Monday, 2 April 2012

39. Priscilla - preach it, sister!

Is it different hearing a woman give a sermon, than a man?

For most of the first thirty five years of my churchgoing life I didn't really know the answer to this question as I had hardly ever heard a woman preach.

I spent some formative years in a world where conservatives were only happy about this new women's ordination thing if ordained women were going to be 'under the authority' of a man when they taught the bible in church. So as a female Curate, you would have to have a male Incumbent training you. Ultimately there would be a Bishop's authority (male) over you so that would be fine.

Even when the logical fallacy of this position became unavoidable (it wouldn't be too long before you were going to have a male Curate 'under the authority' of a female Incumbent, and pretty soon you are going to have female bishops...)

The whole ridiculous conservative problem hinges on the apparent refusal of St Paul to let a woman 'have authority over' a man in a teaching situation, and on a literalistic approach to the biblical text (though a selectively literalistic approach; e.g. slavery is not encouraged but women's submission is. Sorry, I meant the 'complementary role' of women...)

All this is of course tied up with the type of sermons which conservative evangelicals hold up as 'gold standard' - mostly intellectual exegesis with a personal challenge thrown in at the end; about 25 minutes long and takes half a week to write. 

From this narrow one gender dominated view of preaching I finally went in search of other models and began the long journey of finding my own woman's preaching voice. The journey is ongoing.

Which is why I love Priscilla. She and her husband, Aquila, were missionaries and church leaders who worked alongside Paul. On one occasion they listened to a keen convert, Appollos,  who had 'a thorough knowledge of the scriptures', and who 'taught about Jesus accurately' though he seemed ignorant of Christian baptism. They graciously invited him back to their house where together (though her name is consistently and unusually mentioned first) they 'explained to him the way of God more accurately' (Acts 18: 24-26).

Now I did start to read a conservative article saying that in fact the verb 'explained' here is not the same as the verb 'to teach', so Priscilla is clearly not teaching a man after all; it is therefore not BIBLE TEACHING as such.......but half way through I felt I was losing the will to live.

That learning from the Living Word can be tied up with gender restrictions feels increasingly like a long winded explanation that the earth is indeed flat.

Preach it, Priscilla!


  1. I would point out that Catholics have a different opposition to the ordination of women, which is of the Authority of the Church / Apostolic order / Tradition. We certainly don't go with headship which is (as you rightly point out) and Evangelical argument. Preach it sister!

    I have to come back on 'narrow one gender view'. There are as many different types of men as there are men; I know you're not anti-male because I know you! Men and women can be equally bad or good at being smart, worth listening to and faithful to the teachings of the undivided Church. I think you're comments are directed at the Conservative Evangelical male voice; on which I of course couldn't possibly comment (!)

  2. You're right; it's because I love variety that I find the 'gold standard' difficult to stomach. Some people can fit in to it, great: but it's the idea that if you don't give 'em 25 minutes of sound biblical exegesis, you are somehow lacking, that I find problematic.

    Yes I am well aware that objections to women's ordination come from both sides! You're not now against are you?

    I agree that men and women can be equally smart, clever, boring etc. but it does seem that some things in the working out of our faith that are especially prized and thought to be desirable are gender related. In my limited experience Catholic men seem to prize the finer points of Eucharistic ritual a bit more highly than women, generally. But you may think that's unfair, or inaccurate...?