Equal In All Things

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:22-29

I want to share a little bit with you about my mom. 

My mom is great.  She was the “cool mom.”  All the neighborhood kids knew her.  Whenever we had study groups, she would always offer our home as base camp.  When we were studying for the SATs, we pulled a couple of all-nighters, and my mom let my friends crash at our house. She would always bring out the popcorn, chips, and soda for everyone, and there were times I wondered if my friends actually liked me or just my mom.  She listened to top 40 music, watched the movies we liked to watch, and followed along with all of our TV shows.  But it was my mom who got me into the Beatles.  She had both the Red and Blue albums and I’d listen to them over and over.  She also introduced me to Star Trek, Tommy’s Hamburgers, Tagliarini Casserole, and so much more.  She was so influential to my life, that it’s hard for me to understand there are people out there who think less of my mom, simply because she’s a woman.

So many of the things I love today were shared with me from my mom

Sexism is alive and well in the 21st century.

Even in the church.  There are still people today who believe women should not be church leaders.  They think women should stay silent.  They don’t belong as pastors and preachers.  And worse they use the Bible to justify it.  It’s not enough they quote Ephesians to tell women they should be subservient to their husbands or how they’ve used the Bible to justify the physical abuse many women have suffered over the years.  But they also use the Bible to tell women how to behave inside the walls of the church.  1 Corinthians 11 – women should cover their heads.  1 Corinthians 14 – women should remain silent in church and bow to the wisdom of their husbands.  1 Timothy 2 – women do not have permission to teach a man or to have authority over him. 

But the author of those passages is the same one who wrote the letter to the church in Galatia. 

This is the same guy who said we are all equal before God.  That there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no man nor woman in Christ Jesus.  The Apostle Paul says very clearly that in all things we are equal before God.  So how do we square these two versions of Paul?  By understanding first what Paul did and then understanding the context of what he wrote.

We know just from reading Scripture that women were essential to Israel.

Many had high leadership positions and held great influence among the Israeli people.  Take for example, Deborah from the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  Deborah was favored by God and even spoke to her.  It was Deborah who led the Israelites to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies.  It was Deborah who gave Israel their freedom.  And Barak, the leader of Israel’s armies, even bowed down in submission to her.  The Bible tells us, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until you, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7)  Even Paul himself relied on women in his own ministry and they were instrumental in launching the Christian movement.  Scholars believe Phoebe was considered a deacon in this new faith community and was likely the person Paul entrusted to deliver the letter to the church in Rome.[1] Priscilla and her husband would teach others about the fullness of God, and Priscilla even taught Apollos, a man who was considered a great follower of Jesus.  And then there was Junia who was called an apostle of Christ.   A woman on equal footing with the other apostles.  Her name in the letter to the Romans (16:7) had long been translated as “Junias,” a male name until the correct translation was found in recently discovered documents.  Scholars believe it was mistranslated out of prejudice against women.  Early translators could not believe Paul would consider a woman to be worthy of being an apostle so they changed the name, much like you might have Roberta changed to Robert or Gabriela into Gabriel. For a woman to be called an apostle, especially by Paul, would have upset the entire structure of the church which relied on the weaponization of Scripture to suppress those they didn’t want in power. But if Paul did value women as leaders in the church, why did he go and write those passages that made it seem like he didn’t?  Scholars today believe those negative passages weren’t mean to be a blanket statement against all women or even most women, but instead were meant to apply to specific churches at specific times.  But for too long, we have taken his writing out of context and used it to suppress women as teachers in the church even when they have proven to have been effective in the role.

Susanna Wesley, the 1st Methodist Female Preacher

Speaking of which, there is an amazing woman who exhibited a gift for teaching God’s word.

Susanna Wesley, mother of all 19 children in the Wesley clan, was a person God used in a strong way to share the good news of Christ – especially in the life of young John and his brother Charles. [2]  While her husband, Samuel was away in London she had begun to read to her children and teach them about the Bible as a supplement to what they heard in church.  Her servants told Samuel’s parents about this, and they came to hear.  They were so impressed with her lessons that they told their friends as well, and soon the number of people who came regularly to Mrs. Wesley’s lessons numbered in the hundreds.  Over 200 to be exact which upset the curate to no end who had fewer people attending worship than Mrs. Wesley, a WOMAN, was receiving in her own home.  He wrote a complaint to her husband, Samuel who responded by telling Susanna that it was his desire for her to stop.  She wrote back, telling him “what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman (the curate) and one other. She then concluded (her letter) with these wonderful sentences: ‘If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.’”  Needless to say, Samuel didn’t send any such command.    You could say Susanna was Methodism’s first female pastor.

From the Census Bureau, this map shows us where the pay gaps are the widest

Anyone who reads the Bible knows women play an important role in the shape of our faith today.

Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Ruth; Esther; just to name a few.  But it doesn’t take much to also know that women were often mistreated, even by people we read about in the Bible.  There are many stories that tell of horrible things having been done to women and how little society thought of them.  But in none of those stories does Jesus ever support that kind of thinking, nor did he ever treat women in that way.  In fact, Jesus treated women with dignity and respect which was a revolutionary attitude in his time. He was always progressive in his thinking compared to the world around him.  He was constantly challenging the way things were for the way they should be.  We need to carry on his legacy to make this world a better place for all of God’s creation. When one of us is diminished, we all are. And we would be fooling ourselves if we thought women were truly equal to men, even in America let alone the world. Let’s just look at one measurement of equity – the pay gap. Equal Pay Day this year was March 14th. That means on average, it takes a woman two and a half extra months to make as much money as a man. That number hasn’t significantly changed in 20 years. Even when accounting for variables like child care, flexible hours, taking time off for childcare, etc. women still make 8% less than men in the same job. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 135 years for women to reach global gender parity. 135 years.

This isn’t a simple task.

But then nothing worthwhile ever is.  We have to do better as a society in how we treat each other.  And believe it or not, that begins with you and me.  You might not feel like you’re in a position to do much to solve the world’s problems; you can’t solve the pay gap by yourself or stop every instance of gender discrimination that happens around the globe; but it takes millions of tiny steps, one at a time to make the world a better place.  And that is something anyone can do.  You can start by making sure to treat people with dignity.  To value them, not to degrade them.  To treat them as persons of equal worth as Christ would.  And to make conscious choices to support women and women’s rights whenever you have the chance.  By ourselves we barely move the needle, but together we can shove it to where it needs to be.  Today, start with simply honoring the women in your lives – the daughters and granddaughters you hope will have the chance to live up to their potential, the wives and partners who face discrimination and lost opportunity just for being women, and of course the moms in our lives who nurtured and raised us just out of the love in their heart.  Whether they are your biological mother, your adoptive mother, your grandmother, your friend who was like a mother to you, make sure you let them know how important they are and how much you love them.  We can make a difference, one small step at a time. 

[1] Archaeological Study Bible, p. 1860.

[2] http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/susannawesley.stm

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