Yesterday, I said I’d try to talk about the Bible and its effect on how women function in the church. I think I want to broaden this post a little, but I’ll see how I go.
I think it’s true that when pushed to justify their behaviour, most people will defer to some sort of higher authority. For Christians, this higher authority is usually God’s will as revealed in Scripture, with or without reference to the tradition of the church. People who believe that they have a divine mandate for their behaviour are less likely to change it than those who appeal to a less powerful authority for justification for their behaviour.
The Bible in its Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts is seriously androcentric. Most English translations make it even more androcentric. Phylis Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality provides an impressive set of examples of how this is so – how female images in the Hebrew text are “degendered” in English translations. Her Texts of Terror gives some chilling examples of how Christian Scripture is not just androcentric but also misogynist.
How a particular church views the status of Scripture has some significant consequences for the place of women in their communities today and, as I suggested yesterday, I think that the place of women in a particular church community will influence how likely she is to become a biblioblogger. A church that believes that the stories in Scripture are socially located and a reflection of the culture in which they were written will have a very different approach to one that believes that Scripture is literally word-for-word Gods’ word and true in that form for all time. I don’t think that anyone actually takes the Bible word for word literally, but many people say they do. There are quite a few commandments in the Hebrew Scripture that Christians cheerfully ignore. Like the one in Leviticus 19: 19
Even when we still want to stand by some of the Levitical laws, we tend not to think that death by stoning is an appropriate punishment for breaking them, although that’s what the Bible often suggests. And I don’t think that many Christians think that it is OK to offer to throw their virgin daughters out to be raped by a crowd of rowdy blokes in order to protect visitors, as Lot did in Genesis 19.
Nevertheless, if you see Scripture as being socially located etc, you will be more inclined to look at what it meant in the context of the time in which it was written in trying to work out how to apply it today, and thus to critique the androcentricity and misogyny. If you consider it to be literally true, you are less likely to think about the fact that Scripture in general seems to say that it is OK to treat women badly and ask what that means for how you live today. This is not to say that all members of all conservative churches are misogynist. Scot McKnight is an example of someone from a reasonably conservative branch of the Christian church who has gone into print (in The Blue Parakeet) to argue for a more egalitarian treatment of women and as a professor teaching at a university level tries to instill confidence in his female students.
It was certainly important to me that the professors where I studied theology evaluated our contributions on the basis of their academic worth, not on the basis of whether we were male or female. They also challenged students who made sexist comments, didn’t use inclusive language and so on. This was also important in my formation as a minister and as a biblical scholar.
I indicated at the top that I thought I wanted to talk about more than the Bible. I think what happens in worship also has an important role in forming women who are confident to have their biblical scholarship voices heard in the blogosphere and I will look at that tomorrow (or the next day).