Vinoth Ramachandra

Leadership and Integrity

Posted on: May 28, 2012

The risen Christ revealed himself first to a woman, Mary Magdalene. Considering that a woman’s testimony was discounted in a Jewish court of law, this in itself weighs against the charge that the post-Easter accounts were fabricated by the Jerusalem church which was predominantly Jewish. Further, Mary is commissioned by the risen Christ to share this news with the rest of the disciple-community. This makes her the first of the apostles (by customary apostolic criteria). Isn’t this just one of the many ways the Gospel subverts the values and practices of the world?

How tragic, then, that this egalitarian, socially subversive movement centred on the worship of a crucified Jew so quickly morphed into yet another “religion”, with all the conventional religious trappings including a professional male priesthood, a two-tier spirituality and sacred buildings. This was the first betrayal of the gospel by the church, and it continues to the present day.

Traditional Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches  have taught an ontological, as opposed to a functional, understanding of priesthood that is closely linked to their view of the Eucharist. The maleness of Jesus is then given priority in a process of reasoning unconvincing to the rest of us. But, at least, it is practised consistently.

What is more remarkable, however, is the way several (but not all) self-styled “conservative evangelicals” pay lip-service to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers while reserving pastoral leadership to males. Clericalism is rife in these circles, perhaps more so than in RC churches. Gifted, highly educated women in the congregation can be professors in universities and seminaries, politicians, business CEOs, doctors, lawyers, judges, and so on. But they cannot be ordained as priests/pastors, and some churches even refuse to let them into the pulpit.

This inconsistent behaviour is justified on the grounds of being faithful to a “creation principle”, and this in turn is deduced from two of the most obscure verses in the apostle Paul’s letters (1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Cor.14:34). They are obscure because, if taken as timeless instructions, they not only contradict other sayings in the same letters in which they appear but also the apostle’s and the early churches’ actual practice (see, e.g., Romans 16). While plausible explanations of these verses are readily found in the scholarly commentaries, nobody knows for sure what historical circumstances lie behind the apostolic instructions. (The injunctions to women to “listen and learn” in both texts seem to indicate a situation of ignorance, arrogance or both.)

In the face of such interpretive difficulties, a responsible hermeneutic works with what is clear in Scripture, and suspends judgment on what is obscure. So, it is ironic, not to say tragic, that those who are most vocal about “living under biblical authority” should chose to exclude over half of the church’s membership from ever exercising their leadership gifts simply because of their gender- and to do so on the basis of two of the least understood verses in the canon of Scripture!

Moreover, if one sincerely believes that these texts teach an eternal “creation order” or “creation principle”, then one cannot limit their application to positions and roles within the church. They apply to all of creational life. Christian women should be forbidden any such leadership roles in society, and Christian men taught that they should not submit to female authority in their workplaces.

However, consistency is not what the church has been noted for throughout its history. Traditional apologetics has been an all-male affair, and targeted at males. Women and others on the social margins have been more aware of the mismatch between the church’s proclamation and its internal practices; and this has been the biggest obstacle to faith, not arguments drawn from science or philosophy.

I am amazed at the patience shown by many intelligent women in male-led churches. Some, of course, vote with their feet and join other local churches or leave the church altogether. Some remain but find their fulfilment ministering in secular occupations and parachurch organizations. But there also large numbers of women who have been socialized from a young age into accepting as “biblical” their exclusion from leadership and preaching. They are among the fiercest defenders of the status quo. You will not find many intelligent converts from non-Christian backgrounds among them.

Differences between men and women do not translate into different “roles”, but different ways of performing the same tasks. Contrary to popular opinion, nowhere does the Bible prescribe timeless, trans-cultural male and female “roles”. Nor does it envisage a one-man model of church leadership. Those “conservative evangelicals” who take these practices for granted show just how selectively they read their Bibles. None of the lists of spiritual gifts that Paul gives in various letters are gender-specific. If the Holy Spirit has gifted certain women with gifts of preaching or leadership, clearly He expects them to use them for the good of us all. As long as we suppress those gifts, we deprive ourselves of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and deny His universality.

Some male clergy/pastors who accept the above arguments still prefer to wrong the women in their congregations rather than offend a few vocal males, and especially male colleagues in other churches whose approval they fear losing. Churches ruled by the politics of fear and shame are loveless places, desperate for Christ-like leadership.

47 Responses to "Leadership and Integrity"

Yes, most of us read what our glasses are telling us to see. A closer look at these glasses is needed. Thanks for doing it for us!

I’m afraid there are far too many sweeping generalisations, caricatures and untruths for this post to be helpful to anyone who doesn’t agree with you. It’s polemical tone and unkind claims won’t help those who do.

Not all the churches with male leadership are ‘ruled by fear and shame’ nor are they ‘desperate for Christ-like leadership’ as if there was none. The claim that ‘You will not find many intelligent converts from non-Christian backgrounds among them’ is so far from the truth and so easily proven otherwise, as to be just a little silly. And you do a disservice to many women by assuming they have been socialised into accepting this while of course those who agree with you haven’t been ‘socialised’ into that at all! That claim works both ways.

I’ve come to expect much higher standards in your writing and this was disappointing.

“Contrary to popular opinion, nowhere does the Bible prescribe timeless, trans-cultural male and female “roles”.” – umm … you’re simply wrong in this statement. Fatherhood and motherhood are timeless, trans-cultural AND definitely gender based roles.

Brain, certainly fatherhood and motherhood as biological acts are gender based. The “roles”, though, as social constructs of behavior, rights and obligation, vary from culture to culture. Check definitions.

And in the same way, I’d suggest simplepastor might read more closely. The “fear and shame” is attributed to those who hold the line on silent women rather than face powerful male voices who would object to a different interpretation. And the “not many intelligent converts” refers to female converts who embrace and affirm the idea that they should remain silent. Certainly there are women who come to Christ through churches that limit their role and use of gifts, but I have yet to meet one who didn’t feel deep sadness that the freedom offered was so quickly taken away.

I have seen women leave the church, or find themselves estranged from the church, because they feel dismissed, slighted, and given tragically mixed messages. Are they to use the gifts they’ve been given, or are they to be silent? Are they to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, or are they to ask their husband’s permission? I have seen young women who grew up in churches that affirmed their gifts walk away when they began to hear from young men they were dating that, by virtue of gender, they needed to take a subordinate role.

Thank you, Vinoth, for speaking about the priiesthood of believers. Either we believe that, or we don’t. To affirm the idea, then qualify it in practice until we’re back to a small, privileged elite, is hypocritical, and finally destructive to the witness of the church.

Just to pick up on one point, where you write “pay lip-service to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers while reserving pastoral leadership to males”, you might not agree with evangelicals but you can’t make that particular charge of inconsistency stick when evangelicals have never equated priesthood with pastoral leadership in the first place. Priesthood of all believers is about all believers having direct access to God without needing an earthly mediator, ultimately of course through Jesus the great high priest. Even though the Bible links believers’ priesthood with their declaring God’s praises (1 Peter 2:9), this clearly has to be understood as referring to their individual witness and not to formal preaching roles: the latter interpretation would include only a small minority of believers, regardless of any issues of gender.

“Simplepastor”: I think Carol Kuniholm has answered you far better than I could have done. Please do attend to the whole paragraphs in which the sentences you quote are located. (I fear that this way of reading texts is largely responsible for the “anti-women’s ordination” position in the church). If you are not one of those leaders who are more concerned about offending male colleagues than continuing the humiliation felt by many women, well and good. And I would love to be introduced to intelligent women converts who hold the same views as you do.

Alan, you are technically quite correct. But, in practice, Reformation pastors have perpetuated a two-tier view of the church that is little different from their medieval forebears. If women cannot study or teach the Bible to men, or preside at the Lord’s Supper, then their access to God’s word has to be mediated by males. (If the reason was lack of education, as it was in earlier ages, that is understandable. Today it is meaningless).

At least some popes in medieval times consulted women mystics (e.g. Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of sienna) for their spiritual wisdom. I doubt if that is much practised in the “male-only” Protestant circles of today.

12 apostles (actually 13) and no women???

Tim and Kathy Keller left the PCUSA because both of them changed their views on female ordination. Kathy was pursuing her vocation when she changed her mind. At the presbytery meeting where she announced her decision she was booed by the majority of 350 pastors who were there.

I want to add that i’m on the fence on this issue. The majority of the points you make above i agree with. I am in a denomination that has women as leaders and i have no problem with it. However i am not nearly as convinced as you are that the bibles witness is so clear.

I am glad that the likes of yourself is weighing in on this issue as i see that points of contention are getting closer readings than previously. Certainly evangelicals are guilt of plenty of thin analysis of the text, alot of the their reasoning comes out of Gen 3 and the fall as opposed to a much firmer line of thinking coming out of creation or worse its thinly disguised cultural and local-specific traditions dressed up as doctrine.

No intelligent women from non-Christian backgrounds who have converted to the faith are among those women (and others) who embrace a conservative viewpoint regarding womanhood and the church? Sweeping generalization if I ever heard one and loveless as well.

I just wanted to say thanks for this post….my wife has been training to be a minister here in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland so these thoughts are never far from my mind.
In my experience it’s not so much what is said than what is unsaid. Some people are vocally against women in leadership so they are obviously not going to encourage women as leaders….but at least you know where you stand with them.
Others who sit on the fence or see it as a grey area (like my friend Richard) are unlikely to be encouraging to women as they’re not sure if they should be a minister or leader in the first place. They mightn’t have a problem with it but at the same time they are unlikely to go out of their way to be encouraging to what has been a minority group in our church.
In a way I find that more discouraging…..a young , Holy Spirit gifted male in a congregation is more likely to be recognised and encouraged to become a pastor while that’s much less likely to happen to a young, Holy Spirit gifted female…..anyway, thanks again

Vinoth – This post is not helpful, as yours often are, but based more upon polemics rather than a well-reasoned case from the Bible. There’s nothing here that isn’t ably addressed by every decent defense of ‘complementarianism’ (or whatever you want to call it). The views expressed here are enslaved to the spirit of our modernist age.

If in society and in the church men and women are completely interchangeable, then why not marriage, too? In my view, the defense of the ‘normalization’ of homosexuality is just as strong as the defense you made here for ‘egalitarianism’ (or whatever you want to call it). What are your views on that controversial subject?

Reed, there are several “well-reasoned arguments” in my post, but you choose to ignore them, probably because they are uncomfortable.Why don’t you please address them- especially the charge of inconsistency and double standards?

Of course I am polemical- so was Jesus, so was Paul, so was every leader in history who spoke out against injustice and hypocrisy. The reason you and others are angry at what I’ve written is because you don’t belong to people who have been humiliated and wronged by the abuse of the Bible. And you don’t seem to be able to enter imaginatively into their situation. That is probably why you don’t find this post “helpful”.

Also, your invoking of homosexuality is a typical red herring in this debate. These are two completely different issues, and to evade the force of my argument by trying to say that it applies to condoning homosexual ordination is as flawed logically as it is mischievous. Arguing that all Christians be encouraged to exercise their God-given spiritual gifts is not the same as arguing that all be allowed to practice their sexual desires. Isn’t it? (In any case, I refuse to put identity-labels on people based on their sexual orientation.)

Richard, there is NO “sitting on the fence” on this issue. As I point out in my post, if you believe in a biblical “creation principle” that excludes women from leading or teaching men, you have to apply it universally or else admit inconsistency and hypocrisy. It is the way this so-called “creation principle” is applied selectively in the church that needs to be confronted. I think I have made this very clear in my post.

Reed, in your defense according to the definition of “red herring” — I do not think you committed this fallacy. Furthermore … why can´t there be “sitting on the fence” as far as this issue is concerned? Don´t people have the right to not be at the level of biblical interpretation that you claim to be at? Don´t people have the right to still be in a decision making mode? Finally … saying there are no educated women from a non-Christian background who have converted to the faith who have also embraced a conservative worldview regarding this topic, is just as demeaning as not allowing women to use their God-given spiritual gifts in all areas of church life — something you are arguing in this post. Are you never wrong Vinoth???????

In my opinion and experience “sitting on the fence” behavior is silent consent. It is seen as a neutral stance, but in fact it fails to reduce injustice. People forget they have a voice in these matters and we, me included, often forget the consequence of our “neutral” behavior. Regarding your last point, I do not see the relevance of Vinoth being right or wrong. Think about what is being said and do the necessary research if you have your doubts. Correct wrong statements with profound arguments, that would be helpful for all of us.

Thanks Vinoth. Very helpful post. Got to love the “righteous anger” of those who have not been humiliated and wronged by the abuse of the Bible nor can for the life of them reflect on the damage oppressive patriarchy has had on so many women down the centuries.

Thanks for the comment Benjamin. I have done the research and I see no reason to drag it up on this blog spot. I believe it´s a safe assumption that most who are reading this blog are familar with the conservative argument. Once again … as I have said before … it´s all a matter of which biblical hermeneutics one subscribes to. Vinoth and his camp have their methods and arguments … so do others. This argument will not be settled in our lifetime I do not think. My main purpose for posting was to bring out the inconsistency of Vinoth´s statement regarding non-Christian women who have converted to the faith and who also embrace the conservative argument. If you read my above post(s) you´ll see what I mean. My comment regarding “being right” was simply that from my standpoint it seems that Vinoth comes across as someone who knows everything and gets upset when people do not agree with him. Finally … as I have said before as well … there seems to be a lack of love around this blog spot … yet it claims to be voicing Kingdom values. Change your attitude(s) … THAT would be helpful for all of us. Peace out ….

I don’t see your point, why ask others to give arguments to support their statement while you do not want to give any yourself? It is far to easy to stop every discussion by saying there are other people with different opinions because there are different hermeneutics. In what way is this helpful? I am sincerely interested in your arguments, so please provide some. This would also support your issue of what you call ‘inconsistency’.
Regarding the final issue you raise about lack of love, I experience the opposite actually. I thank God this blog makes clear love is much more than a cozy atmosphere. I doubt whether Vinoth is upset when people do not agree with him, but I could understand it. People like you neglect and ignore the message without giving any solid reasons. This results in an ongoing submission of gifted women in church and that is problematic, or do you think otherwise? (and why?)

Thanks Benjamin. It may be far too easy to stop a discussion, but the truth of the matter remains — different interpretations yield different intellectual conclusions. Are you really interested in my argument(s)? I doubt it. Have a wonderful evening, day, whatever ….

Oh yes … one more thing … let us love one another.

In as far as I possibly may can I humbly suggest that you read more of the conservative positions view on this issue. The wording of your initial post seems to indicate that you think it is self-evident that complementarians who rely on a creation-principle have not thought true an obvious implication of their stance. It is somewhat naïve to think that complementarians have not got an answer to the question of why women are not allowed to be in authority over men in ministry but are allowed in other areas of life. Tim Keller’s paper on this is a good one. (Briefly he suggests headship is for spiritual matters and that other areas of life are not ruled by this law) lease do not respond to this with another “ what about this obvious flaw” type response as I can assure you that there is at least an answer for it. Whether you agree with it or not is a different thing.

Secondly as you often ask others I will ask you to read my comment again. Nowhere did I suggest that I agree with the creation principle reasoning only that it is much firmer than taking one’s complementarianism from the fall.

I am on the fence for the simple reason that I find the practice of egalitarians to be overwhelmingly more satisfying but I do not see their reasoning from scripture as satisfying. I can speak to Dave on my own but for the record I only last week encouraged all of our teenagers to take their college years to asses whether they might be called to ministry. That youth group was split between the genders.

I have religiously read everything that you have written on this blog and I’m working my through “God’s that fail” – i have learned much. I have likewise enjoyed when you skewer conservatives who clearly haven’t understood their own position not to mind what you have just said. In this instance I think it is you who should examine his own position.

The arguments against female participation in specific areas of ministry reveal an ethic of ‘privilege’, something which is antithetical to the gospel in every dimension.
Not just that males are privileged over females, but teaching and leadership offices in the church are privileged over lay ministry, word ministry is privileged over action or compassion, institution is privileged over community, teaching and leadership are privileged over the prophetic, order is privileged over organic, status is privileged over serving, ownership (as in ‘having a gift’) over kenosis (giving in service of others), individualism over communal, adult is privileged over child, ‘headship’ is privileged over ‘bodyship’.
I note that the neo-complimentarianismus is considerably driven by males who are pastors of very large congregations. It seems that ‘size’ is an controlling construct as well.
For this follower of Jesus, it is frustrating and bemusing that there are men (and women too) for whom these structures and ‘orders’ are so constructive of ‘life in Christ’. It is so difficult to determine the correlation between these claims and the cruciform life of Christ, and the call to imitate it, that I can barely see such debates as belonging in the gospel community at all. Furthermore, they are debates that don’t belong – and frankly don’t get much traction – outside the church. Beyond the self-referential cultural microcosm of individual introspection that we know as reformation christendom, grace, mission and reconciliation are the currency of exchange. The church is probably beyond redemption on this issue. But such claims matter only to those who buy into its orders. I am not naive about the oppression of women in such systems; despite serving in pastoral ministry roles for over a decade, and despite being a doctoral student in New Testament, I am not welcome to preach or teach formally in my own congregation. Nevertheless, as a woman with teaching and prophetic gifts, I freely exercise those where it really matters…missionally, and among the young. Those outside or on the margins of faith, and those outside or marginalised by privilege seem unperturbed by my gender. The call to exercise the gifts of the Spirit takes me in the opposite direction, away from an institution which has amassed property and capital and developed its own hierarchies of power. Convincing men that women are full and equal participants in the graces of the spirit is not only futile, but simply reinscribes the male sense that they are the authenticators and gatekeepers. My question to the Driscolls and Grudems, Pipers and Jensens is not ‘when will you let women join you in power?’ but ‘when will you join in the kenosis of Jesus?’

Beth, I was part of a church that allowed female missionaries to plant churches on other continents, but not teach Bible studies with men in attendance, or speak from the pulpit when home on furlough. Even as a child, I knew there was something very wrong there –

Here’s the important point Vinoth makes so well: “In the face of such interpretive difficulties, a responsible hermeneutic works with what is clear in Scripture, and suspends judgment on what is obscure. So, it is ironic, not to say tragic, that those who are most vocal about “living under biblical authority” should chose to exclude over half of the church’s membership from ever exercising their leadership gifts simply because of their gender- and to do so on the basis of two of the least understood verses in the canon of Scripture!”

I’ve always wondered – should I (as a woman) interpret scripture in the light of those few passages that suggest I should be silent, or interpret those passages in the light of the rest of scripture? When Jesus says those who believe in him will be like him, and do the things he did, did he mean that? Or do I go back, review what’s allowed, then go reinterpret what he said? When I read accounts of Deborah, or Abigail, or Esther, should I see them as courageous truth-tellers, obedient to God’s leading, or first go check the church’s position on women, and put those noteworthy women in the “bad example” category? Trust me, I’ve been wrestling with just these questions since I was given my first Bible in third grade, almost fifty years ago.

For most men, this is an interesting theological discussion. For women, this is a consistent practical challenge and ongoing hermeneutical dilemma: do I obey God’s calling, or follow the rules of men? How do I interpret passages that seem to speak to all, yet contradict the directives limiting the ministry or activity of women?

Here’s a challenge for all who are sitting on the fence, or holding fast to their ideas of women’s submission: practice it for a year yourself. Defer, be silent, submit. Jesus demonstrated his love for us by becoming like us and setting aside his privilege. He invites husbands to do the same for their wives, and leaders to do the same for the church. I sometimes wonder, what would the church be like, if our leaders stopped thinking about the role of women and spent more time trying to follow Jesus’ example?

Richard, the issue is not whether I (or anybody else) understands the conservative position(s). Rather, the issue my Blog post is raising is whether those who hold to these positions practice them consistently. That is why I have entitled it “Leadership and Integrity”. I think I have made it clear that I respect those who hold positions that are theologically consistent (e.g RC priests) and also practice them across the board.

I don’t know why you keep bringing up Tim Keller. If you’ve represented his argument accurately (I have not read it), then I am, quite frankly, appalled by it. It only seems to confirm what I call a lack of integrity both in the way pastors who claim a high view of Scripture actually reason from Scripture as well as in the contradictory way their churches practise their views.

If you are not impressed by egalitarian arguments, fine. I would be interested to know what you think is a good argument by conservatives (e.g. are you yourself convinced by those who separate “spiritual matters” from other, presumably “non-spiritual”, areas of life; or taking texts about “headship” from other biblical contexts and applying them to women preaching?).

I have deliberately steered away from commenting on the only apparently anti-egalitarian texts (just two verses!) in the New Testament, though mentioning them. This is because I wanted to focus attention on the integrity of our hermeneutical practices as well as on the inconsistent application of conservative positions that women continue to suffer from. Beth Barnet and Carol Kuniholm give excellent examples of the latter. They also remind us that these are “theoretical” issues only for privileged males who like to think that we are “neutral” or “well-balanced” in our theology.

Beth and Carol: You have both opened my eyes to a number of other issues that should never be divorced from discussions about women’s ordination. For instance, issues of wealth and power (it is predominantly affluent churches who perpetuate male-only views), racism (when women can only go abroad and teach the Bible to foreigners), and the contradiction between the Reformation re-discovery of God’s mission in the world and the privileging of one-man clerical positions in the church.

You are, in your thoughtful posts, demonstrating to us males what we have lost – and are losing- in not having people like you teaching us on a regular basis in our local churches.

I am very thankful for this post from Vinoth, and very glad to have read through the comments, especially to get to Beth’s. Others have made very valuable comments, but now Beth has given me a whole lot more to think about in light of the “socially subversive movement centred on the worship of a crucified Jew” that I claim to be a part of. My “Christian” culture has certainly blunted a lot of my perspective. I will come back and read Beth’s comment again in order to try to think through these things further.

Thank you!

Once again i think its apparent that you really haven’t engaged sufficiently with the conservative position. Regardless of whether that is your point or not!! You represent them as inconsistent in their application of their complementarianism and that this inconsistency is self-evident. Perhaps you might ask yourself if it is so self-evident then what do they say to themselves when this inconsistency is presented to them or do your think that not only do they lack integrity but that they are also raging idiots!!

I mentioned Kathy because she is an intelligent woman who changed her mind to the complementarian view. I find Tim to be a paragon of integrity, if anyone would be open to admitting that his position was inconsistent it would be him- but i dont see it.

For the record I find that the complementarian arguments that ground a limiting of what women can do in the relationship between the Son and the Father as “plausible”. The experiences listed by you Carol and Beth shake that “plausibility”.

That there were only 12 apostles is a huge misunderstanding. The NT names at least 18, and women are found among them.

That priesthood refers only to our access to the Father is also an other huge misunderstanding. The OT priesthood was a teaching ministry, but so is the NT – in the NT, once a disciple has become a master, she can make disciples herself. Disciples are made through teaching.

Here’s what this issue really comes down to: The early church adopted the Roman concept that it was always the woman’s fault (Greeks thought women were too weak to be faulted), hence the concept of Eve’s sole guilt; Adam was considered innocent. Thus we find that in the Vulgate, Jerome changed the meaning of Genesis 3.16, making it a commandment of God instead of a consequence of sin. In the Vulgate, the text reads, “Under the man’s authority will you be, and he shall rule over you.” The Vulgate was the only Bible available for a thousand years, until the Reformation, In the thirteenth century we find Thomas Aquinas synthesizing Aristotle’s philosophy with medieval theology. In his Summa Theologica, he asks the question: why was the woman created before sin, since her subjection began after sin? He answer the question with a twofold subjection: the woman is created subject, because she lacks the man’s reason (Aristotle’s concept), and she was punished with subjection, because of Eve’s sole guilt. Theologians upheld this twofold subjection for 700 years, until it was successfully challenged in the 1970s. In 1980s Genesis 3.16 was returned to a consequence of sin – the creation based subjection was retained, which caused quite the headache for theologians, for how were they now supposed to understand Genesis 3.16? They changed the meaning to the woman being the one desiring to control the man, as found in the footnotes of the Living Bible.

From my book, “Intelligent Submission & Other Ways of Feminine Wisdom.”

“How many times can a verse be changed in Bible translations before anyone notices that something fishy is going on? Is it possible to do it, say, nine times over the course of sixteen centuries? Yes, it actually is. Genesis 3.16 has been changed numerous times over the centuries. With every major change in theology, this one verse has been changed in both wording and meaning. But why this particular verse of all the verses in the Bible? Because it is the only verse in the Bible that talks about the man’s rule.

The first change was made by Jerome in the beginning of the fifth century in his newly created Latin translation. Instead of providing a literal translation, he decided to express the meaning of the verse as the patristic church understood it. In the Vulgate, Genesis 3.16 tells us that the woman was placed under the man’s authority for Jerome thought the verse said God caused the woman to turn to the man as a punishment for her sin. For about a thousand years, the Latin translation was the only one available. When the reformers decided to rid themselves of the obsolete language in favor of languages actually spoken by the people, the meaning of the verse was changed again. The German reformer, Luther, changed Jerome’s paraphrase with a small addition of his own: he added the word “will” to the text making the woman’s will subject to the man as a punishment for her sin; Calvin agreed with Luther for he thought the verse said the woman would desire only that which the husband wished, as her punishment was servile subjection. The creators of the Geneva Bible decided that it was the woman’s desire that was subject to the man while Luther’s English contemporary Myles Coverdale chose the word “lust,” making the woman literally lust after the man. The King James Version scholars must have felt uneasy about using such a crude word for they chose the more polished word “desire,” setting precedence for four centuries of translations. A deviation from the norm – and the Septuagint itself – is found in the nineteenth-century English translation of the Greek Septuagint in which the woman’s submission is said to be to her husband. The latest change, made at the end of the twentieth century, is found in the footnotes of The New Living Translation: the desire is now understood to be the woman’s desire to control the man.”

Now that we have retained Thomas’s change of Genesis 2, BUT we have lost the concept of the inferior woman, our theologians have a hard time arguing for creation-based authority, for all authority was given as a result of sin. We are told that the man was given authority to end disputes in case of an impasse. But why would God do such a thing? Did Adam and Eve argue in the garden before sin? And why is only the man allowed to teach? Luther thought the man was given the governance of the church at the moment when God came looking for the humans he had created. If that’s the case, God gave the governance of the church to a man whose soul was dead, for that was also the moment Luther said the human soul died, and was not revived until the punishment was transferred to the body at Genesis 3.16 and on.

Church history shows clearly that the earliest church believed in equality. Clement of Rome, an apostolic father, wrote about mutual subjection within the body of Christ. It is a tragedy that the modern church follows Rome more than Christ, something the first saints adamantly refused to do.

If I may add one more thing… I find this argument about homosexuality quite the ruse, for one could also argue against equality using singleness as a “waterproof argument.” Didn’t God say “multiple”? Isn’t singleness an affront to the command to multiply, wherefore single people shouldn’t exist? Yet, Paul said it is better to not to marry. Maybe there are more layers than just the surface. Isn’t that why we study?

Reblogged this on multivocality.

The style of these exchanges is fairly typical. We have women giving thoughtful arguments as well as sharing from their (often painful) personal experiences of church life. Most of the men (but, thankfully not all) ignore the arguments and can only protest loundly and angrily at the ‘tone’ of others. They descend to personalities and don’t give counter-arguments.

We also find men like Matthew who cry out ‘love one another’ while himself posting rude comments and backing off when he is challenged to explain what he means.

Men, we do expect something better…

May I ask what comments you thought were rude? I am backing off because I don´t think this conversation can go anywhere anymore. People far more knowledgeable than me have written countless arguments in support of the conservative position with regards to this topic. Nevertheless … I also appreciate the arguments that are being made on this blog in favor of women´s rights within the church. However — and I will say it once again — my main motivation for posting was to proclaim my dislike of Vinoth´s claim. He said that there are no intelligent women who were non-Christians and who have since converted who have also embraced the conservative view of womanhood and the church. To me … that statement is a sweeping generalization and also as unloving as saying that women are not equal in church circles. I believe Richard mentioned Kathy Keller. I have met her personally and have heard her speak. She seems intelligent to me, yet she has also changed her view regarding women, the church, equality, etc. If you are bothered by what I said (or am saying) … I do apologize.

You make personal criticisms of Vinoth (see comment 16) instead of engaging with the main ideas in his posts. You then question Benjamin’s sincerity when he asks you to explain yourself (comment 18). Do you actually know either of these people?

And you repeatedly misrepresent what Vinoth wrote – turning his “Not many women…” into “No women…”.

In future, I suggest that you read carefully what people actually say before you rush to criticise. That would be an expression of love.

No need to reply me on this. (If you know Vinoth and Benjamin concerned, I suggest you apologise to them personally.)

for example of lack of integrity in this issue I really struggle with ‘The Gospel Coalition’….there are over 50+ leaders on their council (including Tim Keller) and not one single woman…not one…they’re obviously excluded because it’s unbiblical or whatever.

as far as I’m concerned there is no integrity and as a Christian it deeply offends me. Do male American pastors hold the keys to the true Gospel or something.?..apparently so

Apologies to everyone offended. Nevertheless … “not many women” or “no women” — either way it´s still an unloving comment that I am nearly certain would be upseting toward intelligent women who subscribes to the more conservative viewpoint — including Kathy Keller.

Matthew, you still haven’t bothered to go back and read what Vinoth said: “I am amazed at the patience shown by many intelligent women in male-led churches. Some, of course, vote with their feet and join other local churches or leave the church altogether. Some remain but find their fulfilment ministering in secular occupations and parachurch organizations. But there also large numbers of women who have been socialized from a young age into accepting as “biblical” their exclusion from leadership and preaching. They are among the fiercest defenders of the status quo. You will not find many intelligent converts from non-Christian backgrounds among them.”

I don’t know Kathy Keller personally, but I do know that she met her husband at seminary, and that he then went on to teach at Westminster, where she would have been surrounded by men and women who hold strongly to the exclusion of women. The question isn’t about concurrence from women socialized in that theology; it’s that women from other backgrounds find themselves saddened to discover that life in the church is more constricted, and far less affirming, than life outside. One friend – who came to Christ in her twenties and has struggled for decades to understand her second-class role in the church and her marriage – not long ago confessed that she hasn’t been to church in three years. Not because she is no longer a Christian, but she realized one day that she felt more alone, and less valued, in church than anywhere else. She walked out mid service, and hasn’t been back. No one followed her to find out why she was leaving, no one ever called to see how she was.

Spend some time surfing blogs by women believers, and you’ll find a disturbing number written by women who have left the church, or who have gone underground: they are finding online a place to share gifts that their local churches have suppressed. God will use those gifts, but what a shame that their local churches miss the benefit of their voices.

Hierarchical men won’t change their tone until there are no women left in the church. Due to their belief that they have a God-given right to rule over women, they expect to be obeyed; disobedience is considered an affront, deserving only belittling and scorn.

Susanna, I long for a day when there are no women left in the church, and no men either, but that the church is devulged into communities of collaboration for the gospel in which all use whatever of their gifts are needful in the mission of God in the world. One of the problems here is not just men holding on to the preaching – but that we are holding on to that rhetorical, mono directional, status enhancing form in preaching at all! Sure we realise the world will not be saved by a form that is now mostly used by politicians and dodgy used car salesmen!

I live in a country a long way from both the US and Europe geographically, politically and culturally, especially in regards to Christendom. I live in a post-christendom, post colonial, post-analogical culture. Questions of who has power in the church is a sideline issue to any genuine transformative gospel engagement with our culture.

In the quaint schoolyard vernacular of my childhood, we would remind a kid that they were “a legend in their own lunch box”. I’m not sure how that parses cross-culturally, but the sense of it is that a person created their own small circle of supporters and then acted as if they had universal greatness or appeal. As you speak of Tim and Kathy Keller, this is the phrase that comes to mind, not that Tim or Kathy think too highly of themselves (they do seem paragons of virtue and humility), but that they are ‘figures’ to only a small sector of world culture. So whatever their position is, to the average bloke on the street here, they are ‘legends in their own lunchbox’ and those who look to them simply ‘live in a lunchbox’. Using them as examples also privileges a western christendom cultural dominance, a currency that trades at such an exorbitant exchange rate, costing our personhood so much, that it is resented highly here.

The question of who has power in the church is of such little consequence to the neighbours, colleagues, and the broader public whom the gospel community of Jesus is called to love and serve in justice, action and truth telling, including the unparalleled proclamation that Jesus is Lord. If those neighbours, colleagues and the broader public in my city and nation are going to become disciples of Jesus, I doubt that the church which wants to make power and control a structural determinant, proclaim men as exclusive leaders and humanity as ‘complimentarian’ will be a place that can receive them.
Where the Spirit is at work in the world, new communities of justice and reconciliation in which the weak, despised, the foolish and frail will be formed and transform the world around them.
If we are arguing about power and control, surely its a sign that the kingdom of God is suppressed among us.
Amongst disciples who were contesting greatness, Jesus placed a child, in their midst, as a sign of the kingdom.
One of the tests then for such arguments might be to ask if a child (any child, but lets take a random sample from the brothels of the Philippines, were present among us) would we consider a church in which all of the teaching and decision making was carried out by western men in business suits an appropriate expression of the gospel?

Thank God for all the brave and wise women who have commented above. I was getting seriously depressed coming to this blog and having to read the inane, ill-informed twaddle of the male defenders of the status quo. Thanks heaps for sharing your stories and insights ladies!

Beth, I agree fully with what you wrote. The two years I didn’t go to church were the best years of my life in many ways. No guilt, no endless lukewarm sermons on the same subject week after week, no feelings of inferiority, no loud off key music and bad coffee. Instead, I read every book I got my hands on, and thought about God and what God was like. As a result I wrote my first book. Our churches are like the Colosseum: used seldom and only for entertainment; the real business of life is lived elsewhere, where real Christians spread the Good News about a God who lives and loves.

Thanks Rob.

Often when Vinoth writes on churchy issues, I just let others engage with these issues. There are usually lot and lots of comments on this kind of ‘churchy’ in-house topics. But when Vinoth writes about issues like global tax justice or the hypocrisy of Western government’s policies in relation the Middle East there is a lower level of enthusiasm for engagement. Glad I read through all the comments. I just want to say thank you so much to Beth, Susanna and Carol for your thoughful and profound comments. Deeply moved by what you have written. Will re-read them again. To the men who have disagreed so much with what Vinoth has written, please do read woman writers like Elizabeth A. Johnson, Grace Jantzen or Dorothee Sölle (just to mention a few writers) to better understand the issues discussed above.

[…] Vinoth’s blog is as ever, is worth reading, especially if you are one of those lamentable Christians who hasn’t yet decided whether the Holy Spirit has the skills to actually make a woman fit to lead other Christians. […]

Thanks Kevin. You observe well. And I would add…Often, where women are welcome in theological and ecclesial discussion, the invitation is framed something like this:

“[Beth] we really value diversity in our conversation, so we are glad to have your voice here. Now, here are the conventions of style and argumentation that we will accept. Please make yourself conform to these, so you sound like us. In no way are you to challenge the actual terms of engagement that we have set or re-frame the dimensions discussion, as that will upset the dynamics of power. You can contribute your diversity, as long as it doesn’t actually offer any diversity. If you give your message in the medium we accept you can say whatever you like.”
– this is the safety wall that suppresses alternative ideas, because as we all know, the medium is the message. If you control the medium, the way the conversation is conducted, you also control the message.

An example of this in my tradition is that Baptist churches make decisions as congregations, but these decision making spaces are run on the ‘business meeting’ model. Consequently, our churches are money-bound, constantly re-affirm the conservative capitalist values of business and have deteriorated into a christian-as-consumer service provider model. They lack the capacity to re-orientate their funds towards anything other than self perpetuation and ‘growth’. The mode of how all our discussions are conducted presupposes these values. It is possible to speak prophetically in these meetings, but it does not fit the flow of business so cannot bring change.

Brilliant blog, and thought-provoking comments underneath from the women. Thank you.

Terrific! Love the insight!

I would like to ask Vinoth and those who are more or less opposing his thoughts (those conservative evangelicals…..), to write something as if you agree with for example complementarism (my question to Vinoth) or egalitarianism (my question to many men who more or less opposed Vinoth’s ideas). Like the philosopher Sören Kierkegaard often did: stepped outside of his own pathway of thought. I am sitting on the fence and such and excercise would probably pull me over to one side finally!! Help me out!

Wow. The comments from the women are absolutely refreshing and brilliant! Yes, we need more of that flavor& flair in the church!! Thank you. And thanks Vinoth for this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s



May 2012
%d bloggers like this: