Thursday, July 28, 2011

Women's place in the churches

Because of the comments I received on a recent blog post at my Hidden Glory blog, I did some rereading in Mary Kassian's book, Women, Creation and the Fall. She addresses the question of the head covering for women in chapter 9 of that book. Although I'd read some of the other chapters, for some reason I never got inspired to think more deeply about the general issues involving the role of women in the church, which is what the book is about.

It can't be because I don't think it's important, or that it doesn't apply to me. I've had just as much of a problem with Paul's seeming relegation of women to the status of inferiors or nonentities as other women, and I'm certainly aware that whether or not Paul himself had any such notions (he didn't), that's how men down the centuries have often misconstrued him and the effect has been oppressive of women and contrary to the spirit of Christ. But it hasn't been a war I've wanted to fight.

I think partly I've expected to be overwhelmed by it all if I get into it, drowned in the multitudinous feminist sophistries in their neverending attempts to bring down the apostle. And that does happen: I also looked at another book by Mary Kassian, the Feminist Mystique Mistake, and was not only overwhelmed but depressed by the feminist arguments against the Bible. Oh the tedium, the wrongheaded passions, do I HAVE to think through all this stuff? Of course Kassian herself is simply documenting all that and doing her best to organize it into something comprehensible, but I still end up feeling alienated from it all, as in What's the Point?

Partly this is because I have long since more or less taken a stand on the issues, at least in my own mind, which amounts to simply accepting that the Bible is God's word, Paul is God's own chosen spokesman, it doesn't matter whether or not I like his instructions, my job is nevertheless to obey them. So I've pretty much put all the ambiguities and doubts out of mind, and when Mrs. Kassian insists on bringing them up and analyzing them I tend to flee mentally from the effort to comprehend it all.

As I was reading tonight I could appreciate some of her points, but I'm still happy with the stand I've already taken on it, and in the end she takes more or less the same position as mine anyway, and that also makes me happy. Do I have to get any deeper into all this? I don't know yet.

But I did decide to make my "Dressing for the Kingdom" blog into something more broadly about women's issues in the church, a place for ruminating about such questions as I encounter them. I've never done anything with this blog in all the time I've had it up. It was originally supposed to collect some information on the topic of modesty I'd found in various books, but I just never got inspired to do the work of quoting them. So now it can be for that and other issues that relate to women in the churches.

I'm not interested in the feminist arguments at all, they really are tedious and sophistic. I do believe there has been just cause for the feminist reaction to some extent, both in the culture and in the church, but most of it comes from the flesh, or the fallen nature, and illuminates very little. Men have oppressed women because of the flesh, and women's reaction against that is also from the flesh -- both outside the church and inside it.

I want a spiritual or at least biblical way of thinking about it all. And Kassian does provide something in that direction with her concluding analysis: that women are wrongly suppressed in the churches and kept from finding an avenue of expression for our spiritual gifts, by rigid misunderstandings of what Paul meant and of church governance. First she considered all the feminist arguments and came to the conclusion that the Bible is quite clear in spite of all those arguments: that women are not to be elders, pastors, preachers, are to cover our heads and to keep silence during the assembly, as Paul instructs. She finds all the attempts to prove Paul didn't mean those things to be as false and strained as I do.

But as she says, the assembly amounts only to one or two hours out of 168 in the week, and the rest of those hours women should be free -- and in fact encouraged and even trained -- to exercise our spiritual gifts in various ministries within the church or toward the community and so on. I thought she made a very good case for that, and was reminded of all the ways I've felt any impulses of my own in such directions to be completely blocked if not actively discouraged within churches I've attended. Really, it's not so much being actively discouraged as it is that there is a vacuum where there ought to be such possibilities. There are the usual channels of the women's prayer group or the nursery ministry or the coffee-and-doughnuts ministry depending on the church, or the clean-up ministry of course, and I don't have any objection to any of that and have joined in some of it at times, but none of it exercises my own personal spiritual gifts.

In any case, looking through Mary Kassian's books got me pondering just what ARE my spiritual gifts anyway? I've filled out Spiritual Gifts Profile forms at times in the past, which usually class my primary gift as Prophecy. What do I do with that in most churches? In some churches that's one you'll hear aggressively squelched from the pulpit, with no thought as to how such a gifting in a woman might find an appropriate expression within the church.

Whatever my gifts may be I think these blogs are my only way of using them, for good or ill, as I've never found an outlet in the churches.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dressing for the Kingdom

As I thought about what modesty must entail I found myself recognizing so many ways most Christians fall short of it I realized it would be hard to get a hearing for much of it. Also, when you start identifying this or that example of immodesty you start sounding like a legalistic "puritan" (in the popular sense of the term), and raise the specter of the sort of gossipy gasping indignation over minor infractions that we associate with the Victorian era.

That can't be helped I suppose. Really, I think it's a Hollywood-engendered idea. The ugly character in some old movies was the one who was offended by other people's infractions of some code or other. In today's Hollywood-defined world of dress and undress we're all used to seeing so much of the human body we're pretty numb to it, even to the point of thinking it isn't really an issue since it hardly raises a flicker of interest in most of us. We don't really notice the exposed skin walking down the street on hot summer days.

Or do we?

We're all sinners and it seems to me now that in my pre-Christian life, at least in my younger years, I must have plotted how to dress as immodestly as possible while still managing to appear fairly conservatively dressed. I think a lot of women have this mentality. It's a matter of thinking about what will show off your female assets the best without being too obvious. I think this mentality has to be classed as immodesty in the light of Christ even if most of us get away with it. After a certain age I gave it up but not for the sake of Christian standards of modesty, merely because I stopped looking good as I put on weight and acquired sags and bags. That's a good reason for dressing modestly too, in a way. But I remember very well the mentality of dressing to attract attention, which I believe is the root of the concern and I figure this experience gives me some perspective for commenting on the subject.

There are Christian books out there that do cover this subject, usually in the context of a discussion about sex roles, dating versus courtship and the like. These focus on the effect of female dress on the male sex. I have a couple of books specifically on the subject of modest dress, one by David Bercot and one by David Cloud.
There's also a book on the subject that came out some years ago by a Jewish girl who had rediscovered her roots in the Orthodox Jewish religion and she makes some interesting points. And I've run across essays in some older books on spirituality.

So there should be plenty of material for this discussion.

July 27, 2011: For some reason or other I never got into this blog. As of today I've dedicated it to broader issues, but rereading this post does remind me that there are still things that can said about modesty so I expect it will remain among those issues.