I am not a Christian, but I have studied the Bible. I think studying it is important, and gives us the lessons and words in context. We can’t pretend the Bible hasn’t affected our world. I think teaching the Bibleand the messages in it with proper historical and socio-economic background would eliminate so many of the problems with the current theocracy bent in the US and elsewhere.
In that vein, here are my thoughts.
When I first moved to Australia, I walked through the CBD (Central Business District) and was immediately confronted with a large Fundamentalist Christian group, attempting to witness on the street corner.
As I’ve said before, I’m not religious and I don’t have faith, but I’m fascinated by it, and enjoy discussions around all aspects of it. I wanted to ask these people questions, sit down with them over coffee and discuss their ideas and opinions, to understand them.
Things… didn’t go quite according to plan.
They had set up a large display that confused me - something about the 10 lost tribes of Judea and how the UK and US are heirs to prophecies of the End times, with a strong focus on emphasising that Israel and Judea are not the same. That part was never explained to me, which I can only imagine is because when asked if I had been saved, I shook my head.
“I can’t join a church that says that women should be seen and not heard.”
This, of course, became the point of our discussion - not the argument that people who are worthy in God’s sight will be healed of their illnesses, not focusing on the speaking in tongues aspect of their church, not even the slavish devotion to Paul and his epistles, but this man’s insistence that women should never and can never be heard in the church because it’s God’s Law.
I’m always taken aback by the insistence that Paul’s epistles are the only way to interpret the works of Christ and the words of the Gospels, that what was actually attributed to Christ, what is written in the Gospels, is less important than letters written to people who thought the end of the world was coming in their lifetime and that they should be properly prepared for it.
“Women can’t interpret the Word,” he told me, and what saddens me the most is how often this statement is contradicted in the Bible, and how this is meaningless to so many Fundamentalists.
In the genealogy given to Jesus in Matthew 1:1-1:16 there is listed five women: Tamur, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (as Uriah’s wife), and Mary. Each of these women were, in various ways, “fallen” women, and each of them were interpreters of God’s will on Earth. Four of them would have been very familiar to the audiences the Gospels were written for, as Mary is to us today. They were put in the narrative for a reason, one that is often completely overlooked by people who explain why women need to be seen and not heard in the church.
Tamur, also known as the Harlot at the Side of the Road. At the time, when a man died childless his brother was to marry his widow, and any children they had would be considered the man’s children. Tamur’s brother-in-law did marry her, but refused to have sex with her (or, more accurately, he “spilled his seed on the ground”) and was killed by God for not following the law. Then, Tamur was sent by her father-in-law back home, to wait until his last son was old enough to marry her, but mostly to get rid of her. She stayed there in her widow’s clothes, waiting, until she heard her father-in-law would be going through her home village. She waited for him, disguised as a prostitute, and had sex with him. He didn’t recognise her, so when he heard she was pregnant, he was prepared to have her killed for shaming his family. Instead, she proved it was him that she had slept with, fulfilling God’s law and shaming her father-in-law for not having followed it in the first place.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who protected two of the spies sent by the Jews before they attacked the city. She risked her life to keep them safe, and then helped to hide them from searchers, even though she wasn’t a Jew. She feared God, and was responsible for helping the Jewish army take over the city.
Ruth left her family and followed her mother-in-law into Bethlehem, leaving behind everything she knew. When there, she “lay at the feet” of the wealthy Boaz (”feet” being a euphemism for genitalia) and eventually married him, considering her children to be Naomi’s children. It’s a story often told of great loyalty, while ignoring both the sexuality (Ruth having had sex, or at least having gone to bed with, Boaz before they were married, in an effort to convince him to marry her) and the fact that Ruth was a foreign woman who wasn’t raised to believe in the Hebrew God - both reasons to distrust her.
Bathsheba was another man’s wife, taken by King David to be his own. David arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, and was punished by God by killing his first son. Bathsheba, who mourned her first husband, eventually gave birth to a second son, named Solomon, he of the famous wisdom. Bathsheba was punished twice for David’s lust for her - first by losing her beloved husband, then by losing her son. She was considered temptation, much like Eve. However, she was the one who gave birth to Solomon, one of the greatest Kings.
The man talking to me in Perth kept saying again and again that it wasn’t his idea that women couldn’t speak in the church, but God’s. That his wife didn’t mind and understood that women couldn’t interpret the will of God, only men could. That she was a strong woman, she just understood her place. That it was unfortunate, but that didn’t make it less true.
Only men can interpret God’s law.
Men like Joseph, who wanted to quietly divorce Mary for being unfaithful to him? Men like Lot, who offered his daughters up to be gang raped by the men of Sodom and Gomorrah? Men like Abraham, who despite being promised that he and Sarah would have children, agreed to have sex with her servant because he didn’t believe that God could make Sarah fertile? Men like Peter, who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed, after insisting that he would do no such thing?
Jesus had female disciples, and his initial appearances after his Crucifixion were to women. Even Paul wrote his letter acknowledging female leaders within the Church. But this group of Fundamentalist Christians, like so many others, believe that the true interpretation of God’s will and law is that women should be silent.
The man sighed at me, shaking his head. “What a tragedy that such a small thing is your stumbling block to faith,” he said.
I sighed myself. “I’ll pray for you,” I said, and walked away.