While the scriptures of many faith traditions are interpreted to give men and women specific roles, restrict their activities or behaviors, and even subjugate them in some instances, I have a sneaking suspicion that culture and questionable literalism are too often the real source of “authority” in these matters. Scripture has to be read within a broader cultural, historical, and theological context than a narrow, literal reading of the text. Even literalism can lead to widely varying interpretations.
There is an old joke about three biblical scholars arguing over the meaning of the passage in the Hebrew scriptures about David’s dancing before the ark. One said that it obviously meant that David was in front of the ark dancing. The next disagreed and said it was clear that David danced before the ark existed. The third interjected that both were wrong. “Clearly,” the third scholars said, “David danced; then the ark danced.”
In the Christian tradition, some interpret passages in Timothy and Corinthians about women’s “keeping silent” in church to mean just that. In some denominations, women are not allowed to speak in worship services or to have authority over men. The Bible appears to be absolutely clear about that to them.
Yet in my own tradition, those passages are read in the context of the situation of the time, one in which Paul was addressing the confusion caused in churches by women’s sudden freedom in Christ to participate in worship - and asking a whole bunch of questions about what was going on! Paul’s advice was for the women to ask their husbands at home and not disrupt the proceedings; they had been raised in a tradition of access to the scriptures and the faith traditions. He wasn’t dictating for all time that women were to keep their mouths shut!
But more pertinently, Quakers have always sought to read the scriptures in the Spirit in which they were given forth and to give that Spirit primacy over the written word which, itself, is but a declaration of the Source and not the Source itself. And Friends have historically experienced that G-d’s Spirit has been poured forth on women to preach, prophesey, teach, and have authority. The early church had powerful deaconesses and women leaders. There were prophetesses and female judges & leaders in the Hebrew scriptures. Importantly, too, is the witness in Genesis 1 that G-d created men and women in G-d’s image as equals. Friends have interpreted the subjugation and marginalization of women following that creation narrative as the result of the “Fall” and humanity’s being “cast out of the garden.”
We are called to return to that garden - to a state of original harmony according to G-d’s design. And I believe we are given access to a Light and Power within - which is from Beyond - that enables us, when we are obedient, to return to that more perfect state of affairs. That certainly seemed to be the gist of Jesus’s message to the “woman at the well” in John 4! “The time is coming - and now is - when true worship will be in Spirit and in Truth.” He didn’t seem that concerned about the woman’s being a female! Or even a despised Samaritan! The restrictions of those happenstances were cultural constructs for Him. G-d saw something different.
And so should we.
Max Carter | Apr 13, 2011 1:05 PM