Monday, 26 January 2015

Answering A Critic On Women Bishops

Facebook. From a friend. 
Can any follower of Christianity explain how the hell they accomplish the mental juggling necessary to allow a female bishop? It clearly states in your bible that women should remain quiet in church yet you lot claim to follow the bible. (Corinthians 14:34).
The mind boggles at the level of mental gymnastics going on!
Jez Field, you're usually quite good at explaining stuff like this..help out a heathen!
So this is what I replied...

Hi Leonard.
Love your question, assuming it is a question and not just a 'here's something I don't understand - and aren't religious people stupid because of it!' - sort of question I'll have a go at answering it.
There's a lot that could be said but 2 things that I think are worth pointing out.
1) I think the Anglicans are wrong to do so. 2) The 1 Corinthians isn't prohibiting women talking in a gathered setting as you might think.

1: I love the church of England. I love a lot about it and I count many people within its tradition as friends, but I can still disagree with them on things that aren't the central tenants of the faith.
The issue is over church governance.
First: The New Testament is clear that men and women are completely equal in every respect. There are several sections of the NT that make this perfectly and emphatically clear. It's a subject for a different topic but Christians were the first true feminists and defenders of women's rights in an age when it wasn't popular to endorse such things. A reason why so many women converted to Christianity in the early centuries (and now) was because of the liberating and empowering esteem women are held in.
Second: Although they are equal in every way, the Bible also makes it clear that men and women have different roles. Men are called to take responsibility for the protection and provision of their families (I chose the words 'take responsibility for' carefully as this can be applied in a myriad of different ways). Biologically women are life carriers and nurturers and men protectors. This ought not to be controversial but in an age where even gender is under attack it unfortunately is. Men are called to be fathers to their children (obvious right) and a Father is one who, as well as protecting, takes the blame for and carries the can for the shortcomings and mistakes of his family. I believe in the significance of fathers which again shouldn't be controversial but sadly it is.
Third: The church is described in relational and familial terms. One of the prevailing metaphors is of the church being a 'family'. Men are called to be the 'dads' to this family. As such the church in the New Testament organised itself in this way: 'elders' - men of good character given the responsibility to protect and father the church, & 'deacons' - men and women of good character who lead on behalf of and in relationship with the elders.
That, again shouldn't be too controversial, but add to it stories of chauvinism, abusive leadership and a failure to understand that Jesus' model for leadership was that of someone laying their life down (on a brutal cross in his case) and it becomes explosive.
Back to your question and why I disagree with the Church of England:
The CofE created a role of church oversight in 'Bishops' that isn't found in the New Testament. A bishop oversees several churches sort of like a super-head in today's schools.
Now. Once you've traded a New Testament model of church governance (elders and deacons) I think it becomes a lot harder to remain faithful in applying the biblical system of church leadership. Among many reasons, this is one of the reasons they've (CofE) got into hot water over this issue. They've created a leadership structure that looks a lot more hierarchical than it does familial. Add the fact that what the New Testament clearly teaches about the way a church community ought to be organised is difficult for an egalitarian liberal secular society to wrap its head around and you've got a storm brewing. Especially since the CofE is so closely linked to the state it was always going to 'hit the fan' at some point.

2) 1 Corinthians. Let me answer this very briefly. The book itself is a letter written by someone in leadership over the church. It is full of statements that require us to understand the context into which he was writing the letter. It shouldn't sound like I'm doing 'mental gymnastics' to point out that every letter ever written addresses themes that are relevant to that particular audience at that particular time and might not therefore apply to everyone everywhere in all cultures and civilisations.
The author of the letter is not telling women to keep silent whenever the church gathers. How do I know? The letter is full of encouragements to speak in church: singing, prophesying, speaking in other languages, bringing words of encouragement. The statements are addressed to the 'corinthians' (recipients of the letter) and no prohibitions are made for one gender or the other. In the chapter you mention the author is very clearly addressing a particular issue that had arisen in the church and is likely written to a particular group of women (known to the church) who were causing trouble in the gathered setting.
Imagine for a moment. A woman in 1st Century Roman society becomes a Christian and for the first time in her life is told that she is equal to a man and has the same value, worth and dignity as a man. She's allowed to receive an education, listen to and engage with teaching in church and discuss things freely. In this case there were some women who needed to 'reign it in a bit' since their new found freedom had gotten out of control and had become disruptive.
I have a friend who's doing his PHD in 1 Corinthians (yes they give out doctorates for such things - I'd like to see your face right now! J).
If you've made it this far, you're a generous man.
Hope that answers things a bit.
Much love. How's the squash??
Jez

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