November 21, 2015

≤ (Less Than Or Equal To)

The teaching goes that men and women are equal in person-hood, but different in roles in such a way that a woman's role is to be subordinate to a man's role. Men are the leaders in the house and in the church, women are the followers in the house and in the church. It's not sexist because it's God's divine plan formed in his omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent being.

Christianity's single-minded focus on marriage creates a fantasy world where all men are married to all women these are the believers that are empowered to serve God in the construct of their gender roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and priests and their wives. But the statistics don't bear that out. They show us that in every individual church and in the church in general, women outnumber men, women are more active in ministry than men, and women are more involved in spirituality in a church context than men. So it's not just 50% of the church that can't be leaders (because they're female), it's higher than that - some have estimate that roughly 2/3 or 60% of the church is not permitted be a leader, leaving the remaining 40% to pick up the slack. It's not the whole of that 40%, though, not all of them meet the qualifications (aside from being men) of being married, managing his family well, have a great reputation, being old enough, etc. They get around this problem by declaring 30 year-old men to be elders, provided that they've been Christians ever since they were about five years old and therefore more of an 'elder' than a 60 year old man who had been a Christian only for the last ten years. They also see the marriage rule as somewhat flexible, a divorced Christian can be promoted to the rank of elder if everybody thinks he's an amazing guy and it really wasn't his fault that he was divorced. There's really no way to know how many of the 40% is considered worthy enough to be a leader - half? a third? a fifth?

The majority of the church cannot teach, preach, speak, or pray (depending on how their denomination interprets Scripture) because they are not men. Most churches have realized that such a literal interpretation is untenable and undo-able today. It's difficult enough for the minority of men who do attend church to run things without help. So they found a way around the old rules. Women can't be pastors / teachers / priests / deacons / elders - but there's nothing in the Bible that says that they can't be facilitators or ministers or any other position that didn't exist when the Bible was written. In this way, women can be given a lot of responsibility to assist the men in the operation of the church; but they still can't run it.

When I was reading about Eastern cultures, the authors of the book related a story in which they were presenting a message to a pastors-only conference. They overlooked the crowd and noticed that there were some women in the crowd. They asked if the guy running the conference understood that the Bible says that only men may be pastors. The coordinator answered, "Yes, and most of them are." To us, our rules are inflexible and to be enforced equally on everyone. To other cultures, rules are flexible and always have their exceptions. This is an important difference that we ought to keep in mind because the Bible likewise shows that these rules have their exceptions. We have Junia who is an apostle according Romans 16:7 (depending on your preferred translation, some demote her as to being "of note / highly esteemed / known to the apostles, others clearly place her among them.). We have Phoebe who is a deacon mentioned in Romans 16:1 (depending on your preferred translation, some demote her to a servant, others identify her as a deaconess.) In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul pleads that Euodia and Syntyche to settle their differences and come to an agreement - he notes that they both contended at his side in the cause of the gospel; what he struggled with and went through, they were right there with him going through it, too. When Lydia was converted in Acts 16, all the members of her household were converted as well. She hosted the early church in her home. As a hostess, she would have had specific duties which she could not carry out if the rules forbidding her from speaking fully applied. Aquila and Priscilla are counted among Paul's co-workers, it was Priscilla who helped Aquila teach the way of God more accurately when they invited him over to their house. What did Apollos do with that knowledge? He went into the public debates and vigorously refuted his opponents, proving that Jesus was the messiah from the scriptures. These were among Paul's co-workers, which also included Timothy, Titus, and Epaphroditus among others who like these women aren't as well-known as their more famous brothers in Christ. Does 'co-worker' mean something different when used of Paul's male companions than it does when he uses it refer to the women who helped him advance the cause of the gospel?

It's not uncommon for words used to describe men being 'demoted' when used of women. The same word meaning 'deacon' of the seven men chosen to help serve the widows is used elsewhere of women to mean 'servants'. The same word meaning 'settle down' of men is used to mean 'be silent' of women. The same word meaning 'helper' of God gets a weaker connotation when used for women because obviously women's help is inferior to that of God's. In one place, where women were told to be 'masters' of their house, the instruction was changed for them to be 'keepers' of their house. Elsewhere, the word 'head' is given connotations of authority even though there's no indication that authority was originally meant or even implied by the use of the word. In all this, there's less and less indication that women are really equal to men in any meaningful way. In all matters of importance, men are the ones that make the decisions who opinions are worth more who speak for God and interpret God's word for us through their understanding and experience.

Some of the pages I've seen say that treating women as equals diminishes their worth. Men and women are not equal because they are not the same. Is the essence of equality sameness? Is a cup of an apple equal to a cup of an orange because they are equal in amount, equally fruit, or are they inevitably unequal as apples are not the same as oranges? As an apple equal to an orange because they are equally fruit, or are they inevitably unequal as apples are not the same as oranges? Is a man equal to a woman because they are equally human, or they are inevitably unequal as men are not the same as women? To carry on the 'sameness' argument, then racism must be seen as a timeless truth that transends culture, how could a black man be equal to a white man if they are not the same? Oh wait, it doesn't work that way with race, but it does work with gender. Thing is - so long as 'sameness' is left undefined, it can be flexible in it's description of the target attributes that both groups must have in order to be 'the same'. Men and women can have (usually) ten fingers, ten toes, five senses, the same set of knowledge to draw upon, but it doesn't matter how much they have in common - they are 'different'. They are so different, in fact, that women can't lead men. (Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, and any number of Europe's historical queens would disagree.) They are so different, in fact, that women can't fight men. (Sarah Edmonds Seelye, Jennie Hodgers, Frances Clayton, Loreta Janeta Velazquez, and any number of women who have historically dressed up as men to fight in wars since the dawn of time would disagree.) They are so different, in fact, that women can't  ... the list could go on and on, but anyone who does their homework would be hard pressed to come up with evidence to support the assertion that equality is based in sameness. Even without 'sameness' women are men's equal in every way. If women are equal, then how can they be 'less' than men?  They can when they're taught that they must be. They can when they're taught that their words are worth less than those of men. They can when they are taught that their wisdom is worth less than the wisdom of men. They can when they're taught that God made men with priority and women don't have that. Men are important and by the same token, women are unimportant.

As Animal Farm is known for saying; "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Just a minor modification; "All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others." And that is why we live in a world with less thans and greater thans; because don't really believe in equality in as much as it means that people who have less are given more and people who have more have some of it taken away. Few thoughts frighten people more than that - that something they have might be taken from them so somebody who doesn't have something should get it. It's not unlike the Toddler's Creed:

If I want it, it’s mine.
If I give it to you and change my
mind later, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you,
it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago,
it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it will never belong to
anyone else, no matter what.
If we are building something together,
all the pieces are mine.
If it looks just like mine,
it is mine. 

We've just never learned to share. Probably because we believe that when it comes down to it, God's not big enough to go around and he's not plentiful enough for everybody to have an equal share, so somebody has to have priority and it might as well be to the ones that are more equal than the others. But as we've seen, the rules have been pretty flexible in their interpretation and application. If they can ignore some rules, why not all of them? Why let a divorced man be an elder, but not a faithful wife to be one, too? Is the rule so sacred that parts of them apply more than others? Why is the gender part of the rule the one that cannot be broken when all other parts of the rule are flexible? Is there an invisible line that we like to toe, but dare not cross? Why? What's the worst that could happen?

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