Australian preachers must have all gotten the same memo because it’s become trendy to laugh at “theologians” from the pulpit. Their logic (I think) is that pastors and Christian leaders are very different. This is because pastors *do* stuff, and Christian leaders *produce* stuff. But ordinary people can’t see the stuff theologians do, if they do anything at all. The distinction is about outcome, or action.
Truth is, it’s a false binary, and a misunderstanding regarding theology. First, theology is simply “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way” according to Charles Ryrie. And as preachers think about God, and express their thoughts to others, they should see themselves as theologians. And, we can evaluate outcomes of theologies, including the ones promoted by preachers.
Where professional theologians can help the church is that they identify theologies, and trace them through to a logical outcome. Mostly we do this in order to resource pastors, or to help steer the church globally as an institution. Some are working on the biblical end of this project, e.g. translating Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew into English or into other languages. And some are working on the contemporary end with particularly difficult issues, such as interfaith dialogue or peace-building.
Many compare Christianity and Islam. And this can obscure the fact that the Christian church today is perceived as one of the most sexist places in Western society. Stating the obvious, the Catholic tradition has refused women entering the priesthood. But many in the Reformed movement believe women should not be given a voice to speak in public, and still others in Pentecostal/Evangelical circles simply *prefer* a man do certain jobs in the church , because it “feels right”.
Proportionally, few of the church’s theologians through the ages were women. And Ruth Perry has collated shocker statements preachers have made in the pulpit, including:
“Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head so that the whole substance is one image” – Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430 AD)
“Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions” – Albertus Magnus, 13th century
“Woman is defective and misbegotten” – Thomas Aquinas, 13th century
“The word and works of God is still quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes” – Martin Luther (1483-1546)
“Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands” – John Dodson, 1603
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians” – Pat Robertson
“Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up, it is because you are fighting your role in the scriptures” – Mark Driscoll
You’d think that two thousand years of this would result in women leaving the church.
Globally, though, it is not the case. Women all over the world worship Jesus. Because the preaching of Jesus included a strong message of liberation for women.
So, the church is poised in many places to change the social oppression many women experience. This was the case with British India and Sati, the practice of widow burning. It could be the case again with human trafficking. But it’s not there yet.
In order to get there, we have to take serious stock of our preached theologies, and ask whether or not they are sexist.
And we have to take stock of our theologies about marriage. How do you do this?
To be honest, single women have the hardest time and are perceived as the greatest threat to the church. But, a crucial moment in my life was when I decided to marry. I have reflected upon it a lot, because I believe it is a pivotal moment for many Christians. The Junia Project recently published our story. You can read it here.
I’m not working as a feminist theologian. But I’ve realized that we’re all going to have to pitch in if we want to reject sexism and patriarchy in the church, especially for women of colour. That’s why I was willing to write up our story, of working through the *theologies* of marriage.
Today I was reading the scripture and I thought how beautiful this verse was.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”.
The Bible states that Jesus is and will always be the cornerstone of the church.
And when the church together sings, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back”, we have to ask ourselves honestly, is this good news for the women of the world?
Because it should be. It honestly should be.