Patriarchal Christian boys will only allow Priscilla to smile and nod silently as Aquila speaks

Jessica at Friendly Atheist and the Mad Priest both react to a strange story from Bristol University in the UK, where the boys in charge of the school’s Christian Union have barred women from speaking at its events.

John Bingham of The Telegraph has the full story:

Bristol University Christian Union emailed members to say that women will not be asked to preach – unless, in the case of a handful of married students, they are accompanied by their husband.

The decision represents the latest sign of the growing influence of conservative evangelical teaching, particularly among younger Christians.

“Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” — Acts 18:18

… In an email, which was obtained by the student newspaper, The Tab, the Christian Union president Matt Oliver, explained that the executive committee had decided in principle it was “OK” for women to be allowed to “teach” – meaning to preach from the Bible.But he added that he recognized it was a “difficult issue for some” and that therefore women would not be invited to do so at the group’s main weekly meeting known as “CU:Equip,” or on residential weekends or missions.

He added: “But a husband and wife can teach together in these.

“This means that women are able to teach (including on their own) in any other CU setting.”

The message adds that such was the strength of feeling that one member of the executive had resigned on theological grounds.

…  The Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, an Anglican priest and former Durham University chaplain, wrote on Twitter: “Bristol CU’s idea of compromise is rather like the CofEs — ban women so as not to upset anyone who might object to them.”

I think the muddled strangeness of this rule about husband-and-wife duos is yet another attempt by patriarchal Christian boys to deal with the huge biblical problem they can never get around: They attribute rules to the Apostle Paul which the Apostle Paul flagrantly ignored.

For the boys in the patriarchy, The Most Important Passage in the Entire Bible — a passage that trumps the greatest commandment and the second which is like unto it, and which justifies excluding half of the church — is 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

This was almost certainly the very passage cited by those Bristol Christian Union boys resigning in a huff. This was Paul’s rule, the PCBs say, so therefore it must also be our rule.

The problem is that if this was really Paul’s rule, then Paul must have been very upset with … Paul. Because he violated this supposed rule all the time. He acted, in fact, as though he was never aware that it was supposed to be a rule at all.

It’s a bit awkward that the same guy the PCBs insist did not “permit” women to teach was constantly going around commending women for their teaching.

Perhaps the most egregious case of this is Priscilla. Here she is teaching and having authority over a man in Acts 18:

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

Paul must have been furious. Priscilla broke his rule requiring her to sit “in silence with full submission.” She violated his rule by teaching a man, wielding authority over and correcting a male preacher.

But if Paul found any of that upsetting, he never said a word about it. He lived at Priscilla’s house for quite a while in Corinth, then took her with him as a teaching comrade on his trip to Ephesus. He greets her in his epistle to the Romans as a “co-worker in Christ Jesus,” not as a submissive silent partner. And because she really was his co-worker, Paul passes along greetings from Priscilla at the end of 1 Corinthians, where we also learn there’s a church that meets in her house. Paul also cheerfully sends greetings to her again in … wait for it … 2 Timothy.

Priscilla was kind of a big deal. And her prominence in the New Testament shows that the PCBs’ insistence on making 1 Timothy 2:11-12 some kind of rule against women is utter σκύβαλα, as Paul would put it.

I think this Bristol group’s odd rule allowing only married women to preach and only with their husbands present is their desperate attempt to account for this Priscilla Problem.

That’s apparently easier than simply admitting that whatever one makes of that bit from 1 Timothy, it clearly cannot mean what the patriarchal Christian boys so vehemently want it to mean.

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LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’
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LBCF, No. 181: ‘Meet the Steeles’

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  • Carstonio

    It does indeed seem like man-bashing, but it’s really a specific type of male entitlement. It places the responsibility for limiting men’s behavior on women. (If that sounds like a rape mentality, that’s probably because it is.) Men are perfectly capable of being taught by women without their egos wilting. Or attending a service by a female preacher without mentally undressing her. The patriarchs just don’t want to do so, because that would mean treating women as equals.

  • P J Evans

    some meddling editor pulling a “Junias” and turning her into a man

    It would have been a lot more obvious, for one thing. ‘Priscilla’ isn’t as easy to change to a man’s name.

  • SisterCoyote


    You’re probably right that they’re reading Paul’s writings as
    hard-and-fast rules, and I agree about the fallacy of assuming he meant
    these as rules. I suppose I want such men to have a Huck Finn moment
    where their consciences rebel against their reading of 1 Timothy.

    Fair point, and one I’d concede. It would definitely be awesome to see people realize that their consciences are a more important voice than that of a preacher 2,000 years ago – or actually, just about any preacher of any time, because you see this stuff with St. Augustine, too.

  • vsm

    “You see Priscilla pulled him aside and talked to him in private
    afterwards.  Even when she knew more than a man did, she didn’t
    contradict him in public.”

    That’s not a very good argument. If they really did want to interrupt a preacher in public to discuss the finer points of theology (a great way to make friends, I’m sure), but thought a woman shouldn’t do so, why didn’t Aquila speak up?

  • Tricksterson

    I woudn’t be surprised if, at the root, that was it exactly, although they probably wouldn’t admit it.

  • Tricksterson

    First we’d have to know what you think of that.  If you agree, why?  If you don’t have you spoken up?  If not why not?

  • Tricksterson

    Or they’re simply ascribing their own weaknesses to all men.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Honestly, I don’t think they care how it makes us feel. We’re supposed to submit to them, remember, meaning that they’re supposed to tell us how we feel, what we think, ETC. 

    So of course they’re going to tell us that we should be happy about this kind of treatment, and that we should go along with it willingly. And since they told us to feel that way, why would we feel stifled and abused?

  • Mary Kaye

    Many years ago I was running weekly open Pagan moon rituals, and we had one guy start attending who didn’t like to let women speak.  He’d interrupt them, he’d contradict them, he’d talk over them, he’d veto their ideas.  I ended up walking out of the first event he showed up at.  Someone else walked out of the next one.  Next business meeting, the group discussed this and decided to ban him.  One of the Board members–I’ll call him B–volunteered to meet with him and let him know.

    It ended up being a very long conversation in which the guy tried to figure out what on Earth had just happened to him.  At first he thought B had banned him and wanted to know why.  No, no, said B, I missed those rituals, it was the rest of the Board.  Why?  Remember the woman you offended in ritual one so she walked out?  A Board member.  And the one in ritual two?  Also a Board member.  4/5 of the Board is women, and you pissed them off bigtime.

    The guy was apparently flabbergasted.  *Women* made the decision to kick him out?  And men like B just went along with it?  His next tack was appealing to B as a fellow man in order to get back in.  No way, said B, you pissed off four good friends of mine.

    More amazement.  B’s relationship with these women–and he wasn’t even dating them, they were all married to other people–meant more to him than male solidarity?  Shouldn’t B welcome having another strong man in the group?  An ally against all of these *women*?  Couldn’t B recognize their common cause?  Or…had he appealed to the wrong person?  Was the true male leader of the group someone else?  He listed some names, but B just rolled his eyes….

    B is a very patient guy, and this went on for *hours*.  Didn’t change the outcome, of course, but apparently it was quite an eye-opener for B, and for me too.

  • MikeJ

     It does say that Aquila did speak up along with Priscilla, but it also says that both did so after the fact, in private.

    Someone could believe it was ok for Priscilla to correct somebody in private but not in public. That doesn’t force Aquila to speak in public.  This couple could easily be seen as meeting the standard set by the nitwits the article is about since the wife is teaching with the husband,

  • Parisienne

    I have no desire to defend the actions of this particular CU, but I think it’s worth saying that University CUs often do a lot of quite stupid things and I am not without hope that the people in question will see the light later.

    The main reason for the stupidity of CUs is the age of the people involved, i.e. usually somewhere between 18 and 20. This is often the first time these people have found themselves in a position of “spiritual authority” and it tends to make them take themselves more seriously than they ought, especially some of the more self-confident boys. CU members often come from quite sheltered homes and church environments and tend to see the world in quite certain, black and white “we know everything” terms. A few years later you realise you were basically an arrogant adolescent trying to pretend to be some kind of spiritual giant and you feel a bit embarassed.

    At their best, the main plus of CUs is that they can be a place where people form very close friendships and genuinely love and care for each other. Since this is the first time they are living away from home, this is a good thing. I don’t think they necessarily understand the way the rest of the student body sees them though (those not very fashionable and slightly pious people doing their boring bible studies).

    (FWIW, my (evangelical) CU did have more than one female president and allowed female speakers. But we were still basically a bunch of kids and did plenty of other stupid stuff that we thought was extremely important at the time.)

  • I wonder if it feels weird to always be at least 10 or 15 years behind the rest of the world. 

  • Carstonio

    “Or”? Perhaps the whole reason for sexism is because such men fear themselves to be inferior to women. If not for those specific weaknesses, than for others. Their emotional development probably stopped in middle school – they refuse to grasp that a woman in authority over them is not their mother telling them to clean their room, and very likely they perceive seeing cleavage as discovering the Holy Grail.

    Some guy once overdubbed a sexist narration onto the Cami Secret ad, lamenting that life sucks and the product was taking away one of his little joys of the day. If the Star Trek holodeck ever became a reality, I imagine men like him would spend every waking hour there as virtual Solomons surrounded by women, serving not just their sexual wants but also their pitiful ego wants.

  • christopher_y

    I thought Acts was generally thought to have been written by Luke

  • Tricksterson

    It is but Luke is usually considered a colleague/student of Paul so he’s often considered Paul’s mouthpiece.

  • Michael Pullmann

     She definitely wouldn’t have used her flute. You don’t treat your instrument that way.

    Music stands, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen and make a delightful KABONG sound when whacked against something.

  • For what its worth, it seems that BUCU have done one of the speediest reverse ferrets I’ve ever seen, but the Student Union is still looking into it. 

  • Jenora Feuer

     I always liked the line in Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up where Train, an academic and sociologist who has inspired (and repudiated) a whole batch of eco-terrorists, says “I am no more responsible for the actions of my followers than Christ is responsible for those upon whom Paul of Tarsus projected his own personal neuroses.”

  • Coincidentally, this is exactly how Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge got pregnant.

  • stardreamer42

     Wow. That’s a more-than-usually-overt illustration of homosociality, in its “bros before hos” guise.

  • 10 or 15? I’m in my 40s, and tried to look back on my life to any time I DIDN’T have women in authority over me; most of my school teachers were women; vice principals — who do most of the discipline in schools. Most management people I’ve worked for have been women; I can’t think of a time when I could AFFORD to consider women as anything but equals!

  • EllieMurasaki

    Teaching is a female-gendered job. (Not sure whether that causes or is a cause of the shit pay and shit respect, though.) Needing to respect teachers as people in authority over oneself is a thing one is expected to grow out of.

    Predominantly female management is not at all the norm unless the employees are also predominantly female. Like, my place of employment, the person who’s the whole division’s boss is male, everybody who can boss him is male, but both levels of managers between him and regular employees are all female except for the IT manager. This is a consequence of how the division is 90% female and the IT section has most of the division’s men.

  • MaryKaye

    I’m a geneticist.  My undergrad research advisor was female, my thesis advisor was female, and the chair of the department where I got my PhD was female (though the chair rotated on a tight schedule, so the position didn’t accumulate a lot of power).  I understand, however, that this would be pretty unlikely in many of the other sciences; genetics, as a relatively young science, has a bit more gender balance.  There is still a worrisomely large proportion of male faculty in my current department (including the chair) but given how hard we have tried to recruit women, I’m inclined to think it’s more a lack of candidates than a bias in our selection process.  We keep making offers and getting outbid.

    This is not to say that there aren’t problems.  We have an organization of women students and faculty dedicated to trying to resolve some of those problems.  In particular, female students far too often come out of their training feeling unqualified (“imposter syndrome”) which is bad for their mental health and career performance.  And women are way overrepresented in non-tenure-track appointments.

    I think the biggest problem facing women in my field is that the academic workload is hard to shoulder unless you have a support person covering for you in other areas of your life.  My chair shocked me by saying, during a hiring debate, “She would be a great candidate.  Do you know, she was on the phone working on her project with collaborators *while she was in labor*?”  Which, um.  Some of us are not Superwoman and actually need time off for things like that.

  • Tapetum

     O-O  *gulp*  Working while in labor would *not* have been happening for me. No way, no how.

    Out of curiosity, how does one address imposter syndrome? It’s something I’ve suffered from in various guises practically my whole life. Usually it’s only after I’m out of a particular position that I can admit to myself that I was pretty damned good at my job, class, whatever. When I’m actually in the midst of things, I constantly feel like I’m going to prove myself an idiot the next time I open my mouth.

  • The_L1985

    These people are taught that being an automaton is more godly than having free will. I grew up under this form of warped Christianity, and so did Fred.

  • The_L1985

    Depends. Is this just what happens to be the case right now? Or would a woman be barred from preaching if she expressed an interest in doing so?

  • The_L1985

    Fred is talking about people who view the Bible, especially the Pauline epistles, as having the final way in how all churchy business ought to be conducted. Such people will only back down if you point out that Paul, specifically, didn’t say what they think he said.

  • The_L1985

    I didn’t know breakaway cassocks existed. Clearly I’m behind in the adult-playtime department.

  • The_L1985

    These people believe that without the Bible, you can’t make moral judgements, only immoral decisions. They believe that God should be the sole decision-maker because human beings will always get it Very, Very Wrong.

  • Carstonio

    Heh. I was making up that type of clothing for a laugh, but I strongly suspect that such cassocks actually exist.

  • Carstonio

    Don’t they also view this as the final way in how all societal business ought to be conducted? Such as male headship of families?

  • The_L1985

    True. But I figure that someone who’s never encountered fundies may need to be eased in to the whole “these people view one book written 2000-3500 years ago as The Definitive Guide To Doing Everything Ever” concept.

  • Lori

    The fact that they were written by different human authors doesn’t really solve the problem though, it just kicks the can a little farther down the street. 

    The people we’re talking about claim that regardless of who the human author was all the books of the Bible were written by inspiration of God. They also claim that the Bible is supposed to serve as our guide for living now. The obvious contradictions create some major problems with both of those points, no matter who wrote the individual books.

    Of course, the contradictions create problems even for those who aren’t pushers of literalism and inerrancy, but that’s another issue.

  • Tricksterson

    It should be noted that when fundiies say “inspired by God” they don’t mean that God put the general idea into their head (which what I think happened with the Bible, and the Koran, and the Bhaga-vagita and, for all I know, Dianetics).  They mean that it was essentially dictated to them.