Women in Ministry: A Question of Womanhood

It is very difficult to consider a subject like this without projecting ones own prejudices upon the topic.

Perhaps, however, a healthy starting point is to acknowledge the drivers of these possible projections in advance.

I am a man; I am the husband of a very capable wife; I am the father of four excellent daughters.

I became a Christian in a denomination that had egalitarian roots (although in practice this was not always actively encouraged).

These factors probably fuel my passion for the subject, yet I have genuinely tried not to let them blinker me from seeking an honest answer to the question of male and female relatedness.

Evangelicalism tends to be drawn towards the making of definitive statements. Indeed the consideration of orthodoxy often hangs upon the making of, or agreeing to, such statements.

I am happy to say that I no longer feel the need to make such definitive statements the starting point in such matters. Indeed it seems that such a position, heavily dependent upon definitive statements, could be prone to it's own amount of projection.

My starting point, however, is the journey to find the question rather than the need to make the right statement. To my mind it is the search for the correct question that should be our goal.

In this regard I feel comfortable putting aside such questions as 'should women be elders/preachers/bishops' in the search for a deeper ontological question such as:

'What is to be found in the biblical narrative the reveals the very nature of personhood?'

There is much we could say in this regard but I will focus in on the revelation of God as Father and at sometimes Mother (Consider Jeffrey A Benner's work on translating el Shaddai as 'mighty teat').

The climax of this revelation is seen in the teachings of Jesus who encourages us to pray 'Our Father'.

None of these representations seem to indicate a different approach to, and relationship with, God for men and women. In fact the very notion of Fatherhood gives way to the picture of us as children.

In this regard it does not seem wrong to declare that our gender is not a defining factor. The kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, does not allow for anything other than equality.

For sure, in his ministry Jesus used the cultural language and norms of his day; he adopted a rabbinical position and drew to himself a group of men to learn his new teaching. Yet for every social norm that Jesus seems to adopt he brings a challenge to the very core of local sensibilities.

We could look at the honoured place of Mary and Martha, and the formers lead role in proclaiming the good news of the empty tomb; but that would be to become too mechanical.

It is the ontological truth of personhood revealed in God as divine parent, and we as his children in the Kingdom, brought through Jesus, that is the marker for how we are to move forward.

Whatever the difficult passages mean, they cannot mean a change to the equality revealed in the gospel.

It is at this point that we have a choice. We can either chose to approach such passages by seeking to implement seemingly restrictive roles upon women.

Or we can hold on to the motifs of equality as we seek to understand them.

I feel comfortable that scholars have shown that the difficult texts can be read in a way that does not contradict the equality brought by the gospel.

I am comfortable that this is the bigger story and that the other verses are representing some cultural context that our distance can only glimpse.

In light of this I choose to be part of the call for liberation. And personally to continue my cry against voices that seek to confine women in the name of Christ (or any other name for that matter).

In this context my wife and I, and my four daughters for that matter, can approach the Father God, revealed in Christ, as children without reference to our gender.

I could break my own rule at this point and make a definitive statement, but I would rather ask a question:

What would it look like if we tried to live out the equality brought about by God being our Father?

Would we limit the role of women or would we cry freedom.

1 comment:

gr8god said...

nicely articulated, alan. saw this post way out of context (posted on another blog that was linked to a friend's facebook) and didn't see any comments there. when i realized that the blogger was actually reposting you article, i went looking for the original and found it here.

the answer to your concluding question is that, of course, we would cry freedom. the trick is whether we feel we can do so in concert with God's own word. and i have come to the (long, too slow, and sometimes tortured) conclusion that the answer is a resounding 'yes!'

thanks for lending your voice to the oft-neglected subject.