Another round has broken out in the gender and Church debates. Also known as the “should I be allowed to do my job” debates. For the record, I don’t anticipate an end to this debate, or even an uneasy truce within my lifetime. The fact that women are allowed to preach, teach, and celebrate the Eucharist has been and seems determined to remain a divisive issue.
So the two sides cite the Bible at each other.
Holding verses like this:
Women should be silent in Churches (1 Cor 14:34, in v35 it goes on to say that it is shameful for a woman to speak in Church). Women shouldn’t teach or have authority, because Paul didn’t let that happen to him (1 Tim 2:12, and if you’re the Apostle Paul I promise not to teach you).
Against ones like this:
Jesus had female disciples, even if we are late in giving them that title: Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene—the first witness to the Resurrection and long recognized in the Eastern Church as the Apostle to the Apostles. Paul lauded female Church leaders Phoebe (Rom 16), Junia (Rom 16), Lydia (Acts 16). And in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul mentions women praying and prophesying with the only problem occurring if their head is uncovered, not with the women praying and prophesying.
Given that I am an Episcopal Priest, my own position is…actually not that clear. You see, I think that in the middle of the debate we lose sight of a few things. Important things, like the Bible.
The Bible matters, especially to me. I’ve spent years of my life reading it, studying it, and learning how to be better at both of these things. I spend most of my work dedicated to helping other people understand it better, or at least understand why I love it so much.
And the Bible does not present us with a simple God. Yes, God is masculine; surely, Jesus was male. But God is also a nursing mother (Isa 49:15), creation is an act of birth (Job 38:8), God is the mother of a toddler (Hosea 11:3-4), God comforts as a mother (Isa 66:13), God is a woman in labor (Isa 42:14), and God is the mother of the house of Jacob (Isa 46:3).
But where I get frustrated is when we think that the tension is only about God as masculine or feminine. Because God is also a mother hen (Mt 23:37 and Lk 13:34), a rock (Dt 32:18), a bear (Hosea 13:8), a lion (Hosea 5:14), an eagle (Dt 32:11), a refuge and a fortress (Ps 91). And of course Exodus is resplendent with God as a burning bush, a cloud, and a pillar of fire. All things that are not so human, much like God.
I take it seriously when I read that we were all created male and female in the image of a God who is masculine and feminine and so much more. So I wonder, what if the Church stopped worrying so much about being masculine or feminine, and remembered to concentrate on being Divine?
I believe, I have seen, that when we are a Divine Church, the gender of who preaches or teaches matters less, because there is space for the masculine and feminine and everything else Divine.
I believe that the products of my ministry are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). Not because my ministry is more feminine than masculine or, as some have told me, that my ministry isn’t that feminine, but because I try to make sure that God is at the center of all I do. Which leaves space for the masculine, the feminine, and everything else Divine.
(My thanks to Rachel Held Evans for the sideways inspiration for this. She asked for posts celebrating the feminine images of God, which is not quite what I did. Rachel’s post is here and the collection of everyone’s contributions can be found in the comments here.)