The Pauline Letters and Women

women in church

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The Pauline Letters and Women

By M. Rev. Ed Jansen, OCM

in Collaboration with Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney, OCM

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There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

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For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile— the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, (Romans 10:12)

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For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

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Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. (1 Corinthians 14:34)

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I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12)

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If anyone were to ask the question, “What is St. Paul’s position on leadership in the Church?” we would be hard pressed to come up with a definitive answer based upon these passages of Scripture. There are many scholarly explanations that have been offered, both on the side of woman’s equality in the Church as well as their submissive roles. Quite frankly, none of them have satisfied us academically or spiritually because they failed to explain the clear contradictions in the saint’s position.

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Let us offer you our explanation, knowing full well that some if not many in the Church will disagree with our explanation and assessment. When I was in the real estate development business, I learned three important things about real estate: Location, location, location. In seminary I learned there were three important things in biblical interpretation: Context, context, context. So let us go forward with this writing, not so much in an academic explanation, although we could offer some academic explanations, but rather, let us offer you a practical explanation in the form of a parable. Hopefully, this parable will bring light to our understanding of St. Paul’s writings on women’s leadership in the Church.

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The Parable of the Absent Bishop

In 2012, Trish and I went on a vacation for two weeks. In our absence, our Director of Operations at Emmaus Center, Barbara Hudgens, was left in charge. (Emmaus Center is a homeless resource ministry in Glen Burnie MD). As we said our “good-byes,” Barb promised to stay in touch with us through email. And so it was, we left with Barb in charge. On the third day of our vacation I received an email from Barb stating that John, one of our people from Emmaus Center, had come in drunk and was acting disrespectful and loud; causing the entire center to become focused on his bad behavior. She wrote me wanting to know if she had done the right thing by expelling him from the property. I wrote her back and told her that she had indeed responded correctly. “We cannot condone this sort of drunken behavior at Emmaus Center.”

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Two days later I received another email from Barb. This time it was about Joe. He had come to the Center, drunk. She sat down with him and asked him what was going on. Joe had just had his tent stolen and all his personal property that he owned in life had also disappeared. He was very upset because he had no place to sleep that night and the weather forecast was calling for temperatures in the single digit. She offered him a cup of coffee and got him a breakfast sandwich. She allowed him to stay and wanted to know if she had acted appropriately. I wrote her back and commended her for the way she handled the situation. I told her, “You were a reflection of Christ’s love in the world by reaching out to this drunk man.”

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The End.

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Now a hundred years later, my great, great, great grandson finds an interest in his ancestry because he wants to open a homeless resource center and low and behold, someone in his family was the cofounder and director of one in the 21st Century. In his pursuit to find out as much as he could about me and the homeless resource center he comes across my two emails to Barb. These two emails do not have Barb’s original email attached to them. The only thing he has are my two responses. He shakes his head. He’s confused. The first email basically said, “Do not tolerate drunks at the Center” and the second one commended Barb for allowing the drunk to stay. So, what was his great, great, great grandfather’s position on drunks at the Center? Answer: It depends on the circumstance.

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Here’s our perspective on the problem as we see it. We hold fast with the conviction that our explanation illuminates many of the otherwise inexplicable inconsistencies of St. Paul’s position on leadership by women in the Church. Although our perspective may seem new, even radical, to some in the Church, we invite you to consider all that we have written above, and allow an understanding of St. Paul that reflects the context of his ministry and combines that with the reality of his relationships with the women who joined him in ministry.

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First , that the letters that St. Paul wrote were pastoral letters, dealing with a specific situation or problem in a specific church. He never intended them to become Church doctrine.

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Second, that St. Paul wrote as one who addressed the building of community and morality, within a specific church and context. He never offered a systematic form of theology.

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Third, that St. Paul might well roll over in his grave if he found us using his letters to diminish or exclude women from leadership in the Church rather than to redirect a specific church community’s present problems.

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Finally, that the scriptures clearly state St. Paul himself empowered women in a leadership capacity and accepted their wisdom and insight in his own ministry from the start.

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In conclusion, we ask you to join us in the question: “What is our experience of women in leadership?” “Do they have the capacity to lead?” “Is there an essential partnership (lacking or present) that requires the wisdom and perspective of both genders together?” “Are we using God’s creation of male and female to its fullest in the leadership of the Church?”

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As we look at history, as we study the scriptures and the leading of women in the Bible, as we look at the committed work of our religious sisters over time as the heart center of the Church, as we appreciate those women acknowledged as Doctors of the Church, as we wonder about how incorporation of women into the one-sided perspective of male-only leadership might provide godly balance , we are led to conclude that women indeed, make strong and essential leaders.

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In the distribution of Gifts among those in the body of Christ, there are some who are called to lead and some who are called to follow. The truth is, gender, in our opinion, has nothing to do with one’s ability to lead in the Church or in the world. What matters is an essential inclusion in leadership of all who are called; because of their differences and ability to lead, men and women together in Church leadership might well offer the fundamental union of God’s intention from the beginning of Creation.

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+In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love in Christ,

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+Ed Jansen and Trish Gaffney+

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