(Editor's Note: Following this article is an explanation of the quotes from Mimi Haddad used in the story that may seem to indicate Scripture takes a back seat to interpretation. It does not, of course. Writer Vicki Brown regrets that the placement of the quotes might have given that impression. Haddad provides a more indepth understanding of the rock-climbing analogy.)
Many women struggle to fit life's pieces into a fulfilling and meaningful whole—one that allows them to use their gifts and talents to the best of their abilities and, for those who choose to marry, also give time and attention to their families.
The tension in individual lives spilled over into the culture as greater numbers of women went to work outside the home, especially triggered by World War II. "Mommy wars" became a media and political catchphrase in the early 1990s. It described the often-contentious tension women feel.
But what happens when Christian women are confronted with "God's will" in the matter? For many, theological understanding adds another layer of tension. Does God have prescribed roles for men and women, and does God require those roles to be filled in specific ways?
Some evangelicals, including Baptists, are divided into two camps on this issue—complementarian and egalitarian—and both base their understanding in Scripture.
Complementarians generally believe that while men and women are equal in God's sight, they have distinct and complementary roles to fulfill in the church and in the home. Complementarians base their approach on 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9. They also believe the Trinity reflects the complementarian view, with each Person of the Godhead filling specific and complementary functions.
Egalitarians hold the understanding that men and women enjoy full equality before God in creation, salvation, community and ministry, and in the family. They interpret a host of passages, including 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:1-7 and Galatians 3:28, among others, from a holistic viewpoint.
"Every family has to make the choice. … I am not God or the Holy Spirit. … You have to make the choice," noted Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women's studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a proponent of the complementarian viewpoint.
But Patterson, who was instrumental in Southwestern offering an undergraduate degree in homemaking, believes Scripture is clear, and how a woman determines her approach to the family and the church depends upon how she approaches Scripture.
"If Scripture is the highest authority … the clearest reading is the biblical truth. That is the measuring rod," the wife of Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson added. "The heart of feminism is experience."
Women need to step back and go back to biblical authority, she said. "The texts that are the most disputed are the clearest. First Timothy is in black and white."
Many feminists rely on historical or cultural approaches to translation and interpretation of the Bible, rather than dealing just with the text, Patterson argued. "How is Scripture going to act—as a cultural backdrop … or as biblical principles?"
For Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, understanding Scripture goes beyond translating words. Raised in Colorado, Haddad often uses rock climbing as an analogy. When a climber pushes her body against the rock, she will fall, the historical theologian explained. To scale the rock, the climber must lean back.
"You have to learn certain rules to understand how a discipline works, … but you have to get beyond the artificialness of the rules," Haddad said. "You must move beyond the grammar rules to allow creativity, imagination to take over … to feel the passion."
Leaning back and moving beyond the rules apply to interpretation, she argued, pointing to the biblical admonition to cut off a hand or pluck out an eye that offends. If everyone interpreted the passage literally, each would cut off his or her right hand. "You must ask, 'What is the meaning?'" she said.
"We can use the words of the Bible to oppress … to close down gifts … to kill the gospel," she said. Haddad added she believes the clash among believers over gender issues follows the arguments over slavery. "Theology is a 5,000-year conversation" that believers must be part of, while at the same time "stepping outside of" to get a broader perspective and understanding.
Effect on young women
Patterson believes young women evangelicals are returning to the complementarian view because they want to be grounded. "It's just a change we see across the board … a movement back to our roots and back to our homes," she said.
The seminary started the home economics degree "because the home is the first institution God created … and permeates every level of society," Patterson said. "I think young people are looking at society and seeing the mess it's in and believe we need to get back to the basics."
Women will be able to earn a master's degree in the discipline beginning this fall, and a doctorate will be offered in two years.
While Haddad agreed women may be moving back to a more traditional view of home life, she thinks the reasons may be more personal. An adjunct professor at Bethel College, she said some research shows many 20-somethings have grown up in fractured family environments. Now they "latch onto tradition and stability. … They cling more to these specific gender formulations … espoused by more conservative churches," she said.
Struggles with depression, eating disorders and self-destructive behavior also add to the desire for stability, she said.
"Some of the gains of the earlier women's movement have been derailed along the way," noted Molly Marshall, Central Baptist Theological Seminary president. Evangelical churches reinforce the traditional marriage message and emphasize traditional women's roles, she said.
But Haddad believes women can find strong role models by looking to history. Bible institutes, the forerunners of today's Christian colleges and universities, "trained women for exciting work around the world. … Women went out to dangerous places," she said. Institutes opened ministry doors to women like Lottie Moon, a 19th century missionary to China.
Controversies in the 1950s reversed the trend, and denominations took control of mission organizations. "The Lotties of this world … are now reigned in by male domination," she said. "Now there are more proscribed gender roles and few role models like Lottie. Women are told now that they must be captivating. … But what's captivating is the gospel, and that's not limited by gender."
The choice "doesn't have to be either/or," Haddad insists. "The hardest thing is to really … hunker down and listen to God, seek wisdom from others."
How reading Scripture is like rock climbing By Mimi Haddad, President of Christians for Biblical Equality
In my recent interview with the New Voice Media Group (which includes the Baptist Standard, the Religious Herald, Word&Way and Associated Baptist Press), I used rock climbing as an analogy for biblical interpretation not to suggest that we move beyond a high regard for Scripture as authoritative for faith and life. Rather, my purpose was to suggest that when climbing a steep rock or when reading a confusing passage in Scripture, the temptation is to hug the rock too closely -- to rely upon the "clearest reading" of the English text. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a classic example. It is a very steep rock -- it is a difficult text to interpret not only because Paul suggests that women are saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15), but also because Paul uses a strange Greek word, found only once in the Bible -- authentein (1 Timothy 2:12). We cannot build a universal application from a difficult text like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 by hugging the rock -- by insisting upon the "clearest reading of the text." The text, by virtue of its complexity, demands more of us, just as a skilled climber recognizes that climbing a steep incline requires a counter-intuitive measure. That despite the laws of gravity, the safest path upward is not to hug the rock but to lean away from it in order to gain perspective through a historical, cultural and linguistic analysis, and by allowing what is clear in Scripture to shed meaning on what is unclear.
To gain balance and perspective in understanding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we lean back and consider how other writers from the first century used authentein. The answer is very helpful. First century writers nearly always used authentein for "authority" that was domineering, misappropriated or usurped. It can also mean to behave in violent ways or to kill. That is why the Vulgate, the Geneva Bible, the King James and others versions of Scripture translate authentein as "domineering," or "usurping authority." Today's readers must also resist the "clearest reading" of this passage to uncover the situation of Ephesus whereby we discern the moral teachings that have universal application. It is helpful to learn that Ephesus was a city known for its worship of the fertility goddess Artemis who promised women safety in childbearing. Unlike most goddesses, Artemis did not have a male partner, and this background helps explain why women affiliated with Artemis may expect and even usurp authority to promote myths and genealogies that are contrary to Scripture. Paul opposes their efforts by using the unusual Greek word authentein.
Studying the situation at Ephesus further, we observe that Priscilla and Aquila built a church in their home in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19), just as women such as Lydia, Chloe, Nympha and Apphia also built churches in their homes. Significantly, Priscilla is mentioned ahead of her husband in teaching one of the most gifted speakers mentioned in the New Testament -- Apollos. They bring Apollos to their home -- a house church, where Priscilla and Aquila explain "the way of God more adequately" (Acts 18:26). In short, Priscilla instructed a powerful speaker in the very place -- Ephesus -- where Paul asks women not to usurp authority over men. Clearly, the type of leadership Priscilla exercises is one that is godly and not domineering. Importantly, she does not promote myths and genealogies but explains the way of God more adequately! The universal principle of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not to exclude women (like Priscilla) from teaching, but to exclude false teachers who usurp authority.
To give Scripture its fullest authority in our lives means we resist the "clearest reading of the text" when doing so places Scripture at odds with itself, as when reading 1 Timothy 2:11-15 at face value. Hugging the rock and clinging to a plain reading of the passage may feel safe, but it places Paul in conflict with himself! It is the surest path not to the top of the mountain of biblical clarity, but to the bottom.