I think the Apostle Paul would have loved to keep men and women permanently separate in the church. I’m beginning to think this is a wonderful idea whose time has come, especially in fundamentalist churches. In Ephesians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and in other epistles, Paul makes clear that women’s leadership in the church is a bad thing. On that, biblical literalists are universally agreed. I’m not speaking about progressive Christian churches, who have managed nicely to move beyond this point of gender contention and work very well together in service to the community. No, I think the only obvious solution for fundamentalist churches is to divide men from women and just get on with service to the community already!
Heather, over at the always wonderful I Wonder as I Wander blog contemplated the relevancy of applying first century standards and first century cultural interpretations of scripture in this day and age when some things are so obviously wrong to assume, such as the inferiority of women and the “natural” superiority of men. It’s amazing to me that people still argue over this dichotomy of the sexes, especially in fundamentalism, which is at 50 years behind every one else doctrinally. History has proved that there are no hard and fast rules about inferiority/superiority of men or women, only that humans will take power and use it to exploit others if given half a chance. Power is always the issue, whether it’s a man or woman who wields it. Yet no one in fundamentalism seems to be able to wield power rightly in mixed company, least of all in the Christian church. Heather wrote, when she was explicating the famous Ephesians passage about headship and the body of Christ:
4) Only the man is compared to Christ. The woman is compared to the church. The church and Christ are not equal, so under this comparison, the man and woman are not equal, either. As the church is subject to Christ, so is the woman subject to the man. And how often do we hear that is no longer the person who lives in the body, but Christ? If that’s applied here, the woman is not independent, but again — seen as the extension of the man. The verse does go on to describe how Christ gave himself up for the church and cleansed it. But that comparison leaves us with the man needing to “save” the woman and presenting her with no stain or wrinkle. Plus, the whole purpose of Christ was that man was incapable of saving himself, so God had to step in. In the comparison, woman is incapable of overseeing herself, so the man has to step in.
From this we can reasonably intuit that in Ephesians 5, men are indeed compared to Christ and women are compared to the church. Going further; if the woman is compared to the church, then by rights she is the heart and soul of the institution, something we women have known for years. The Holy Spirit is the glue that keeps the church from disintegrating and the Spirit of Christ dwells directly in the Heart, not the Head. When doctrine fails and all the “heads” who think up theology and engage in endless debate about who is right and who is wrong, eventually reach that point at which no one gives a shit about their theological musings. There’s work to be done. When honest believers reach that theological saturation point, then it’s up to the heart of the church to work behind the scenes visiting the sick, bringing food to those who need it, and upholding in prayer and/or enabling every “head” that thinks itself indispensable in that hydra called religion. You either swallow your pride and your sense of rights to continue the work of Christ or you rebel. It’s no different now than it was then when the disciples questioned Mary Magdalene’s right to even claim to be a disciple, or Mary of Bethany’s right to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him, or another Mary’s (“Mary” appears to serve the purpose of equaling anonymous women in scripture) right to anoint him with perfume. About the women in the Gospels, NT Wright says,
Among the many things that need to be said about the gospels is that we gain nothing by ignoring the fact that Jesus chose twelve male apostles. There were no doubt all kinds of reasons for this within both the symbolic world in which he was operating and the practical and cultural world within which they would have to live and work. But every time this point is made – and in my experience it is made quite frequently – we have to comment on how interesting it is that there comes a time in the story when the disciples all forsake Jesus and run away; and at that point, long before the rehabilitation of Peter and the others, it is the women who come first to the tomb, who are the first to see the risen Jesus, and are the first to be entrusted with the news that he has been raised from the dead. This is of incalculable significance. Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7. If an apostle is a witness to the resurrection, there were women who deserved that title before any of the men. (I note that there was a huge fuss in the translation and revision of the New International Version at the suggestion that Junia was a woman, and that not a single historical or exegetical argument was available to those who kept insisting, for obvious reasons, that she was Junias, a man.)
Jesus as “Head” of the new church is now responsible for making the rules, holding all things together by power through the Holy Spirit, and basically expecting submission from ALL of us, not just those who first century leaders enjoined to be submissive (i.e. women) in Ephesians. This submission is something that does not come at all easily for men or women, but both agree that it is Christ to which we are to submit. Unfortunately, some men think that also means them. I’ve seen this battle of wills played out over and over in churches and on the internet. Men and women pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other for the “demise” of the church, when both are right and both are responsible for division. YOU aren’t submissive to us enough, yell the men. YOU have no heart and soul, yell the women. Men, claiming the status of little Christs in the church, keep excoriating women for not falling at their feet and worshiping their leadership as we are all expected to do for Christ. Men, blaming women for “feminizing” the church, when they have no clue what that really means, nor do they realize that you can’t “feminize” what you historically have no control over as an institution. In fact, Paul himself describes the stereotypical view of men and women in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 where he tells men to quit arguing and women to quit worrying about hairstyles and jewelry. Do some things never change? Neither sex realizes the obvious solution to this dilemma.
I have the perfect solution. Personally, like Solomon holding up the child between the two women claiming to be its mother, hold up the church as an example and ask, “Who loves this? If men and women scream, “We love it more!” yet cannot come to an amicable agreement about what’s best for the church, then like Solomon, we should take the sword to it and threaten to cut it down the middle! (1 Kings 3:16-28). Thusly, I think the church should be divided along gender lines. There should be men’s church and women’s church. Let’s just be done with it and separate completely. That way men can’t blame women for leading them astray sexually or for feminizing the church and women can’t blame men for “not listening” to their leadership input or for masculinizing the church. Let the men gather to be “warriors” and argue incessantly about doctrine if that’s what they want. Let them go to “battle” for Christ and force others to believe the way they do. Maybe then we women can get on with meaningful (for women) worship, and service as we’ve always done. I’ve seen this in action in my own church where the ratio of women is about 75% women to 25% men. Even the pastor is a woman. While they don’t excel at sermons or arguing about correct doctrine, when it comes to service and prayer, no one can top them.
What do you think? I think it’s a great idea; an idea whose time has come I think.