Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Neither Male Nor Female

The sermon I preached in class. I am not sure it actually sunk it because there was no response. Apparently when a woman preaches it is silent but when a man preaches there are plenty of  "Amen!" and "Mercy!"

Some of you know that I spent a portion of my break in Cameroon. It is a country in western Africa, bordering on Chad, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. It is a conservative country with the majority of citizens being either Christian or Muslim. You either go to a church or to a mosque, but EVERYONE practices something. One of the interesting things while in country was watching the social status of different people. Ordinarily, as a young woman I would have been at the bottom of the totem pole. And yet, here I was a white woman, an ordained elder, and studying to be a pastor. Evermore the pastor I was with was a young female pastor who had left her husband at home to come on this trip. We confused them.

You see, Cameroon and the majority of western Africa is very conservative. They still hold to the ideals that women need to stay at home and take care of the children and be completely submissive to their husband. They follow teachings that are male centric and while yes, Paul did say "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" (1 Cor. 14:33b-36 NIV). That was not all he had to say on the matter and yet this is what conservative Christianity focuses on.

In the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28, Paul writes  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV) This verse makes us all equal. We are all on the same level. Race, nationality, gender, socio-economic class, with this verse, all of those things is thrown away. Paul states that we are all one in Christ. Like the verse in first Corinthians, this is taken from a letter written by Paul, and yet it contains a very different message. No longer is he keeping women silent and making them submissive but rather he is putting them on the same level as men.
Throughout his numerous letters Paul makes examples of different women. 

In his letter to the Romans, he makes an example of Phoebe (of the church of Cenchrea). In the same letter he makes an example of Priscilla. In his letter to the Philippians Euodia and Syntyche are the women he makes an example of. And in Philemon it is Apphia he chooses to mention. These women are not made example of for their wrongdoing. Paul does not choose to talk about them because they are not submissive enough, but rather he selects these women as an example for the great work they are doing for the church and in the church. Phoebe is pointed out as the diakonos of the church. This translates from the Greek to mean minister or deaconess. Pretty high position for a woman, if women are meant to be submissive. Priscilla is referred to as his synergoi, or co-worker in the church. Euodia and Syntyche are evangelists, spreading the good news in the area. Apphia is addressed as one of the three leaders of the church in Philemon. All of these women are honored and mentioned by Paul as serving the church.

In New Testament times most of the leaders, immersed in the male-centered Graeco-Roman culture, simply took male dominance for granted. Not Jesus! Jesus embraced those that it was uncommon to embrace. One of the groups he recognized and gave respect to was the woman. Whether it was touching a menstruating woman  as he does in  Mark 5:25, or talking to the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-30) or welcoming women as the first witnesses of His resurrection, He always treats women with dignity, as a fully human person. At times, Paul reflects Jesus’ pattern, but unfortunately for the most part he was a man of his culture, enjoining women to keep silent and wear veils to show their submission.

Our goal as Christians is to live as Jesus lived. The role of women in the New Testament is a varied one. They go from being the submissive property of their husbands to being ministers, deaconesses and church leaders. If we, as Christians, are to live as Jesus did, if we are to mimic His actions then we are to lead lives that respect all. We are to live in such a way that we respect the dignity of all people, as Paul said to the Galatians, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

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