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September 14, 2007

The Way of Wisdom: Truth of Womanhood



In August, I wrote about the black hole of fear. The following offers a way into the light:

Several insights of wisdom are helping me to steer away from fear and internal anxiety. One is the fact that I don't need to fear if someone else feels threatened by me. I need to repent, of course, if I have sin that is threatening other people. But if I'm following God's call and someone decides to protest against me, I can keep perspective by resting in the fact that truth itself is threatening. Sadly, some people in the church feel threatened by the truth of who women are. We are women! We are human! We are made in the image of God! We are ezers (helpers; Gen 2:18) designed to co-rule the earth with men! It's predictable, then, that the truth of who we are is going to seem threatening to everyone who believes that it's "not a woman's place" to lead.

Another important insight that I like to hold onto is that womanhood is a gift from God. If any of us women ever feel ashamed of our femininity, that is, if we try to minimize our femininity by distancing ourselves from other women or by trying to legitimize ourselves by saying we're "more like men," then we have fallen into fear once again. It is not the way of wisdom to deny the truth of our womanhood.

Wisdom knows that shame is what compels us to downplay our womanhood. Conversely, pride does just the opposite - it calls us to exaggerate our womanhood. Both of these reactions are built on the deception that our femaleness is the basis of our identity. Our femaleness is important, but it certainly doesn't trump the more profound reality that our identity is hidden in Christ. There is no greater dignity than to live as a member of Christ's Body. If we listen to the voice of wisdom, we will not be anxious about our womanhood.

A final insight is that lately I've realized that for me to grow to the next level of leadership, I can no longer over-invest in over-preparing. While it's true that my hard work has helped get me to the place I am today, wisdom says it's better to be prepared than over-prepared. Over-preparation is time-consuming. Wisdom says it's better to learn just enough, so that I can take the next step forward. Wisdom says it's impossible ever to know enough to satisfy the demands of sinful fear. Wisdom says to relax and walk by faith.

Comments

You used a work in your post that we need to take note of...ezer. Carolyn Custis-James wrote a book entitled Lost Women Of The Bible where she enlightened me on the meaning of this controversial word. She likened the "ezer" to a warrior as she compared it to it's use throughout the Bible in describing God as "helper" to Israel in times of need.

Furthermore, John and Stasi Eldredge addressed the same word in their book Captivating defining ezer as "completer" or "sustainer".

I believe that this single word has the potential to deem women as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God when only defined as "helper". But...to add to the definition "warrior", "completer", and "sustainer"...well, isn't that something that we (women) know to be truth from deep within?

I thank you for bringing "ezer" into the discussion.

~Randee Krumwiede, Pink Collar Club

Wow-great article! Both empowering and balanced in its perspective. I have experienced some of what you describe. In the past, I distanced myself from other women and rejected my femininity while at the same time was a gender feminist. I thought women were superior to men. Its an odd mix. One would think that rejecting feminity would mean seeing men as superior. But that is part of the defensive reaction to internalized oppression.

I found the more I embraced my femininity and valued myself as a woman (that is was okay and good to be strong/lead as a woman), the more I was able to have a balanced and healthy perspective of men. I didn't have to try to assert superiority over them. The two seem to go hand in hand. The more one values one's womanhood with all its strengths, the more one can value and appreciate men as well. And, to have the courage to go into the world doing whatever we are called to do (with an attitude of grace), even if that truth offends or threatens others.

"the truth of who we are is going to seem threatening to everyone who believes that it’s 'not a woman’s place' to lead."

Respectfully, Caryn, I have to say this statement disturbs me.

First, can we define terms a bit? I can't think of anyone who truly believes that women shouldn't lead (ever). Anyone would agree that mothers lead their children all the time, and I haven't met anyone who says a woman shouldn't mother -- so maybe what the statement needs is a more specific phrase for "to lead."

I'm pretty sure that what you're referring to is leadership among adults of mixed company, in contexts in which she may exercise or may seem to exercise "authority over a man," which is forbidden by Paul (I Tim. 2). Some accept this teaching at face value; some accept its spirit and its appeal to Genesis' creation order but apply its command differently in our own culture; some reject it and its premises outright. Wherever we stand, we do need to be respectful of those men and women who after careful study and searching do believe that women should not exercise spiritual authority over men.

To say that "everyone who believes this" is "threatened" by women in leadership (in whatever form you mean) is simply incendiary. Statements like this do not help; they divide. It's a classic "either-or" fallacy: "either you accept me in positions of leadership and see this issue my way, or you're threatened by me."

I have many dear brothers--and sisters--who apply this teaching more "conservatively" (more literally and broadly) than I might prefer, and I may disagree with their views, but I wouldn't say they are necessarily "threatened" by my desire sometimes to go beyond what they think is appropriate. Many are just guarding the truth as they understand it, and doing it confidently, gently, humbly, and in love.

I really want this blog and its writers to be helpful to ALL women in ministry. We are each working within different contexts, hopefully appropriately submitting to the authority of the church leaders to whom we owe respect.

I'm disturbed because your article seems to suggest that women in leadership should ignore the teachings on the limits of women's authority, and should view those who champion this doctrine as territorial dogs-in-the-manger. That doesn't sound like respect or submission to me -- and respect and submission is commanded of ALL of us, not just women.

I LOVE your articles. I wish I had written this myself. I especially like your comments on over-preparation at the end. In stressful times I want to compensate by "over preparing" to give myself the confidence that "I have done all I can" rather than depend on God. Good reminder. Thanks.

Sarah, your article is refreshing and much needed. Women should lead and they should be led by the Spirit of God and not some personal misguided theology. To be a woman and not a feminist is to embrace God's call on your life and to work within the boundaries HE sets. As a woman with leadership gifts, I have often run into people who fear my strength. It could be men or women. What they need to know is that my gifting was given to me by God and not my self will, just as their gifting was. I am not afraid of them, they need not fear me. We should both fear (respect) God. Thanks again for a great article.

"designed to co-rule the earth with men!"

How about also co-rule the earth with other women too? I was the recipient of gossip recently that my name had come up for a leadership position and one woman leader said, "Oh she's too this and that..."

Meanwhile God had been cultivating me to be a great leader. And I was given the job anyhow. The group I led gave me the highest praise and accolades at the end of the group - in front of all these other leaders. I was told this had been the best group several of them had ever been in out of years of attending book groups.

I only heard the "gossip" after my assignment, and well, I can tell you it sure made me want to distance myself. It showed the true colors of those in leadership - perhaps THEY were threatened by me.

Sometimes, I dream of the day when we won't have to spend our precious energy on things like this. A time when women won't need to defend their calling to other believers. A time when we'll be able to focus on doing the work God has called us to and not having to walk on eggshells because someone might be threatened by the vessel through whom the message is presented.

And Wendy, while I can respect those whose views are different from mine, there are still those who don't even get close enough to know they are respected because they are, indeed, threatened by wisdom coming from the mouth of a woman. These folks seem to prefer to think that God will use the donkeys in their lives.

If you know the culture that Paul was writing in, then I Timothy 2:11-15 is actually very empowering of women. In this passage, he says that women cannot teach, but must (must!) learn. Very counter-cultural in an age where Jewish women were not allowed to learn. If a woman is ignorant, how can she lead? Paul illustrates this with his example of Adam and Eve. Eve had not heard the command about not eating from the tree. After stating that a woman must learn, Paul says that she cannot usurp (or rather, steal or take over) authority. He does not say that she cannot earn the position of authority on her own, which is apparently what a lot of women in the early church did.

Anyway, I don't want to open an argument on how to interpret the Bible. I just wanted to point out that First Timothy is actually freeing women instead of limiting them.

Leadership is a gift of the Holy Spirit, graciously given to the church for His use. It is not just given to men, but to women also. God placed the gifts in the body to be used as he willed. Let them be put to use and stop wasting them because of gender specific arguments.

CHRIST DIED FOR ALL BOTH MALE AND FEMALE, SALVATION IS FOR ALL LIKEWISE LEADERSHIP IS FOR ALL. AM NOT WORRIED ABOUT WHAT ANYONE FEELS ABOUT ME AND THE POSITION GOD HAS PLACED ME. INFACT MY GENDER CAN NOT STOP ME. I AM THE CLAY WHICH THE POTTER HAS CHOOSEN TO USE FOR THE EXPANSION OF HIS KINGDOM. SARAH, THANKS FOR BEING AN EYE OPENER FOR MANY.

I didn't particularly want to open an argument on how to interpret the Bible either, but if we women want to be taken seriously in theological discussions, let's be careful to have our facts straight! Eve had indeed heard the command about not eating from the tree. In fact, she cites the command to the serpent in Gen. 3:2-3. So Eve sinned in full knowledge, as did Adam. Think Eve would have been better able to lead her husband here if she were better informed? I seriously doubt it. She didn't need any more information; she needed obedience. And so did he.

What ring eerily familiar in this whole passage are the deception tactics we still fall for on just about any teaching we find hard to accept. First, the serpent twists the command: "did God really say 'you must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" Meaning: Look how unreasonably rigid your God is! I'm so glad Eve at least didn't fall for that. She knew the commandment. The serpent's overgeneralization is so similar to what we often hear about women in leadership: "Women aren't supposed to lead." I agree with Sarah: do not let anyone who hasn't done his or her homework try to discourage you with such overgeneralizations (though I would say, if they are in authority over you in Christ, dissent most humbly and respectfully, for heaven's sake!)

But it's the next deception that succeeds in tripping our mother up: "you can be like God." Eve uses her God-given powers of reason and considers carefully; but because of the attractive fruit within her reach and the crafty serpent in her ear, she stumbles tragically. What she chooses to believe is that God has either not thought this rule through carefully (wasn't that fruit "good for food and pleasing to the eye..."?), or He was just withholding something good ("this seems so unreasonable to me!") So she makes a decision based on what seems best to her, not on what God has said.

I fear that's what we're doing when we make this "authority" decision based on what we see ("why would I have this gift then?"..."women lead so effectively in other arenas, why not in spiritual things?"..."well, that was then and this is now.") We've got the fruit in our reach (influence, power, effectiveness, even seeing people's needs get met) and we still have that serpent in our ear. But what has God said? If Paul's writings are "God-breathed," we can't just ignore the teachings on male headship, in marriage or in the church. Exactly where the limits are can be hard to determine, but we should explore the issue with fear and trembling, listen to the word of God carefully, looking not to justify our preferences, but to make sure we are obedient to a Holy God. Yes it's a tired and uncomfortable issue, and yes there is some real ignorance out there. But we dare not just throw up our hands, decide that the dissenters are just "threatened" by us, and charge ahead. Boy does that sound dangerous.

The results of autonomy are always tragic and far-reaching, just as they were for Eve. Dear ones, let us be careful.

Wow, who knew that so many women are passionately seeking answers on the same subject that I have carefully been considering for many years. In a faith tradition where women are silent in the church, except for nursery duty, children's church and dinner on the grounds, the questions surrounding our place in the Church have given me great pause.

I finally decided that God does not want me to be confused, angry, oppressed, arrogant, or powerless to fulfill the ministry He has given me. I am not taking on the "Church" in this matter, however, I am weighing my actions and attitudes carefully, comparing them to Scripture, literally and figuratively, and acting accordingly.

If my actions are generally offensive to my husband, mother, pastor, or brothers & sisters in Christ, I may indeed be in error. If my attitudes are devisive, and tear down the Body, then indeed, I am in error.

Instead, I have found that I can lead: I own a business that has funneled thousands of dollars into the Kingdom, I direct children's ministry in our church, I work closely with college and career "20 somethings", mentoring and discipling them and I try to faithfully fulfill my role as a pastor's wife, both in the expected traditions, as well as the new and improved opportunites (that's kind of tongue and cheek).

Some would say I have sold out. However, I have found that the more I lead, the less I need to stand in front of people to lead. In other words, the more I let God define my sense of self worth, the less important it is to me to be the leader. Oddly, that is one of the strongest reasons why I am so often placed in positions of leadership.

I will never stand in the congregation and question a woman's ability to teach, preach, pastor or lead. However, it is wisdom for me to know and understand how those around me can best accept the gifts God has given me to share with them. If I am offending people, they cannot hear my message of grace and love; if I am turning people off, they will not listen to me tell them how God can transform their lives.

Ultimately, my gifts were not give to me to benefit me, but to further the Kingdom and to benefit the Body. Keeping that in mind helps me define how to best use the gifts that God has blessed me with. As a Christian and a business woman, I always look at the bottom line and ask myself, "How can I have or make the greatest impact with my resources?" Then, I act accordingly. To me, this is wisdom.

Good catch, Wendy. You're right, Eve did acknowledge that she knew that God had forbidden her and Adam from eating from that particular tree. I still don't think that the passage from Timothy limits women's roles. NT Wright has some good writings on the issue. Anyway, I think it's perfectly fine for all of us to disagree on non-salvation issues. I know we all here do agree that the main purpose for all of us is to seek the Kingdom and proclaim the message of Christ.

Wendy, please go back and read Genesis without thinking about what has been previously taught to you from the pulpit. The woman was not commanded by God to avoid eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil...she had not yet been created when the command was given to Adam. I could write a book and can't here...so please, go back and re-read and let the Word of God speak to you from a clear slate...please put aside what you've "learned" from others teachings. Also, the woman was thoroughly deceived as you'll discover from a study on the subject...she was not rebellious as Adam was when he remained silent when the serpant tempted the woman. As you know from reading the Word...Adam was right there with the woman. I held many of your beliefs for years because of teachings that have been passed down through the ages by men. By men, because women were not allowed to teach. Finally, a study of the Word without preconceived notions sets women and therefore, men FREE!

Linda I hear the concern in your comment, so thank you. I do believe you mean well. But I also sense a little hostility toward the men who hold and teach this view, the same hostility I sensed in Sarah's words. That concerns me, because it's a hostility I recognize from my own past. It is part of the reason it took so long for me to embrace the position I now hold. Some of the men who promote it are indeed more interested in holding on to power than they are in promoting the peace and purity of the church. Some of them haven't even studied the scriptures that apply; they're just awfully glad they can keep the women "in their place" by quoting some verses out of context. What a tragedy that so many miss the beauty of headship and submission because of competitive attitudes on both sides. Another result of the fall.

I HAVE read the creation accounts (Gen. 1-4), so many times I think I could almost recite them. And I was in a church that ordained women for most of my adult life, and even taught (mixed) adult Sunday School classes and studies in that church. So I have not decided on this issue having heard only one side. And believe me, I have my radar up for agenda-driven teaching/preaching.

I'm really baffled at how you can say that Eve was not commanded by God to avoid the tree. She had that command in her mind when the serpent spoke to her. We don't know whether she heard it directly from God, who made a habit of walking and talking with his children in the cool of the day (3:8-9) or from Adam, whom God gave to her as her head (Eph. 5:23). But God clearly had seen to it that she was given the command, because she tells the serpent the command during their conversation. I hope you're not suggesting that Eve was somehow less culpable than Adam in this scene.

Regardless of what led to the fall for either of them, Paul's use of this story is hard for me to see in any way other than its plainest sense: we are supposed to conclude, from creation's order and from the events of the fall, that the task of teaching and leading in spiritual things is the man's. It has nothing to do with who is more qualified; it is simply the created order.

I DO see and understand the other side of the argument. I know that many construe 1 Tim. 2 as applying to "untrained" women and thus limited to culture of Paul's day. And I know that this interpretation hinges on Eve's being less informed and somehow innocent, where Adam was not. I just don't buy it. I think it's a stretch, and tortures the logical and plain sense of the text, and I'm disinclined to let go of what reads clear and plain to me, in order to embrace an explanation that might feel more palatable to me.

By the way, those who have taught me have not all been men. And the women and men who have led me to these conclusions embrace my gifting and leadership in every way and in every area except spiritual authority over men. I do not feel any less free this way; in fact, quite the contrary. But it has taken me a great deal of spiritual struggling and prayer to get here.

And, as Cathy said, these are secondary issues, and pale in comparison to the "incomparable riches of his grace."

Peace.

Wendy, I have no bitterness toward men at all. I'm sorry if anyone read that into my words.
Yes...Peace...We'll have to agree to DISAGREE on the woman issue. It is impossible by this means for any of us to go fully into ALL the scripture that gives a full picture of what God intended for men and their sisters in the Lord.

Amen to that. Thanks Linda.

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Ps. 133:1. This doesn't mean we have to agree on every fine point. It does mean we MUST have tender and grace-filled spirits toward one another.

That gentle and grace-filled spirit should permeate everything we say, and everything we write on a blog, as limited as this medium is for conveying "tone of voice" (and for conveying full meaning of complicated spiritual issues, as you pointed out!)

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