Then I knew God calls women

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV

“Even though [women] grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” – Martin Luther [1]

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Those were just some of the words about women blinking at me from my computer screen that day. I was 16 years old and arguing with a skeptical friend. He had sent me a list of negative quotes about women from the Bible and famous Christian theologians, and I felt horrified.

Holy_WomanI’m not sure you could say I was any kind of a feminist at the time, at least not an intentional one. I had always been taught that I could be anything and do anything, that my gender was no hindrance to dreams, but that attitude within me was void and without form. I had been wild-hearted and tomboyish in my Alaskan childhood, had played on the edges of the wilderness with three brothers before I had a sister, had shot BB guns and pretended I was a Ninja Turtle and done just about every stupid thing that adults told me not to do, for the sake of being contrary and adventurous. The self-selected nickname I had begun sporting in my 16th year, “Jack,” flaunted my disregard for gender norms. “Is ‘Jack’ short for anything?” people would ask me uncomfortably, hoping to learn my real name was “Jacquelyn.” “Yes, it’s short for ‘Bridget,'” I would quip.

The ordination of women had never come up in the two denominations I had attended with regularity (Church of the Nazarene and Presbyterian Church USA) since youth. Those churches had no female pastors, although I had noticed female elders and deacons at the PCUSA. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis had articulated a hierarchical view of marriage that I accepted at the time, as much out of love for Lewis as anything, but it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t married and wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon, so I gave the matter little thought.

And then I had these words blinking at me from my computer screen. Horrible words about women in my own Bible and from Christian leaders I was supposed to revere. I didn’t know who God was anymore.

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Mormon Theology Seminar Conference

I have been in California for the past two weeks participating in the Third Annual Mormon Theology Seminar, sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. You may recall that I am an alumna of BYU (long story!). While I have never been Mormon and am not a believer in the Book of Mormon as Scripture, I regard the book as 19th century demi-Protestant theological fiction (perhaps inspired in some places) and my paper, “Called and Ordained: Alma’s Priesthood of All Believers” is on some theology in the Book of Mormon that I think both Mormons and evangelical Christians can embrace. I will be presenting that paper tomorrow (June 15th) at the seminar’s public conference.

The conference is free and runs from 9 AM – 6 PM. My presentation is at 3:45. Conference program available here.

Mormon_Theology_Seminar
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Journey’s End

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I went and spoke to Bro. Fluhman today, and not only was he enormously helpful, but I enjoyed the conversation and I was very impressed by him. . . . He also talked to me about doing American Religious History for my master’s. The thought had honestly never occurred to me. But I will keep it in mind.
— Journal entry, Thursday, 20 February 2003

I did my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University, a college that was (and probably still is) 98.6% Mormon. In my time at BYU, two things happened to bring me to where I am today:

  • Some students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School visited the university, and it was wonderful. I got to spend the week hanging out with them, going to church with them, taking them to classes with me, and engaging in dialogue and discussion with them. They made me realize how lonely BYU had been for me, and how much I longed to really grow roots in my own faith.
  • I had a conversation with Spencer J. Fluhman, then a professor in the religion department at BYU who was finishing his PhD in history. It was him who put the idea in my head of switching from classics to America religious history.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, for reasons I have discussed elsewhere, but it finally happened. Last week, my thesis (“As God Is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation”) was accepted for ProQuest publication. Maxine Hanks, who edited the first feminist book I ever picked up, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, served as my external reader on my thesis committee and gave me invaluable guidance. Commencement took place on Friday. I am now the proud owner of an MA in “History of Christianity in America” [1] from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

It’s been a long road. The “me” who first met up with those TEDS students and chatted with Brother Fluhman in his office never dreamed of what the future would hold: marrying a Mormon, a disabled child, dropping out of the MA — American History program at the University of Utah, being abandoned while pregnant, divorce, and becoming a single parent to a disabled older child and a baby. I never would have started the degree at TEDS under those circumstances.

But with the help of God and a lot of loving, supportive people in my life, I finally finished it.

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I Suffer Not a Woman–But I’ll suffer just about anything else

tchividjianTullian Tchividjian was in the news again in March, and not for good reasons. The disgraced grandson of famed mega-evangelist Billy Graham made headlines last June when he resigned from his megachurch post with the following announcement:

As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.

At the time, while I winced at how Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, I had little sympathy for her. Infidelity is a form of abuse and unrepentant cheaters might be among the few who are actually deserving of public humiliation and shame (granted, their families are not). And while I think the “revenge affair” is still wrong and a terrible idea, I gave Tchividjian props for doing the right thing and recusing himself from ordained ministry. After all, 1 Tim. 3:2 says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” a phrase that I believe was a euphemism for “faithful to his wife” (as so translated by the NIV and NLT). The directive is repeated for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12, and a similar qualifying phrase appears for the order of ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 (“wife of one husband”). [1] Besides that, 1 Tim. 3:2 also says that an elder must be “above reproach,” and adultery is, oh I don’t know, reproachable?

In short: Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.

Luckily for Tchividjian, the elders of Willow Creek Church [2] in Winter Springs (FL) didn’t have my grasp of the New Testament. They offered him a job just two months after his confession of adultery went public. His pastoral résumé hardly saw so much as a hiccup. Note that Willow Creek Church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, a hierarchist (“complementarian”) denomination that doesn’t ordain women even to the office of deacon (which is very clearly a biblical practice; Rom. 16:1) precisely because of their interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 3:1-12. They wouldn’t have offered Tchividjian’s new job to a woman no matter how much adultery she hadn’t committed; the sin of being born female would have been enough to disqualify her. Yet it took them all of a few months to hand the keys to the office to Tchividjian, 1 Tim. 3:2 be damned. Now that’s all blown up for them as it turns out Tchividjian had an even earlier, undisclosed affair. (So, when Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, he was being a jerk and a hypocrite. For all we know, she was the one who had the “revenge affair.”) [NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that Tchividjian’s position at Willow Creek was “Director of Ministry Development,” a non-ordained staff support position. Unless this position was/is open to women, I think my criticism holds, and I think weeks/months after confession of adultery is still way too early to be “director” of anything ministry-related.]

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Good Friday: Jesus Christ and the “Birth Pains of Death”

Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text
Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text

Today is Good Friday, the day when we remember Jesus’ suffering on the cross, in anticipation of Easter Sunday, when we celebrate his victory over death through resurrection.

Peter spoke of this on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:22-24, when he said (emphasis mine):

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (NIV)

What most people don’t know is that the part I highlighted in v. 24 is a bit of a mistranslation. The Greek for “agony” there, ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), doesn’t just mean “agony.” It quite specifically means “birth agony.” The pains of labor and childbirth. The correct translation of the passage would be, “freeing him from the birth pains of death.”

I know of no English translations that preserve the true metaphor of the original Greek. Why is that? Are we uncomfortable with the idea of a man suffering the pains of labor? Does that make our God too feminine for our liking? Or is it simply because the idea of “birth pains of death” is too confusing? Birth, after all, is supposed to be about life, not death.

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Of Ephesians 5 Wives & Ephesians 6 Slaves

Jesus_Leader_Leader
Husband-gods not wanted, not needed

Ephesians 5:22, “Wives [submit] to your husbands as to the Lord,” has long been the go-to soundbite for those who preach the subordination of women in Christian marriage. Egalitarians have put considerable time and effort into arguing that this verse doesn’t really teach marital hierarchy, and while my brothers and sisters in Christ make a lot of excellent points,[1] on the whole, I tend to disagree. I think Paul does endorse a hierarchy here, albeit a soft and self-sacrificing one, not the self-serving and hypocritical John Piper man-god nonsense so many “recovering biblical genderhood” Christians endorse and promote. I also think it is very clear that the household code promoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9 (and repeated in truncated form in Colossians 3:18-25) would be a disaster if applied to our day and age.

Anybody who knows basic Roman history will recognize that, throughout Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9, Paul is alluding to the Roman concept of the paterfamilias, wherein the [male] “master of the household” had “power . . . within the family [that] was almost absolute, unlimited by the state or any other organization outside of the familia unless [the paterfamilias] was demonstrably insane or mentally incompetent.” The paterfamilias was “the legal owner of all family property,” the only one who could “loan, mortgage, or sell [property] or engage in contracts,” and “the source of law within the family . . . his orders . . . recognized by the state as having the force of law.” More direly for the other members of the household, the paterfamilias was the sole “judge of the household, and his rulings normally could not be set aside by any external authority, even though he might kill, mutilate, expel, or give into bondage his sons or housemates, and though he might break or dispose of the household property.” As for women, they were “always subject to the power of some adult male.” [2] 

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So take my last name then

ManCardFile it under “fragile masculinity.”

On one of the dating sites I have used, there’s a question about marital last name preference. The question, along with possible answers, is:

If you were to get married, would you want your partner to change his or her last name to yours?
– Yes.
– No.
– I would want them to make their own decision.

Most of the men I am matched to seem to answer this question “yes.” When I ask why, the answer is always, “I just feel like it’s really important for the family to be under one name, to show unity.” That’s a bit of a ridiculous thing to say to a divorced woman with kids—I mean, there’s a very strong chance such a woman’s children either have their father’s last name or a hyphenated name [1], and changing the children’s last name to that of a man who has no biological connection to them is probably a bad idea—but let’s just say for the sake of argument that what he really means is that husband and wife should show unity.

That’s an easy enough problem to solve. The man who feels strongly enough about this matter is welcome to take my last name. After all, the Bible says a man is supposed to “leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife” (Gen. 2:24). What better way for a man to demonstrate this biblical principal than by giving up the name of his father and mother in favor of his wife’s name?

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Review: Boundaries

Boundaries_CoverBoundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend [1992; OverDrive MP3 Audiobook, 2001]

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” — Pope Francis, February 18, 2016

A friend mentioned that this book had been very helpful and eye-opening in the wake of his divorce and what had gone wrong in his marriage, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad that I did.

I think the idea of boundaries is a nebulous one for most people. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A friend at church without a car asks you to drive him on an extended trip to pick up something he needs in another city
  • Your child is angry at you because you missed an arts & crafts event at her school
  • Your spouse frequently stays late at work, forcing you to wait until dinner is cold in order to include her at the table
  • Your ex regularly tries to cancel visitation at the last minute, even when he knows you’ve made other plans that depend on him taking the kids

Do we normally look at situations like those and think, “this person is encroaching on my boundaries”? Probably not. Yet Cloud and Townsend would contend that these are all boundary issues, places where Christians need to learn when it’s appropriate to say “no.” This can be difficult for us because we Christians are socialized to be self-sacrificing and agreeable. There’s a strong sense that being kind means never saying “no” to others when we can say “yes,” and when we do say “no,” we run the risk of being accused of not being Christian. I’ve had men accuse me of being un-Christian because I didn’t respond favorably to their advances on dating sites. That’s how far off the reservation the “Christians must always say YES” mentality goes.

Cloud and Townsend make the point that Christians are not supposed to be exhausted, reluctant, resentful givers; we’re supposed to be cheerful, deliberate givers. We can’t do that when we’re wearing ourselves out saying “yes” to everyone. We have to possess a sense of ourselves, our responsibilities, and our capacity to help others, then we have to know when someone is trying to shuffle their responsibilities onto us, or when our capacity for helping others has been tapped out. In doing so, we assert ourselves and can make focused, deliberate choices on whom we help.

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A Very Brief Post on Feminism & Current Politics

Lena_Dunham_Clinton_RapeLet me get this straight:

– Hillary Clinton told a child rape victim she was “emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing”
– Bill Clinton “allegedly” raped a woman
– Bill Clinton “allegedly” sexually assaulted another woman
– Bill Clinton is a known womanizer who has had multiple extramarital affairs and was impeached because of one of them
– One of Bill Clinton’s lovers was “patient zero” for the modern-day slut-shaming movement; her life was ruined while Bill remains a hero
– Hillary Clinton has worked to discredit her husband’s “alleged” victims
– A victim of workplace sexual abuse tried to contact the Hillary Clinton campaign with information about how Clinton’s donor had abused her; the Clinton campaign returned her information marked “Will not Accept

And with all that, feminists are enthusiastically supporting Hillary Clinton for President and adulating her with artwork and stuff?

Go home, feminism. You’re drunk.

On Forgiveness and Adultery

Forgive_NO_U“You need to forgive.”

Any Christian who has survived the horror show that is infidelity has heard it before, usually from another well-meaning Christian: the assertion, the insistence, that we must forgive our (ex-)spouses and their affair partners immediately, regardless of whether or not they believe they have done anything wrong, to say nothing of apologizing and offering to make amends.

A very small portion of those who abuse their spouses with the sin of adultery are sorry. This post is not about the truly repentant. It’s about what Christian forgiveness looks like when someone has wronged you and isn’t sorry.

I’ve nearly finished Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (which I’ll review later). It is a fantastic book in many ways, but in it, the authors give what is, I think, a very common Christian take on forgiveness. They distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation and say that forgiveness takes one person, while reconciliation takes two. They say that Christians must always forgive, and that forgiveness is something that the other person does not need to ask for. Later, they even say that “to not forgive is the most stupid thing we can do.”

I beg to differ.

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