Friday, March 30, 2012

What Does a Christian Egalitarian Marriage Look Like?

I walked into a Christian book store the other day, and happened to look at the section on marriage.  And guess what?  Every book on the shelf was some variation on "husbands, here's how to lead your wives/wives, here's how to submit to your husband's authority."  Not one book on the shelves said, "Here's how to be co-leaders together of your home and family.  Here's how to live in mutuality as best friends and partners, deferring to one another in love." 

Books on egalitarian Christian marriage do exist (there's a great list at Christian Egalitarian Marriage) but from what I understand, most Christian book stores simply will not carry them.  It's not surprising, then, that there's a lack of understanding of what Christian egalitarian marriage actually looks like in practice.  Myths are promulgated:  "Egalitarians think men and women are exactly alike, so Christian egalitarians allow for no differences in what men and women do in the home."  Or:  "Christian egalitarian marriages are about both parties making sure the other party does exactly half of the work.  They're about claiming rights, not about giving and serving as Christians should."

I can't tell you what every Christian egalitarian marriage looks like.  You see, far from trying to make men and women exactly alike, Christian egalitarian marriage actually celebrates differences-- not just differences between the sexes, but differences in individuals.  There are no boxes that anyone has to squeeze into saying, "This is how you're supposed to act as a man; this is what you're supposed to be as a woman."  Each marriage is a unique relationship between two unique people. 

So what I can do is tell you what my own marriage looks like.  Since my husband and I stopped trying to be complementarian (the gender-roles model where the husband is the leader), everything has felt so much more natural-- as we have simply been who we are rather than tried to be what we believed we were supposed to be.  But in many ways our marriage doesn't look that different from what it used to.  In fact, if you're in a happy complementarian marriage, it may not look all that different from your own.

When we go somewhere in the car, my husband usually drives, unless he's very tired or sick.  He usually comes around the car and opens my door for me to get in.  When we're out for a walk, if a tree branch is leaning over the path, my husband is the one who lifts it out of the way for me to walk by.  If we are climbing up a steep path, he offers me a hand up. My husband brings me flowers on special occasions, and sometimes "just because." 

I don't bring him flowers, because they don't bless him the way they do me. 

I cry during movies.  He doesn't.   I like jewelry and talking on the phone.  He likes watching pro wrestling.

I do almost all the cooking and laundry.  He takes out the garbage and puts together furniture.  We focus on giving to and pleasing one another, not whether all the chores are divided equally.

But it's an egalitarian marriage.  So what is it, exactly, that makes it different from a complementarian marriage?

First, as I said-- we don't feel constrained to do or be anything that we are not.  The traditional-sounding male/female differences above are things we do because they work for us, being who we are.  But there is no requirement that it be like this.  Here are some other dynamics of our marriage that aren't quite so traditional:

He does almost all the grocery shopping, since he doesn't mind it, and I have always hated it. In the summers, I'm the one that barbecues out doors, since I enjoy it and he hates it.

If he's home when I'm at work, he makes lunch for me to come home to.

I do the yard work, since his back prevents him.

We each do about half the dishes (when we're not making the kids do them!)

He's not really into sports-- and neither am I. I'm not really into shopping, and I don't care for "chick flicks." Neither does he.

We both like old movies, comic books and Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels.

Being egalitarian doesn't mean we don't believe males and females are different, or that we don't celebrate our differences.  What it does mean is that he doesn't have to do or like everything considered masculine, nor do I have to do or like everything considered feminine.

But if you're complementarian, you may be shaking your head and saying, "But we don't put ourselves in stereotyped boxes either.  We embrace individuality too!"

Here, then, is the real difference. 

We are co-leaders of our family.  We no longer consider him to be in authority over me.  I submit to him, yes-- but only as all Christians are to submit to one another, esteeming the other more than ourselves, just as Ephesians 5:21 and Philippians 2:3-4 say to do.  In that same sense, he submits to me too.

I take the lead in the everyday finances, because he's not that good with figures.

He takes the lead when we're getting to and from places, since I can get lost merely walking across a parking lot.

We make all major decisions together.  Since each of us starts out willing to yield to the other, any disagreements are usually resolved in favor of who the issue is more important to.  But if we disagree, we have to talk and pray until we find consensus.  He doesn't have an "I make the final decision if we disagree" trump card.

On the other hand, since back in our complementarian days, he never actually used this trump card, this makes no practical difference.  We have always sought consensus.  He has never wanted to override me.  

In short, our marriage has not changed all that much in its outward appearance.  The difference is in our attitudes.  I can no longer coast along, letting the responsibility for everything rest on him.  I have to step up and take responsibility alongside him, shouldering with him the adult load.  Any rules that we set for the household and children, we must both be fully willing to enforce.  And once we got used to this, we both liked it much better.  I am truly his "ezer kenegdo" -- his "face-to-face strong aid," which is what the word translated "help meet" in Genesis 2:20 (KJV) actually means-- and this means he is truly not alone.  "Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh" doesn't mean "he's the hero and I'm his sidekick."  It means we are two strong individuals together, who have found that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  We have our goals and dreams together-- and we have our goals and dreams as individuals.  We each support the other in both.

Our 24th anniversary was this week.  And I'd say that in mutual respect, dignity and love, we are more one than ever.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 28, 2012 - Prayer Walk for Women's Equality

Baptist Women for Equality and Christians for Biblical Equality are asking Christian women and men everywhere to participate in a Prayer Walk tomorrow, March 28, 2012. If you want to express solidarity with your sisters in Christ, please unite in prayer for women to become full, functional equals with our brothers in Christ. Please pray for your neighborhood when you step outside your door, when you're walking to your car or to the bus stop. Pray for your community as you drive through your town. Pray that Christ, who scandalized His own culture by talking to women in public, making them His disciples, traveling with them, engaging them in theological discourse, and revealing His Resurrection to them before He revealed it to any man, would reveal His true heart to His church today. Pray that His people's hearts would be open to the message that His truth sets us all free.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forgotten Women in Church History: Teresa of Avila (1515-82)

Teresa of Avila shares with Catherine of Siena the honor of being the first women named Doctors of the Church by the Catholic Church in 1970. This is a title given by the Catholic Church to persons whose writings are deemed in accordance with Catholic doctrine and appropriate for teaching. Teresa was born in Spain two years before the Protestant Reformation began. She was a Carmelite nun who dedicated herself to reforming that Order, and she founded many Carmelite convents throughout Spain. Thus she is considered a figure of the Catholic Reformation, which was a movement for spiritual renewal and against corruption within the Roman Church, by those who did not wish to abandon it as the Protestants were doing. She was canonized shortly after her death, and thus joins St. Lioba and St. Catherine as women the Catholic Church remembers, but who are still forgotten by many modern Protestants.

It is interesting that a papal official investigating St. Teresa’s activities once described her as “a restless gadabout, disobedient, contumacious woman who. . . is ambitious and teaches theology as if she were a doctor of the Church in spite of St. Paul’s prohibition.”

Teresa, however, summarized her own work as follows:

Since I was only a woman, and a base one at that. . . I resolved to do the little that was in me: namely, to follow the evangelical precepts as fully as I could, and endeavor that those nuns who were with me should do likewise, dedicating ourselves to prayer for the preachers and learned men who are defending the church.

Most of Teresa’s writings, which are now viewed as good for teaching by the Church, she wrote not because she was "ambitious," but because she was directed to by her superiors, in order to prove that she was not a heretic. But St. Teresa really is now a Doctor of the Church, a fact which might now cause her to smile at the papal official's words, which certainly would have wounded her at the time— for she was a loyal and devoted Catholic despite the suspicion and opposition she received.  The endurance of her words, when the words against her have long since faded away, I believe shows the hand of divine Providence in lifting up His daughters in spite of what humans have thought Paul was prohibiting.

Teresa was a warm and outgoing person who made friends easily. She was also deeply religious even as a young child, and felt a conflict within herself between the two in her teen years, as she considered whether to marry or take the veil. She endured periods of serious illness and pain, including a bout with malaria that left her paralyzed in the legs for three years (the healing of which was considered a miracle). But she found consolation in prayer, and after a heartfelt experience of the grace and forgiveness of God while reading Augustine's Confessions, she began to experience the presence of God in visions and what she called “raptures." Her famous written work Interior Castle is a spiritual guide to union with God through seven stages of prayer. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has called this work “a spiritually challenging book” containing “much literary merit as a piece of Spanish Renaissance literature. . . on a par with other great works of [its] time.”

Her other writings, including her autobiography, focus  primarily on prayer and contemplation. However, she also insisted on practical service, writing:

Let everyone understand that real love of God does not consist in tear-shedding, nor in that sweetness and tenderness for which we usually long, just because they console us, but in serving God in justice, fortitude of soul and humility.

But St. Teresa is perhaps best known for the establishment of Carmelite houses: sixteen or seventeen in all. She wrote The Way of Perfection to teach the nuns in her houses to live in greater holiness and devotion to Christ. Many church authorities were threatened by her efforts at reform-- and she had the misfortune of ministering during the heyday of the Spanish Inquisition. When her close associate, St. John of the Cross, was imprisoned, Teresa went into hiding. But in the end the pope ruled in her favor by permitting her reformed convents to continue functioning.

Teresa of Avila was a wise, personable and very influential leader and reformer. As Biographies Online puts it:

She had an endearing, natural quality; her life energy attracted and inspired many who were close. They admired her for both her outer charm and inner serenity. . . She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense. Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s love.

St. Teresa’s feast day is October 15. She was canonized in 1622.

Sources: Women's History

Biography Online

The Teresian Carmel

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Tucker and Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, Zondervan Publishing House (1987), pp. 202-204.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Are Women Seeking Ministry "Demanding Rights"?

Here's an example of another comment I encounter a lot. In discussions of women in Christian ministry, someone almost invariably says something along these lines:

"The call for women in ministry turns me off because it's all about women demanding their rights. That isn't what Jesus taught, about humility and seeking to give rather than receive. Whether or not women should be church leaders, they're wrong to seek it. It all comes from today's 'entitlement' culture, not from the heart of God, that women are seeking power in the church. It's not supposed to be about power."

True-- Christian ministry shouldn't be about power. But it is about power, and it is not women who have made it that way. Church leaders throughout church history have made their positions into positions of power and authority, when they should have been positions of service, lifting up their brothers and sisters in Christ to find their own callings. Until 50 years ago, many church leaders didn't want to share their power with men of other races. And many still don't want to share their power with women. But if they'd realize that it isn't about power, and would lay down their power, maybe it wouldn't bother them so much that some women feel called to minister, not just in the kitchen or nursery or in women's Bible studies, but to the whole congregation.

But the question has to be asked: is seeking church leadership, by its very nature, sinful ambition and wrongful power-grabbing? Because if it is, men shouldn't seek church leadership either.

Do men who feel called into church leadership, seek church leadership? Well, yes-- they do. They talk to their own church leaders, they ask for prayer over their calling; they attend seminaries and request mentoring. And they may be told they're not ready, that they should pray more, serve more, seek God more. But one thing they will not be told is that it is impossible for them ever to be called, and that even thinking that they might be called is stepping out of their place and sinfully seeking a position they are never meant to have. No man has ever, purely on the basis of his maleness, been told, "We have a leadership position open, but you should not apply." And no one, to my knowledge, has ever objected to a man seeking church leadership as if he were out of line just for seeking it. If seeking church leadership, in and of itself, were wrongfully ambitious power-seeking, then no one should do it.

It's easy, really, if you're born into a position where you never have to shout to be heard, to fault those who do have to shout to be heard. But this argument that women who want full-time church ministry are wrongly demanding their rights, is really based on an expectation that everyone should keep their place in an established hierarchy. It used to be considered wrongful power-seeking for members of the servant class to want to own their own homes, or for merchants to want to become part of the gentry. It's the same attitude that used to consider people of color "uppity" if they walked down the street with their heads high and dared to meet a white person's eyes. The gentry were never faulted for seeking the high seats at the table, for those seats were considered theirs by right.

This is what Jesus said about those high places at the table:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11.

The word there translated "distinguished" is the Greek word "entemos," which means "dear, precious, highly prized, held in honor."  It is used in Luke 7:2 about the servant of a Roman centurian whom he prized highly  It is used of Jesus as the "precious" cornerstone, highly prized in God's eyes.  It is not a word that refers to someone having a high place in a hierarchy, but is more a relational word.  Jesus is not saying, "Someone who outranks you may come to the wedding banquet, and claim your place by right."  He's saying, "Your wedding host may have invited someone more dear to him than you are (such as a closer family member)."  Since this teaching is identified as a parable, Jesus is not speaking of literal guests at a literal wedding banquet, but is counseling His listeners not to be seeking positions of honor for themselves.  This is probably the verse that people have in mind when they say women should not be "demanding rights" in seeking ministry-- but what would Jesus say to the guests at the banquet who are already sitting in the highest seats when the other guests enter, who cling to their chairs with both hands and refuse to surrender them to the "upstarts" who are arriving?   What would He say to the one who, when the host says, "I want my friend to sit there; please give up your seat," replies, "But you can't possibly want that person to sit here!  It's not her place!"

True, it would be wrong of a person who feels called into ministry to exalt themselves and demand to be given a high place. But are women who want ministry really doing this? I have never heard of anyone, woman or man, demanding of a church hiring committee, "This is my position! Give it to me!" Women in reality are not doing anything that men do not do as a matter of course, to seek ministry.

To me, the real questions are these: Are we going to let God call women? Or are we going to tell God He can’t? And are we going to let women whom He calls obey? Or are we going to tell them they have to be wrong, that God can't possibly be calling them?

Remember how sure Peter was that he should have nothing to do with Gentiles, because they were unclean? God gave him a vision to show him he was wrong. Acts 10:11-15. Peter knew the Scriptures. And yet he had to let God step outside the parameters of what he had always thought God's will was all about.  Peter was misunderstanding the Scriptures about Gentiles.  What if many of those who think they know their Bibles today, are misunderstanding the Scriptures about women?

In China many women are serving as leaders of underground churches-- and it's not because God can't find any men!  Here in the US, women are feeling God's call to church leadership, and they live their lives in frustration because their churches have forbidden them to answer that call.  Fundamentally, this isn’t about “rights.”* It’s about obedience to God, and openness to His ability to call anyone He wants, be it male or female.

So it comes down to this.  I myself am not called to church leadership.  I am asking nothing for myself.  But if my sisters feel the call of God and want to obey it, I’m going to stand up to those who forbid them, just as Paul stood up to Peter when he refused to eat with Gentiles.  Gal. 2:11-14.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not part of the "entitlement culture."  Neither is "Here am I, Lord, send me."  And that's all we're saying-- my sisters and I.

*Not that there's anything wrong with standing up for your rights when necessary.  Paul did it in Acts 22:25.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forgotten Women of Church History: St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Catherine of Siena is not exactly a “forgotten woman” – in fact, Daughters of the Church, by Tucker and Liefeld, calls this fourteenth-century Catholic saint “the most famous of all medieval churchwomen.”  (p. 156)  But (as with St. Lioba),  many, if not most, Protestants know nothing about this brilliant and influential woman, even though  in 1970 she was one of two medieval women named the first female “doctors of the church” by the Roman Catholic Church. Women’s History defines “Doctor of the Church" as “a title given to those whose writings deem to be in accord with the doctrine of the church and which the church believes can be used as teachings.”  Since the Roman Catholic Church forbids women’s ordination due to its interpretation of “I do not permit a woman to teach” in 1 Timothy 2:12, it is somewhat ironic that St. Catherine is allowed to teach the entire international Church posthumously through her writings.  This appears to be another case where the individual giftings of a particular woman overcome traditional doctrines and church policies.   In honor of Women’s History Month, I will post about both her and the other first female doctor of the church, Teresa of Avila, this month.

Born the 25th child of a wool dyer in the Republic of Siena (now northern Italy), Catherine began having visions of Christ and the saints when she was only six years old.   At the age of seven (the age when a child was considered able to consent to a vow of marriage), Catherine vowed herself to celibacy.  Her family did not agree with her vow, however, and at the age of 12 Catherine cut off her long hair in order to repel the man they had picked for her to marry.   Opposition from her family continued for a short time, but they gave in to the strength of her intentions to devote herself to prayer, and when she was 16 she was permitted to join the Third Order of St. Dominic as a tertiary, which meant she wore the Dominican habit, but remained at home and did not take monastic vows. 

At the age of 17 Catherine ceased secluding herself to her room in prayer.  She said she had received a divine calling to be involved with the world in peacemaking and service to the sick, the poor, and criminals condemned to death.  She became famous for her labors in these tasks, and later for her fearless engagement of the popes and cardinals of the medieval church, calling for reform and a return to pure devotion to Christ.

Catherine was not immune to the religious excesses of her age.  She went through periods of extreme asceticism in which she denied herself food and water, flagellated herself, and wore a painfully course undergarment and an iron chain.  She believed she was called to be a “sinbearer” for those who would not repent, carrying their sins on her own shoulders to the throne of Christ for mercy.  Protestants may disagree with her theology, but cannot fault the spirit of intercession in which she lifted her fellow humans to God in prayer.   Her courageous labors among those sickened by the plague of 1374 that ravaged Siena were performed with amazing tenderness and love, and it was during this plague that miracles of healing and raising the dead were attributed to her.

As one of many poor daughters of a lowly artisan, Catherine received no formal education.  But according to Catholic Online, "St. Catherine was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day. . .  St. Catherine's letters, and a treatise called 'a dialogue' are considered among the most brilliant writings in the history of the Catholic Church.”
But perhaps the most remarkable of Catherine’s accomplishments was the influence she gained in the upper echelons of the church hierarchy.  As Daughters of the Church puts it:
[G]aining influence at the highest levels of the politically powerful and strictly male-dominated Roman Catholic Church . . . would have been a difficult feat for any woman, and thus the accomplishments of Catherine stand as truly amazing when one considers her lack of social status, her obscure background, and her utter lack of renown in ecclesiastical circles.  p. 158.
Mrs. Arthur Pelham, in her 1894 treatise “St. Catherine of Siena,” published online at the University of Pennsylvania’s Digital Library, mentions that the first time Catherine appeared as a peacemaker was when she was only 21 years old.  During a revolution in Siena in 1368, Catherine became a mediator between many factions.  She gave a speech in the streets in which more than 2000 people listened to her pleas for peace.   In 1375 she attempted to turn Italy’s attention away from its now-incessant civil wars by sending letters to the pope and other church officials promoting the idea of a Crusade to the Holy Land, which would free her native land from the burden of the large numbers of mercenary soldiers living off the people.  Mrs. Pelham notes:
Whatever may be our own feelings as to the merits of this idea, these letters are full of interest and throw much light upon the ideas and feelings of the men and women of that day, and on the motives underlying the so-called "Holy Wars."
Catherine’s most well-known accomplishment was her march to Avignon with 20 followers in 1376, employed by the Republic of Florence to attempt to persuade Pope Gregory IX to return the seat of papal power from Avignon to Rome.   When she arrived, Catherine was greeted with suspicion by the cardinals, who gave her what amounted to an oral examination to determine whether or not she was a heretic.  She passed the test and was admitted to the Pope’s presence.  The extent of her influence upon him to return to Rome is debated by scholars, but there is no doubt that he did indeed return to Rome, and that both Gregory IX and his successor, Urban “valued and appreciated her services,” and that when she later addressed the assembled cardinals in the Consistory regarding the Great Schism of the papacy between Urban VI and Clement VII, all heard “Pope [Urban] himself summing up her remarks, and giving frank expression to the encouragement and help which he himself derived from her advice.”
Catherine died in 1380 at the age of only 33, of what may have been anorexia, or may have been a stomach ailment that prevented her from eating.   Her feast day is April 29 and she is considered the patroness of Italy.  Daughters of the Church considers that “she did not [succeed in reforming] the church or the papacy, but her voluminous correspondence to accomplish that end stands as a permanent monument to one lowly individual’s fight against corruption and immorality.” p. 160. 
Catherine remained committed throughout her life to the deep communion with God and personal experience of the love of Christ which began in her early childhood.   She was not to be bound by the restrictions placed upon women, but her personal giftings and callings made her voice heard even in the highest tiers of medieval Christianity, and her teachings are still reaching Christians today.  As the Hon. Mrs. Pelham remarked (somewhat drily) in 1894: 
Catherine was eminently a political woman, and owed her influence and power to the honorable and direct qualities of her individual character and strength of principle, and not to the indirect ones of rank or beauty. Such women prove better than arguments that there may be a place for women in politics, and suggest that they may be even necessary for the government of the perfect state.
Today there is little dispute that a place for women in politics does indeed exist.  Isn’t it time for the church as a whole to realize that women’s place in the church can be one of great power and influence, either with the cooperation of the church leaders or in spite of them—and that God is not bound to our notion of gender roles in the way He gives His gifts?
Sources: Women's History

Catholic Online

Hon. Mrs. Arthur Pelham, "St. Catherine of Siena," 1894

Tucker & Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, Zondervan Publishing House (1987), pp. 156-160.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Turning the Tables

I don't know how many times I have seen, on Christian websites that promote the full, functional equality of women in the church and home, rebuttal comments along these lines:

Why do you women want to be just like men? You can have babies, and men can't. You don't see men saying, "Unfair! We should be able to have babies just like women!" God has given women and men different roles in life, as is made apparent by our biological and emotional differences. Women are more nurturing, so men are given the role of spiritual leaders, to protect women from having to face the conflicts that come from speaking hard spiritual truths. You should be content with the caregiving which you are so well suited for, embrace your different role and stop wanting men and women to be exactly alike.

What is being compared here is a physical ability and a spiritual ability. Women have a certain physical ability men don't, so women shouldn't mind if men receive a certain spiritual ability that women don't. But what if we turned the comparison the other way? Suppose we lived in a world where women were traditionally in power. Here's what they might say to men:

Why do you men want to be just like women? You have the upper-body physical strength that enables you to lift and pull heavier loads than women can. You don't see women saying, "Unfair! We should be able to lift and pull just as heavy loads as men!" God has given men and women different roles in life, as is made apparent by our biological and emotional differences. Men are more aggressive, so women are given the role of spiritual leaders, to protect the men from the conflicts their competitiveness and posturing can cause in the church and home. You should be content with the physical labor which you are so well suited for, embrace your different role and stop wanting women and men to be exactly alike.

In each of these scenarios, the disempowered group is given a physical difference as justification for spiritual restrictions. In each scenario, the disempowered group is shamed for wanting something they "shouldn't" have, with God's will invoked to drive the point home. In each scenario, a bait-and-switch has occurred. A straw man has been set up that desiring spiritual equality is the same as wishing there were no physical differences. Since the physical differences are undeniable, the assertion is made that the argued spiritual differences are undeniable too. Each scenario also asserts an emotional difference which appears to make the group in power more suited for leadership.

My point? That the second argument-- that men should not be spiritual leaders but should leave that to the women-- uses the same type of reasoning as the first. They are the same basic arguments, based on the same categories of fact, so can we say that the first is logical while the second is nonsense? And yet only one of them is held forth on blog after blog as a sensible justification for the commenter's position.

The only difference in why the first argument is made in real life, while the second is just conjecture, is which group holds traditional power which the other group would like to share.

Turning the tables shows exactly how strong the argument is. And it's really not.

Someone might say here, "But none of this addresses the Scriptures!" So here's another way to turn the tables. The main argument people make against women's full, functional equality in the church and home is, "the Scriptures are clear that men are to be in authority, and not women. Why do you go against the clear mandate of God?" And then they will quote a verse or two out of 1 Peter 2, or Ephesians 5, or 1 Timothy 2, or 1 Corinthians 14.

But what if we were to quote from Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 5 and Romans 16, and say, "The Bible also quite clearly says that in Christ there is not male and female. It also says that we are to view no one any longer according to their physical natures. Besides, Paul honored women leaders and told the church to help them in whatever they needed. Why do you go against the clear mandate of God?"

The Proverbs say that one person's testimony will seem right until another cross examines him, and that for him who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. And there really are two sides to the witness of Scripture on the male-female issue. If we take each passage at absolute face value, they contradict one another. So each side of the argument works to figure out how the two messages interact. One view says that the message "men are to be in authority, and not women" should not be read for mere face value, and the other view says that "there is not male and female, and we are to stop regarding people according to their physical natures" should not be read for mere face value.

The fact is that in order to take the "clear" face-value meaning of one set of passages you must refuse the "clear" face-value meaning of the other. The only other option is to decide that the Bible contradicts itself and shouldn't be taken seriously in the first place. So why is it that only one side of the argument-- the male-authority side-- sets itself out as having the moral high ground in "just reading the Bible for what it says"?

Turning the tables shows that both sides interpret and nuance the messages of the Bible, not just reading each passage at face value-- and that it is impossible to do otherwise if we take the Bible seriously. The issue, then, is not that one group is playing fast and loose with the Scriptures, and the other is just honestly reading it for everything it says.

The issue is not which group is interpreting and which is not. The issue is which interpretation makes more sense. I've spent a lot of time, and probably will spend even more, to show why I think the female-equality ones make more sense. But the idea that we who see male-female mutualism, not hierarchy, in the Bible are just finding excuses not to read the Bible for what it says, really doesn't hold water.