Tipping Point

Did you know that 3rd and 4th century Christian leaders decided that women were responsible for the downfall of humanity?

I didn’t…

Did you know that these men believed women were less intelligent than men, by nature?

I didn’t…

Did you know that these men believed that wives must be ruled over by husbands as punishment for sin, and to keep them safe from further deception by the devil?

I didn’t…

Did you know that in the middle ages women were accused of being in league with the devil when men felt “irresistibly” attracted to them? Did you know they were then blamed for men’s sins, and sometimes even put to death as punishment?

I didn’t…

Did you know that some of the men responsible for the demonization of women worked to translate the Latin Bible that became known as the “word of God” for centuries to come?

I didn’t…

Did you know that some of their errors were carried over into some of today’s English translations?

I didn’t…

Now I do.

As a result, I cannot accept that “authority” is simply a “role” that God lovingly created men to fulfill. Similarly, I cannot accept that “submission” is simply a “role” that God lovingly created women to fulfill.

It’s a prejudice,
It’s arrogant,
It’s abusive,
And it’s wrong.

And I won’t be silent when I see this injustice carried out in the name of God,
Who made us—male and female—in the divine image,
So that we might know and share his love,
In our homes,
In our churches,
In this world,
And in the world to come.

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A Case for Male Authority? The Fly in the Ointment

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:1-4, NKJV).

“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12, NKJV).

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17, NKJV).

The verses I have quoted above are sometimes used to support the view that only men should hold positions of leadership in the church. “Leadership” is defined in various ways, depending upon one’s particular faith community or denomination. Some churches bar women from all of the roles listed. Others allow women to be deacons, but not elders or bishops. Some equate the term “elder” with pastor, and say that this is an office a woman may not hold. Still others only insist that the “senior pastor” be male.

Despite often insisting that the Bible is “crystal clear” with regard to its teaching on the role of women, patriarchal traditions seem unable to come to an agreement on the extent to which a woman’s authority should be limited.

The view that only men should hold positions of authority becomes even more tenuous if we examine what the New Testament has to say about bishops, deacons and elders in its original language. In the New King James Version of the Bible, bishops, deacons and elders are all described as fulfilling the function of “ruling.” Other English translations may render this term as “leading.” In each case, the word translated as ruling or leading is a form of the Greek verb “proistemi.” Many complementarians seem unaware that the noun form of this word is used to describe the church ministry of a woman named Phoebe. According to the apostle Paul she was a “prostatis” in the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:2). If we translate proistemi and prostatis consistently for men and women,  Phoebe is described as a “ruler” or “leader” there.

So, just as male bishops, deacons and elders fulfilled the role of ruling or leading in the church, so did Phoebe—a woman.

Some complementarians have told me that because deacons must be “the husband of one wife,” they cannot possibly be women.  Women may indeed not be husbands, but I don’t believe the apostle Paul is writing to address questions about women in ministry here. Judging from the evident context of his letter, he is actually prohibiting male polygamy. What does this say about women in ministry? Actually nothing at all.

And Phoebe may also have been a “deacon.”

The same Greek word used to describe husbands who are deacons is also used to describe Phoebe. In addition to calling her a “prostatis,” the apostle Paul refers to her as a “diakonos” in Romans 16 verse 1.

But, some have told me, it is clear that the men who were bishops or deacons were told to “rule their houses well,” to demonstrate that they were fit leaders for the church. Surely this must include authority over wives? On the contrary, all of the verses dealing with a man “ruling his house” specifically indicate that his authority pertains to “his children.” Nowhere in the New Testament is a Christian man commanded to rule his wife.

Children, of course, require adult care and supervision because of their level of developmental maturity. Women, on the other hand, are developmentally equal to men; they do not require adult supervision.

So, the next time someone takes Bible verses about bishops, deacons and elders out of context in an attempt to rationalize a tradition of male authority in the church, you may want to remind them of Phoebe—the proverbial fly in the ointment.1

1 “In English, the phrase fly in the ointment is an idiomatic expression for a drawback, especially one that was not at first apparent” (Wikipedia).

 

 

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Where did things go wrong? An in-depth exploration of the emergence of male authority in the church

Why do some Christian leaders see a male-dominated hierarchy in the creation story?

Why have some Bible translators added commands to the Bible that cannot be found in the oldest Greek manuscripts?

Why have some translators referred to men as “leaders” and women as “servants” even when the same Greek word is used to describe both?

Why do English translations of the Bible say that women may not “teach or have authority” over men?

All of these questions, and other related issues, are addressed in the following video presentation:

Please feel free to share with friends, family, church leaders, and groups for discussion. May the Lord use it to inform and to encourage prayerful reflection.

 

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Why Complementarians “See” Male Leadership as God’s Design: The Psychology of Perception (Seeing What We Already Believe)

All of us have blind spots. I think every one of us, as human beings, can safely conclude that we don’t know everything. Some of the things we do not understand today, we may understand tomorrow. Some of the things we do understand today, we may understand better (i.e. differently) tomorrow.

One of the reasons we all have blind spots is a result of something called “top-down processing.” Top-down processing refers to the way we experience the world around us. We do not, in fact, see the world as it is. We see it as it is meaningful to us. In other words, we see the world through the lenses of our past experience, previous learning, deeply held beliefs, assumptions and expectations.

Details in the environment that do not align with our assumptions can be missed altogether – due to top-down processing.

Details in the environment that do not align with our deeply held beliefs can be misinterpreted so that our beliefs are not shaken – due to top-down processing.

What complementarians do not seem to recognize is that top-down processing impacts how people read the Bible. Please allow me to explain.

Before a word can be translated it must be interpreted. In my grammar text for New Testament Greek, for example, one verb (ago) can have multiple meanings: “lead,” “go,” “depart,” “guide” or even “celebrate a feast.” What determines our interpretation? The immediate context of the word and top-down processing. In other words, our interpretation consists of what we expect the word to mean given its immediate context. Our expectations come from our own previous learning and experience.

Imagine being a Bible translator in a culture that assumes women to be morally and intellectually inferior to men. (This would be true, for example, of all the men who helped translate the King James Version of the Bible.) Then imagine coming across a particular Greek word in the Bible that refers to a woman. The word is “prostatis.” This is the noun form of the verb “proistemi.” You can translate this word to mean “someone who presides over others,” “a woman set over others,” or simply “someone who gives aid to others” (i.e. a helper). Because of your previous learning and past experience in a deeply patriarchal culture, any interpretation assigning authority to a woman would simply not be cognitively available to you. In other words, the possibility may never enter your mind.  It would be unthinkable, literally.

Interpretation leads to translation, and now henceforth, Phoebe shall be known as a “helper” in the Church at Cenchrea, rather than a “leader” (Romans 16:2 NKJV).

Another Greek word used to describe the role of Phoebe in Romans 16 is “diakonos.”  It could be translated “servant, deacon, or minister.” Equipped with an understanding of top-down processing, I’d be willing to bet you can accurately guess which word was selected for the King James Version of the Bible.

Complementarians have told me that contextual factors in Romans 16 dictate that Phoebe must have simply been a “servant” and “helper” rather than a “leader,” “deacon” or “minister.” I wonder what those contextual factors are, since the passage is simply an introduction of Phoebe and a commendation of her work in the church.

I was reading a complementarian blog earlier today. In it, the author explains that egalitarians go awry because we rely on a subjective understanding of the Bible’s original context. What we should be doing, he says, is relying on “the written word of God” because its meaning is “concrete.”i Apparently, this blogger doesn’t recognize that the “written word of God” is also subject to human interpretation, which is determined in part by top-down processing.

Similarly, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood states that a Christian’s subjective interpretation of God’s call to ministry should never contradict the clear instruction of God’s written word.ii Does this statement presume that God’s written word is not subjectively interpreted? Apparently so, and that is a significant blind spot.

Wayne Grudem, well-known complementarian, says that Christian egalitarians undermine the inerrancy of the word of God.iii I don’t believe that’s an accurate accusation. What we are questioning is not the inerrancy of God or his word, but rather the subjective interpretation of complementarian believers, who are human beings, with blind spots that exist due to top-down processing.

i http://jacoballee.com/1/archives/09-2012/1.html

ii http://cbmw.org/core-beliefs/

iii http://jacoballee.com/1/archives/09-2012/1.html

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“What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You”: Is this book telling women the truth about men?

In his book entitled, “What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You,” David Murrow makes a number generalizations about men.  He seems to believe that his view of what it means to be a man is normative, healthy and Christian.  He writes as if men are simply “wired this way” by God.

Here are some of his assertions, followed by my responses:

Murrow:

If a man is not allowed to be the spiritual leader in his home, he won’t know what role to play because “men are hierarchical thinkers” (p. 152).

Response:

This is only true if a man has been exposed to a patriarchal social environment, and has internalized this culture as normative.  He may even believe that “his” normal is “God’s” normal.  Simply put, this comes across as an egocentric perspective that seems unaware of the dynamics of gender-socialization.  Some men are socialized to be hierarchical; others to be egalitarian.  Even men who internalize hierarchical norms can learn to be more collaborative.  This has more to do with nurture than nature, and it has nothing to do with God’s design.

Murrow:

“Modern Christianity has begun morphing into a ‘woman thing’” (p. 134).  “Today’s church offers the things women crave: safety, relationships, nurturing and close-knit community.”  Men “feel unneeded, so they go passive or leave the church altogether” (p. 138).

Response:

If men do not recognize their emotional and relational needs (for safety, relationships, nurturance and community) and seek to have them met in healthy ways, they are prone to try to get them met in unhealthy ways (e.g. through addiction).

Murrow (makes a number of comments about sex):

Men are like “chocoholics” when it comes to sex.  If a man is unable to come home after work and “indulge [his] fantasy,” he will believe his wife is saying, “get your ya-yas somewhere else, buddy.”  Wives shouldn’t be surprised to later find their husbands “engaged in masturbation, porn, or an extramarital affair.”  Men, according to Murrow, need wives to be “generous with the chocolate” (p. 118).

“Men actually get a cocaine-like shot of pleasure from looking at a beautiful woman.  So here’s your assignment: Give your husband as many cocaine shots as possible.  Satisfy his addiction by looking your best” (pp. 163-164).

“And why are looks so important to men?”  “Men compare. Men compete. Men size each other up by their spouses” (p. 164).  “Having a knockout wife raises your social standing at work, among your relatives, and even a bit at church” (p. 165).

“First realize that sex is one of the cornerstones of the male psyche.  If a man has a satisfying sex life, everything is right with the world.”  “Here’s something else your husband hasn’t told you: It’s his greatest source of comfort.  Sometimes it’s the only way he can access the emotions trapped deep in his heart” (p. 167).

“You are competing for your husband’s body.  It’s you versus a thousand foes—food, drink, drugs, illicit sex.  Fight for his body and you’ll win his heart” (p. 171).

Response:

Women are not responsible for their husbands’ behaviour.  They are not responsible to give him enough sex so that he won’t fall prey to gluttony, alcoholism, drug abuse or sexual immorality.  Men are responsible to regulate their own impulses and manage their own appetites.  We are encouraged to “walk in the Spirit” so that we will not fulfill the “lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

If sex is the cornerstone of a man’s psyche, if it is his greatest source of comfort, if it is the only way for him to access his emotions, he may have a sexual addiction.  He should be assessed by a qualified psychotherapist.

If he has married his wife because he believes her beauty enhances his social standing at church (or anywhere else), he should seek to understand his worth as a loved child of God and friend of Jesus Christ.  If he measures his status by comparing his wife to someone else’s, I believe he should prayerfully consider the words of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV).

Murrow:

“Since the beginning men have brought home the bacon; women have fried it up in the pan” (p. 162).  “Your husband wants you to take charge of the menu” (p. 163).

Response:

This is a gender-stereotype.  Some men enjoy cooking.  Some men do not.  In some societies, men and women have equally been responsible for hunting and gathering.  In others, men have hunted while women have prepared food.  In still others, women hunted while men prepared food.  Again, this has more to do with nurture than nature.  There has never been a universal pattern for all humanity regarding cooking based on gender lines.  Murrow’s comment seems to be an expression of his personal preference, and he seems to believe wrongly that it is universally true and part of God’s design.

Murrow:

“If your husband is a follower of Jesus and an enthusiastic church-goer, these chapters may not have a lot to say to you.  But read them anyway.  You need to know what he’s not telling you—about God, about church, and about the role of faith in your marriage” (p. 134).

Response:

Your husband may not be telling you these things, simply because he may not be thinking them.  Many men are very comfortable in collaborative, non-hierarchical relationships.  Many are aware of their emotional needs and seek to meet them in healthy, non-sexual ways.  Many are not sex addicts.  Many do not struggle with sexual immorality or substance abuse and blame their wives.  Many do not measure their personal worth by their wife’s outward appearance.  Many do not compare their wives to the wives of other men.  Many Christian men attribute their worth to being a loved child of God, created in God’s image, and redeemed by the life Jesus gave for us on the cross.

In my opinion, Murrow’s book does not present an accurate picture of Christian men.

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