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To Speak or Not to Speak?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile,

neither slave nor free,

nor is there male and female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

One of my Instagram followers recently asked how I felt about women leading men in Bible study. This question made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle, which was an indication to me that the answer would make a great blog post. So here it goes...

I was raised in the Catholic church where priests were men and the best a women could aspire to become was a nun. For a while, I thought of becoming a nun, but that was before the age of 10 when I hadn’t yet developed an attraction to boys.

As a teen, I participated in weekly mass by playing the guitar and singing in the folk group. In my self-centered mind, this made me as important as—if not more important than—the “altar boys.” (Spoiler alert: today girls are allowed to assist on the altar.)

There was no question as to roles in the church. There were certain things boys were allowed to do and certain things girls were allowed to do. Period. End of story. But this didn’t sit well with me.

Who made these rules? Men. Who enforced the rules? Governments and churches comprised of men. Women were required to go along with whatever they decided. It was for their own protection. It sounds so simple, but it wasn’t. It was oppressive.

In the beginning, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God created both male and female in his image. And here’s the next line: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ ” (Genesis 1:28). God blessed them, and told them to be fruitful.

So, when did women become the second-class gender? I think the answer is more anthropologic than historical. While women were busy having babies, men hunted for food. It was an appropriate division of labor. Each gender fulfilled a role that the other was not equipped to execute. Under this arrangement, the genders survived and thrived as equal partners.

But over time, women lost their voice. As humankind moved out of the cave and into towns, “man” slowly assumed power over women in the name of God and wrote laws that masqueraded as protective necessities.

I am ever so grateful for the suffragettes that obtained for women the right to vote with the certification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. I’m ever so grateful for the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that ensured that workers in the U.S., regardless of their sex, were entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. And I am ever so grateful for the mainstream Protestant churches that ordained the first female pastors beginning in 1956.

And yet, some people still believe women have no right to speak in church, and they cite scripture, such 1 Timothy 2:11, as their reason. This is where Paul wrote, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Let’s start with the cultural context from which Paul spoke. During the first century, women were not allowed to study the law of Judaism. Since they hadn’t studied, they had no right to teach. That’s understandable. Who among us wants a novice telling us how to drive?

It was also a time where the word of God was hotly debated. Men would gather, someone would read scripture, and then the banter would start. Paul is warning women not to adopt this kind of behavior. As Christians, we (men and women alike) should be calm, humble, and gentle.

Let’s not forget that some of the first Christian leaders were women. Remember Lydia, a businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth, who initiated the church in Philippi. (See Acts 16:13-15.) Then there was Phoebe, “a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1). Paul also commends Priscilla and her husband Aquila whom he calls his “co-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).

I could write several pages about how Jesus treated women, but that’s a blog for another day. The bottom line is this: Jesus invited everyone to follow him, and he encouraged everyone to share him with the world. Everyone.

Today I am a practicing Presbyterian. I am grateful for the leadership of both female and male pastors who serve at my church. Through them, my faith has grown wider and deeper due to the diverse yet complimentary perspectives they have shared about God and Scripture.

Several years ago, one of the female pastors at my church asked me if I was going to write a second book. I told her I thought God was calling me to do so, but I wasn’t sure I was equipped. Her response was this: “If God has called you, you must be obedient.” He did, and I was.

Who are we to judge whom God calls to speak on his behalf? Be it male or female, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, free or imprisoned … the list goes on … God will choose whom he will choose, and his selection will always be perfect.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is I Speak Jesus by Charity Gayle with Steven Musso.

Favorite lyric: “I just wanna speak the name of Jesus.”

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