“Can you tell me what this verse means?” Ellen asked.
She glanced at her Bible and read, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”
She looked up at the pulpit, where our pastor, a prematurely gray-haired man, stood during the congregational meeting Q and A.
I was sandwiched between my parents on a honey-colored pew. Even at fourteen, I struggled to see past the shoulders in front of me.
But I could see Ellen. She was tall, nearly six feet.
I could tell by the way she read the verses—no, by her simply asking the question—that she wouldn’t stay silent, no matter what the Bible said.
There was an anxious pause for a moment. Or, at least, I was anxious.
Because knowing that the Bible said that about women—about me—gave me a stomachache.
We’d only started going to church the year before. Our new church—Presbyterian, largish, and friendly—had become home to me.
I’d converted the year before that—thanks to my sister’s influence. Not long afterward, we started going to church as a family.
As a new Christian, I hadn’t read the Bible yet. I was thirteen, and I wasn’t even clear on what the Bible was. I’d assumed it was just a story, like the children’s bibles I’d seen, only with fancier words.
I also assumed women fully participating in church was normal. At our new church, women preached. They were pastors, deacons, and elders.
Discovering this was debatable felt like freefalling.
I sat up as straight as possible, so I could look at the pastor’s face. Was he shocked at the Bible’s chutzpah? Or Ellen’s?
“You don’t beat around the bush, do you, Ellen?” he said with a warm smile.
The congregation tittered. Everyone else already knew these verses, I realized. And no one seemed that offended by Ellen’s question.
Later, I’d learn that our church was PCUSA, a denomination that fully affirms women in leadership. After our senior pastor left, a woman replaced him. Women serve in childcare, sure, but they also serve communion.
Before Ellen opened her mouth, none of this had been remarkable to me. But now, with a pit in my stomach, I realized that all these women in leadership needed to be remarked upon.
I wish I could remember exactly how my pastor answered Ellen’s question. Perhaps he mentioned cultural context, hermeneutics, or the fuller picture of Paul’s gender-diverse ministry.
He solved the riddle of Ellen’s question to everyone’s satisfaction after only a few minutes.
But I wasn’t convinced…
I share the moment I realized that my gender said something about God, the Bible, and faith itself–and how that something has been redeemed. This post slipped past my radar, but I was so pleased to have it included in Christians for Biblical Equality’s newsletter. Won’t you join me there to read the rest?
Image credit: David Sorich