Tag Archives: Rachel Held Evans

women torn off

For God’s sake: let a woman preach

One day I flew to Texas and I met a cute girl. I asked her to dinner, and that night, my whole life changed. That was the night I learned about Jesus. I’d grown up in a Christian church, but I’d never heard about a Jesus like this. Her Jesus was alive and real and revolutionary and transformative. Her Jesus didn’t nibble around the edges of your life; he was pervasive through the entire thing. That night she spoke words into me that breathed with life like nothing I’d ever known before.

Was she wrong? Should she have done that? Many churches quote scripture that says “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man.” So should she have simply left me where I was for fear of teaching me something?

In reality, most Christians would quote other scriptures to limit, restrict, or reinterpret this verse and make an exception for this case. So why not a larger exception? Why not allow our society’s many well educated, gifted, female writers and speakers an unrestricted hall pass to teach what they know? As a high schooler, best-selling author Rachel Held Evans was once told, “‘Rachel you’re such a great speaker; it’s too bad you’re a girl.” Blogger Jory Micah was told, at age 18, that her desire to serve God as a pastor was sinful.

On the question, “Should a woman preach?” I would submit that such answers :

  1. Result more from evangelical culture than Biblical truth
  2. Are inconsistent with our practice, even in the most conservative of congregations
  3. May turn a blind eye to the actual reality of what God is doing
Culture vs. Truth

The Bible is long, and there’s a lot in there. How do we choose which parts of it to talk about the most? Ideally, our discussion of topics from the Bible would be in exact proportion the the frequency of those topics within the text itself. To do otherwise is to risk a distortion of the actual Biblical message. Christ himself addresses this tendency when he says, “What sorrow awaits you. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). We can fall into sin, even in perfect obedience to God’s law, when obsessive legalism  leads us away from the real point.

Yet this is the reality of our time. We attack certain topics with an energy and enthusiasm out of all proportion with the Bible’s text, yet remain oddly silent on other topics of greater Biblical importance. If the need to suppress women’s teaching gifts were an important doctrine, then why— with just the one mention in 1 Timothy— does the Bible devote only 0.016% of its verses to the topic? That would work out to a full Sunday sermon a little less than once a century. Some argue that the particular obsessions of American culture require more frequent responses from Christians in those areas. Yet in this, too, we Christians reveal our cultural biases by what we omit from such scrutiny: everything from covering women’s hair to honoring our leaders to refraining from anger.

Practicing what we preach?

The fact is, even in conservative congregations that would never hire a female pastor, women are teaching men every week. Just walk into the Sunday school.

The injunction in 1 Timothy explains Paul’s resistance to women teaching on the grounds that Eve was deceived, and sin was the result. In Paul’s eyes, we may conclude, a female teacher is more likely to lead us into sin. Yet if we are to protect ourselves from deceptiveness, who is more vulnerable than a young child? If our genuine concern were for sound doctrine, the Sunday school should be the first line of defense. That it is not reveals a different motivation is at work.

The same inconsistency appears in other areas as well. Of the same church where her potential as a teacher was so casually dismissed, Rachel Held Evans writes, “The only time women spoke in church was when they were missionaries. I didn’t understand why that was allowed, but teaching from the pulpit was not.” Again, if our true concern were the validity of what women have to say, should we not be equally passionate for the protection of men abroad?

Rather, it seems to me, our insistence on male pastors results more from simple bias against women in certain roles than from some kind of principled stand on Biblical truth.

Which side is which?

What emerges again and again from women in ministry is the conviction that they are called to it by God, that the scriptures used to dissuade them have somehow been misunderstood. What if they are right?

Misunderstanding scripture is possible. While scripture is infallible, we are not, and in the history of the Church, conventional wisdom has often been wrong. That can happen to us as well. For a non-controversial example, it would be a gross error to read 1 Timothy 4:12 as a blanket negation of the need to respect our elders; in fact, many other places in scripture urge us to respect our elders. What if we have made the same mistake in using 1 Timothy 2:12 to overrule all the many Biblical teachings about the importance of recognizing our gifts and putting them to work for the kingdom?

Consider this thought experiment: imagine a God who might break out of expectations (that has happened before), who might choose a vessel for his message that confounds conventional wisdom (that has happened before too). Imagine that messenger is sent among a people who refuse to listen (also has happened). What would God’s judgment on those people be for their failure to listen and receive? When someone claims she has a message from God, if we dismiss her out of hand because she doesn’t match our expectations, we do so only at our own mortal peril. She may be right; we may even find ourselves fighting against God.

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Photo credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Foter.com / CC BY

Serving beside those we hate

Serving beside those we hate

A conversation between my friend and her daughter, posted on Facebook this week:

  • Daughter: “Why is there a ripped up Chick-fil-A coupon on the table?”
  • Mom: “Because your brother doesn’t agree with their politics.” 
  • Daughter: “Oh. That makes sense.”

A quote from Rachel Held Evans, on the occasion of last year’s brouhaha over WorldVision’s short-lived policy change on same-sex marriage:

  • When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gay and lesbian people helping to provide that aid, something’s very, very wrong.

In Oregon, a bakery owner is risking a six-figure fine rather than bake a cake for a same-sex couple. And now this week, Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, has waded into controversy with his simple-minded and ill-informed remarks on police brutality.

So, what to do?

On the one hand, Samaritan’s Purse is one of my family’s favorite charities for year-end giving. Part of our annual Christmas celebration often involves drilling a well or fighting disease somewhere in the world. On the other hand, our society’s go-to reaction seems to be disengagement when a political principle is at stake. How can I partner with you to save the life of an at-risk child if I can’t even bake you a cake or buy your chicken sandwich?

How can I partner with you to save the life of an at-risk child if I can’t even bake you a cake or buy your chicken sandwich?

To me, all of this shows that such disengagement can only end in mutually assured destruction, and the last, best hope for our fractured society may be our simple shared humanity. In the 2012 movie Big Miracle, circumstances throw together an oil-company executive and a Greenpeace organizer who is his sworn enemy; after many days laboring toward a common goal, they share a quiet moment and he reflects, “You’re a lot harder to hate than I thought you’d be.” How much potential Christ-honoring reconciliation do we miss in our eagerness demonstrate our own righteousness?

Besides, if we have any hope of accomplishing good in the world, then a standoffish rebuff of all the “morally unworthy” is simply not an option. As Shakespeare’s Henry V reflects, “There is no king, be his cause never so spotless, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers.” Whether we disapprove of gays or of those who disapprove of them, we will find ourselves serving alongside them when we begin trying to better our world. People can be good and loving and Christian while still being wrong in some ways, and there are such people from every walk of life, you and I among them.

The last point to remember about the moral high ground is, there isn’t any. Or rather, however kindly we may favor ourselves, we aren’t on it. Scripture makes that abundantly clear:

  • “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)
  • “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
  • If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Galatians 6:3)
  • There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

Even the poster child verse for disengagement, James 1:27, which says “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” also says in the very same sentence that it is just as important to look after orphans and widows in their distress.

Perhaps the best guide, as we confront the problem of those who differ from us, whose views are morally reprehensible to us, is to remember the example of Christ. Scripture says that God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ came to us and healed us, came to parties with our tax collector friends, and ultimately gave his life for us. I think it’s a good bet that he’d have been willing to sit down to a chicken sandwich or two into the bargain.