Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Women Leaders: The Hierarchy piece

The issue of women in church leadership is about a prickly as a briar in your beachshorts. Everyone who cares about it cares about it a lot. Everyone who neglects to care neglects the key issue for young leaders within Western Evangelicalism.

It’s a big deal.

We’ve been working through this issue at the winds painstakingly for over four years. Currently, we do not permit women elders at the winds. In order for that to change we need unanimous approval from the current elders.

We’re close.

The remaining issue for us concerns the order of creation, or “hierarchical argument” as it’s sometimes called. In this piece, I present and dissect the argument, hopefully moving our Church ball down the theological field a little further.

There are three main scriptures in which the hierarchical argument is rooted. I’ll cite each, explain briefly the corresponding arguments, and then undo some of the confusion. Please note: this paper only deals with the hierarchical argument and not ANY of the other aspects pertaining to women in leadership (such as women teaching, women’s silence in church, authority, or female disciples of Jesus).

Genesis 2. 21-24
The LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman’ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Now, the basic argument that relies upon this scripture maintains that men are elevated above women because the man was created first, and the women second. Furthermore, God created Adam from the earth but Eve was created by removing a piece from Adam, thereby making Eve only a portion/derivative of God’s first person. Most scholars are careful to notice that Eve’s derivation doesn’t mean she’s worth less than Adam, just that her position in God’s hierarchy is subordinate to that of her husband.

There are some problems with this argument. First, I’m not sure the “order of creation” means everything we think it does about hierarchy, value, or authority. Just because Adam was made first doesn’t mean that Adam has more authority than Eve…at least, the scripture certainly doesn’t indicate that here. Furthermore, if earlier creation was proof of greater authority that would mean that all people are subordinate to every tree, plant, animal, star, and even the earth itself…something that Genesis 1.28 (fill the earth and subdue it) seems to directly contradict.

Additionally, we should probably note that the substance man and woman are made from are irrelevant in their value and position. Man is made from dirt (2.7), but woman from man (2.21-22), yet both are called “one flesh” (2.24). This “one flesh” means there can be no “first flesh” or “lesser flesh”…they’re one…they’re the same.

Finally, it’s important to notice that when God makes Adam a help-meet the Hebrew word (ezer) means something very different than it might at first appear. We typically think of a helpmeet as being a June Cleaver-type personality (apron on, in the kitchen, with muffins fresh from the oven), but that word (ezer) most commonly refers to God Himself…which certainly means that the helper is AT LEAST AS POWERFUL as the person receiving the help. Translators were careful to make this plain when the Bible was first put into Greek (in the LXX, Septuagint, version of Scripture), making sure to translate this passage as a “helper suitable unto himself” rather than just as a helpmeet.

1 Corinthians 11.8, 11-12
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man…In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman, and everything comes from God.

Here St. Paul apparently goes along with the hierarchical argument (in fact, for most scholars, Paul is the first biblical writer to actually make it), saying in verse 3 that the head of every woman is the man. However, we must notice the inclusion of verses 11 + 12 in this same passage which seem to reverse this argument almost completely: for as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman and everything comes from God. In other words, Paul is saying that Adam may have preceded Eve but – ever since – every woman has been necessarily preceding each man. Furthermore, Paul points out that this chicken-before-egg argument misses the point of authority completely because all authority ultimately comes from God anyway.

This is probably a good time to point out that – even though God often seems to pay special attention to things like hierarchy and birth order in the Old Testament – God frequently bypasses these hierarchical patterns. God instead of Esau, for example, used Jacob, even though Jacob was the second-born. Moses, too, was preferred over Aaron (his older brother). David, youngest son of Jesse, was elevated above his father, his family, his country, and even his existing King to serve as God’s chosen representative for Israel. This pattern calls to mind Jesus’ words in Mark 9.35: if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.

Genesis 3.16
To the woman God said, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

This passage of Scripture describes the curse God lays upon Eve for her disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Of key importance is that her desire will be for her husband and he will rule over (her).

However, this ruling-over should certainly be read as part of the curse resulting from sin, not from God’s original intention for His creation. Furthermore, this ruling-relationship is not something that the woman will desire – she will desire her husband, but in exchange will only receive his rule – it is something that the man will aggressively take from his wife. Still further, we should be very careful about attributing God’s blessing to the man’s actions as part of this curse. God is speaking prophetically, not prescriptively here: the man will rule-over, but not because God wants him too…God’s desire for mutuality has already been made clear in the earlier parts of Genesis. This ruling-over is a distortion of God’s creation, not an addendum to it. God has no desire for the man to rule-over – at least, the text certainly doesn’t say God wants that to happen, only that it will as a result of the sin committed.

As to whether or not this consequence should (or even does) endure, we might wonder about the role of Jesus’ atoning death. Jesus came to restore God’s original creation.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
ROMANS 8.20-21

Jesus came to undo the effects of Sin and the Curse upon the world. He came to reverse the work of the Fall and we have been buried with him through baptism and raised now into the life designed for us by God (Romans 6.4). The Curse, then, is not binding for lovers and followers of Jesus – he has freed us from that Curse forever.

There is more than can be said both in favor and dissent concerning the hierarchical argument. This brief summary covers the main points, with more to follow if further discussion based upon the biblical text is required.

Please be in prayer for our elder team as we thoughtfully and respectfully continue to review the issue.

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