The Stained Glass Ceiling – Part 3 of our sermon series The “ism” Factor

It’s amazing how sometimes life and our Sunday sermon intersect.  Today, during the Super Bowl, I saw this commercial and thought how totally appropriate it tied in to what we have been talking about.  Hope you enjoy.

Would you give your life for the Gospel?

We probably all hope we would. When push comes to shove, we would like to think we are the kind of people who would be willing to give their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. But even Peter, one of the most dedicated of Christ’s disciples, the one on whom Jesus founded the church, even he denounced Christ when it became dangerous to know him. Peter swore he wouldn’t, but he did. And if Peter couldn’t do it, can we? It takes a person of incredible strength and courage to put their life on the line for the Gospel. I was fortunate to meet someone like that when I was a chaplain at the Wesley Woods retirement home back in Atlanta. She was one of the first female pastors to serve in Georgia. If you think the Deep South is less open-minded now, imagine what it must have been like 40, 50, 60 years ago. For a woman to serve as lead pastor in a church back then was a dangerous assignment. She told me right away she started getting death threats, even before her first day. People threatened to kill her if she took the pulpit. The superintendent offered to reassign her somewhere else because he was worried for her safety. She refused. She decided to stay. She didn’t want to be chased from the pulpit when she knew she was doing the right thing. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who dares to call themselves a Christian would threaten a pastor’s life, let alone anyone’s life. But to threaten to kill a person for what? Being a woman? I can’t imagine that this is the kind of behavior Jesus would have wanted or expected from his people.

Proud to be ordained with both women and men who love God
Proud to be ordained with both women and men who love God

Today the church’s attitude toward women has improved.

The United Methodist Church was one of the first to ordain women and many others have followed suit, but there are still plenty of churches within the United States let alone the world that do not allow a woman to serve as lead pastor based on one qualification alone. Gender. Only 6.2% of church attendees saw a female lead pastor even though 60% of those attendees are female themselves.[1] Only 53.6% of attendees belong to churches that even let women preach and only 42.3% allow them to be lead pastor at all.[2] And this is in the United States. For a country that itself preaches equality and equal opportunity, we show our hypocrisy when we exclude people based on gender. The church is one of the last places to be allowed to discriminate on this basis alone. Some might argue that women plain don’t want to be pastors, but even in today’s unfriendly-to-women market, women make up about 1/3 of all seminary students.[3] And that’s in a job market where their chances are less than half of taking the pulpit. It’s not a lack of qualified women that holds us back from making progress. It’s sexism disguised as Biblical interpretation. It’s not a lack of leaders, it’s a lack of listeners. It’s not a lack of leaders. It’s a lack of listeners – people who would rather uphold old, outdated interpretations of the Bible instead of listening to what God is actually saying.

“But the Bible says…” is a weak argument to justify institutionalized sexism.

“But the Bible says…” is a weak argument to justify institutionalized sexism. We’re going to read a passage from 1 Corinthians 11 this morning beginning with verse 2. 1 Corinthians 11:2 so if you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, go ahead and find this passage. 1 Corinthians 11:2. Think about all the times that phrase (“But the Bible says…”) was used to justify so many other injustices in society. Slavery, racism, witch hunts, anti-communist blacklisting, are just a few of the ways we have misused the Bible to advance our own social agendas. This one is no different. Primarily one passage in the Bible is used to prop up the sexist argument – 1 Timothy 2:12-14 which reads, “12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” Even if we ignore the fact that the Bible presents evidence that Paul acted contrary to this letter and that he indeed allowed women to have authority over men, even if we ignored the fact that Paul said, “I do not permit” and not “God does not permit,” even if we ignored all of that, the evidence in the Bible itself refutes this being a statement to justify the subjugation of women. Because God gave authority to women as well as men to lead his people. You only have to look in other chapters of the Bible where God gave authority to women to lead; women such as Deborah and Esther and Phoebe and Priscilla, women in both the Old and New Testaments who wielded authority over men and men who accepted it willingly because it was the will of God.[4] We’re going to read now a somewhat confusing and contradictory passage in the Bible and I want you to focus on two verse in particular, verses 11-12 because they form the heart of our argument today which is not to say that there aren’t many other passages to support our claim that sexism is against God’s will, but that this one will serve nicely for what we are talking about. It’s the passage where Paul is instructing the church in Corinth on covering your head in worship. If you’ll please rise as you are able for the reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Hear now the Word of God.

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Instructions on setting up your Commodore 64
Instructions on setting up your Commodore 64

Paul is all over the place in this passage.

First, he establishes what he believes to be the pecking order in God’s creation – Christ, man, woman. Then he goes on to talk about how it is dishonorable for men to pray or prophesize with a covered head. But then goes on to say that women are being dishonorable for UNcovering their head, saying women might as well go bald if they don’t cover their head. He justifies all of this by saying that man is the image and glory of God while women are the glory of man. I guess he forgot about the first chapter of Genesis where God tells us that we are ALL created in his image, not just men. But then come the two really important verses, 11 and 12, where Paul states that despite this “ordering” we shouldn’t forget that we are all united to one another and united to God. He writes, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” One could argue that Paul is not saying that men and women have the same authority, but simply reminding us that we are dependent on one another, but when you take this passage, stuffed in the middle of this rhetoric about head-coverings, and pair it with Paul’s other writings in Ephesians and Galatians, you get a more nuanced picture of Paul’s theology. “There is no male or female (Galatians 3:26-29),” “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21),” and this one, “everything comes from God.” In this passage we read together today, we read the writings of a man trapped in an incredibly sexist world, where women are treated as little more than property, where the average woman doesn’t own property or make a living or get an education. There are exceptions to the rule and some of these women actually help to fund Jesus’ ministry.[5] But we need to remember that Paul is a sexist man writing letters to equally sexist churches, hoping to grow and evolve out of the stereotypes of their day, just as we have evolved from thinking that racism is justified by the Bible. Or thinking that slavery is justified by the Bible. Or any number of other ideas that we once held as true. These are not written accounts of Jesus’ life or quotes from the Savior himself like we read in the Gospels. These are the letters of one person writing to specific churches at a specific point in time. It’s like reading the directions for a Commodore 64 and trying to apply them to a MacBookPro.[6] No one would think that an instruction manual from the 1980’s would be completely accurate for a computer from the year 2015. They might still share some things in common, but there would also be many differences based on advances and developments that have happened since then, so why on Earth would we think that Paul’s letters to specific churches at a specific point in time written to address specific problems would by themselves have all the answers, let alone one passage written to one church at one time.

Free to Be...You and Me album cover
Free to Be…You and Me album cover

It’s amazing to me that one passage in the Bible has held so much sway for centuries.

There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and we are hung up on three of them.[7] There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible and we are hung up on three of them. Of the many verses that honor women and uphold the idea that God has given them a place in leadership, we allow these three verses to hold us back. That is not to say we haven’t made great progress, particularly in the last century, but considering how long humanity has been around, that’s a pretty poor track record. Even though this particular topic may not apply to our church that has in the past accepted and loved female pastors, it’s a good reminder to note that the battle is not yet won. That our attempts to honor God are not yet complete. And that we need to be jolted out of our complacency to realize that sexism, racism, ageism, and other “isms” that hold us back from being completely the people God wants us to be still exist in the world today. We need to judge people as God does, from the inside and not the outside, as individuals, not as images. As we close this morning, I want to share with you one of my favorite poems that I pretty much have memorized from the time I was a child. It’s called “My Dog Is A Plumber” from the album Free to Be…You and Me and if you were around in the 1970’s you might just remember this. It’s a good reminder for our entire sermon series on how to view others. I hope you enjoy.

“My Dog Is A Plumber” by Dan Greenburg

My dog is a plumber
So perhaps he’s a boy
Although I must tell you that his favorite toy
Is a little play stove with pans and with pots
Which he really must like since he plays with it lots
So perhaps he’s a girl
Which kind of makes sense
Since he can’t throw a ball and he can’t climb a fence
But neither can dad
And I know he’s a man
And mom is a woman and she drives a van.
Maybe the problem is trying to tell what someone is by what he does well?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/SummaryTables.pdf#page=28

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/may/seminary-gender-gap.html?paging=off

[4] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

[5] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

[6] I read a similar analogy in my research but couldn’t find the web resource for it, so I adapted it for my own use

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapters_and_verses_of_the_Bible

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