Mum’s the Word – or is it?
I almost didn’t hear the pastor calling my name, but it finally registered. Since the hall was a little loud, he directed me to follow him into the back of the sanctuary where the noise of the crowd was less distracting. He showed me a piece of paper with the parts that were to be read to the audience during the lighting of the advent candle – he asked for me to read the last part – the prayer: “Let us pray: Thank you God for the love you give us. We ask that as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today and everyday to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your love with each other. We ask it in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.”
Such a thing would be considered unbiblical at my old church; these sorts of things were usually done by families – only under the headship (a.k.a. authority) of a father or husband would a daughter or wife be allowed to read from the pulpit and he had to be physically present and visible for it to count. I remember that even in youth group the youth pastor would always tell us girls that God really wanted to hear from the boys, which was his way of saying “No, girls can’t lead prayer when there are boys in the room, too.” It sort of gave me the impression that talking to God was a solemn matter that women just weren’t made for. Which was why men were the ones who prayed and taught out of the Bible, telling us what the Bible says that women and men can and cannot do. For the most part, they were right that the Bible said what they said it said, but it seemed as if they were teaching it in ways to say things that the Bible doesn’t say. Which is why we couldn’t stay under that teaching and eventually left the denomination.
So it was a big thing to me to be asked to read a part and even bigger for it to be the prayer. I read it swimmingly and nothing terrible happened – I wasn’t turned into a pillar of salt, smote by lightening, or afflicted by a disease. It makes me wonder, just what was my old church afraid of? That I would get a taste, decide it was good, and sign up for a seminary to become a preacher? That I might be really good at it? That my ministry would draw people to hear the Word the God and through hearing, have faith in Him? Or do they fear the worst case scenario: a woman preacher who misinterprets scripture and deceives the droves of people with itching ears? (As if men hadn’t been doing that from the very start!) Is the Word of God so fragile, so ineffective that the same sentence that a man says has less power, less truth, less effect when spoken from the lips of a woman?
My old church’s denomination is big on inerrancy, it’s part of the foundation they used to pull the rug out from under moderate and liberal Christians who taught in their seminaries, they used it to vote in like-minded leaders to control and shape the teachings coming from the seminaries, and they used it to dis-fellowship churches that defied their interpretation – particularly, they would kick out all churches who called upon women to serve as pastors out of their denomination. This was the last straw that caused a few hundred churches to voluntarily leave the denomination and form their own where they could and would be allowed to hire women as pastors.
I always thought that it was in-congruent to say that the Bible was infallible and inerrant as if it were indestructible and also suggest that women who read it aloud in public are violating it’s commandments and women who preach it from a pulpit are destroying the very fabric of space-time which will result in an implosion or an extinction level event. I know that it’s a serious thing because I’ve read story after story – how some women who step up to the pulpit watch the men get up, turn their chairs around, and sit back down with their backs facing her so they don’t have to look at her talk. Some women watch the men just get up and leave the room. Sometimes women are allowed to speak (not preach) from the front (not on the stage) or on the stage from a music stand (not a pulpit). I saw one woman speak about an upcoming adoption while her husband stood beside her on the stage, giving an occasional “that’s right” to the points that his wife was giving letting her do 95% of the talking. Of course, this tends to lead to a bias. If men are better at preaching and teaching then women, then women’s ministries taught by other women must be inferior by comparison to mixed gender ministries taught by men. Which really doesn’t explain the popularity of many women’s ministries from which both men and women learn from and teach from. I wonder what impression this gives little girls? Does it show them that they might correctly understand the Bible at home but incorrectly understand it in public? Does it tell them that they can only go so far and do so much as other women do? Will they come to believe that on their own they cannot get the most out of scripture, but under the authority of a man, a teacher, they will learn more than they possibly could otherwise?
In all this, there’s remarkably little opportunity for single women to serve the church in these capacities; since a husband is required to speak from the music stand on the stage, I know that the things I have to say will probably go unsaid. At least for the people who aren’t ready for change will get to have their way awhile longer, but it won’t always be this way; and I look forward to seeing what the future holds when there are no limits on what anyone can do. At least there’s something for me in this other church and that’s what gives me hope that Christianity will one day look back at our rules and realize that we used to love them a lot more than we loved people, but that’s not so anymore.
By the way, If you’re from a church that’s not like my old one, please don’t take it for granted; also feel free to speak up and suggest that you have more women speaking if it’s been awhile since the last one did – in the whole year I’ve attended my new church, we’ve only had one woman preach the message, and she did it twice. That’s just not often enough to make it normal and when it’s not normal then it’s not normally done.