Let’s re-state the stakes: Christianity is the West a powerful force. It is often a force antithetical to full equality of women with men. Lamenting that is useless; trying to ignore, change, or breed contempt for Christianity is also useless and often counter-productive. Feminists, whatever their beliefs, should hunker down and pay attention, not to the weeds of inequality, but to one of the big roots: stupid interpretations of the Bible. -This series, then, is not so much meant to delve into the details of each argument -of which there are very, very many – but to give feminists some knowledge of debates that influence feminism’s progress, but which feminists don’t usually talk about.
In Part 1, we looked briefly at Phoebe, the woman minister that Paul spoke of with approval. Little attempts to shrug this off by huffing that Paul does not “use diakonos in conjunction with words which connote greatness or divinity” (Silent Women), as if not being maybe the world’s greatest minister meant that one isn’t a minister at all, are patently stupid and self-serving.
In Part 2, New Feminist takes on the famous dictum of Paul that women shouldn’t teach, or speak in church. How can these two statements be reconciled with each other, and how can the second be reconciled with Paul’s firm statement that there is “neither woman nor man … you are all one in Christ”?
Craig Keener in Paul, Women, and Wives -among others – argues that Paul’s concern was over women’s ignorance; not being allowed access to the Torah (if Jewish) or to read at all (if, well, alive back then), women were hardly equipped to talk without interrupting the service, let alone teach. In other words, Paul is talking about how to handle a local situation – the man is writing a letter, after all, not a gospel. This fact does raise a problem for some, however: “If this … was what Paul was referring to, who could imagine that Paul would not choose words that would allow us to know what he really meant?” (Silent Women). (Yes, it is puzzling that Paul expected us to be able to think … in retrospect, Paul’s biggest mistake.) As Keener points out, the clue here is in the fact that after Paul says that women should not talk in church, he adds that they should learn the answers to their questions at home. In other words – learning about scriptural matters is A-OK for women; the problem here is not women meddling in scripture, but women’s ignorance, an ignorance that can and should be remedied.
Let’s just lay it on the line: Paul’s statement that women shouldn’t teach is explainable (see also some arguments based on the Greek text) – his bald, casual, unconcerned mention of a woman minister isn’t.
Further, drawing the line between teaching and talking is fine work indeed. The most Bible-thumping of hearts positively dotes on the sight of women teaching impressionable little children about the Bible, as Elaine Storkey points out. Women teaching women … women penning and singing Christian songs, whcih inevitably have a theological bent … women missionaries … all, somehow, just fine with everybody.
Lucy Maud Montgomery has a charming story called “The Strike at Putney” in the collection Against the Odds in which the women of a church invite a noted missionary to speak. The men forbid it as “being in direction contravention to the teachings of St. Paul.” The women strike, and when asked why they won’t cook for the church, clean it, etc., they simply reply, “If a woman isn’t good enough to speak in a church, she isn’t good enought to work for it either.”
Next up: NF will take on the idea that women can’t be ministers because they weren’t disciples.