August 1, 2016

Courtesy bykst, Pixabay

Day 99: The Evangelical Problem with Women

If you’re just now picking this up, you might wish to read Day 101, where I introduce this series and provide context as we march inevitably toward the American general election on November 8.

Yesterday, we considered the remarkable and historic nature of an American election that has — finally — put forward a female nominee for President. As a moderate who has voted for both parties in presidential elections, I contend that Democrats and Republicans alike should rejoice. And today I want to ask my friends who count themselves a part of the “religious right:” if you’re not celebrating this historic moment (which is entirely a separate issue from whom you will actually vote for in the election), why not?

Courtesy Hans, Pixabay

Ancient History and The Art and Science of Scripture

Hermes is the Greek name for the god the Romans called Mercury, an emissary who, among other duties, delivered messages between the gods and humankind. So the word hermeneutics represents both the art and science of interpreting scripture. Despite the evangelical predilection for a “literal” interpretation of the Bible, it should be obvious that not everything can be interpreted at face value. Thinking about the language of romance, for example, my grandfather might have said of my grandmother that she “hung the moon;” if I had a granddaughter of a certain age, she might describe her new love as “hot.” Neither image can be taken literally.

  • Genre. Beyond these idioms (and the oft-overlooked fact that scripture was written in entirely different languages), the genre employed within each of the 66 books inside the Christian Bible is of note. I might expect more poetic imagery as I read the Psalms than I would find in the book of Acts. So, for example, when Psalm 104:5 describes God as the one (and I’ve used the King James Version here just for fun), … who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever, it doesn’t mean we should assume that the earth is flat, in spite of medieval-era thinking.
  • Historical and Cultural Context. Is Paul speaking out of both sides of his mouth when he returns a slave, Onesimus, back to his master (Philemon 1:12) even though he declares, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV)?[1] This is the kind of question that clearly cannot be answered by a literal reading, and even a very conservative evangelical scholar, John Piper, agrees.

This is key: while the conservative reading of scripture has clearly evolved on the subject of slavery since the Civil War, the same contextual and historical issues remain an obstacle to true gender equality within certain elements of the evangelical church, in spite of the stunning Pauline declaration already noted — neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. (In these days of the remarkable Pope Francis, even Catholicism is re-examining some of its historic positions in this regard.)


Tomorrow, we’ll talk a walk through history to discover a few of the unsung Early Church Mothers, and consider its implications for the evangelical conception of gendered relationships.

  1. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.