Several years ago, I was leaving my veterinarian’s office with my dog that just had surgery and was still woozy. I was in a hurry to get her home. As I exited the office, a man followed me out and chased me down in the parking lot: “Are you Pastor Anne from My Father’s House?” The question sounded like an accusation.
“Yes, how can I help you?” I replied.
“Do you know what 1 Timothy 2:12 says?” he challenged.
I assured him that I did.
“Well then how do you reconcile that with you being a pastor and teaching in a pulpit?” he blurted angrily.
I’ve learned to pick my battles, and I quickly realized this was one I wasn’t about to engage in. “I’m sorry you feel that way, I replied gently. “I need to get my dog home now.” But, he continued quoting scriptures as I loaded her into the car.
He came from a church that fed the homeless. Our church also gives them food and clothing whenever they visit our Thrift Store. I shook my head at the irony, and also at the hatred that had just been flung at me unprovoked -- by a fellow “Christian.”
Being a female pastor has its challenges. That wasn’t the first run-in I’d had with a fundamentalist. An elderly man from one of the mobile home parks cut out one of my articles and mailed it back to me with multiple written comments – crossing off the “Rev.” in front of my name, demeaning me, and also quoting Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
Religious fundamentalists have always removed these words from their historical context and used them to lambaste female spiritual teachers. The commentaries shed light on this entire passage (1 Tim 2:9-15) about women in the church in that time in history.
Women, seated separately from their husbands, were interrupting the service in the synagogue by shouting to them. It was a time when women were chattel property, subservient to their husbands in everything. I like William Barclay’s commentary best, which in addition to putting the passage in its historical setting, adds that in Paul’s day it was forbidden for women to teach even the youngest children in school.
I don’t believe Paul intended to lay a “no teaching of men” restriction on women based on a specific problem in a specific church at a specific time in history when women were considered of much less worth than men. After all, he also said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28).
But, if any adherents of Pauline Christianity insist on following the letter of 1 Tim. 2:12, keep in mind that neither you nor your male relatives should be taught by a female Sunday School teacher, grade school or high school teacher, nor female professor in graduate school or seminary.
Jesus had a far more inclusive and kind attitude toward women. That’s why so many followed Him. And by the way, our love for one another is the sign that we are Christ’s disciples. Whose disciple are you?
Rev. Anne Barber, is pastor of My Father’s House, 7215 U.S. 301 N., Ellenton. For more information, visit www.myfathershouseinc.com.