Sunday, September 18, 2011

What If Women Had a Voice at Nicea?

What if women had been given a voice at Nicea? What if the Apostle Junia had written an epistle that survived, even if only in references by ancient critics? What if the cult of Jesus had not won the economic and political turf war against the mystic gnostics? What if the Acts of Paul and Thecla had made the canon? What if we still believed Jesus really was a totally flesh-and-blood, sweaty, sexy man?

Would women have not become second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Would we have quit making excuses for ignoring "male and female, created He them" and "in Christ there is no slave nor free, male or female"? Would women be respected in the Christian community as whole, complex people instead of wombs with legs?

What if we had taken Jesus seriously when he honored the whore, the women disciples, the adulteress, the mother, the rich patroness, rather than only following his example as the destroyer of the temple?

Who would we think God is? Who would we think we are?


  1. Excellent questions! Maybe, as a man, I would be a second class citizen. But then, being second fiddle to a woman?????? Who WOULDN'T want that!!!!

  2. In our cultural time we don't function as women did in Christ's time, but he treated them with honor and respect, often using them as tools of his ministry. I have a female pastor who attends beautifully to her multi-aged flock. If we were to pick what things during biblical times we should be doing, what would they be? Females never leaving the home? Only prostitutes cutting their hair?

  3. I don't think that I would be too enthusiastic with the Gnostics, but I think that women would have made lots of contributions to Christian thinking if they have had a chance in history. I think that one of the things I really lament about Christianity was the fact that for many centuries women were not allowed to be members of the clergy, and the fact that the clergy became a monarchy.

  4. @Incongruous Circumspection: Thanks for the "up with women" props! But I hope never to be a part of a "if women are Up, men must be Down" environment. I seek equal rights, responsibilities, and respect for everyone. Mostly that's just rhetoric but I hope to live my life in a manner that is respectful to everyone--even those for whom I am a dominant majority. (I've recently been slammed for being "one of those loud angry women" so I'm a little touchy about this.)

    @pollypinks: by all accounts canonical or otherwise, Jesus was a pretty counter-culture sort of dude--from drinking from a Samaritan woman's water jar to civil disobedience to sedition (even if that might have been a set up)--so taking the predominant Ancient Middle Eastern social rules as the all-time/all-place pattern is ridiculous. To do so is to miss entirely the whole of Jesus teaching--which is what happens in 99% of Christianity, I think, where only his birth/death/resurrection have any importance and his actual life irrelevant.

    @Pedro: The Gnostics had their problems (loads of them and I wouldn't be running to join up with them if they were still around anymore than I am running to join any Christian group) but one thing most of them seem to have done is hold women as equally competent as men to know God for themselves and lead others to that same knowledge. Interestingly, though, it was the institutionalization and subsequent monarchalization (is that a word?) of Christianity that led to upperclass women having an alternative to life as the breeders for ambitious men. Religious life offered women an opportunity for leadership, management, even political power unavailable in any other major culture before or since. Many would even argue that all the strides feminism has made in the 20th century has not offered equal oportunity to women that the medieval church did.

  5. I thought this was quite good. Having been such a male chauvinist pig, and still by habit going there, I have seen the scriptural view of women and patriarchy quite differently lately, especially helped by Borg and Crossan’s explanations in The First Paul. In fact, for the class I'm teach, I was wondering how to handle that part in Ephesians about subordination, and they gave me the answer.

    Terry Gray

  6. Instead of "what if...", perhaps the question should be "why didn't we...".

    I guess we just weren't ready then; but we are getting closer to a recovery of the Divine likeness given to us as a potential in the gift of life.


  7. The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

    (Does anyone know how to make hypertext in a comment? I'd love to be able to link stuff like this.)

    I haven't read that one yet but I am reading The Authentic Letters of Paul, A New Reading of Paul's Rhetoric and Meaning. It is a new translation of Paul from the Westar Institute. I like their translations because it is so modern and NOT evangelically biased that I can read it without getting Bible PTSD.

  8. Sandra,

    Something similar has been the current theme in the NACR devotional this week.

    If we had chaotic parenting or if we had authoritarian parents and were in a rigid religious system, we tend to presume that God is like these authority figures that we had and how they told us to perceive of God. We get boxed in with our thinking, and though we have to start somewhere, we never really see God as He is.

    I was reminded of a song I heard a number of years ago:
    "I have made you to small in my eyes,
    Oh Lord forgive me.
    For I have believed a lie,
    That you could not help me.
    But now, my Lord, I see my wrong
    Take my heart and show yourself strong
    And in my eyes and with my song,
    Be magnified."

    There is so much more than we see, especially at those first glances. We have to remember that our understanding can become a box to put God in, as are the ideas that religion gives us which are not always right and accurate. Paul wrote many times for the recipients of his letters to know the love and the expansiveness of God, because I don't think any of us really can get it (at least not without some looking and study). We don't even know who we really are, either. Much to consider.