Someone tagged me on twitter with this article and because I don’t tweet very well, I will just say one or two things about it here, because blogging is the thing that I like best, though all the world tweets and tweets. It’s by Beth Allison Barr who has a book coming out soon, and it’s called “I knew the truth about women in the Bible, and I stayed silent.” It is full of lines like this:
It wasn’t actually the sermon that pushed me over the edge, although I do remember it had been about male leadership. What pushed me over the edge was a recent lecture I had given in my women’s history class. We were talking about women in the early church, as we moved chronologically from the ancient world to the medieval world. On a whim, I asked one of the students to open their Bible and read Romans 16 out loud (at a Christian university I can always count on at least one student to have a Bible in hand). I asked the class to listen and to write down every female name they heard.
Did you know, I asked my students, that more women than men are identified by their ministry in Romans 16? We sat there, looking at the names of those women.
“Why?” a student suddenly interjected, so involved in the lecture she didn’t even raise her hand. “Why have I not noticed this before?”
As I taught, I thought about my own church. About how women rarely appeared on stage other than to sing or play an instrument. I thought about how women ran our children’s ministry and men ran our adult ministry. I thought about the time I had been asked to teach an adult Sunday school class, and the pastor had come to look through my material. Since I was just teaching on church history, he let me do it. If I had been discussing the biblical text, though, it would have been a different story.
I remember feeling like such a hypocrite, standing before my college classroom.
Here I was, walking my students through compelling historical evidence that the problem with women in leadership wasn’t Paul; the problem was with how we misunderstood and obscured Paul. Here I was, showing my students how women really did lead and teach in the early church, even as deacons and apostles.
So anyway, in the spirit of charity, and not to be accused of “beating anyone up” which is what happens when, to paraphrase my own tweet, you disagree with someone in writing about the writing that she writes in public, let me point out one or two little troubles with the way that Dr. Barr–much like Dr. du Mez– has approached her task.
Let us observe what happened as she was trying to put all the pieces together. The first thing was that she had a revelation, an A-Ha moment if you will, that caused her to “see” something that had before evaded her notice.
We ought to immediately ask ourselves, isn’t that the sort of thing that happens to all of us at one time or another? Isn’t it possible to be going along through life and then suddenly be knocked back by seeing something in a new way? Yes, of course, else no one would ever learn anything, or invent anything, or do anything. But the revelation that a person–any person–has must then come under some necessary scrutiny. The revelation might not be a revelation if two other points are true.
First, you had your revelation because you were already unhappy. And second, the revelation exactly aligns with the zeitgeist of the day. In fact, your revelation takes you away from two thousand years of Biblical hermeneutics, or, in the case of Dr. du Mez, away from the explanations that people provide for themselves.
In the case of Dr. du Mez, her manner of doing history, if she were in another country and not her own, studying a group of people that didn’t share her language or culture, could be considered that awfully sinful activity–colonial. That’s where you use your own philosophical categories to judge other people before you’ve taken the trouble to understand those people and fairly describe them in a way that they would themselves accept.
In the case of Dr. Barr, she, at least in this article, has had a revelation in the classroom that is very the revelation that everyone wants to have right now. Never mind the extensive literature on the subject, the piles, and piles of writing and parsing of every single word of Scripture. Never mind that St. Paul has been shown over and over again not to share the assumptions of the average twenty-first-century female American scholar. Never mind that the Bible is replete with all kinds of rich, nuanced, and fascinating thoughts and feelings about men and women, and even “leadership,” which is also a category that is never really questioned by the people who are always trying to have it.
Anyway, I guess I didn’t even get past the title. I have to go on to the next thing. Perhaps I will, as they say, “circle back” to this, or perhaps I won’t. Who knows what the morrow may bring. Have a nice day!