CULTURE, HIERARCHY, AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT
Before diving into the formative texts, it may be beneficial to discuss culture, hierarchy, and their combined sociological impact, which are a part of the equation in the discussion of formative texts. First, a culture is created when influence has resulted in like thinking and/or behavior among two or more people. Sometimes that influence is attributed to someone amicably, and sometimes that influence is attributed to someone out of obligation or avoidance of unfavorable consequences. Whatever the reason, the person of influence is in a position of power, which may create a hierarchy where the more powerful are attributed with more favor and where the less powerful are attributed with less favor. Consistent influence is required in order for the culture to be maintained as well as to be propagated, which in turn, is required in order for the hierarchy to be maintained as well as to be propagated. Those utilizing the hierarchy assume that one has, by default, reason to be given more or less consideration as to having a valid voice, if even to speak at all. Without a valid voice, choices are minimal, which means that the amount of control one has over one’s own life, profession or otherwise, all but disappears. The voices that dare to question or enlighten others of the hierarchy’s injustice may struggle to be heard. This hierarchy with its variants from culture to culture becomes interwoven into the fabric of just being human to the point where people no longer remember that it is a human-created illusion. It becomes just the way it is.
For the ancient Greco-Roman times, those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been Gentile, free (never having been a slave), and male, and those on the lower end of the hierarchy would have been Jewish, slave, and female. Little or no opportunity was available to change status. For early twenty-first century America, it would be easy to assume that those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been white, Protestant, wealthy, male, have their genders “match” their sexes, younger (children excluded), physically attractive, having the appearance of being healthy, more intelligent, and without known physical or mental disabilities. Linda Day and Carolyn Pressler, also, discuss some of these descriptors and suggest that for the U.S. culture, that this type of hierarchy is anchored within a larger “…powerful narrative strand that suggest[s] that certain people are more valuable than others.”
Among other groups of people, this type of messaging has adversely affected women. Who gets to make those decisions on what they may do or become within the world, within the church, and within the home? The ultimate answer is God, but God according to whom? More times than not, it seems as if “the Bible says” accounts for most of the “whom;” however, “the Bible says” is too often used as a means to stamp God’s endorsement on whatever may follow in order to make it immune to criticism. This even presents a challenge when what follows is Scripture since the Bible requires interpretation in order to take something that was written over two thousand years ago in a foreign culture and ancient language and to apply it today within American culture in contemporary English. Fair consideration, also, needs to be given to the fact that the authors penning the Bible were men who had their own perspectives, histories, and cultures. To explain the challenge further, the Bible is often used as the ultimate filter to vet what a woman may think that the Holy Spirit is telling her to do and to vet any affirmations that she may have received. An additional complication is that “every reader of the Bible is also an interpreter of it, but all interpretations are invariably influenced by sources other than Scripture.” Specifically for women, this authority to interpret Scripture has been denied to them until recently. This has affected their ability to have a voice and subsequent control over roles for themselves. With or without admitted intentionality, some of these interpretations are constructed to promote limitations in what women may do or become with respect to their roles in church. This would not be as much of an issue, except that somewhere along the way, a culturally pervasive hierarchy was established that would serve to favor interpretations that promoted those limitations. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza frames the conflict well by stating that
On the one hand, the Bible is written in androcentric language, has its origin in the patriarchal cultures of antiquity, and has functioned throughout its history to inculcate androcentric and patriarchal values. On the other hand, the Bible has also served to inspire and authorize women and other nonpersons in their struggles against patriarchal oppression.
This is not to say that all who attempt to discourage have ill intentions or are not genuinely seeking God and are otherwise kind-hearted individuals. Like everyone else, they are only acting on what they understand and believe about what God has revealed to them in Scripture. Of course, they are going to discourage others if they feel that their Christian brothers and sisters are being instructed incorrectly or misled, but caution is warranted here. A review of the not-so-distant past reveals that this same justification of categorically marginalizing a people and excluding them from certain roles has, in retrospect, been shown to be shameful and regretted later. Not to be extreme, but it is a reality that “an appeal to Scripture’s authority has been used by the Christian church in countless atrocities, not the least of which was to persecute and kill Jews, kill thousands in holy war, burn women suspected of witchcraft or of using pain relievers in childbirth, kill doctrinal heretics and torture and enslave Africans.” Those who appeal to Scripture to marginalize women, no matter how accepted it has been in the past among men as well as women, might one day be seen in a similar light either here on Earth or in Heaven. In a risk analysis, it would seem that being a party to categorically marginalizing women, about half of the population, would be a worse error than to permit otherwise qualified women to perform roles usually reserved exclusively for men.
Some, such as John Piper and Wayne Gruden would disagree and make a generalized statement inclusive of Miriam and Deborah of the Old Testament that “…either women followed their unusual paths in a way that endorsed and honored the usual leadership of men, or indicted their failures to lead.” In other words, when women have had leadership roles that affected people in a favorable way, the notable takeaway is not the accomplishment of God’s will but the shame that a man did not accomplish God’s will. Tikva Frymer-Kensky adds a different perspective that seems like a hybrid with regard to leadership. She equates leadership with the Old Testament priest position and agrees that women did not have positions of leadership; however, she also states that neither did men, unless they were born into priestly families. Gruden and Piper do not seem to include that within their modern application of their analysis of who should be in leadership roles.
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