Why I’m an Advocate for Women’s Equality

I grew up in a home where male authority was the norm. My father learned from his father that men are supposed to be “leaders.” The denomination my father was raised in also taught that men alone should teach and lead in the church. When I first embraced Christianity, I faithfully attended a “complementarian” church. Like my father, they taught me that men should be leaders, and that women should submit to this leadership. They not only taught this verbally, they lived it every Sunday. Only men could teach and preach from the pulpit. Only men could be elders. Only men could be ushers. Only men served communion. I was asked to lead Bible studies; not because I knew the Bible (I didn’t), but because I was male. I was also encouraged to pursue a career in “ministry.”

I was taught that men are supposed to be “servant-leaders.” Feminists, I was told, simply didn’t understand that men were actually serving women by providing them with godly leadership. In a strange kind of way, this seemed to make sense. I was encouraged to guard my faith against the “sinful ways of the world;” namely, “women’s liberation.”

So why in the world do I now advocate the equality of women in the Christian faith?

It all started at a leadership conference I attended with representatives from churches all across Canada and the United States. It was big. One of the speakers challenged us to respond in faith and obedience if we believed God was calling us to full-time ministry as pastors. Many young men went to the front of the auditorium to answer this call—along with one young woman.

What I saw that day made an impact. The young men at the front actually began yelling at her. She was accused of heresy and rebellion for daring to think that God would call a woman to be a pastor. In her defense, she mentioned something about a verse in Galatians that said there is neither male nor female in Christ. She was asked to provide the exact chapter and verse number, and when she could not, she was mocked for her lack of Bible knowledge. She left the conference in tears, and I never saw her again.

What in the world was I witnessing? I couldn’t help thinking of a Bible story concerning a woman caught in adultery and the crowd of religious men who wanted to stone her to death. The woman at the conference, however, simply wanted to obey God and preach the gospel! The religious men in the Bible story were rebuked by Jesus. What would he say to my male friends and colleagues who shouted accusations at this women, mocked her, and drove her from our meeting? I began to wonder.

Shortly after this troubling experience, I went to Bible College. Here I met dozens of women who claimed that they had received a call from God to lead and/or teach in the church. Some women felt called to be pastors; one felt called to be a priest. They shared their stories and pointed out passages in the Bible where women were clearly depicted as prophets, teachers or leaders. One of these women explained to me that a woman named Junia was even an apostle! She further explained that hundreds of years after the New Testament was written, translators began to change this female apostle’s name to a man’s. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it. My church taught me that the inerrancy of our English Bible had been providentially preserved by the sovereignty of God. My church certainly wouldn’t lie about something that important; and they couldn’t possibly be mistaken, could they?

I became troubled. Firmly believing that we should bring our troubles to God in prayer and ask him for guidance, I did just that. I told God that I was bothered by what I was seeing and hearing. I asked him to help me understand his heart for women, and sort through the conflicting messages I was getting from other Christians.

In answer to this prayer, I believe God responded. At first, it seemed that he asked me if I really wanted to know the answers to my questions. He seemed to be saying that I would find the answers difficult. Not knowing what to expect, and truly wanting to learn, I said, “Yes Lord, please teach me.”

There are two large universities close to my home. Each has a number of church colleges and/or a seminary on campus. I felt compelled to access the library resources there concerning the Bible, church history and women.

I’ll never forget what I found, or how I felt when I first discovered it. It began with a review of what the early church fathers said about women:

”For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” (Origen, 258 A.D., Fragments on First Corinthians)

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” (Saint Augustine, 354 – 430 A.D., De genesi ad litteram)

I then read similar comments from Protestant Reformers, who were strongly influenced by the church fathers who came before them:

“[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach.” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12).

“The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” (Martin Luther, Works)

Then I came across a historical book that continues to haunt me. It contained court transcripts of all of the women killed by men, acting on the authority of the church, during the Inquisition. It had their names, and the charges against them. Many of the women were found guilty of “witchcraft;” specifically, something called “love magic.” This meant that a man had allegedly been so bewitched by a woman that he couldn’t help committing adultery with her, or perhaps even raping her. Sexual sins committed by men were blamed exclusively on their female partners or victims. I read hundreds of names, maybe thousands. I lost count. I became dizzy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had stopped breathing. I felt like I was going to die. Something inside me broke.

This notion that women must be subject to men had nothing to do with God, the gospel, servant-leadership, or the love of Jesus Christ. It was born of fear, hatred, and a felt “need” for control. It was prejudice, and it had led to subjugation, oppression and even mass murder.

“Now do you understand?” I felt the Spirit of God say to me. I was speechless. “Teach what you have learned.”

Since those early days, I have learned that many of the church’s most influential theologians had a profound prejudice against women. It shows itself in their commentary work, and even in their Bible translation. Old Testament passages have been changed by the addition of vowel marks. Verses that once condemned excessive taxation now criticize the leadership of women (c.f. Isaiah 3:12, LXX vs. Masoretic Text). Greek words used to prohibit violence or murder now prohibit women from “exercising authority” (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12, “authentein” in New Testament Manuscripts & “authentas” in the LXX vs. English translations). Phoebe, a woman who was a “leader” in the early church (prostatis), is now referred to as “a good friend” (Romans 16:2, Good News for Modern Man). “Junia” the apostle, or “Julia” according to the earliest Greek manuscript, became Junias—a man. Commands such as, “Wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22), are not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. They are only found in later manuscripts and today’s English translations. In the earliest manuscripts the only command in this passage is addressed to all Christians, regardless of their sex: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

Today’s complementarian theology is built on a legacy of fear, control and prejudice. Terms like “servant-leadership” have a pleasant sound to them, but Jesus did not use them. Rather, he told all of his followers, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

The young woman at the leadership conference, who said “yes” to the Lord’s call to be a pastor, was right: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

My male friends, who mocked and shouted at her, were wrong. More to the point, I was wrong. I had unknowingly been influenced by the patriarchal norms of a prejudiced and fallen world. These norms had found their way into my home as a child, into our society, and yes even into the church. Paul wrote to the church in Rome concerning this very influence: “Do not conform 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” (Romans 12:2).

Why do I advocate women’s equality? The love of Christ compels me.

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A Call to End the Justification of Racism and Sexism through the Abuse of God’s Word

In South Africa, the white leaders of Apartheid, who called themselves “Christian,” defended “white authority” by claiming that it was “God-ordained”:

“According to the theocentric way, which is our church’s way of thinking, the human being receives what is justly his when God gives him his God-ordained share … The rights and privileges of people [are] very different according to God’s free will … Justice in the world does not depend on whether each and every one is treated equally but on whether one is treated according to what God has ordained for him in the light of the inequalities which He Himself has created…”

These white leaders also claimed that they were obeying God by acting as the benevolent “guardians” of other people groups:

“Whether we like it or not, we are the guardians of the coloureds and the natives too, and we shall have the right to give reckoning to God about our guardianship.”

Appealing to the United Nations for equality among people of all races was described by these leaders as “an outrageous transgression of authority.”
http://smu-facweb.smu.ca/~wmills/course322/14aReligion_natm.html

The white leaders of Apartheid also denied that they were claiming a position of superiority over other races: “Say not that we are superior and they are inferior, but simply that we are different…” http://www.projectcensored.org/unfinished-revolution-interviews-white-south-africa/

In his book entitled, “Southern Slavery As it Was,” a complementarian writer for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Doug Wilson, defends the institution of slavery by saying that it produced “a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

He also claims that the institution of slavery was clearly supported by the Bible:

“And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves.” https://timfall.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/prominent-pastor-defends-slavery-as-being-good-for-black-people-in-america/

In Doug Wilson’s mind, to advocate for racial equality and the abolition of slavery was to ignore the authority of the Bible.

This same author for the CBMW also claims that women “need” men to function as their providers and protectors (i.e. guardians):

“The best thing in the church for the women is for the men to be men. For a man to teach the word of God with authority (and not as the scribes) is not withholding anything from the women at all — it is a gift to the women. Godly women are grieved by usurping women, and annoyed by effeminate men. They are fed by men who teach the Bible with boldness. They need that sort of provision and protection, and they know that they do. We should know that also.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Though women are depicted as dependent upon male provision and protection, Wilson claims that this does not make them “inferior,” but rather “different”:

“To say that one thing is not another thing is not to register a complaint against either. To say that the sun is not the moon is not to criticize the moon, and to say that the land is not the sea is not to file a complaint against the sea. God establishes differences in the world with the intention of them complementing one another, and not so that his variegated world would try to melt itself down into one great indistinguishable mass.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Another CBMW author attempts to rationalize the subordination of all women to male authority using similar language:

“God said in his word that there are two institutions in which the man is to be the leader. One is the home, and the other is the church. Friend that is not chauvinism, that is not sexism, that is not fundamentalism, that is Bible. Now having said that ladies, let me reiterate a previous statement. This does not mean and it does not imply that women are inferior to men. Paul not only gives the picture of authority, he defends the practice of authority. He reminds us…men and women are different.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-way-it-is/

In all of the quotations cited above, some men are claiming the right to rule over others on the basis of their race or their sex. Further, they depict their right to rule over others as a “gift” or a benevolent “service” to other people groups, who are portrayed as dependent upon this kind of protective “guardianship.” How do they justify such outrageous racist and sexist beliefs? They claim that they are found in the “Word of God.”

For millennia, human beings have attempted to rationalize injustice and oppression by claiming that they have the support of God.

God does not agree:

“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Not only did God extend salvation to Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and free, but we are told that the salvation we have in Christ must be made known through our actions and by the transformation of our thinking:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9).

“Do not conform 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” (Romans 12:2). Paul wrote these comments to a patriarchal culture that was sustained by slavery.

God stands against those who misrepresent his words to justify evil:

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:8).

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

If you are using the Bible to justify racism, sexism or any other form of injustice, you should know that God wants you to stop. He wants you to admit to yourself the error of your ways and humbly ask him to help you change. He wants you to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He wants you to follow the example of the one you claim to serve:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:5-8)

If you do not listen to what God has to say about racism, sexism or any other form of oppression; and if you continue to misuse the Bible to rationalize doing harm to others, you will one day stand before God to give an account: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me’” (Matthew 25:40&45). The way you treat your neighbor–and every human being is your neighbor–is the way you treat God.

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Plato’s Spectacles: How Greek Philosophy has Distorted our View of Women in the Bible

The following presentation was shared at Emmanuel Bible College on March 3, 2015:

Plato’s Spectacles

To view the presentation, please click on the link above.  You will need Powerpoint (or a compatible program) installed on your computer to view the file.

If you would like Bob to share this or similar information at your church, group or organization, please feel free to send him a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.edwards.letmypeoplego.

May God use this information to enlighten and encourage!

P.S. For those who do not have Powerpoint, I have added this PDF version of the presentation.  You can view it using Acrobat reader.  Hope that helps!

Plato’s Spectacles

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Confusing “Equality” with “Sameness”: Clearing up a Complementarian Misconception

Time after time, I’ve read complementarian literature that seems to misunderstand what is meant by biblical equality for women and men. The heart of the misunderstanding appears to be a misperception of what is meant by the term “equality.” Very often, the complementarian literature I’m familiar with assumes that egalitarians are advocating for the “sameness” of men and women in the church, rather than their equality. For example, in her book entitled, “The Feminist Mistake,” Mary A. Kassian uses the terms “equality” and “sameness” interchangeably (p. 37). She also assumes, wrongly, that Christian egalitarians want women to be “just like men” (p. 38).

Sameness suggests that there are really no differences between men and women. Numerous complementarian books, journal articles and blogs expend vast amounts of time and energy refuting this notion of “sameness.” They believe they are refuting biblical equality, but they are wrong.

Equality is not blind to the rather obvious biological differences between men and women. Equality, however, does not view biological differentiation as a basis for subjection. In other words, it does not believe that authority in human relationships should be designated solely on the basis of a person’s sex at birth.

Theologically, the association of “maleness” with leadership characteristics has a long history. For example, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.) declared, “Man is stronger and purer since his is uncastrated and has a beard. Women are weak, passive, castrated and immature… His beard, then is the badge of a man and shows him unmistakably to be a man. It is older than Eve and is a symbol of the stronger nature. By God’s decree, hairiness is one of man’s conspicuous qualities, and, at that, is distributed over his whole body. For what is hairy is by nature drier and warmer than what is bare; therefore, the male is hairier and more warm-blooded than the female; the uncastrated, than the castrated; the mature, than the immature” (Trombley, 2003, Who Said Women Can’t Teach, p. 234).

Clement argues that beards, penises and body hair are a sign of maturity, strength and purity. Theologians throughout church history have concluded that these qualities make men—and not women—fit candidates for leadership. Clement’s notion that beards, body hair and male genitalia relate to maturity demonstrates a profoundly androcentric and erroneous worldview. He wrongly evaluates a woman’s maturity in terms of issues related to male puberty.

Is it really true that men are more intellectually, emotionally or spiritually mature than women? If you asked St. Augustine, the influential 4th century Roman Catholic Bishop, he would have answered, “yes.” He believed that women must be subject to men because “the weaker brain must serve the stronger” (Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153).

After immersing himself in Augustine’s commentaries, prominent Protestant reformer John Calvin came to similar conclusions about a woman’s “nature” and how it rendered her unfit for leadership: “[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach” (Commentary on Timothy, Titus and Philemon). In the eyes of Calvin, women were created to “obey” not lead. He also viewed obedience and teaching as mutually exclusive activities.  In his commentary on Genesis, he referred to female subordination as “the order of nature.”

Today, complementarians continue to associate “masculinity” with “leadership” and “femininity” with “submission.” One of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for example, said that women may not exercise authority because of their “characteristic weaknesses” (Piper, desiringgod.org, “affirming the goodness of manhood and womanhood in all of life”). Another complementarian leader expressed this viewpoint more bluntly, stating simply that women are more gullible and more easily deceived than men (Driscoll, as cited at the wartburgwatch.com, “danger flee churches which teach that women are easily deceived”).

Is it accurate to equate masculinity with leadership? No, I don’t believe so. This is really just a mental association resulting from gender-socialization. I don’t believe this particular association is evidence-based, though it has a long history in church tradition.

Do many women want to share decision-making authority in their churches and homes? Yes. Some of these women are also gifted to teach the Bible and/or preach the gospel of salvation. Does this mean that they want to be “just like men?” Only if we assume that maturity, leadership, teaching and preaching are distinctly “male” characteristics…and they are not. Equality is not sameness. Women can be distinctly female and–of course–spiritually mature; they can share decision-making authority with men, teach the Bible and preach the gospel: beards, body hair and male genitals are not required.

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How Prejudice Can Distort the Bible

What does it look like when the Bible is taken out of context, and seen through the eyes of prejudice…against men?

It might look something like this:

We can see in the Genesis account that God’s creation progresses from those things that are more basic to those that are more complex and beautiful. Thus we see God begins with creating such basic things as light and dark, land and water. He then creates plants and basic animal life. Finally, he progresses to humanity, beginning with the man and finishing with the pinnacle of his creative work: woman. (Genesis 1:1-27)

The notion that God’s creation progresses from the lesser to the greater is affirmed in the writing of the apostle Paul. Specifically, he refers to the first man as “the glory of God,” whereas he refers to the woman as the glory of this glory. By this the apostle indicates that the woman is twice as glorious as the male! (1 Corinthians 11:7)

That women are the pinnacle of God’s creation is also demonstrated in God’s choosing a woman, without the involvement of a man, to give birth to the Savior. “And of Jesus Christ, the birth was thus: For his mother Mary having been betrothed to Joseph, before their coming together she was found to have conceived from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). It is clear that a man would not have been worthy to play a role in God’s redemptive plan, because it was the man—not the woman—through whom sin and death came to the whole world: “through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners” (Romans 5:19).

We see, in fact, the cowardly and unbelieving nature of men (in general) by looking at the story of Barak and Deborah. Barak, a man, was unwilling to obey the Lord’s command to go into battle. He would only go if accompanied by Deborah. Deborah, a woman, had faith and courage. Therefore she enjoyed the Lord’s blessing and was appointed a leader over Israel. (Judges 4:4-8)

The fearful and unbelieving nature of men is further demonstrated in the New Testament, when Jesus entrusted the news of his resurrection exclusively to women. They bore witness to our Lord’s victory over sin and death. The men who first received the good news–even though they had spent much time in the company of the Lord, and had seen many miracles–did not believe: “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women” (Luke 24:9-11).

What have I done to achieve such a monumental distortion of the Bible’s message? I simply began reading with the underlying assumption that men are inferior to women, and that Adam (because of his inferiority) was ultimately responsible for humanity’s fall. This assumption has reframed each and every text I’ve cited, removing it from its original context, and distorting its meaning.

Throughout church history, the same process has been used to distort the meaning of the Bible as it relates to women. The following influential theologians began reading the Bible with the basic assumption that women are somehow inferior to men and that they are ultimately to blame for humanity’s fall:

Origen: “It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips.”

Tertullian: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.”

Augustine: “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater…. This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.”

Calvin: “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”

and

“Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.” (https://equalityinchrist.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/must-women-keep-silent-1-corinthians-14-the-apostle-paul-and-the-traditions-of-men/)

Today, the interpretive framework laid down by Origen, Tertullian, Augustine and John Calvin continues to lift the biblical text out of its original context, and make sense of it as if there is something inherently wrong with women. One prominent complementarian, for example, explains that women may not share leadership authority in the church or the home because of their “characteristic weaknesses” (http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/affirming-the-goodness-of-manhood-and-womanhood-in-all-of-life). Another has said that women are simply more gullible and more easily deceived than men (http://www.dennyburk.com/mark-driscoll-on-women-in-ministry-2/). Ignoring the context of various biblical passages, these and other like-minded leaders in the church, infer a doctrine of male authority and female subordination.

As a result of reading the Bible through the lenses of systemic prejudice, women have been given lists of what they may not do in the church or in the home. Essentially, they may not lead or teach. In other words, they are prohibited from sharing decision-making authority and/or teaching the Bible…because of alleged characteristic weaknesses.

This article is an attempt to highlight how prejudice can affect our interpretation of the Bible, and how this kind of prejudice still affects women in the church today. It is also a call for humble reflection, and—I hope—repentance. My prayer is that the church would lay aside the distorting lenses of prejudice against women once and for all, in Jesus name.

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