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?
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