I have wrestled with this very important question as a husband, father, pastor and scholar, especially over the past nine years, the majority of which I lived in university contexts.
The first four of these year were in Cambridge, England, studying the letters of the earliest known author of the Christian movement, the Apostle Paul, who wrote, among other controversial things, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands” and “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man”–though not a few scholars today would dispute whether it was actually Paul who wrote these words. But, indisputably, he did write, “Women should remain silent in churches.”
During that time I had plenty of opportunity to interact with other scholars from diverse disciplines and ideologies about not only Paul’s words in particular but (what is often described as) the generally hierarchical and patriarchal character of the ancient Jewish / early Christian social and political worlds, not to mention the Western Christian tradition. Also during this same timeframe my wife Sarah and I proactively sought out persons from diverse international and ideological backgrounds simply to listen to and learn from their perspective on these challenging matters.
The other three years were in–well, in between–Durham and Chapel Hill (NC), homes to Duke University and the University of North Carolina, respectively.
But this time, instead of merely studying Paul’s letters, I actually had the gall to be teaching them (and the rest of the Bible) as a pastor to an (impressively) interested group of adults in their 20s and early 30s, a number of whom were graduate students at either UNC or Duke, who were often inclined toward (or at least conversant in) progressive views of all things related to gender and sexuality. Further, being frequently on the campus environment myself and speaking at various forums on these topics, I had the privilege of further interaction on these issues in a rich academic environment.
None of this makes me an expert on this important and difficult subject. I share it simply to provide some of my story and to communicate that it has been for me a topic of great personal and vocational importance and a good amount of exegetical, historical, theological and pastoral (not to mention marital and parental) reflection. My primary reason for writing a series of posts on this topic is (i) to begin to organize my own thoughts and (ii) to receive helpful ‘push back’ from any views I have misunderstood or caricatured.
I think it’s worth saying that, without pretending to be void of my own theological and cultural presuppositions, even as I have regarded this as a very important topic, I honestly have very little predisposition toward or allegiance to a particular view. Therefore, let the reader, regardless of their views, be forewarned:
Buckle up, because it’s going to be quite a ride.