Today’s question comes from Cheri, a reader and friend from another state. She writes, “Our church is losing members who feel that biblically women should not be church leaders. I’ve always believed that this was more of a societal issue than a biblical one so was shocked when young men, all married and with families, suddenly took exception to this and left our church. Thoughts?”
Thanks for the great question, Cheri. Let me touch on two points that your question raises for me and then invite others into the conversation.
There are some who claim to read Scripture literally. I say “claim to read Scripture literally” because I’ve actually never encountered anyone who actually reads ALL of Scripture literally. They typically pick some verses to read literally (i.e. those that apply with their particular perspective on things like gender and sexuality) and read other verses differently. That’s why I call literalists “SELECTIVE literalists”. How many “literalists”, for instance, have quit their local church because of their church’s teaching on eating fat (Leviticus 3:17) or touching an unclean dead animal (Leviticus 5:2)? Not many any that I know of.
So what does a broader (i.e. non-literal) reading of Scripture mean? That we don’t take Scripture seriously?
Absolutely not! I believe that while Scripture captures expressions of God’s desires and vision for us, those words are frequently grasped through particular filters that reflect the cultural values of the time and location in which they were captured. Our challenge as people of faith, then, is to take those words and find faithful ways to apply them in ways that are culturally appropriate and relevant for our lives today. It sounds like your community is doing just that, Cheri.
There is a second related issue your question raises for me: the way(s) in which God reveals Godself. Some believe that only/primary way God reveals Godself is through Scripture. And since that biblical canon was closed centuries ago, our role as modern people of faith is to simply go back to the Bible and find “the answers”. Such an approach puts God’s revelation in the past-tense.
There are many faithful Christians, however, who believe God’s revelation belongs in the present- and future tenses as well. In the denomination in which I serve (The United Church of Christ), we often talk of a Stillspeaking God. This means a God who continues to reveal Godself in ways that reflect our ability to grasp God’s presence and activity in the modern world.
This means that while the faithful might have articulated a world-view in a particular time, and a particular place that limited the role of women – today God is speaking in ways in which gender roles are seen in larger ways that reflect humanity’s growing understandings.
Those are just a few thoughts Cheri’s question raised for me. How about you? What things does her question raise for you? (And for my new readers, I would ask that your responses reflect a spirit of gentleness and graciousness. Translation, please no name calling or overgeneralizations about those who see things differently than you. Just speak from your own experience and knowledge in ways that encourage others to do the same.)