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“We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation.”

Try to imagine that your government wants to harm you and your family, maybe even take your life. You desperately seek refuge in another country, only to be turned away. With effectively no citizenship in any country, no place to legally live, what are your options? That is the situation for thousands of refugees at this very moment. We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation. I know firsthand the fear, dejection and hopelessness they feel. I’m receiving a constant flow of calls from refugees served by Gateway of Grace. Each one filled with fear and hopelessness, evoking doubts of worth and dignity.

There is no shortage of political discussions and media’s coverage of it, and that certainly has its place. But, what has been among the most unsettling comments is the reactions of some Christian leaders. I won’t enter the political wrangling of the matter, but I accept the obligation to correct a gross denial of Biblical authority on God’s love for the refugee.

I have yet to hear a more theologically inaccurate statement from a Christian leader than the one given a few days ago by Franklin Graham in which he stated that the refugee crisis is not a Biblical issue. From the brightest Biblical scholars to the Christians who faithfully read the Holy Scriptures daily, it is clear that God cares deeply for the refugee. And, how we respond or not respond reveals a lot about our knowledge of God.

We became refugees and were expelled from the presence of God the moment we sinned. God in His mercy reached out to us, repeatedly and lovingly to welcome us and bring us back to himself. God gave his only son WHILE we were still sinners, far from Him. He did not wait for us to convert before He loved us.

The theme of exile and finding refuge is undeniably the most prominent theme of the Scriptures. Acts 17 and 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 are very clear about the reason for welcoming the stranger. God’s desire is to bring ALL people to himself and restore them into the fullness of His image. God does not have a favorite nation and He has called us to be His redeeming, loving, and restoring presence to those who are hopeless. If as the Psalms point out over and again, God is our refuge, as little christs, we are the representative of that refuge to those in need.

For the sake of the Gospel, we are also called not to live with the spirit of fear.

We share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our loving actions and loving kindness and by obeying the commandments of Christ that fulfill that purpose. As Pope Francis poignantly said, “You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” he continued, “You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25.” This is a reference to Christ’s injunction to help the needy by such works of mercy as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger.

“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do not do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

As I write this, I see faces of our refugees, their tears as they share their stories and prayer requests, their hopes for the future, and their hard work to make a new life out of the ashes of the old one. As my friend Pastor Paul Wheatley puts it, “We are only as good as our ability to help the least of these.” And, that is what we will be held accountable for by our Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author Samira Page is Executive Director of Gateway of Grace, a multi-denominational church-based ministry to refugees in the Dallas, TX area. She is an Anglican who studied at Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Ministry. She is herself a naturalized American citizen.

Samira adds: “Gateway of Grace will hold a cross-denominational prayer vigil to seek God’s wisdom, mercy, direction, and healing, and to pray for all who are involved in the refugee process. Consider this your personal invitation. The prayer vigil will be held next Monday at 6:30 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. A reception will follow. Please RSVP to samira@gatewayofgrace.org”

(reposted by permission)

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The Leadership of Women in the Bible: One Protestant’s View of the Ordination of Women

By Grant LeMarquand, Anglican Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies, Trinity School for Ministry Ambridge, PA USA

Reprinted with permission (and thanks!)

This paper will argue that godly women should not be barred from ordination as deacons, priests and bishops simply by virtue of their gender. This may sound, in this context, like a bold statement, so allow me to make a few preliminary remarks before we turn to the biblical material.

First, let me assure you that I actually do know where I am – I am aware that this is a paper for the Pan Africa Association of Catholic Exegetes. I am aware that I am a bit of an anomaly here. I am not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican, and a rather Protestant Anglican in many ways. I know that what I am about to propose is, shall we say, in some ‘tension’ with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning ordination. However, I also believe that you tolerate me here in your gathering (much more than ‘tolerate’ actually – you have always welcomed me warmly!) partly because you know that I will bring a somewhat different perspective. I have found an openness to ecumenical insights in this gathering and so it is my hope that this paper will, if it does nothing else, give you an idea of how some other groups of Christians approach the question of the ordination of women. At the very least my musing may lead you to a better understanding of your ‘separated brethren’ as the Second Vatican Council called the non-Roman churches.

I must also mention a caveat. The subtitle of this paper begins with the words “One Protestant’s View.” Protestants, as you probably know, have a difficult time agreeing on anything. This is, I am sure, one of the curses (or blessings) of not having a magisterium. Protestants, at least until more recent years, have generally argued that Scripture takes priority over Tradition and that only what could be proved by Scripture should be believed by Christian people. For example, the 39 Articles of Religion of the Anglican Reformation states, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” (Article VI. Of the Sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation). Although the priority of Scripture has been normative for most Protestants since the Reformation, it cannot be denied that a new source of authority (one perhaps implied by the very idea that Scripture can be interpreted by any Christian) has emerged in modern and postmodern discussion, that new authority being so-called “Experience.” Indeed for many “Experience” is now seen as the trump card and many feel no guilt or unease about throwing aside the clear teaching of Scripture if it contradicts their own personal Experience. Of course this new reality has brought not only a crisis in authority, but also much more difference of opinion: Protestants (and some Catholics I must say) no longer differ only in the interpretation of Scripture, but in what constitutes the foundation for interpretation itself. At least since Schleiermacher much Protestant interpretation has been sadly individualistic and anthropocentric. These hermeneutical issues are well beyond the scope of this small paper. It is enough to say at this point that by no means will all Protestants or all Anglicans agree with the opinions in this essay. The Anglican Communion, consists of thirty-eight autonomous Provinces, all in Communion with but not under the authority of, the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are not agreed on women in Holy Orders. Some Provinces (or dioceses within Provinces) do not ordain women to any order. Some ordain only to the diaconate. Many now ordain women to the priesthood, but not the episcopate. Several (Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England) now have women bishops. So my paper is the opinion of one Anglican Protestant. Other Protestants or Anglicans should not be judged according to my views!

Finally, I must say a word about the Holy Spirit. Some in the Western world have attempted to short cut the hard work of exegetical and theological thinking by asserting that the Spirit has led the church in such and such a way. I am not saying that we should neglect the work of the Spirit in our midst. In fact I think we need more, not less dependence on the Spirit in our corporate life as Christians. Certainly, I consider myself a “charismatic!” And if anyone has a claim to be a charismatic – I have more: a charismatic of charismatics, converted to Christ at a charismatic revival meeting, filled with the Spirit as a teenager in a Pentecostal church, a witness of healing (and other!) miracles, a speaker in tongues (“I speak as a mad man” – let the reader understand). My concern is that the claim to being led by the Spirit has been made by many who seem to have been led in opposite directions. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church of The United States, for example, claimed (in her 2010 Pentecost letter) that The Episcopal Church was led by the Spirit to its liberal position on homosexual practice. It seems to me, however, that if one claims to be led by the Spirit, one is saddled with the burden of proof to demonstrate how the alleged movement of the Spirit coheres with the Word of God. Any claim to the Spirit’s inspiration or guidance must be consistent with what God has already revealed in Christ and in the scriptures.

I propose, therefore, that on this issue of women’s ordination, as with any issue in the church, we examine the biblical text in order to discover what God would have us think and do. In this quest I believe that Tradition can also be helpful in clarifying the biblical message, but I must confess at the outset that I am one of those Protestants who believe that the canon of Scripture trumps Tradition and that if we must chose, it is Scripture which must prevail. I believe that the church must always be reforming (semper reformanda) because God continually puts new situations and issues before us which require careful, patient discernment, but also courageous action.

And so, to Scripture.

Scriptural Foundations

Creation

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

   So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27)

These verses from the first Genesis creation story make it clear that God not only made human beings in his image, but that a major part of the concept of being in God’s image is that humans are male and female. Orthodox theology has always affirmed that God is not male but beyond gender. Only a humanity which is both male and female can adequately image God in his world.

Closely related to the statement that humanity, both male and female, is created in God’s image is the mandate given to humanity – the mandate to have authority over God’s creation, to rule as stewards of God’s world. We should note that the text of Genesis is clear that authority to rule is not given to the man alone but to both the man and the woman: “let them have dominion.”

Some will argue (on the basis of the second creation story) that since the women was created second, and (according to Genesis 2:18-23) since she is called his “helper,” (the KJV says “helpmate”) that some kind of leadership is given to the man, implying that an unequal relationship between the genders is built into creation itself. It is true that the Hebrew word (ezer) can imply a hierarchical relationship. Of the 128 uses of the word in the Old Testament, approximately 70% describe the “helper” as an inferior helping a superior. This is certainly not always the case, however. At times the “helper” and the one helped are clearly perceived as equals, and in other texts, the “helper” is the superior partner.[1] In some texts it is even God himself who is described as our “helper.”[2] The context of a given passage must provide the interpretative clues for making a decision in a case like this, not the word itself. And in this case, it seems clear that the man and the women, after they are put together by God, are not put into a hierarchical relationship, but are described by God as equals – they are made in his image and together they are given the authority to rule the earth.

Fall

The third chapter of Genesis describes the Fall, the entry of sin into the world through the human rebellion. Among the many implications of the entry of sin and death into the world is the reality that relations between the genders are now damaged. Although the curses pronounced by God to the man and the woman differ, they are balanced – both are cursed with ‘labour’: the man with labour in his work in the field, the woman with labour in childbirth.

But along with the balanced curses comes an unbalanced hierarchy. The woman is told: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” We should take note: the hierarchy of genders which is so ingrained in most cultures of the world in various ways is not a part of the created order, but a part of the fallen state. Patriarchy, the authority of males over females, enters into the world as a consequence of sin. This pronouncement of the ‘rule’ of women over men by God is clearly embedded within in the context of the curses given to the serpent, the man and the woman. Just as the curse on Adam has the effect of bringing a curse on the ground (Gen 3:17), so the curse on Eve has the effect of bringing a curse on the relationship of husband and wife: “he shall rule over you”, Gen 3:16. The curses are as balanced.[3]

Israel

The story of Israel takes place in the midst of the world’s fallen reality. Unequal gender relations characterize the life of Israel as well as its neighbours. In the midst of this situation, laws were given which protect women, especially widows, from the power of men. The laws of Israel are not only commands to be obeyed, they are a revelation of God’s compassionate and merciful character. The Torah reveals a God who cares for the weakest in society – the stranger, the slave, the indebted, the poor, the orphan, the widow. Among other effects, God’s Torah provides a context in which, in spite of living in a fallen and a patriarchal world, women would be given a community in which the women are respected and protected.

But even in the context of patriarchal Israelite society not all leaders in Israel are men. A multiplicity of leadership roles is given to women by God throughout the Old Testament narratives. Miriam is one Israel’s first prophets and a leader of worship; Deborah is called to be a judge; Hannah is shown to be a faithful pray-er in the house of the Lord even though the male priesthood has become corrupt; in the Song of Songs we hear the voice of a female author, a theologian-teacher; the “woman of worth” in Proverbs 31 has a clear gift of administration; the courageous actions of Naomi and Ruth are used by God as part of his plan to give his nation a just king.

There are of course no women priests in the Old Testament. We must keep in mind, however, that in the Old Testament period there were also no priests who were gentiles, no priests who were eunuchs or had any physical disability or deformity of any kind, and no priests from any tribe except Levi. As the book of Hebrews makes clear, even Jesus would not have been qualified to be a priest of Israel. We cannot simply argue that on the basis of the Old Testament priesthood being male, that ordination to ministry in the Church ought to be restricted to males.

In fact, I would argue that the Old Testament priesthood is a very different form of leadership from any new covenant ministry. The Old Testament priesthood was responsible for that set of things which characterized Israel as a nation under the old covenant: sacrifice, food laws, and so forth. Now that Israel has been redefined around the crucified and risen Christ, there is no need for a sacrificial system presided over by “priests” in that Old Testament sense, that is, priests who function as mediators between God and human beings. In fact one could argue that this is one of the main arguments of the letter to the Hebrews. I will say a bit more about the possible meaning of ‘priesthood’ later.

Ministry of Jesus

Mary the mother of Jesus was not simply a vessel for the incarnate Son of God. Mary was not merely a passive recipient, but an active and willing servant of the Lord, following the pattern of the suffering servant in Isaiah, exemplified, of course, by her Son. Mary’s willing participation in the incarnation provides a model for discipleship: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38)

Mary the willing servant is also a theologian. An examination of the Magnificat reveals a brilliant, carefully constructed re-working of the Song of the Sea in Ex 15 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel which ties together the hopes of the people of Israel with God’s new work of salvation for whole world. Because of Mary’s unique, pivotal role in the history of salvation, we have, perhaps, been distracted from her ministry as a teacher, a theologian who has provided us with one of the most beautiful pieces of poetic theology in the history of the church.

Another woman mentioned in the infancy narratives is the prophet Anna (Lk 2:36) who is paired with the prophet Simeon in what is one of at least thirty instances in the third gospel in which Luke pairs a story of a man with a story of a woman. It is a commonplace in New Testament scholarship to note Luke’s pairing as a characteristic of his composition which functions to draw attention to the central roles played by women in the ministry of Jesus. According to Luke 2, Anna fasts and prays and gives thanks to God in the temple (vv. 37-38), but she also prefigures the work of the early Jerusalem church in the book of Acts who use the temple as the primary locus of proclamation. In Luke 2:38 “she spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” That is, in the gospel of Luke a woman is the first person to publicly proclaim the gospel of Jesus, in function paralleling the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

“The twelve and the women.” Another characteristic feature of Lukan style is his inclusion of summary statements which form points of transition in the action of his narrative. One of these transition/summary statements is found in Luke 6:12-16, which functions in the text to bring the story up to that point to a conclusion and introducing a section of teaching (Lk 6:17-49) and healing stories (Lk 7). Luke 6:12-16 portrays Jesus praying (another prominent theme of Luke’s gospel), and then choosing “from” his disciples. The implication here is that the disciples were a rather large group from which “the twelve” are chosen and named. The consistent impression we have from the third gospel is that most of Jesus’ peripatetic ministry is carried on in the presence of a large group of disciples who travel with Jesus from place to place, the twelve being a special group called out from among the disciples for a special symbolic purpose (as representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel now being renewed in Jesus’ ministry), as well as for some unspecified leadership role or roles among the larger group of disciples. That Jesus chose only males to be a part of the group of twelve does not necessarily imply that the church after Pentecost is bound to ordain only men. We noted in the case of the Old Testament priesthood that Gentiles and even Israelite non-Levites were excluded, as well as many other categories of men. Similarly, although Jesus disciples were all male, this does not mean that ordination must be restricted to only Jewish believers in Jesus.

The very next Lukan summary statement specifies another group of disciples, some of whom are also named:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.  (Lk 8:1-3)

It seems clear that some of the women among Jesus’ disciples were benefactors – they “provided” for this large group of disciples “out of their means.” Joanna, wife of Chuza, may have been a key figure in this group. The translation used above says that Chuza (the name is Nabatean) was Herod’s “household manager.” A more accurate translation would be “minister of finance,” probably sent to Tiberius (Herod’s Galilean headquarters) as part of a political treaty arrangement, where he met and married the daughter of a Jewish aristocrat. He may have converted to Judaism or he may have been a god-fearer. Perhaps he was the “royal official” mentioned in John 4:43 whose son (and, on this theory, also Joanna’s son) was healed by Jesus and whose entire household came to believe in Jesus. Such an historical reconstruction would explain how Joanna had become a disciple and how she was able to provide for Jesus and his followers (perhaps with funds from her husband, perhaps from her own personal finances).[4]

The women who followed Jesus, including but not limited to the ones named in Luke 6 were more than just the servants and benefactors. These women were most probably members of the 70 (or 72, there is a textual variant at that point in the manuscript tradition) whose mission of preaching the kingdom and healing is described in Luke 10:1-24. Note that this group seems to grow. In Luke 10 it is 70 (or so). At the triumphal entry it is a “multitude of disciples” (Lk 19:37); on the day that Judas is replaced at least 120 gather to deliberate, pray and cast lots (Acts 1:15-26), a group which seems to include the eleven, and also “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers” (Acts 1:14); it is presumably this same group who “are all together in one place” (Acts 2:1) on the Pentecost, and therefore preach in tongues and aid in the baptism of the thousands who believe that day.

The women, according to Luke, accompany Jesus during the time of his ministry, follow him into Jerusalem at the beginning of passion week, and become witnesses of,

  • his death: “And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things,” (Lk 23:49),
  • his burial: “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then returned, and prepared spices and ointments,” (Lk 23:55-56),
  • and his resurrection: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8And they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk 24:1-11)

The significance of these female disciples of Jesus is often missed or glossed over. They were with Jesus throughout his three years of ministry, they heard his teaching, witnessed his mighty acts and were full participants in the mission work which Jesus sent his disciples to do. (Note the words of the angels at the tombs: “remember how he told you when he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered…” [24:7; italics added] – the women, in other words, were present for Jesus’ passion predictions.) At least some of them made a significant contribution to the support of the band of disciples – especially Joanna, wife of Chuza. They were the primary witnesses of the saving events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. All four of the gospel writers are careful to mention the presence of the women at these events, even when most of the twelve, except for the beloved disciple (according to John’s gospel) have fled the scene. Mark’s gospel, indeed, underlines the courage of the women as opposed to the flight of the twelve.

But what is the significance of women “disciples”?

The story of Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany helps to clarify the women’s role. The story is well-known; Martha is working in the kitchen while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet.” (v. 39) Although many have attempted to portray this story as exemplifying two kinds of good and helpful dispositions towards the Lord (service and contemplation), there is much more significance to Mary of Bethany’s behaviour than simply to exhibit an example of a godly woman at prayer. Two things are to be noted. First, Mary is transgressing into male space. In the first century world, the kitchen is the place for the women when there are male visitors in the house; the gathering room is male space. Second, the phrase “sitting at the feet” is code language for the behaviour of a disciple who is learning from a Rabbi. Note that the same phrase is used in the book of Acts to describe Paul whose credentials include that he had “sat at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Acts 22:5) Far from being the archetype of the submissive woman, Mary of Bethany is acting with great presumption – she is in male space, and taking upon herself a male role, that of training as a disciple of a Rabbi in order to become a Rabbi herself. (To be a disciple is to take on an apprenticeship to be a Rabbi; one does not become a disciple merely for one’s own personal spiritual benefit!) Martha is scandalized about Mary not just because she needs an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, but because Mary is transgressing gender roles – and Jesus is encouraging it. Women disciples of Jesus, in other words, were in training to be missionary preachers and healers, Rabbis of the good news of the Rabbi Jesus.

And, in fact, the female witnesses of the resurrection, especially Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), become the first preachers of the message of the resurrection. The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (a married couple, perhaps?) say: “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive” (Lk 24-22-23). They become the apostles to the apostles.[5] Mary Magdalene herself, according to John, used the phrase “I have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:18) Bauckham’s comment is pertinent:

This is exactly what the other disciples later say to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25). In Paul this is the defining content and terminology of the apostolic witness: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1).

The work of witness and proclamation by Mary and the other witnesses of Jesus ministry, death, burial and resurrection is apostolic work, apostolic work which continues past the first post-resurrection days into the post-Pentecost period.

Early Church

We must turn now to the practice of the earliest church, and especially to the letters of Paul where we find texts often used and misused by advocates of both sides of this discussion of women’s orders. There are some obvious texts that we must examine, but let me begin (having spoken of the women at the tomb as ‘apostles to the apostles’) with a text that may seem perhaps a bit more obscure – the list of greetings in Romans 16.

Several women are named in the greetings of Romans 16. This is significant in itself, since Paul’s usual practice is to greet the leaders of the congregation to whom he is writing. The first person named in the list is Phoebe, who is described as a deacon (v. 1) of the church of Cenchreae. It is difficult to assess exactly what the function of deacons was at this stage in the church’s history. The book of Acts, of course, has them set aside as administrators who perform a particular ministry for which they need to be filled with the Spirit – but at least two of them, Stephen and Philip, have significant preaching ministries. As well as being called a “deacon” Phoebe is also described as a ‘”benefactor” (v. 2: prostatis). The RSV has the very weak translation of “helper” at this point. A benefactor, rather, is one who provides the material needs for a person or organization. Phoebe is the ‘patron,’ (or, rather, ‘matron’) it seems, of her church in the suburbs of Corinth. As such it would have been expected for her to preside at the community meal, which for Christians was the Eucharist. Certainly, other benefactors in the Greco-Roman world, who hosted organizations in their homes, would have been expected to host the meal.[6]

The next people named are Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila, also known to us from the book of Acts. Significantly Prisca is named first, as she is three out of the four times the couple is mentioned in Acts. This may be because she has had the more significant ministry. The two are known to us as the teachers of the already eloquent Apollos (Acts 18:26). Apollos has sometimes been suggested as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews – a suggestion which led Adolf von Harnack to argue that since Priscilla was the teacher of Apollos, perhaps she was the actual author of Hebrews. Harnack’s suggestion has not always been followed of course (since it lacks any real evidence!) but it might explain why Hebrews is an anonymous work – who would have believed the work of a woman? What we do know, whether Priscilla authored Hebrews or not, is that she is known as a woman with a significant teaching and leadership ministry.

There are several other women mentioned in Romans 16, including Mary (v. 6). Sadly we don’t know which Mary this is. The gospel writers are always careful to distinguish between women named Mary since at least a third of all the women in Palestine in the time of Jesus had that name. Sadly, for us, Paul does not help with this question.

Of great importance to us for our discussion is v.7. The RSV is now widely regarded as the worst of translations on this verse. It reads:

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (RSV)

Several things should be noted about the RSV translation. In the RSV the second member of the pair is given a masculine name (Junias) even though the masculine form of this name is completely unattested in the ancient world and is found in no ancient texts. Most scholars have abandoned any attempt to argue that Paul was referring to a man.[7] Most likely Andronicus and Junia were a married couple. The RSV makes it worse, of course, by calling them ‘kinsmen’ and ‘men of note,’ terms which (wrongly) emphasize the masculine gender.

Correctly, however, the RSV says that these two are “of note among the apostles.” The ESV corrects one problem of the RSV translation, only to introduce another:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (ESV)

The ESV leaves out the second masculine note, but keeps one. ‘Junia’ (a feminine name rightly included in the ESV) is still (surprisingly) called a “kinsman.” Of course what Paul means is that these two are both Jewish – an interesting piece of data since neither name is Jewish – but then neither is the name “Paul.” Most Jews living in the diaspora were given or adopted Greek or Latin names which were similar to their Jewish name (thus: Saul / Paul; Cleopas / Clopas; Simeon / Simon; Joseph / Justus, etc, etc).[8]

The ESV describes Andronicus and Junia as “well know to the apostles” thereby implying that they may not be apostles themselves. The exegetical question is whether the Greek preposition “en” should be considered inclusive (“among”) or exclusive (“to”). Aside from the observation that Paul would probably have used a different preposition if he had wanted to make it clear that his meaning was exclusive, perhaps the strongest argument in favour of the inclusive meaning is found in one of the early Greek fathers (who, after all, spoke the language fluently and would have understood the nuance intended). The father I have in mind is Chrysostom, who, in a sermon on Romans 16 stated the following,

“Greet Andronicus and Junia…who are outstanding among the apostles”: To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was deemed worthy of the title of apostle.[9]

Paul had a wider view of what apostolic ministry was than is portrayed in Acts 1. In Acts 1 the term apostle is limited to the twelve. The criteria for replacing Judas, however, (including it seems that the replacement should be male) include that the person has been a member of the wider group of disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism until his Ascension, and was a witness of the resurrection. Paul’s use of term seems to be similar in that an apostle (like Paul himself) should have “seen the Lord.” Junia (whether or not she is the same person known in Luke as Joanna) must at least have been one of the “more than five hundred” (1 Cor 15) to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection. More likely, she and her husband were probably followers of Jesus before the passion and have now become missionaries to the church in Rome.

For Paul to call a woman an apostle has important implications. First, it is clear that for Paul apostles are in a special category. They are the first “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” as Luke puts it. (Lk 1:2) If the New Testament says that a woman was an apostle it is difficult to see how we can refuse ordination to any order of ministry to a woman. This might especially be true for more Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans who see continuity between the apostles and their successors in the episcopate. A more evangelically minded person might not see apostolic succession in those terms at all, seeing the true apostolic succession to be a succession of teaching rather than persons in episcopal office. In either case the presence of a woman apostle in the pages of the New Testament appears to remove all objections to the ordination of women. I think it is already clear that the New Testament calls Phoebe a “deacon” and that she probably presided at the Eucharistic table in her Corinthian house church. That women are, in the New Testament, leaders, presiders at the communal table, preachers, eyewitnesses of the saving events would, to my mind, remove any objections to the ordination of women as presbyters.

But what of the texts in Paul that are often used to argue against the ordination of women?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

On any account this is a difficult passage. Does this mean that women must not preach? Many argue that, especially those who believe that ordination is the setting aside of a person to preach and govern, which is common among Reformed Christians.[10] However, a surface reading of this text actually seems to say much more than ‘women shouldn’t preach.’ It seems to imply that women should not be lectors, or give announcements, or lead the prayers of the people.

The text has other problems. Numerous scholars (not just liberal ones who want to avoid the ordination of women question) argue on good grounds that this text is not an original part of Paul’s letter. These verses do not appear in all of the ancient manuscripts (see Fee’s commentary for a vigorous argument excluding this text from the New Testament). I tend to agree with that evidence.

However, even if it was not written by Paul, some will still say that it is canonical on other grounds, as part of the textus receptus. So it needs to be discussed (just as the story of the woman caught in adultery needs to be discussed).

But it is highly doubtful that the text means that women must be silent all the time. In 1 Corinthians 11 (another difficult passage – on the subject of head covering), Paul is clearly talking about the correct way for women to ‘pray’ and to ‘prophesy’ in church. If Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 says that women may pray and prophesy (and the term prophesy itself probably includes preaching as well as other more spontaneous Spirit-inspired speech[11]), how can he turn around three chapters later and say they must always be silent. The answer appears to lie (as it always does) in the context, in this case, the cultural context. Ken Bailey suggests (based on years of experience in the Middle East) that some of the women in Corinth and other places, would have been less educated and therefore have had a more difficult time following the teaching in church. If the sermon was long (Paul’s sometimes were – remember Eutyches, falling dead from the window!) the women may have become impatient and begun to ask their husbands questions or to talk among themselves. Paul’s answer (if this is a Pauline text) is that they should ask at home. Here is the important point: Paul wants them to be taught so that they will be able to pray and prophesy and participate more intelligently in the future.[12]

1 Timothy 2:8-15

I suggest that a similar situation is behind Paul’s (yes, I think Paul wrote the Pastorals!) words in 1 Timothy: “I permit no women to teach or to have authority (or “be authoritarian”) over men; she is to keep silent.” (v. 12) There are some who take heart from Paul’s words here because it sounds as if he is reinforcing and giving (literally) sanction to their prejudices against women. There are some, therefore, who argue that Paul’s words reinforce the view that men are strong, macho leader types, and women are air-headed, shallow, indecisive and must be led. Women should stay at home and take care of the children and the house work. I have heard these views expressed in my classroom by students from time to time (and certainly on the internet!), and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is sometimes used as the proof text.

The key to understanding the text, once more, is to understand the context. Verse 11 says the issue is that women “should learn.” Learning, Paul says, precedes any teaching. Verses 13-14 seems at first to make things work against those in favour of women in the pulpit, because Paul’s admonition ‘to learn in silence and not to teach’ is given biblical (Old Testament) sanction as Paul’s provides the theological reason – Eve sinned first. For many, this means that Paul is appealing to the order of creation (Adam came first, then Eve) and the order of the Fall (Eve sinned first, then Adam) to bolster an argument to have only men in teaching authority in church. Paul’s argument would then be: ‘Eve sinned first, therefore, if we allow women to be in charge, we will be back in the same trouble we got ourselves into in the garden.’ This would imply that, according to Paul, women are weaker not just physically, but morally and spiritually, and that they are, therefore a danger to men.

But we must pay careful attention to the purpose of Paul’s admonition. The issue which Paul is addressing has to do with those who have the qualifications to teach in church. Those who do not know must learn before they can teach. The problem that Paul is addressing is that most women (not all – see Joanna, Junia, Priscilla, the Corinthian women prophets, and Philip’s daughters) in his day lacked the appropriate education to teach. So they must learn first (v. 11). The problem that Eve had was that she was ‘deceived.’ (v. 13) What women need, therefore, is the opportunity to study and learn – and therefore not be deceived as Eve was.[13]

I would argue, therefore that Tom Wright’s translation of this passage is the most accurate and helpful:

 So this is what I want: that men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hairstyles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes. Instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should be allowed to teach men, or try to dictate to them, rather they should be left undisturbed. Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve and Adam was not deceived    but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. She will, however, be kept safe     through childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.[14]

We may conclude, therefore that, like the Gospels and the book of Acts, Paul has no objection to women serving in any leadership positions in the church, so long as they are appropriately called, gifted and trained.

Theological concerns

Christ and culture

We can agree, I believe, that many churches in the West have become conformed to a certain spirit of the age. The Zeitgeist which has made idols of self-expression, unregulated so-called freedom, have led us to the point that some churches support freedom of choice to abort babies over the need to protect the most vulnerable, and support complete freedom of sexual expression. I am deeply aware that many who would call themselves theologically conservative believe that the ordination of women fits into this same basic category. There are bad arguments for the ordination of women – arguments based on particular ideas of freedom or notions of human rights or ‘equality’ (I myself have never believed in the equality of men and women – I have always considered women to be superior beings in almost every way!).

Africa is not immune from these philosophical and theological currents. The trends of modernism and postmodernism are not confined to Western culture. The mass media is now a global phenomenon, the internet comes from everywhere and goes to everywhere. There is no place isolated of insulated. It is crucial, therefore that the Africa churches examine proposed cultural changes carefully and thoughtfully. Africa has traditionally had quite defined roles for men and women. One might argue that some of thee roles have not benefitted women. In 2013 I led a retreat for male and female Anglican theological students in Juba, South Sudan. At one point we were examining Genesis 3 and the ‘curses’ placed on Adam and Eve. I pointed out that both the man and the woman received a penalty for their sin described by the same word – pain, labour. The man is told that by ‘labour’ he would work the earth; the woman is told that by ‘labour’ she would bring forth children. A woman’s hand went up: “If this true,” she said, “why is it that in Africa the women get both?”

At the same time, women in Africa have never been completely shut out of religious leadership roles. Women have been prophets, evangelists, worship leaders, teachers, both within traditional religions and within the church. I believe that it is time to look again at the roles that women play in the church and ask whether they have been too restricted, not because of what Scripture says, but because parts of our culture have kept women confined to certain roles and tasks.

Tradition

By far the strongest argument against my position is that I have not demonstrated how the tradition of the post-New Testament church came to exclude women from ordained ministry. The answer to this question is beyond my area of expertise, but let me make a few suggestions. First, as I have said before, for me the Bible is a trump card. If the Bible teaches that women were ministers of the gospel in the New Testament period, then the church must restore that ministry.

Second, there do seem to be some indications that women were ordained in the post-apostolic period. Let me just mention three.

The first is the early church father Chrysostom. We have already seen his expository comment of Junia, the woman apostle of Rom 16:7. The quote from the silver-tongued bishop is worth repeating here:

“Greet Andronicus and Junia…who are outstanding among the apostles”: To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was deemed worthy of the title of apostle.[15]

It seems clear that at least this early church father believed that there could be a woman apostle. If Junia could be an apostle should not other women be called to apostolic orders?

Second, a late second century Orthodox document, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably from Asia Minor, but which circulated widely in the early church (texts are found in Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian) and was even found in some of the early biblical canons of the Armenian and Syrian Churches, portrays Thecla as baptizing and as being sent by Paul to teach and evangelize. A fresco (from near Ephesus, dated around the 4th c) of Thecla (or Theoclia) was defaced when, at a later date, it became clear that women were not going to be ordained, or continue to be ordained. It should be noticed that the fresco which portrays Paul and Thecla together, defaces only Thecla (her eyes are gauged out and her right hand is marred). As John Dominic Crossan notes, “Both the right hands of Paul and of Theoclia are raised in identical authoritative teaching gestures.”[16] If the partial destruction of the fresco was the work of an iconoclast Paul would also have been de-faced. It must have been done by someone who believed that Thecla, as a woman, should not have been so honoured.

Similarly, the alpha at the end of the word “Episcopa” in the icon of “Episcopa Theodora” in an early 9th century mosaic in Rome has been defaced, probably because the iconoclast understood the word to mean “a (female) bishop.” Some have argued that the word meant that she was “the wife of a bishop,” but the fact that it was defaced would surely imply that the term was understood to mean “bishop” and that this was found offensive. This is evidence is certainly far from sure, of course.

There is, of course, much more evidence that women’s ministry has been accepted in Protestant, especially holiness traditions. John Wesley commissioned women preachers, General Boothe of the Salvation Army said that his best men were women, the Pentecostal movement has long ordained women pastors, the 19th century missionary movement sent at least as many women to the field as men. This too, I would argue, is a part of the ‘Tradition’ which we must consider.

Although it is clear that women could not be ordained during most of the post-apostolic and medieval periods, I have not yet seen any convincing arguments from those periods as to why women are excluded.

What is ordination?

I think it is clear that I have barely touched the issue which is the important one for many of you here, which is that limiting the priesthood to males is seen as right and proper because the priest stands in the place of Christ as a sort of mediator figure between God and his people. I have not addressed this, except perhaps by implication in a few places in my paper, because I do not see ordination referred to in those terms in the pages of the New Testament. This is, of course, a major issue for Roman Catholic doctrine and so let me add just one alternative possible view. Most Protestants, myself included, have some difficulty accepting a mediatorial role for the Christian priesthood. The English word priest is closely related to the Greek word ‘presbuteros’ (elder) rather than the term ‘hieros’ (sacrificing priest). For Protestants, “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) Even if it should be accepted that a Christian priest has some mediatorial role, should we speak of the priest standing in the place of Christ? There is an alternative view. Until recently the Eastern churches rejected the idea of the priest standing in the place of Christ, preferring instead to see the priest standing in the place of the Church. Surprisingly, although the Church is the bride of Christ, the Eastern view did not lead the Eastern churches to insist that all priests be female in order to fulfill that role. Why, then, should we insist that only a male priesthood could stand in the place of Christ. For me, of course, these are moot points since I see ordination primarily as the setting aside of a person for ministries of equipping, leading and teaching. But if we must speak of a mediatorial role for the priest in Christ’s church, would the female priesthood not remind us all of the church as Christ’s bride; would the female priesthood not also remind us that God made us all in his image – male and female he made us (Genesis 1:27); and especially would the female priest not remind us all that actually Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity?

[1] See W. J. WEBB, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IVP, 2001) 128.

[2] See for example Psalm 46:1. Cf. P. TRIBLE, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1978) and M.J. OBIORAH, << Insight into the Community’s Faith in Psalm 46: Its Relevance for Africa >>, Bible et sujets pastoraux en Afrique – Bible and Pastoral Issues in Africa. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Congress of the Panafrican Association of Catholic Exegetes (ed. M.A. ADEKAMBI) (Abidjan, APECA / PACE 2015) 110-45 [especially pp. 129-30].

[3] What is more, the next chapters of Genesis detail the many other ways in which the sin of Adam and Eve has repercussions in every area of life: the whole world is now broken. The natural world is effected (“cursed is the ground because of you”, Gen 3:17), patriarch enters (Gen 3:16), the family of the first ancestors experiences jealousy leading to murder (Gen 4:1-16), the life span of the ancestors decreases (compare Gen 5:1-31 with Gen 11:10-32), the boundaries between the material and spiritual worlds are disrupted (Gen 6:1-4), and after the flood we see the emergence of Empire (Gen 11:1-10). Patriarchy is merely one of the many ways in which sin infects the fallen world.

[4] For much more corroborating evidence, see R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) chapter 5.

[5] For the history of the use of this phrase, especially as regards Mary Magdalene, see R. BROWN, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, Paulist, 1979) 190.

[6] For more on patronage and the role of Phoebe as a patron see, B.W. WINTER, Roman Wives, Roman Widows. The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003) 193-99.

[7] Exceptions are M.H. BURER and D.B. WALLACE, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16,7”, NTS 47 (2001) 76-91; for a clear refutation see, R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) 166-86 and E.J. EPP, Junia. The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2005).

[8] As an aside, it may be the case (and it has been argued cogently by Richard Bauckham) that this Junia’s Hebrew name may have been the sound-alike name Joanna, that woman from Galilee who was a prominent member of “the women” among Jesus’ disciples and a witness to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. See R. BAUCKHAM, Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002) chapter 5.

[9] In Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-670.

[10] This is why, by the way, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney opposes women’s ordination, but is in favour of lay presidency, even by women, at the Lord’s Supper. They don’t consider ordination to be ordination to the table, but to the pulpit, or to governance.

[11] For this discussion see the commentaries by: G. FEE, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1987) and A. THISELTON, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2000).

[12] See K.E. BAILEY, “The Women Prophets of Corinth: A study of aspects of 1 Cor 11:2-16”, Theology Matters (Jan-Feb 2000) 11-14; “Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View”, Theology Matters 6/1 (2000) 1-11. A similar argument can be found in D. WILLIAMS, The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church (Los Angeles, BIM, 1977), and in C. S. KEENER, Paul, Women & Wives. Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Hendrickson, 1992) chapter 2.

[13] I am grateful to Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, for this basic line of reasoning. See N.T. WRIGHT, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”, a conference paper for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’, St John’s College, Durham, September 4, 2004, which can be accessed online on the “N.T. Wright Page”: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm&gt;. Accessed September 1, 2015.

[14] T. WRIGHT, Paul for Everyone. The Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (London:SPCK, 2003) 21-22.

[15] In Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-670.

[16] J.D. Crossan, “The Search for the Historical Paul: What Paul Thought About Women”, The Huffington Post (November 8, 2011), online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/historical-paul-gender_b_921319.html. Accessed September 16, 2015. The article includes a clear photograph of the fresco.

 

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“A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.” – Proverbs 31:10-31

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Proverbs 31 is probably one of the most controversial Bible passages in contemporary American Christianity. Books upon books have been written about it, seminars have been taught about it, Bible study groups have focused on it.

Over the past 100 years or so, as women have gained the right to vote and to work outside the home, churches have looked to Proverbs 31 to reflect on these events. Generally speaking – and this is painting with a broad brush – but generally speaking, the arguments have gone something like this:

Conservative churches focus on the fact that the woman in Proverbs 31 does everything she does at home – and they use this to defend a sort of ‘separate but equal’ kind of thinking: while both men and women have equal gifts, women are meant to exercise those gifts within the home, while men exercise their gifts outside the home.

Liberal churches, on the other hand, point out that the woman in Proverbs 31 runs a business, and buys and sells real estate… she’s a professional woman, she’s ahead of her time, and she’s a clear indication that God supports a woman’s right to have a career and do what she chooses to do with her life.

Meanwhile the average woman in the pew often gets caught between the two viewpoints, and she also gets caught between the hope of becoming more like the Proverbs 31 woman and the frustration of falling short of the ideal.

As I glanced over websites and chat rooms dedicated to the teaching of Proverbs 31, I read comments from women like these:

  • “You mean I’m not the only one that isn’t the perfect Proverbs 31 wife?” (in response to a book called My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife by Sara Horn)
  • “This [Proverbs 31] woman… is… skillful in everything… she wakes up super early, has great biceps, buys property, wears a lot of purple, cares for her kids, cares for the poor, keeps her home warm at night and doesn’t eat carbs. […] Is every woman supposed to try and fit this mold? […] What if she can’t sew or cook…? What if she never even gets married?” (from Relevant Magazine)

The problem is, the Proverbs 31 Woman, as understood and taught in postmodern America, is not real. ALL of these viewpoints miss what the author of Proverbs 31 is saying.

So what is Proverbs 31 all about?

It’s a piece of Jewish wisdom literature, written about 3000 years ago, probably during the reign of King Solomon. More than that, it’s a poem. And like most poetry it’s not meant to be read as an instruction manual. The poem speaks in the voice of a queen mother speaking to her son the king, giving him the benefit of her wisdom in seeking a wife – who will be the future queen. (We can almost imagine Queen Elizabeth having a chat like this with her grandson Prince William before he got engaged.) The poem is also an acrostic – each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order – which indicates that it’s universally applicable… it covers everything from A to Z.

In the first nine verses of Proverbs 31 – which we did not hear today, and which often get skipped – the queen mother essentially tells her son to avoid strong drink and fast women, and to remember to look after the poor and disadvantaged… surprisingly contemporary advice!

Then, in verse 10 (where we began today) she says to him: search for a woman of quality: someone who can be a true partner, someone he can trust. The woman a king marries must be able to raise children, look after the welfare of the palace and those who live there, command servants and delegate work… these all reflect the realities of palace life. That’s where all these qualities listed in Proverbs 31 come from. A poor man’s wife would not have been expected to do all these things… any more than any of us can do all of them. We don’t have the servants and we don’t have the economic opportunities.

So what does Proverbs 31 have to say to people today? For an answer to that I’d like to take a look at contemporary Jewish use. Three thousand years after Proverbs 31 was written, these words are still being read every week, week in and week out, at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. This adds layer upon layer of meaning, far more than I have time to go into today. But I will back up and give this much context:

As Christians many of us have lost the practice of Sabbath. We still do Sunday morning worship, but that’s only a small part of the Sabbath. In a nutshell, the Sabbath is a 24-hour period, from sundown to sundown, during which people (and animals) rest from all work. The Sabbath was meant to be one day a week when a worker could legally and legitimately say to his or her boss, “Not right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

So as a Jewish family prepares for the Sabbath, as the sun goes down on Friday night, the woman of the house lights the Sabbath candles. The children are blessed, and then the man of the house either reads or sings the words of Proverbs 31 to his wife. It is a blessing, in praise of all she does for the family. It’s more like a love poem than a laundry list.

“The woman of worth”: the first words of Proverbs 31:10 are different in every English translation. In Hebrew the opening words speak of the eshet chayil, which is better translated woman of valor. An esh chayil, a man of valor, often refers to a warrior, a military man, although it can also refer to a man of exceptional character. King David, for example, is described as an esh chayil. So Proverbs 31 gives advice to the king to search for an eshet chayil, a woman of valor.

The best example scripture gives of an eshet chayil is Ruth. Ruth was widowed and had no children – which proves Proverbs 31 is not a laundry list. Being a woman of valor does not necessarily mean being married and raising kids. What’s more, Ruth was a foreigner and had been raised to believe in foreign gods. But Ruth put her trust in the God of Israel. And when her husband died, and when her mother-in-law’s husband died, Ruth adopted her mother-in-law Naomi, and said to her:

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” – Ruth 1:16

Boaz, the man Ruth eventually married, heard about this – and that’s why he calls Ruth an eshet chayil, a woman of valor. Boaz, by the way, is also called an esh chayil, a man of valor, even though he’s a farmer and not a warrior.

So what would an eshet chayil look like today? One Jewish woman is quoted by author Rachel Held Evans saying:

“’eshet chayil’ — ‘woman of valor!’ — is invoked as a sort of spontaneous blessing in Jewish culture. Friends cheer one another on with the blessing, celebrating everything from promotions, to pregnancies, to acts of mercy and justice… battles with cancer… brave acts of vulnerability… or difficult choices, [all of these celebrated] with a hearty ‘eshet chayil!’—woman of valor.”

So combining this Jewish understanding with a New Testament viewpoint, the eshet chayil is first and foremost a woman who is loyal to God, who seeks to do God’s will – which is the definition of wisdom. She is courageous and strong in the face of everyday challenges and adversities.

Which leaves us with the question, what exactly does Proverbs 31 tell us to do? The only ‘to-do’ item in the passage is in verse 30: “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” And the same is true for a man, an esh chayil. Men and women of valor are to be praised.

All of you here know far better than I do how many acts of valor have been done in this congregation, in this church… how many acts of mercy, or acts of justice, or missions, or battles with cancer, or difficult choices, or acts of loyalty to God. Proverbs 31 challenges us to speak of these things… to acknowledge the esh chayil and the eshet chayil when we see them.

We are called to be women – and men – of valor. As Christians this means primarily seeking God’s will and God’s wisdom for our lives, both individually and as a church. And as we do so, we are called to encourage each other with the words eshet chayil, esh chayil. Women and men of valor! AMEN.

 

Preached at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 9/20/15

 

~ Author’s Postscript: If you know of an example of a man or woman of valor, and would like to honor them, leave a comment describing briefly what they’ve said or done that is worthy of praise. (Use first names only please.) ~

 

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“After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days. […] David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

“Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain,
nor fields that yield offerings of grain.
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul– no longer rubbed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
Saul and Jonathan– in life they were loved and gracious,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
How the mighty have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!””
II Samuel 1:1, 17-27

“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” – Mark 5:21-43

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Today’s scriptures are a bit unusual in that they don’t talk directly about God. Jesus takes part in the New Testament reading, but he’s not talking about God, and the people around him don’t know yet that he is God. The people see Jesus as a prophet and as a healer. Except for a few of the disciples, no-one knows yet that Jesus is the Messiah.

So our readings today tell us three stories about people of faith.

I think sometimes when we read about people of faith in the Bible we tend to see them as sort of like super-saints, but they’re not. They’re everyday people like you and me. In this case, they are: a shepherd, a housewife, and a lay leader from the local synagogue.

What makes the people we meet in the Bible exceptional is they share everything with God. They hold nothing back. And God honors that.

As it happens, in today’s readings all three people we meet are facing some kind of crisis in their lives. In the Old Testament we see David dealing with the death of his best friend; and in the New Testament we meet a woman who has been sick for a long time, and a man whose daughter is dying.

Let’s take a look at each story.

Our reading from II Samuel – the reading itself – is a song of mourning, written by David on the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. These two men lost their lives – in the prime of their lives – in a battle defending Israel. (If we go back into the history of Israel we find out the reason David was not fighting alongside them and defending them had to do with Saul’s disobedience to God and David’s subsequent estrangement… but at a time like this it would not be appropriate for David to point that out.) Saul was David’s father-in-law, and Jonathan was David’s best friend. David and Jonathan were like Butch and Sundance, or like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies. They were inseparable, the very best of buddies.

If you’ve ever had friend like that you know friendships like that are rare. Men and women who have fought in battles together sometimes find this kind of friendship. Co-workers in the mission field, or in medical care sometimes find this kind of friendship. Every now and then it ‘just happens’. But most of us only get two or three friends like this in a lifetime, if we’re lucky. To lose a friend like this is devastating, because they leave a hole in your heart and in your life that can never be filled. When a friend like this dies we wish the world could stop turning just for a moment, to acknowledge that someone important is gone.

So what do you do at a time like that? David sang out his pain. David was a songwriter for many years. He used to sing to King Saul when Saul was troubled. He composed many of the psalms, which were the hymns back in those days.

David sings out his grief, praising King Saul as a mighty man of war, and grieving for Jonathan who he calls “brother”. David is not glorifying violence and killing here. What he’s doing is expressing honor to those who served their country and gave their last full measure in its defense. And in doing so he gives us a song that touches our hearts across the centuries, touching anyone who’s ever lost a good friend. ‘How the mighty have fallen!’ David cries. ‘Men of glory, worthy of love and honor, lie slain on the field. How the mighty have fallen!’

I’ll come back to David in a moment, but in the gospel of Mark we meet two more people. The first is a man named Jairus, whose daughter is very ill. Any of us who have ever sat up with a sick child know his pain. He’s worried, he’s spending sleepless nights, he’s praying, he’d give anything to make her better. He’d even change places with her if he could.

Being a lay leader in the synagogue, Jairus has heard of Jesus. He knows Jesus is miracle worker, and he needs a miracle right about now. He just has to get Jesus to where his daughter is before it’s too late. He begs Jesus to come. Some translations of the Bible say he begged Jesus ‘repeatedly’. Apparently Jesus wasn’t moving very quickly… which is understandable considering the size of the crowd.

And then, on the way to Jairus’ house, there’s a delay! We meet a third person, a woman whose name we don’t know, though some people in the early church felt she deserved a name and called her ‘Veronica’. For twelve years she has had some kind of medical condition that causes her to bleed – based on the description, most likely a menstrual period that won’t stop.

Anyone who has ever been through serious illness or surgery knows how frightening is, and the frustration of missing out on life, and all the expenses involved. Illness disrupts a person’s life in a way that nothing else does. In this particular woman’s case, her condition makes her anemic, and she’s getting progressively weaker, and most likely suffering from depression because of a low energy levels. And on top of that, she has a social problem. Under the Law of Moses, her condition makes her ritually ‘unclean’. According to the law she shouldn’t be going out of the house, and she certainly shouldn’t be mixing in a crowd this large! But she’s desperate. For twelve years – as long as Jairus’ little daughter has been alive – she’s been in pain. She has spent all her money on doctors and she’s only gotten worse.

And now she hears that Jesus can heal people with a touch, and she’s convinced he can heal her. Somewhere deep down she knows that what is impossible with human beings is possible with God.

So she makes up her mind to sneak up behind Jesus and touch his robe. She says to herself, “all I have to do is touch his garment and I’ll be well. I don’t have to say anything to anybody, I don’t have to disturb anybody, I don’t have to make anybody unclean from coming into contact with me.”

And things work out just like she planned. She touches Jesus’ robe and immediately the blood stops, and she can feel energy and health beginning to return to her body. After twelve years she’s finally well.

Except that’s not the end of the story. Jesus stops. Something has happened, he knows, and he calls out over the crowd, “who touched me?”

The disciples look around at a crowd that’s as tightly packed as Times Square on New Year’s Eve and say to Jesus, “How can you say ‘who touched me’? Everybody’s pressing in all around you.”

I suspect Jesus already knows who touched him, but he also knows the woman needs to share her story. And there are people present who need to hear it. So he creates a space in which she can speak. And scared and trembling, she falls at Jesus’ feet and tells him everything – every detail, the whole story. And when she’s finished, Jesus says, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

She came looking for physical healing, and she got that, but she got far more: healing of the heart, and healing of the soul. This is the meaning of the word shalom – holistic well-being and peace.

While all this is happening, and in fact as Jesus is still speaking, people come from Jairus’ house and say, “don’t bother the teacher any longer. Your daughter is dead.”

I can’t begin to imagine what Jairus felt in that moment. But before he can say anything, Jesus says to him, “don’t be afraid, just believe.”

And taking Jairus, Peter, James, and John, Jesus tells the rest of the crowd to stay put. The deathbed of a child is no place for curiosity-seekers and hangers-on. When they get to Jairus’ house Jesus chases out the mourners, who make fun of Jesus when he says the girl is not dead.

Jairus and his wife enter their daughter’s bedroom and look at their little girl. Gently Jesus takes her by the hand and says, ‘little girl, get up’. And she does. And grief turns into joy.

I find it interesting that at the end of this great miracle Jesus says to Jairus ‘don’t tell anyone what happened’ when in the previous miracle, Jesus makes public something that happened in secret. God’s ways are not our ways! At any rate, we’ve met three people who are very everyday people, living everyday lives. They don’t preach, they don’t quote the law… but where it comes to God they hold nothing back.

David shows us is how a person of God grieves. A person of God is open-hearted toward God. As people of God, when pain comes into our lives, we do not despair. We can hurt very deeply; but we pour out our grief to God. David is not afraid to be passionate in God’s presence. And neither should we be.

The woman with the flow of blood gives us an example of confession. Confession is not sitting in a box talking to a priest, or even necessarily admitting sin. The word confession simply means to speak the truth. Telling God what we see and what we’ve experienced and how we’ve felt and what we’ve lived through. Yes, God already knows it – so did Jesus in our story. But Jesus knows this woman needs to tell her story, and so he listens… and he knows other people need to hear it, and so he asks her to speak. And the same is true of us. We all, each one of us, have a story to tell, and we all need to share it, and there people who need to hear it.

Some of you know I was doing some training in a retirement home recently and as part of my training I interviewed four residents and basically wrote their histories. I listened to their stories and wrote them down and illustrated them with photographs from ‘back in the day’. What started out as something kind of fun became a lot more as one resident found forgiveness for something that had been bothering him for decades, and another resident, in the early stages of Alzheimers, lost her husband and she now has something that will help her children and grandchildren remember. Our stories need to be told, and they need to be heard, and that’s part of God’s plan.

And Jairus gives us an example of how to ask God for what we need, and keep on asking, trusting God in spite of what we hear and see around us. Ask, and then trust. Jesus knows what he’s doing.

So as we walk through life, we seek to be open-hearted and passionate with God; completely open with God about our lives and our experiences; asking God for what we need and trusting God’s provision.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, open our hearts toward you more and more, and open our lives to you, and build up faith in us, for our joy and for your honor and glory, AMEN.

 

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Crafton United Methodist Church, 6/28/15

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WellYarda

Somewhere around the year 30 AD, Jesus and his disciples were preaching the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom against the backdrop of the Roman empire and their occupying forces.

You could say “it was the best of times and the worst of times.” And because Jesus, in our Gospel reading for today (John 4) is traveling from the Temple Mount and Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, we could call today’s reading…

“A Tale of Two Mountains”

A long time ago, in a far away place, there lived a woman. She was pretty much your average woman… except that she’d been married five times.

We don’t know her name (I wish we did).

We don’t know how old she was, but if you figure an average of 5 years per husband with a first marriage at fifteen, by the time our story takes place she’s at least in her early 40s.

I mention this because somehow I always pictured her as young, but she wasn’t. She was most likely old enough to be Jesus’ mother. And she felt older – tired, worn out.

The woman lived in the city of Sychar in Samaria, known today as the West Bank. It’s a hard-scrabble land: mountainous, rocky, and dry. She lived not far from Mt Gerizim where the Samaritans worshiped, and not far from Jacob’s Well.

For the women in those days, the daily trip to the well was the highlight of the day. Women spent most of their time working in the extended family compound but once a day they went out and walked part-way up the mountain to the well to get water. And as they went they met neighbors and laughed and talked and caught up on the latest news. “How’s Aunt Mary?” “How are the kids?” And because it was hot, and the water jugs were heavy, the women went to the well first thing in the morning, when it was cool.

But this particular woman – she never went in the morning. She wasn’t welcome. I mean, five husbands…! At best that was a very long streak of really bad luck. If only one of the marriages had ended in divorce – we don’t know that any of them did – but if only one had, she would have been socially unacceptable.

But at this point it didn’t matter – now she was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She was no longer welcome among respectable people. She was shunned by the women of the town. She came to the well in the heat of the day – at noon – so she wouldn’t have to hear their words or look at their accusing eyes.

In a way, after all these years, she kind of liked having some time to herself. It gave her time to think. She was glad that, even as bad as things were, at least she still had her health. She wasn’t begging for money at the city gate, and she’d never been a prostitute. And sometimes as she walked up the path to Jacob’s Well she thought about the ancestors who had walked that path before her: Jacob, the patriarch, the one they called Israel… whose name means “he wrestles with God.” She could relate to that. Standing in the place where Israel stood she sometimes wrestled with God herself. And his sons: Joseph… Benjamin… Judah… all twelve of the brothers and their families. Some people said even Abraham had walked these paths once. When she thought about all the generations that had gone before she felt proud. Proud to be a Samaritan. She may not have been the most upstanding person in the world but at least she was a good and loyal Samaritan.

On another mountain, in Jerusalem, Jesus had just finished having a long talk with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Like the woman, Nicodemus had walked up a mountain alone, at an odd hour, not wanting to be seen. And in his own way he too was wrestling with God. Jesus had talked with him, done his best to answer the unasked questions, and now Jesus was tired and wanted to go home to Galilee. So the next morning he and the disciples set out northward. At midday, exhausted and hungry, the disciples went to grab a bite to eat while Jesus rested by a well.

That day, just like every other day, the woman of Sychar arrived at the well around noon… and a strange man sitting there! This was not good. Everyone knew a woman – a decent woman – would never be caught traveling alone. This was dangerous. Who was he? What was he going to do?

“Think fast” she thought to herself, but it was too late. He’d seen her. There was nothing for it but to get the water and get out as quickly as she could. If he was a decent man he’d ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there.

No such luck.

“Give me some water,” he said. No ‘please’. No ‘hi how are ya?’ Just a demand. From a man who – judging by his accent – had no business making any kind of demands of a Samaritan. Which she figured she’d better remind him.

She asked, “How is it that a Jew like you is asking for a drink from a Samaritan woman like me?”

If the conversation had taken place in our time she might have said: “hon, do you know who you’re talkin’ to?”

Because that’s exactly what Jesus heard, and it’s exactly the question he answered: “If you knew who you were talkin’ to, you would ask him for water, living water, the gift of God.”

Really? –she thought. That was a daring answer. This was a daring conversation to begin with! He’s unconventional. He says curious things. She kind of liked him. And even though he was young enough to be her son there was something about him she respected.

“Sir,” she said, using the Greek word kyrie – as in kyrie eleison, meaning Lord – “Kyrie, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. How…where… are you going to get this living water?” And she couldn’t resist the temptation to poke at him a little bit, reminding him of exactly which mountain he was currently sitting on. “Are you greater than our father Jacob whose well this is?”

He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give will never thirst again. The water I give will become on the inside of them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

What is he going on about? She wondered. But suddenly she felt very thirsty… thirsty for hope, thirsty for something to believe in. So she decided to go for it, and ask what he had invited her to ask. “Kyrie, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty or come here to draw again.”

He said, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The words cut like a knife. WHY?? Why did he have to ask that? The conversation had been going so well… she actually had begun to feel he respected her a little… why?… why was it, every time something important needed to be talked about, a man would push a woman aside and insist on talking to other men? Why? She could barely contain her rage as she spat out the words, “I’m not married.”

Three words. No kyrie.

“Well said,” Jesus replied. “Well said. You’ve had five husbands, and now the man you have is not your husband. What you’ve said is true.”

She could feel the rocks shifting like sand beneath her feet. Who is this man? How does he know? Wait… he knows this and he’s not going anywhere? He’s still talking to me?

Kyrie, I can see that you’re a prophet,” she said. “Our fathers worshiped here on this mountain, but you Jews say we have to worship in Jerusalem. What’s up with that?”

Some say her question was a dodge, but I disagree. For starters, the husband situation was old news as far as she was concerned. If Jesus could live with it so could she. Second, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you had the chance to ask one question of a famous man of God – Billy Graham perhaps, or CS Lewis – do you ask him how to improve your married life? Or do you ask the one burning question nobody else has been able to answer? And third, she was giving Jesus the chance to show what He was really made of. Would He put her people down? Or would He speak words of peace? So she asked the number one question on her mind: What is it God really requires of us?

Good question.

And apparently Jesus thought so too. So he explained how, even though salvation is from the Jews, the time was coming – and indeed had come – when neither mountain would be the place to worship, because people would worship God (who is spirit) in spirit and in truth.

In the deepest part of her soul the woman knew – this was right. It was the answer she’d been looking for, even if she didn’t quite understand it. So she said, “I know Messiah is coming and when he comes he will explain it all.”

And he said, “I am he.”

And their eyes met… and she looked into the human face of God.

She forgot all about the water-jug. (Jesus never got his drink.) But the woman became the first person Jesus ever told straight out that He was the Messiah. You might say she was the world’s first Christian evangelist. Her message was welcomed with joy by the people of her city – she was no longer an outcast.

And the Samaritans – who would never have offered a Jew a glass of water – hosted Jesus and the disciples in their homes for two days. And Jesus and the disciples did what good Jewish boys would never have done: they accepted the invitation.

And she never stopped talking about the day she met Jesus.

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The epilogue to our story can be found in the other two scripture readings for today.

In the Old Testament reading, the people of Israel quarrel with God over the need for water. Like Jacob and like the woman they too wrestle with God. All these people have one thing in common: none of them lets go of God until they receive the blessing.

For us also Lent may be a time of wrestling with God. If so, hang on and don’t let go until the blessing comes! Because it will come.

That’s what Paul promises in the reading from Romans: we have peace with God, not of our own doing but through him. Through him we are justified. Through him we have peace. Through him we have grace. Through him we are reconciled to God. Through him.

We DO hear the words “I am he” one more time – on yet another mountain – the Mount of Olives. Jesus says them to Judas and the mob that comes to arrest him, and at these words they fall to the ground. (John 18:6)

“I am he.” This is the ancient name of God – I AM. And there is indeed power in the name.

The testimony is ours.

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Preached at Incarnation Church, Strip District, Pittsburgh, Sunday March 23 2014

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The more I learn about race, gender, and history, the more I discover the issues of racial equality and women’s rights are inextricably intertwined.

Chains

Inspired by friend and artist Betty Douglas, I’ve been reading a book written back in 1839 entitled American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.  The book is a collection of first-hand, eyewitness descriptions of slavery in the southern United States, compiled by the American Anti-Slavery Society, one of the early abolitionist groups in the US, founded by former southerners who fled the south rather than live with the horrors they saw.

The book is heartbreaking.  It rings true as only eyewitness accounts can.  I read slowly, a few pages at a time.

Today I came across something that never would have entered my mind in a million years.  An excerpt from page 25, from the section Testimony of the late Rev. John Graham:

        “I walked up to the Court House to day, where I heard one of the most interesting cases I ever heard. I say interesting, on account of its novelty to me, though it had no novelty for the people, as such cases are of frequent occurrence. The case was this: To know whether two ladies, present in court, were white or black. The ladies were dressed well, seemed modest, and were retiring and neat in their look, having blue eyes, black hair, and appeared to understand much of the etiquette of southern behaviour.

“A man, more avaricious than humane, as is the case with most of the rich planters, laid a remote claim to those two modest, unassuming, innocent and free young ladies as his property, with the design of putting them into the field, and thus increasing his STOCK! As well as the people of Concord are known to be of a peaceful disposition, and for their love of good order, I verily believe if a similar trial should be brought forward there and conducted as this was, the good people would drive the lawyers out of the house. Such would be their indignation at their language, and at the mean under-handed manner of trying to ruin those young ladies, as to their standing in society in this district, if they could not succeed in dooming them for life to the degraded condition of slavery, and all its intolerable cruelties. Oh slavery! if statues of marble could curse you, they would speak. If bricks could speak, they would all surely thunder out their anathemas against you, accursed thing! How many white sons and daughters, have bled and groaned under the lash in this sultry climate.”

These plantation owners made slaves out of their own race as well as the Africans.

It may seem obvious that it takes generosity of spirit, or at least openness of spirit, to accept different kinds of people.

What has taken me longer to see is that the opposite is equally true: it takes the same crookedness of spirit, the same evil intent, to refuse to do so: that someone who hates on racial grounds will hate just as quickly on the grounds of gender, or poverty, or any other reason; that someone who craves power or desires to be cruel doesn’t care what means they use or who their victims are.

As a teacher I know – not just believe, but KNOW – that students only excel if their teacher can see good in them and encourage the good to grow.

What will mystify me to my dying day is why some people insist on refusing the good in themselves, insist on living in darkness, insist on depriving others of liberty and well-being, as if cruelty will ever satisfy their longings.

The Civil War never really ends.

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The debate has been running for centuries: what is and is not acceptable for women in terms of church ministry? Can we teach? Prophesy? Serve communion? Be ordained?  No two denominations answer these questions in exactly the same way, but beliefs generally fall into one of two categories: Some say women must take a subordinate role with limited participation (complementarianism); others say Scripture teaches full gender equality (egalitarianism).

The problem with these two terms is they confuse the issue.  Definitions of the terms are unclear and open to endless tweaking of minutae; but more importantly, all but the most backward of people would agree genders are equal in the wider world outside of church.  With this in mind, New Creation blog has proposed new terminology: “restrictive” and “non-restrictive“.  I agree with the author – these terms are far more accurate and much clearer not only for churchgoers but for outside observers as well.

Color me pleased to have useful words to work with.

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