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Reflection September 2, 2018
Embracing a Peaceable Life by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In the 1st Letter to Timothy, the author (unknown but not Paul because 1st Timothy was almost certainly written decades after Paul was executed) writes a number of quotations which have strengthened our church as well as quotations that have caused uncertainty and confusion.
In 1st Timothy, chapter 2, verses 11 – 12, we see the author proclaim: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” This passage has been one of the primary Bible passages cited by those who erroneously claim women should have no position of pastoral authority – or pastoral leadership – in the church.
Why we must be careful is not only that this was not Paul writing but this passage may well have been mistranslated from the Greek. There are those who suggest the Greek word for “silence” is better translated as “being at peace.” And also the Greek words translated as to “have authority over a man” might be better translated as to “not dominate a man.” We surely understand that all of us are called to not dominate others – male or female – husband or wife.
Another question of translation is the phrase “I permit no woman…” Some Greek scholars suggest a better way to translate this Greek is “I am not presently allowing…” so that the true translation might be: “I am not presently allowing a woman to teach or to dominate a man; she is to be at peace.” If this is really what the Greek states – then it is clear this injunction against women in terms of pastoral leadership was an injunction for a specific time and need not concern us today.
I, for one, believe the debate over the suitability of women as pastoral leaders – as ordained pastors – is a misguided debate. We know from Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
All of us are made in the divine image. It is not males alone who are made in the divine image. It is both males and females who reveal the divine image; both female and male are equal reflections of God.
And we would well remember what the actual Paul proclaims in Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We must keep this truth always before our eyes. I’m very happy and proud that in our American Baptist tradition, the pastoral leadership of women is valued and affirmed.
Yet I find it unsettling that the two largest Christian denominations in our country, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, do not support women in pastoral leadership. There may be no quicker way for Christianity to appear irrelevant to our young than to continue to insist on this outdated understanding of 1st Timothy.
The esteemed Lutheran theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, writes in The Source of Life: “In the fellowship of the Spirit there are no more male privileges, any more than the old enjoy any privileges compared with the young…In the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit everyone will experience…the new fellowship of free and equal people together…This means that it is impossible to tell women that they have to keep silent in the congregation.” He adds: “As long as only men are allowed to be ‘pastors’ in certain churches, these churches are ‘quenching’ and ‘grieving’ the Holy Spirit.”
At the time of 1st Timothy, there was great social consternation that Christians did not participate in the civic worship of the emperors and the gods. Christians were considered suspect because of their unwillingness to share in the exaltation of the pagan gods and the emperor. The author of 1st Timothy wants converts to be left in peace. So he advises them to pray for those in power – in order that those in power will allow the new Christians to worship as they believe in peace.
We know, of course, that this was not to be the case. Those in power did not leave the Christians alone but persecuted them for hundreds of years until Constantine signed the Edict of Milan in the year 313.
Now we all know that many who are in power abuse that power. This is not only people in government but also people in business, in professions and even in positions of church authority. We need to be reminded of Lord Acton’s famous quote: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I, for one, would rather live my life peaceably than be in an exalted position of authority.
I remember in 1963 seeing the movie, The Cardinal. After that movie, I really wanted to become a cardinal of the Catholic Church. But after marriage to Beth in 2007, coupled with becoming a happy American Baptist pastor, I can probably discard this youthful desire! But I wanted to become a cardinal so I could do some good in our wounded world. I pray I might continue doing some good as a simple pastor.
What is it we want from life? In our younger years, I believe we want a great deal from life. We want happiness. We want riches. We want fame. We want power and prestige. We want it all. But this wanting, this craving, moves us away from the humility and peacefulness of Christ Jesus. We want too much. This wanting, this craving, makes us foes of one another.
As the Christian social activist, Peter Maurin, phrased it: “The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off.”
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor