Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Men and women's roles: Intro

He let her knew early on who was the boss. He looked her right in the eye, and said clearly, “You’re the boss”. – Anonymous
don't go yet Lord, you haven't fixed the detailsI think I was probably 10 or so when I first began to puzzle why some boys thought about girls so much. OK, most of the girls I knew weren’t appalling or scary or anything like that, but they didn’t seem very exciting. For the most part, I was oblivious to them.

Then puberty hit, and that question has errr, evolved. No longer was the mystery the attention afforded the ladies, but the women themselves!

So this is where I strain the analogy and say that I have had a similar experience with the question of the role of women in the church and home. For many years after becoming a Christian I was happily ignorant, only dimly aware that some parts of the church were paying this issue a bewildering amount of attention. But sooner or later, if you’re a Christian, there’s just no evading this. This came home to roost when I led a Bible study on 1 Corinthians early last year and we got to chapter 11. What did I actually believe? I was left scratching my head – and I still do – but it’s no longer over the existence of this debate but rather over the complexity of the discussion.

It’s always wise counsel, especially in blogging, not to rush to comment over matters where you’re out of your depth, particularly when they are strongly emotive. Go to any relatively popular Christian blog, and you’ll always find that the posts that are most commented on, alongside predestination/free will, is on women in ministry. And trust me on this, the rhetoric that is sometimes used would probably make even Kenny blush.

And this is because, I think, partly due to the fact that these questions touch on the very core of our being. It’s about who we are, how we see ourselves. This isn’t just banal chitchat about how nice the weather is. This is part of a larger conversation in the wider world. There is a huge amount of confusion over what it means to be a man or woman today, not helped by the challenge to the categories of gender as an intrinsic part of our human makeup. Let me just randomly pull out two quotes from two introductory works I have on critical theory. “In proposing gender as a basic problem and an essential category in cultural and historical analysis, feminists have recast the issue of women’s relative identity as equally an issue for men, who, upon ceasing to be mankind, become, precisely, men.” “What the term ‘sexual difference’ [as opposed to ‘gender’] may usefully gesture towards, then, is the idea that identity itself is perhaps most productively and critically seen as fissured, haunted, at odds with itself.” Are women from Venus, men from Mars, or are we all actually part of a huge galactic diaspora? What of metrosexuals, female eunuchs and chauvinist pigs of both sexes?

NT scholar Scot McKnight thinks that “When it comes down to it, there is fear on all sides...fear coming out in a host of emotions and reactions. There is no one answer; there is nothing simple here; the reason this is a big issue is because it involves all of us — male and female — in all kinds of theological and ecclesial settings and it includes our marriages and our children and our basic decisions.” I think he’s on to something. And we might come back to this. And although the chatter is normally focused on the women, it's equally just as important for the men.

So I was very reluctant to get drawn in when Tim invited my participation on this, and more specifically, 1 Timothy 2:8-15. A "what the" moment indeed! In the end, though, I decided that this might be a good opportunity, at the very least, to locate my bearings. I find I’m always much better at clarifying my thoughts when I write them down, and anyway, this needn’t be taken as a definitive, comprehensive statement of my beliefs about the roles of women. I’m allowed to change my mind!

I had been trying to figure out how best to approach this. There's usually a big need for the discussion to be contextualised to minimise misunderstanding. The problem is that it’s hard to be pithy, as the gallons of ink spilled on this topic show. At the same time, I don’t want to overreach and end up saying too little in too many words. Very importantly, I feel, it is possible to get lost in a fog of issues, be it cultural, historical, a particular situation etc., but I think it's key that the starting point is the Bible, and so a lot of the discussion will simply be the hard work of looking at the text itself. Anyway, this is a rough outline of where I’m going:

A broad overview of what different Christians believe concerning the roles of men and women
A more in-depth look at 1 Tim 2:8-15, since this was the passage under scrutiny in the first place.
Further thoughts on miscellaneous issues not discussed above but which needs touching on.

All subject to change of course!

(Note: clicking on the "men and women's roles" label below to see the entire series).

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