’s happening more and more, anyhow). I think the *men* need to stand up for the women–to purposely reject being the oppressor and become the ally. Women should not have to fight for rights they already possess. And if they must fight, they shouldn’t have to fight alone… πŸ™‚

    Glad you came back (and thanks for writing in class!). πŸ™‚

    To avoid cluttering the post too much, I avoided giving too many specific examples; but if you’ll allow me to address these two you’ve mentioned, I’ll share my take on them:

    Regarding the fall of man in Gen. 3…first, the way I see it, Eve was deceived, but they both chose. The deception was that they wouldn’t really die if they ate the fruit–that was the lie the serpent spoke. But becoming like God in the knowledge of good and evil–that was the *truth*, and God verified that after the fact (Gen. 3:22). The heart of the sin was not in eating the fruit, but in believing the lie that God was holding out on them, deciding to take matters into their own hands. (And isn’t that the nature of sin for all of us?)

    Second…when God revealed the curse attached to the sin, I don’t see it as arbitrary punishment but as “consequence”. (“Here’s what’s going to happen because you guys did this” kind of thing.) And when He addressed Eve, there’s that one disturbing line: “And he [your husband] shall rule over you.” Here, the way I see it, it’s important to note that just because God said these things would happen, that doesn’t mean it was His *will* that they happen. He didn’t *want* for any of these bad things to take place, which is why He said not to eat the fruit. I read it that God was *predicting* male rulership as a consequence of sin, not *prescribing* it.

    Regarding the story of Miram and the leprosy, I can definitely understand why it seems unfair that Aaron wasn’t penalized similarly. All I can say about it after reading it is that when you take the “lens” off, you aren’t quick to assume that the harsher punishment fell to Miriam because she was a woman. There are a lot of alternate explanations for that, and we aren’t given all the details. But God is just, and I personally believe He would have dealt with that situation as the sin required, not partial to gender.

    All that said…thanks again for the engaging discussion, Reina.

    Amen to all you have said here. Thanks for the additional input!

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