Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gender and the Church

I can't figure out how to write this post.

A few days ago I read the book Gender Roles and the People of God: Rethinking What We Were Taught about Men and Women in the Church by Alice Matthews. And right now, I'm listening to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Harper Perennial where today I heard the chapter of the book about gender roles in history.

The Matthews book is an amazingly clear, concise and readable review of gender in the Bible from Genesis through the New Testament. It addresses and reviews so many interesting points, people and encounters as it is not possible to list them here. She addresses several of the key statements in the New Testament involving Jesus, Peter, and Paul in a very clear and thoughtful fashion.

Here are some wonderful quotes:
When God created the woman in Genesis 2:18, he called her an ezer kenegdo, a particular kind of helper to the man, in a vein similar to God’s help to his people. An ezer helper is not a subordinate to the one being helped. Instead, an ezer helper brings aid that the recipient badly needs but cannot provide for himself. In eight of the twenty-one times the word is used in the Old Testament, this “helper” is a “savior”; in the remaining occurrences, this help is a “strength.” So the woman as ezer kenegdo is a strong counterpart, brought to the man as fully his equal. God made for the man a power or a strength that would in every way “correspond to him” as his equal.
and with Jesus:
He[Jesus] showed his followers a radically different way of relating to women. Watch him, for example, in John 4 as he deliberately planned his journey in order to encounter a despised woman in Samaria. He shocked the woman at the town well by speaking to her and then by actually drinking water from her cup. When his followers returned from town with some food, they were astonished that he would talk to such a person (verse 27). But even though the woman was an outcast in her town, her testimony to town leaders was so powerful that they also came out to meet Jesus. Ultimately, at their invitation, Jesus stayed for two more days to teach the people, many of whom became his followers. Jesus empowered a despised woman to become a vehicle for evangelizing that community. 
Or think of the shock to his followers when Jesus not only allowed Mary of Bethany to sit at his feet and learn (in the posture typical of rabbinic students), but even encouraged her to do so (Luke 10:38–42). Rabbi Eliezer had declared “If any man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery” (m. Sotah 3:4).3 Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem had taught, “He who talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna” (m. Avot 1:5). In the eyes of many Jews, not only was teaching theology to a woman not necessary; it was downright wrong.
and finally
Compared to other literary works from the first century, the gospels have a relatively high number of references to women. What is even more remarkable is that in Jesus’ actions, there is not a single case in which a woman is put down, reproached, humiliated, or cast into one of the lewd stereotypes of that day.
and of course, the book investigates the Junia statement as well as Paul's admonitions for women to keep quiet.

The third section of the book reviews church history from NT times to modern times and I found that most disturbing. Early church fathers and others throughout history putting down women, downplaying their value, silencing them, etc. was just heartbreaking.

Much to process here. I highly recommend the book.

I have to say that there are numerous women that I've known and know today that if they were to share their life experiences, teach a class, or give a lecture, I'd listen and be there.

PS.   Read this post too.


  1. Thank you for the recommendation. I have an interest in this too and have done a little reading both in the Bible and otherwise. We must cling to Jesus's example and words if we are Jesus-followers! I love my God intended role as a helper to my husband and though it is not hard for me to accept limitations in the worship service because of my upbringing, I understand there are many different circumstances and some have trouble with it personally. There are so many ways women can lead out and to spend all our energy questioning these things is really beyond me! I may be simple-minded on this but my feeling is let's stick to what Jesus says - get over ourselves and just love each other for who we are.

    1. Thanks Robin for replying. Much to process here. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thanks for always championing women in all ways. I've personally benefited in more ways that I can count by your support both personally and professionally. I consider you a mentor.

    1. I hope so. We need more diverse viewpoints and opinions in leadership and in problem solving and we need to better leverage all the great women in our organizations.

  3. I always appreciate your insight and encouragement on this topic.

  4. Regarding your comment..."I have to say that there are numerous women that I've known and know today that if they were to share their life experiences, teach a class, or give a lecture, I'd listen and be there." I do think men and women can listen to and learn from each other without it involving "exercising authority" over one another. Am glad we sometimes have this opportunity on Wed. night or in other informal settings. Back in the 1980s when we lived in Wichita, Mike said he could probably learn more from Dee Allen than many of the men in the class (not dissing the men, just a compliment to her). Not that women would ever teach a mixed Sunday school class, but just saying. As Robin said, there are SO many ways women can lead and serve that I personally am not concerned with trying to do that in a public worship setting. It may be important to others.