Last week, I talked about how sectarianism damages the church’s reputation.
One point over which denominations differ is the ordination of women. This has proved an obstacle for me in the publication of Alara’s Call, because one of the main objections I come up against is that a novel about a clergywoman will be inaccessible to readers from denominations that don’t ordain women.
If that’s true, I’m in trouble, because my next manuscript, Hope and Pride, also includes a clergywoman, albeit in a much smaller role.
I don’t write these things solely to challenge people’s assumptions. But I do write out of my own experiences and worldview, and if the product of that challenges assumptions, well, I consider that a bonus.
I’m willing to have my own assumptions challenged, as well. I wrestle with 1 Timothy 2:12 on a regular basis. I mean, it says right there: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
But then I have to reconcile that with Paul’s high praise for female leaders in the church. In Romans 16 alone, he gives a shout out to seven women whom he praises for their hard work. Here are a few of them:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae…v.1
Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus…v.3
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles… v.7
If women aren’t supposed to be in authority, why is Paul praising these women in authority?
This word “authority” — in Greek, authenteo — appears nowhere else in the NT. In extrabiblical sources, it is not used for a just, duly elected authority, but only for a domineering dictatorship. (For more on this, see What Paul Really Said About Women by John Temple Bristow, or “10 Lies the Church Tells Women” by J. Lee Grady.)
We also have to consider the time and place of the writing. Paul wrote this letter when Timothy was overseeing the church in Ephesus, in what is now Turkey. Since neither Jews nor Arabs educated women at that time, it is unlikely that any women in Ephesus were qualified to teach or to lead. So the conclusion of those denominations that ordain women is that this advice is not for all Christians in all times, but is specific advice for the first-century church at Ephesus.
Of course, others disagree, which is why we have different denominations. But does our disagreement make fiction from other denominations’ worldviews inaccessible? Don’t Protestants read G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories? Could someone from the Roman or Orthodox tradition enjoy Jan Karon’s Mitford series, which feature a married Episcopalian priest? Or are our differences so great that we won’t even consider what the “other side” has to say?