Friday, 1 March 2013

Women in leadership 3 – Judge for yourselves

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul finishes his argument about women in leadership by asking his readers to: “judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?

We see that Paul is not creating a law for the Church here; he is very specific about this. He claims not on Holy Authority for these pronouncements, but founds his argument on the ‘nature of things’. And the nature of cultural concepts are not stable, they change between cultures. It is not always, in every society, dishonourable for a woman to have short hair. Therefore Paul asks his readers to judge for themselves. He only asks that if it is dishonourable, then do not do it in Church.

Evangelical Christians who hold to the exclusionist position found their argument on Paul’s teachings. This position, which has become known as ‘headship’, relies on his writing. But we must keep in mind that Paul is writing for a specific reason, he is writing a pastoral letter for a specific church, not a law book for the Universal Church. To fully understand Paul’s message in order to faithfully apply it to ourselves we must try to uncover his reasoning, not just his pronouncements.

Women in leadership 2 – the Bible says…

The argument that many Christian evangelicals often use to exclude women from leadership is usually an appeal to scriptural authority. This is the solid rock, the safe fortress for any Christian who chooses to exclude women from certain roles to retreat to. If the Bible says something, we have to follow. Who are we to go against scripture? Paul did not allow women in positions of leadership, and he was an apostle. So we have no authority to go beyond what Paul did. What the Bible says is what God says, the two are the same, and woe to the person who goes against God.

The counter argument is that the Bible also says lots of things we no longer do, such as to abstain from pork or shellfish. The Bible is clear that we have to stone people for wearing mixed cloth, and we have to sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, which no longer exists. But these points are easily argued against, as examples of the Law which we are no longer bound by, while Paul’s teachings are for the good and godly organisation of the Christian Church after the Law has been fulfilled.

Yet what about Paul’s regulations for the church, which we also no longer follow? He demands that women wear hats in church, and men aren’t allowed, that women have long hair, and men have short hair. In most modern churches you will see many women with their head’s uncovered. Yet Paul clearly writes in 1 Corinthians 11: 1-16:

I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

Women in leadership 1 – different roles for different …?

Many Christian evangelicals refuse to countenance women taking positions of leadership and authority in the Church. There are many arguments for this position, and some are better than others. Some people prefer the complementarian position, which argues that men and women are equal, but with different roles.

This position argues that it’s only a coincidence that the man’s role happens to be one of leadership, and women happen not to be suited for this. Unfortunately this then begs the question, what is the woman’s complementary role, which men aren’t suited for? Without using biology, it’s very difficult to come up with one. And if the argument is predicated on biology (men can’t get pregnant for instance, since they don’t have a womb), this then begs the question, what is the biological reason why women can’t be priests or pastors?

Unfortunately the complementarian argument fails because it is based on the idea of the different inherent characteristics of men and women. And these have proven to be based not on unchangeable ‘nature’, but on changeable cultural conceptions and contexts. Rather than being one’s intrinsic nature, they are externally imposed by society.