Archive for May, 2009

Mr. Nass Responds, And I Remain Undaunted

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Since comments on my blog are available to any reader, I’m reprinting the latest missive from the brave covenant patriarch, Dontbia Nass, who loves to mock me while enjoying the cloak of anonymity. In our most recent exchange, D. N. thought my ministry to Mexican immigrants in the 1990s was a real hoot; I thought his denigration of outreach to the poor was lamentable, as was his insouciance toward their plight — for which I referred to him as one of the prophet Amos’ “Cows of Bashan.” Here’s his response:

“You missed my point entirely. There is a right way and a wrong way to pursue a worthy goal. From what I can see, your entire public life as a Christian is an example of the latter. In that regard, you and Paul Hill have a lot in common. I actually hope that your life ends up as more than an example of the wrong way to do things, and a source of pathetic humor. Please let us know when you are ready to start doing things God’s way rather that your way. I’m praying that happens this side of judgment day. “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (Dontbia Nass, May 11, 2009)

Three thoughts:

One, I can’t think of any Christian theology, worldview, or argument that would equate proclamation of the Gospel and aid ministry to the poor with the “wood, hay, and stubble” of empty works offered to God. Perhaps D. N. has found one, but I think it wouldn’t be something I choose to embrace. Trying in faith, by grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the Great Commission keeps me busy enough.

Two, comparing me to a man who gunned down an abortion provider in the name of Christ seems a little . . . uhhhhh . . . hysterical. I think probably the less said about that, the better.

Three, it’s a little hard to take seriously the rebuke of someone not brave enough to use his real name. But I’m trying. Maybe the Lord has something for me in
it . . . after all, Balaam was rebuked by a donkey. There could be a parallel here with Dontbia Nass, and I’m open to what the Lord has for me.

Meanwhile, I make no apologies for being a Gospel-preaching woman in a Gospel-averse, woman-hating world. My apology, if ever offered, would be in the form of rending my heart in repentance should I choose to not use the gifts God has given me to fulfill the mandate that we who are called by his name have been given. Ovaries aside, I love the Lord enough to do my part with what he’s given me.

Cows of Bashan

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Today’s mystery: Who is Donbia Nass?

And who really cares?

My post last week about the cool, groovy elder I ran into at Ren Faire, the one who ripped me to shreds for ministering without my husband’s “covering,” generated a comment from a reader who calls himself “Donbia Nass.” Mr. Nass (I’m sure that Wilsonites who criticize me anonymously and crudely are male, but I suppose I could be wrong) finds my ministry to “illegals” downright rib-tickling in its stupidity, and thanks me for the entertainment I provide him when I talk about such silly things. Such a clever, cowardly, anonymous little man, whose identity is about as important to me as the identity of the jogger who just ran past my house.

On the other hand, some of you may be wondering who in the world the “cows of Bashan” are, and why I would call Mr. Nass one. The Old Testament book of Amos, a faithful prophet of God who, oddly enough, used his real name, refers to haughty upper-class women who mock the poor and indulge in idleness and drink. From Amos, Chapter 4, verses 1 and 2, TNIV:

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness, “The time will surely come when you will be taken away . . . “

OK. Right away, you’ve noticed that I refer to Donbia Nass as male, and yet the cows of Bashan clearly refer to women. But the rebuke of the prophet doesn’t depend on the sex of the rebuked; only in certain theological circles is gender the lens through which all else is viewed. More reasonable, and humble, folks simply shudder at the message. They don’t giggle that the “cows” are female and Nass isn’t. Imagine a paraphrase: “Hey, honey — bring me a Guinness! I’m reading that dumbass chick’s blog again!”

That said, what does Scripture mean in condemning the “cows of Bashan”? These upper-class, indulged women were compared to the prized cattle of ancient Canaan — pampered, fed without worry, watered at the best troughs, and fattened for slaughter, a slaughter of which they were utterly unaware. The targets of Amos’ ire, then, are those who revel in life’s luxuries while spewing contempt for the poor, the victimized, the “other” whose path never crosses theirs by design. Donbia Nass’s mockery of my ministry to Mexican immigrants — he just calls them “illegals” — demonstrates the carefree indulgence of those fattened for slaughter, a slaughter invited by contempt for the poor.

Isaiah 58 sums it up well, and I hope my erstwhile critic takes this to heart:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

This comes as a plea to contend for justice and defend the poor from those who benefit from their oppression, and it’s a plea that follows the LORD’s promise that he will “put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.” (Isaiah 13:11, TNIV). I don’t have any idea who “Donbia Nass” is, and I don’t care. The Lord Jesus does know, however, and cares very much. Juvenile pranksters with cold hearts and arrogant attitudes won’t fare well at the Judgment Seat, and my prayer for Mr. Nass is that he repents of his bovine-like smugness and submits as a humble sheep to the Shepherd of his soul and mine.

Do keep writing, Mr. Nass, and know that you have my prayers.

"Occidental Christianity" and Non-Accidental Bigotry

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

That the following is affirmed by any human being is disconcerting.

That it comes from the Kinist/Occidental Christianity website ( is despicable — although its endorsement of social hierarchies and condemnation of miscegenation, integration, and social equality sounds disturbingly familiar. These folks, and the League of the South and other neo-Confederates, may be smarter, better-looking, and less craven than your average Klansman, but their education and social position condemn them further as they blaspheme God to proclaim their racist, anti-egalitarian, sin-riddled agenda:


We further recognize the value, uniqueness, and preciousness of all the Families of Man to God, and their equal theoretical participation in the salvation offered by God through election. This insistence distinguishes us from Christian Identity groups that hold to the belief that other people groups are either not in need of salvation (all have fallen short of the glory of God), or are in any sense subhuman, or worthy of less than the decency owed by all Christians to all men. When publishes materials disparaging of other racial-ethnic groups, it is for the sole purpose of exposing the incompatibility and essential uniqueness of the cultures in question.

This seeking of prosperity and distinctness for our European peoples is primarily to be achieved by conversion to the religion of our only Savior, Jesus Christ. We therefore, we denounce the sin of miscegenation as a violation of God’s created order which has permanent consequences for every heritable trait. We appeal to God’s creation mandate of “kind after kind.” It is the obligation of both church and state to forbid mixed unions according to biblical laws prohibiting unequal yoking. It is further expected and encouraged, that other racial-ethnic groups should desire and seek to realize the selfsame independence, nurturing, and self-provision we seek for our people, and we encourage and support those groups that foster such ends through peaceful and law abiding means. It is in view of this insistence on the peaceable and lawful means of change that we denounce the use of violence and terror to achieve that change. In addition, we advocate a natural, chivalric, hierarchical social order. Since the differences among men are in large part endogenous, it is meet that these differences will show themselves in the fruits of social organization, whether that is difference in wealth, position, or in abilities of all kinds. We honor and celebrate the shared history and distinctives of our people, its ancient heroes, its legends, its celebrations, and all of its variegated glories, while recognizing its failures, its latter day degeneracy, and its need to universally submit to the Law of God.” (

I’m waiting for a concentrated, passionate evangelism campaign toward these reprobates from the extreme Religious Right, particularly those Confederacy-loving patriarchs in Moscow. On the other hand, it’s not bloody likely; it seems that Sweet Home Alabama’s shaded verandas provide ample room for all sorts of folks to enjoy the sweet tea of privilege, liberally laced with the rotgut of bigotry.

Ashes and Tears

Monday, May 4th, 2009

My father would’ve turned 74 today.

My brother, my mother, and my dad’s wife will, sometime today, drive west out on 36th Street to the foot of the Tucson Mountains and sprinkle his ashes over the desert floor, where, symbolically, they’ll join the ashes of his parents, my beloved Papa and Grandma Lou. I couldn’t be there, couldn’t afford another flight out to Tucson, but I’ll spend the day remembering. And I’ll grieve, but grieve with rejoicing. Someday, I don’t know when, the trumpet of the Lord will sound and those ashes, I don’t know how, will knit together and fill out and rise up, and in the twinkling of an eye, dad will be raised, resurrected to join his soul in the sweet presence of Jesus.

It doesn’t require my understanding; it requires only the perplexing, extravagant, inundating love of Christ, himself raised up.

Why It Matters More Than Ever

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Why, yes, Saturday’s post WAS a long one . . .

And it was a revision of a paper I did earlier that week for a Western Washington friend whose ministry in her church is forbidden by virtue of the classic double-whammy of evangelicalism: She’s a woman, and she’s been divorced. I pray that my work will enlighten her pastor and open doors for her. She’s an enormously talented, Spirit-gifted and highly educated woman. The Body needs her.

But I was fairly spent after both the original essay and the blogpost, so I headed out to Ren Faire. Surely nothing at Moscow’s Renaissance Faire would dredge up anything personal in relation to sexism in the church, nor was it likely that I’d have to face any intellectual challenges. I’d just, you know, hang out for awhile. Eat, and then regret eating, an elephant ear. That’s all.

Then I saw him — the formerly ponytailed, still-tattooed, hippie-looking elder at a local church who, a few years ago, shattered me, wounding me in ways I’ve only recently fully recovered from. This guy, with his lovely, organic-looking wife, was a firebrand for “relationship” over doctrine and for not “putting God in our white, middle-class box,” and he had a passion for ministry to punks, Goths, methheads, street kids and battered women. The “wineskin” of his ministry looked great; I’m infinitely more comfortable with tattooed, ponytailed, torn-denim-and-tie-dye-types than with dress-suited, cologned, slick-haired stalwarts of the faith, and for awhile this man and I were pretty good friends. But while the wineskins looked new, and vibrant, and radical — because we simply MUST be radical in a culture in which being a Christian involves nothing particularly upsetting — the wine he poured out one day was sour, foul, and bitter beyond belief.

He told me, told me in my own home, that no one had come to Christ during my nearly 12 years of ministry to Mexican immigrants, because I had operated without my “covering” — my non-Spanish-speaking husband — and had presented the Gospel to and taught men. And if anyone DID come to salvation, he said, it was in spite of, not because of, my work; God condescended to plow through my sinful usurping of Jeff’s authority to pluck maybe a few souls for His purpose. Finally, this elder, one of four men who rule this particular congregation, said that if he had had his way — because it says so in First Timothy — I would never have been in ministry then and I absolutely wouldn’t be now, here in Moscow, not unless I submitted to Jeff’s “covering.”

It was at this point that Jeff threw him out. We left the church shortly after, and for a time I wondered if I’d ever go to another church again. Ever.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my husband financed my ministry in Snohomish County, Washington, for all but about 18 months, laying out — enthusiastically — thousands and thousands of dollars to buy Bibles and supplies and Christmas gifts, paying rents, paying mechanics, paying medical bills, and doing it with joy and, I think, not a little pride in his wife. But he was my partner, and when the “covering” issue came up over there, he dealt with it swiftly and surely, daring to suggest that Christ was all the covering I needed. I treasure my husband, but I obey Christ Jesus.

I would’ve preferred to enjoy Ren Faire without such a painful, jarring reminder of hurt and rejection, and I freely admit that I avoided being anywhere near them; I’m too angry to exchange small talk with a man, a church elder, who cares so little for people’s souls that he would rather they not hear the Gospel at all than hear it from a woman.

That’s what’s at stake here, and that’s why I write.

Paul Had The Gnostics, We Have The Sexists

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Despite the clear picture of mutuality and freedom for women and men described throughout the New Testament, three NT passages from the Apostle Paul continue to be used to hinder women’s full participation in all offices and areas of the church. As with other “hard” passages in the Scriptures, a proper hermeneutic is necessary in understanding what our Lord said through Paul, and that hermeneutic involves taking the context of these seemingly variant passages into mind when exploring their meaning.

“Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was the woman, not Adam, who was deceived by Satan, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing and by continuing to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.” 1 Timothy 2:11-15, NLT

This passage is clearly problematic for those who see the revolutionary social equality in the New Testament (Galatians 3:28, for example, or the calls for mutuality between men and women in 1 Corinthians 7), a message that erased distinctions in church service and Kingdom living between men and women, slaves and free, Greeks and Jews. On the face of it, Paul appears to be very clear, writing that he does not “let women teach men or have authority over them,” and the apparent clarity of verses 11-15 has been used to keep women out of positions of ecclesiastical or instructional authority – even though they do not, at first reading, square with Paul’s acknowledgment of women leaders and teachers in other NT passages (see Romans 16, for example, where he notes the apostleship of Junia and the diaconate of Phoebe). A bedrock principle of Biblical hermeneutics is that difficult passages must be interpreted in the light of the clear teachings of the whole context of Scripture, a context here that reveals the specificity of Paul’s directive to the Church at Ephesus a generation after Christ’s ascension. And context here is crucial: The Gnostic heresy that a century later would inundate the culture was already making inroads into the Church, and nowhere else was it more prominent than in Ephesus, home of the Temple of Artemis. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a point-by-point refutation of that heresy and cannot be construed as a “once and forever” prohibition in the Church.

From a wider perspective, the passage is not consistent with Paul’s lauding of Priscilla, Phoebe, Chloe, Lydia, Nympha, Junia and other women who led churches in “their” homes or instructed men, as Priscilla did, in the Gospel. Some point out that Priscilla taught Apollos alongside her husband – the only proper way, they assert, for a woman to teach men – but Paul consistently lists Priscilla before her husband as a teacher and leader of the Church that met in their (not his) home. When Paul is named alongside another co-worker, we assume that he is thought to be and should be considered the primary leader. We cannot refuse to acknowledge the same for Priscilla. Moreover, we cannot take 1 Timothy 2:11-15 at face value when it contains much that is contrary to his, and to the Lord’s, presentation of Gospel freedom and Spirit gifting in all who follow Him. Paul refers often to women and men who have “contended” with him for the Gospel. No different verb is used for the women, no qualifying point is offered to restrict them, and no alternate explanation attempted in the face of our Lord’s choosing to reveal himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman, entrusting the women with the glorifying news of the Resurrection, and honoring Mary over Martha for choosing “the better things” of Christ’s instruction over traditional women’s work.

And yet the Church cling to this puzzling text like a splintering plank in choppy waters. It’s evident that there are immediate problems in the text, one of which is verse 15, which appears to claim that women will be saved through “childbearing.” Clearly, no one familiar with the Gospel would suggest that while men are saved by grace through faith, women are saved “through childbearing.” We correctly assume that what Paul says here is NOT that the Gospel can save only men, while fertile women, presumably married, require in addition to or instead of the Gospel an ability to bear children to secure their salvation. Some have translated this as “the Childbearing,” or the incarnation of Christ — which doesn’t just save women, but men also. Either way, we may not understand what he meant by this, but we’re sure about what he didn’t.

But scholars have wrestled for centuries with verses 11-15. It is troublesome at every point. For example, v. 11 says that “women should listen and learn quietly and submissively.” That in itself was shocking – that a woman “should learn” at all was a jolt to the social order of the day among Paul’s audience. But her “submissive” approach to instruction was the same attentiveness and respect required of all learners of Rabbinical teaching, not a prescribed silence directed only at them. Evidence of this is Paul’s acknowledgment and approval of women’s praying and prophesying – in NT times, the giving forth of God’s words of instruction and encouragement to the assembly – in 1 Corinthians and his repeated assertions that many women “collaborated with” him or “contended for” the Gospel. These verbs are active and yet not gender-specific, however revolutionary their application to women of the time was, and his call in 1 Timothy for women to take their place alongside men in being instructed in the Gospel sets the stage for a radical departure from the Hebraic culture his followers came from and the Greek culture in which they lived.

In v.12, Paul appears to make a blanket statement that women are not allowed “to teach men or have authority over them.” Prominent evangelical scholars have noted that the correct Greek translation of verse 12 is “I am NOT NOW permitting women to teach men or have authority over them,” which suggests that his prohibition is temporary. Faced with creeping Gnosticism, Paul is concerned here with the societal witness of the Church as well as its conformity to the clear meaning of the Gospel. As we see in all of his other letters, Paul’s primary concern is that no one be unnecessarily repelled by the Gospel and the freedoms it allowed; he asked for a voluntary curtailing and constraining of individual rights so that those on the outside would not in any way confuse women’s Gospel freedoms as Gnostic in origin, causing undue offense. He was “not presently allowing/permitting” women to teach or have authority over a man because of the licentiousness involved in Gnosticism, as well as the strict gender divisions in synagogue, society, and home among the Jews of that time — gender divisions not found in the glory of Eden, but only present after the Fall. Paul’s intent in “not presently permitting” women to teach or rule requires, for the modern reader, an understanding of the point-by-point refutation of Gnosticism found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

Gnosticism taught more than a division between body and spirit, with “body” and all things material judged to be foul while the “spiritual” was esteemed. Gnostics attempted to explain away, for example, the physicality of Christ by saying that Jesus became the Christ only at the time of His baptism or, perhaps, His crucifixion, and the Gnostic disgust for the body led to marked licentiousness – after all, if the body was fouled, how could sins committed in the body be terribly problematic? In addition, the Gnostics in Ephesus encouraged worship of the goddess Artemis, and from this sprang teachings of female primacy in creation and female supremacy in life and in wisdom. The Gnostics taught that women were created first, were superior in every way to men, and were defiled by “female things” like menstruation and childbirth. This gave rise to a debauched sense of female privilege and primacy, welcomed, unfortunately, by women who were limited in their participation in society if they were Greek and, if they were Jews, who lived among men who thanked Yahweh daily for not having made them – fathers, husbands, sons, brothers – Gentiles or women. As part of the rise of the Gnostic heresy, this reckless female primacy began to creep into the Church – resulting in gross licentiousness and feelings of superiority among Greek and Hebrew women who, prior to Gnosticism, had suffered tremendous oppression by men. Tragically, Gnosticism felt like liberty. Like all heresy, it enslaved rather than freed.

It’s precisely because of the freedom the Gospel gives women, however, that these Gnosticized women were causing trouble in the Ephesian Church. The liberty bestowed on women in Christ’s teachings and example quickly invited an out-of-control, libertine frenzy that ignited claims of female primacy in creation, female supremacy in ontology and intellect, and female “deliverance” from women’s bodily distinctives. Verses 11-15, then, were written in a Gnostic culture as Paul, out of concern for the witness of the Church in its culture, attempted to rein in these gross excesses. This is why he says in v. 13, seemingly remarking out of nowhere, that “God made Adam first, and afterward He made Eve.” Appeal to the order of humankind’s creation here does not charge Eve, as some have said, with being the originator of sin; Romans 5 and Paul’s First-Adam/Second-Adam analogy would have to be entirely discarded if it did. Instead, this is a direct refutation of the Gnostic claims that women were first-created, inherently-superior beings in relation to men.

The mystery deepens in v. 12, where Paul says “(I am not now permitting) women to teach men or have authority over them.” The verb that Paul uses in “have authority” is authentein, which is an extremely rare verb that is found in only a handful of documents of that time, and which did not commonly mean “be the boss” or “take charge.” Authentein is a perplexing verb whose meaning ranges from “to murder” to “to claim origin above” (from which we get our English word “authentic”) to “one who accomplishes/originates falsely an action of primacy.” There are other words Paul could have used, and did in other passages, to limit someone’s “being in charge,” but here he chose an extremely unusual word instead. But if Gnosticism convinced women that they were first in creation and had ontological superiority over men, Paul’s use of “authentein” makes sense. In using this strong-but-multiply-defined word, Paul is insisting that women not pronounce themselves originators of mankind, inherently superior to individual men, and the only source of pure “gnosis” (knowledge) leading to salvation. He prohibits women’s teaching, falsely, that they reign supreme in creation, and he prohibits these largely unlearned women from wrongly usurping the teaching ministry of men on the basis of their supposed preeminence in creation and in gnosis. Therefore, a contextual paraphrase of Paul’s words might be something along the lines of “Women should listen and learn as submissive students. I’m not currently prohibiting (because of the female-obsessed, licentious culture around us) women to teach or proclaim dominance over men. Let them be instructed in the Way . . .”

This is clearly Paul’s point in verse 14, where he says that Adam wasn’t “deceived,” but Eve was. Conservatives deny women’s ecclesiastical authority by arguing here that this is a reminder of Eve’s having been tricked — easily duped, and a model for female flightiness and foolishness. But they ignore the truth that Adam, directly instructed by Yahweh, simply chose to disobey. One would hardly argue that because of Adam’s direct disobedience (as well as his blaming his sin on Eve), men are more sinful and less courageous than women, and it’s equally fallacious to argue that because of Eve’s ignorance, women are particularly dumb, especially naive, and thus utterly unfit to assume Church authority. We know that both women and men are sinful, and we know that both women and men are capable of great intellect. Those to whom God has given gifts of teaching are gifted on the basis of the Spirit’s own pleasure, not by gender, and to use this verse to keep women from teaching positions in the Church ignores Paul’s example here and elsewhere in not making the Gospel unnecessarily offensive to the prevailing culture.

Remembering that the Gnostics taught that the body was defiled and that giving birth was especially polluting, the puzzling assertion in v. 15 that “women will be saved through childbearing and by continuing to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty” is clearly troublesome when viewed through the lens of a Gospel accepted by men and by women only by faith through God’s grace. It cannot mean that bearing children “saves” women, but, in a Gnostic culture, it can – and does – mean that the prevailing notion that women were degraded by physical manifestations of womanhood such as menstruation and childbirth is wrong, opposed to the Gospel at every point. And if it does mean “the Childbearing” of Jesus Christ through Mary, the equality of men and women in Christ is further cemented, as it is by the understanding that all should follow “the Way” in “faith, love, holiness and modesty.” Would we argue that men aren’t somehow required to exhibit the same fruit? Women are neither defiled by childbirth nor saved because of it; the birth of the Christ brought salvation into the world for both women and men. Therefore, this seemingly aberrant verse, and the problematic verses before it, become not a prescription for female suppression in the Church now, but are instead a clear denouncement in five verses of the primary teachings of Gnosticism. And if we read “women will be saved through childbearing” and conclude that whatever it means, it doesn’t mean exactly THAT, we must also, then, read the other verses with an understanding of the context in which they were written, not with a wooden, first-glance literalism that no more honors Scripture when applied here than when applied to any other verse.

Paul’s overriding concern was not only the truth of the Gospel, but its fair hearing and eventual acceptance in whatever culture he dealt with. Women, he taught in Ephesians and in First Corinthians, were as free and as equally gifted as men – but often the cause of the Gospel is furthered by the voluntary curtailment for a time of individual privileges, liberties, and rights afforded by the Gospel. In Gnostic Ephesus, the presence of women teaching men might appear to be an affirmation of Gnosticism and could harm the Gospel outreach by unwittingly linking it with the very heresy Christ’s message condemns. It makes sense that in that day, Paul would ask that women lay down certain freedoms – for a time – in order to not cause offense to the non-believing hearers of the Word. But in our day, continued restrictions on the public and ecclesiastical ministry of Spirit-gifted women contribute to the disdain with which our society, which generally accepts women as fully equal partners with men, hears the Gospel message. We cause unnecessary offense to our society when we bar women from leadership roles in the Church, proclaiming that in doing so we are honoring Scripture when, in fact, we are bowing to gender-role tradition and a plucking out of context Paul’s culturally conditioned restriction of women in a society that was fraught with errant ideas of female supremacy.

There is no other tradition or doctrine in Christianity that relies solely on two or three problematic, contradictory verses in Scripture. Believers today don’t, for example, kiss one another, give up private ownership of all their property, or wash one another’s feet. We see these, and correctly so, as time-bound, culture-specific instances that teach a larger truth such as the need for affection, service, and submission among the people of Christ. The continued barring of women from teaching and ecclesiastical leadership stems not from a serious study of Paul’s message, the Gospel of Christ, or the testimony of the NT, but from the insistence of men and women that these verses, and only these verses, be read just at face value, with a wooden literalism that ignores the panoramic vision of the New Testament. In doing so, the Church not only limps along at half-strength, but also unnecessarily alienates men and women who are rightly offended by continued emphasis on strict gender roles. That emphasis is wrong, based on the Bible that teaches that the Spirit gives gifts, all kinds of gifts, to men and women as He pleases, with no restriction in the bestowing of Spiritual gifts between men and women. There is much in the Gospel that rightly causes offense – we ARE sinners, and we DON’T have any means to God except through Christ. But to cloak the Gospel in shiny, fresh, supple new wineskins while pouring out the bitter, sour wine of gender discrimination is a disservice to the unbelievers we say we care about, a wrongful and misguided concession to culture and tradition that flies in the face of the teachings of the One in whom women and men alike share equal status, equal gifting, and equal opportunity.

Churches today rightly focus on making the Gospel clear and available to our post-Christian world, and many consciously choose to work cross-culturally and, at times, at odds with the prevailing culture in which it operates. These believing communities want to exhibit a fresh, relevant, freeing message to a world consumed by sin, fear, guilt and despair, and they intentionally seek to break down traditional barriers to the Gospel while preserving its truths. But the Church that strives to be relevant and relational doesn’t look to unbelievers fresh, bold and exciting when it holds tightly to Biblically indefensible and culturally-bound gender roles. It looks, to a culture accustomed to seeing women as physicians, mothers, teachers and leaders, out-of-touch, even bigoted. The unnecessary offense to unbelievers caused by the Church’s restricting the roles of women – conducting ministry based on gender, not Spirit-giftedness – causes tremendous harm, and when we read Paul in context and understand the eternal truths he taught while setting aside the culturally-specific dictates he sometimes issued, the Church can operate in fullness and in strength. The offense of the Gospel should be in its insistence that all are sinners. It shouldn’t be in an insistence that some, simply by virtue of gender, are to be perennially kept from using the gifts given them by a loving God.