Leah Farmer

Personal perspectives on faith, literature, and life.

1 Corinthians 11 strikes again…

Lots of well-churched kids can quote John 3:16 or Psalm 23 or an even more obscure Romans 8:28. But as a kid I knew 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16 backwards and forwards. It was a passage of scripture much discussed in our house because of a specific set of beliefs espoused by my parents. Beliefs that made us the uber-conservatives…even among other church of Christ folks.

Let me give you some context.

Church of Christ kids are NEVER beaten in a game of “my church is more conservative than your church”. EVER!

I’ll see your “not allowed to smoke” and raise you one “if you drink you’ll go to hell.”

Oh you aren’t allowed to dance? Really? Poor baby…we weren’t allowed to SWIM with the opposite sex. We called it “mixed bathing” though I’m still unsure why it had to have a weird name?

What? You’re Southern Baptist dad doesn’t like the theology at the Methodist church? Guess what? My dad thinks your dad is going to hell because he wasn’t baptized “correctly.”

So…take all of that…and then add 1 Corinthians 11.

Watch as Sunday after Sunday my mother, sisters, and I don our oddball scarves or hats because we must not pray without our heads covered. Or catch a glimpse of me in my bedroom CHEWING the ends of my hair into a straight line because I’m pretty sure my dad can’t nail me with scripture for CUTTING my hair if I chew it off. (I was 23 before I EVER cut my hair…oh except for the one time I cut myself some bangs. Don’t worry…my mother captured that in my 4 year old portrait. The picture lovingly referred to as “when Leah cut bangs before she understood 1 Corinthians 11” with much head shaking and shame.)

Needless to say…we were the conservatives of the conservatives. If you cut away (pun intended) all of the crap I just joked about, what was left for me was a lot of confusion and inconsistency. For those of you who know me, imagine me being told from my earliest memory that I would always be 2nd best simply because I was a girl and that is the way God designed things. Simply put…2 Corinthians 11 was the proof that my natural gifting for leadership, teaching/prophesy, and understanding difficult scripture (which even my parents were unsure what to do with) had to be WRONG. “You will be a wonderful help to the man you marry someday” began to be words that could make my heart pound in frustration.

Fast forward through a lot of years of frustration, study, and often quiet capitulation…

Last week at Bible Study when they handed out the lesson and it was chapters 8 through 16 of 1st Corinthians I knew it would be a difficult study. I was cautious in the selection of my answers while doing the daily homework. I was honest but careful. I knew that I was likely to be the only person in my group who held my particular opinions on the gifting and equality of women in the church and that there would be a lot of discussion around the headship of men/husbands. I reviewed my past study notes on this chapter. Re-read several different theologians who hold differing positions. I weighed my options…and I set my intention to stay silent during the discussion group.

I was mostly able to do so. I did share that I’d studied this passage a lot because of my upbringing, that the Greek word kephale (for head) is a hotly contested word, and that this passage of scripture is confusing even to biblical scholars. I shared a little something about temple prostitution in relation to head coverings and hair cutting and was grateful when we moved on to discuss the next chapter.

What I did not expect, though by now I should know better, was the vehemence with which the word “feminist” was spoken. Or the fact that some women are grateful that men have authority over women because “we need someone to hold us down and help by keeping a level head.” I was also not expecting the teaching director who lectures after our group discussion to take such a hard line. Though I  had assumed she and I would disagree…I still managed to be flabbergasted…

  • She made an unequivocal statement that this chapter was absolutely about submission, headship, and the proper establishment of authority
  • She changed the language, without explanation, from male/female to husband/wife
  • She made the comment that it was OBVIOUS that God had intended men to have authority over women and we could even see that in our differing natures, government, etc. “So why is it that the place we won’t accept our proper place in God’s determined order is in the church and in our homes?” (huh?)
  • She made the statement that if there were those in the room who believed otherwise she would pray that God would change our minds

Not once did she say that the passage was a confusing and difficult passage to understand in the original language.

Not once did she mention that there have been scholars…SINCE THE SECOND CENTURY…who have struggled with the translation and meaning of this passage. Or that this continues to be a much debated and confusing passage of scripture.

Not once did she even leave room for a lesser or varying interpretation.

She even managed to tie the “forgoing our rights” stuff from earlier chapters to this section of scripture by stating that as women we have a lot of rights in our culture but that in this area we should be willing to forego our rights in order to be in alignment with God’s plan. (Again I say “HUH!?”)

Finally…she went on to teach through the rest of the book, spending a great deal of time discussing how we are supposed to use our spiritual gifting to the edification and glory of the church. All I could do as she spoke to that topic was smile…because here I was sitting in her audience with my God-given gifting, which she does would not approve of and would claim was my misunderstanding…while she spoke her heart out about the requirement and expectation for each of us to use our gifts.

If you know me you may be thinking “So what? It isn’t as if you’ve never faced this before?”

And you’d be right. I have and I mostly likely will again. I just feel sad that it happened at a bible study that has become a bright spots since I moved to Denver. I feel hurt that I don’t think I can sit and listen to her speak again and have any respect for someone who can immediately disregard her own teaching earlier in the same lecture on demonstrating love over being right. I feel tired that this is a battle that so many women through the centuries have been fighting…and that if I want to stay engaged with the church…that I will fight as well.

On my way home I cried out to God and I felt his answers in my spirit…

Me: Why did you make me like this? With these gifts?

God: You are gifted exactly as I intended

Me: What do you want me to do?

God: Speak

Me: I’m too tired

God: Rest. Then Speak

Me: If I didn’t love you, I’d leave all of this (meaning the church)

God: I know. But you do love me. Speak

4 Comments

  1. adoptingmama

    Ack, I have no idea why I’m awake this late, maybe it is to read this and let you know that I am so with you. I also wore a head covering in my growing up years (a la Wayne J@ckson and his followers). The thing that always, always got me was what exactly were these women doing that they needed to be covered in 1 Cor 11? Wait for it, wait for it…praying AND prophesying (teaching, reading scripture, revealing God’s will). And I always thought as a young lady, heck I’ll keep wearing this dumb piece of cloth on my head if I get to pray and prophesy someday. Sad when that never happened either and I still had to wear that dumb thing on my head….It sure didn’t make sense and I’m so glad I left that narrow brand of Christianity. I am happy in my new tribe. Former CofCers rehabilitating together and trying to reach out to a world that DOES need Jesus. My new tribe’s lead ‘dude’ (minister/pastor/whatever) scoffed when I asked, “Is the bible class being taught by a woman was just for women”. He said, “oh no we are way past that, everyone is welcome everywhere” Good God I almost kissed him right there I was so giddy. And as I lead my first communion thought a few months back, I reveled in it….but…I didn’t tell my Dad 😉

  2. L

    can I punch her in the throat with love? or perhaps list the ways in which Jesus was a feminist? and I’m curious if any of the women in the group were dreading the lesson, and biting their tongues, too.

    Sean and I were talking about gifts the other day. I was mentioning how I hated those “find your talents” devos in youth group and those tests like “oh, you are a Shepherd.”–but you’re a girl, so… so why did we get those “personality tests” anyway? [I have been thinking of late of the ways in which some church-y things have such damaging effect.] Anyway, the subject came to mind thinking about N (and all the women’s studies courses I am taking). N measures high in compassion (girl trait), but not high in passivity. She reminds me of you, actually : high comprehension-skills, high Emotional Quotient, sensitive to Social Injustice. I think if you were to get back into writing something, I think maybe letters to your sisters and daughters, girls who are coming up with you and behind you. They could include articles, artifacts, etc. You give a voice to your struggles and you encourage with your spirit and intellect.

  3. hippychristiangirl

    Thank you both for your comments. It is good to know I’m not alone. Last night was a hit I wasn’t prepared for…even though I should have been. I have wondered for so long where I fit in…and I wonder even more so today.

    Love to you both!
    L

  4. adoptingmama

    I am praying Leah, that you find a faulous group of women and men that believe in the power of God and His salvation. A group that will let you grow and hone your craft and gift of preaching the gospel like it needs to be preached! Blessings as you find that group, or hey, blessings as you grow that group. I told we want to plant a church in Seattle right? You wouldn’t want to relocate again, would you?

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