Growing up, even into young adulthood, there were certain parts of scripture that I ignored. I read them, briefly, felt uncomfortable and confused, then quickly moved on. It’s been a bad habit my entire life – avoiding difficult situations, choosing to be naive or ignorant about something that might cause problems. I prefer peace.
But there came a time, as is almost always guaranteed, when avoidance was no longer an option. Instead of those passages hiding away in the corners of untouched pages, they were put on billboards in flashing lights right in front of my face. And they injured me.
It took me longer than it should have to accept that there actually was a problem, but I have an achilles heel. Nothing has ever been more motivating to me than someone telling me that I can’t do something. Usually it has to do with a physical feat or something to be built or fixed. This time, it was different… “You can’t. Because you’re female. You’re a woman. Your abilities and qualifications do not matter in light of your gender. Satisfy yourself with other things because you have no place where you desire to be.”
And there they were. The passages that I pretended didn’t exist, that I pretended didn’t offend me, that I knew were a mistake, were now unavoidable.
For months I wrestled. I didn’t want to be someone who compromised the teaching of scripture to appease a personal deficiency. I’d been told just how certainly and directly scripture addressed the issue of women, especially in regards to their submission to men. I’ve realized how manipulative it is (especially for a spiritual leader) to say, “Scripture clearly says _______.” Even if you believe that, it’s not helpful. What I wish we said in churches and pulpits is this, “We read that passage of scripture. What does it mean? Let’s figure it out together. Even if we decide that it means different things, we will prove that we are his disciples by how we love each other.”
There are tools to use when it comes to interpreting a text. As an English major, I learned all sorts of strategies and types of literary criticism in order to interpret literature. There are so many considerations – the author’s background and motivation, the historical context, the intended audience. There are different types of lenses to use – psychoanalysis, deconstruction, marxism, reader response, queer theory. The list goes on. Why do we do so much work to understand a piece of literature, but do so little to understand scripture? Obviously, the average person does NOT apply a microscope to literature in this way, only students of literature. But who, if not Christians, should be students of scripture? Before anyone even dares to say, “scripture clearly says,” there should be no stone left unturned and no theory left unanswered on that particular passage.
I can’t say that about my interpretation of scriptures that are often used to subjugate women into “complementarian” roles. But I can say that I quit hiding from those passages (even if it wasn’t voluntarily). I’ve confronted them, read about them from every angle, discussed them unceasingly (sorry friends) and come to a place where I’m at peace with what scripture says about me as a woman and God’s disposition towards me. I have settled, but I still remain open. Many posts will follow as I finally hash out in writing the process and conclusions. For now, I’ll say that I believe God intends for all people to be valued and empowered to live fully and productively in his community.
This is a topic that has been discussed for centuries. Many have written insightful articles and books that address every aspect of gender roles. I doubt that I can add anything to the discussion. That’s not my goal. Writing is a good exercise for me and reward enough in itself. I make it public so that maybe someone in my circle will be challenged to reconsider a position they haven’t fully vetted, empowered to confront a topic they’ve been avoiding, or validated where they feel insecure. May I always remain humble enough to recognize my fallibility and let’s never close the discussion. The most important thing when we come to the table is to remember that love is our highest priority.