Sunday, January 26, 2014

God is above culture

I've been doing some pretty intense Bible study this past week, and I've learned a lot.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is how it gives us a glimpse of what society looked like thousands of years ago. The historical aspect of it is so cool. 

One thing we can infer from reading is that it was very clearly a patriarchal world. Women were seen as lesser beings, and gender roles were VERY important. Here are some examples:

1 Timothy 2:11
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

1 Corinthians 11:9
Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.  

Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

Believe it or not, these verses are still used to silence women today. (If you don't believe me, read Pastrix  by Nadia Bolz-Weber).

This all seems a little silly, right? I think it probably made sense at the time.

Let’s talk about the author of these verses: Paul. He wrote most of the New Testament and was a self-identified “servant of God and apostle of Jesus Christ.” 

Paul was an expert on Judaism. I think God knew what He was doing when He chose Paul to be a sort of "middle man." What do I mean by middle man? I’ll explain: On the one hand, it's important for Christians to be separate from the rest of the world (IN the world, not of it, right?) But on the other hand, we are still in the world of man and we are expected to behave in a respectful and honorable way.

Of course Paul would say women must cover their heads (1 Corinthians 11:6), because in that time period a woman whose head was uncovered was seen as someone who is sexually promiscuous and unfaithful to her husband. Is that how Christians should be perceived? Paul didn't want God's people breaking cultural laws or being offensive.

He says in Titus 3:1
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. 

That makes sense to me, but how do we know the passages about women were cultural, not God's holy commandment that we should follow for the rest of time?

One thing that helps me interpret confusing Bible passages is to do a little investigating and see what Jesus himself thinks. Isn't that the only thing Christians should be worried about in the first place?

Here's what I found: 

Even though, according to Paul, women should act and be treated in a certain way based on societal norms, Jesus didn't seem to care about that at all. He never treated women any differently from men. In fact, some of God's best workers were women. In the New Testament you see women hosting churches, prophesying, and serving Jesus. In the beginning of Acts you see women alongside men speaking in tongues. That seems pretty important right? It's almost like men and women are equal in these situations, and in God's eyes.

In Leviticus (the same book where people find verses to condemn gay relationships) it says many things about women on their periods. It talks about their unclean discharge, how you shouldn't touch them when they're menstruating, and lots of other icky sounding commands. It goes so far as to say that when you touch something a menstruating woman sits on, you are unclean until evening (even if you wash yourself). (Leviticus 15:19-24)

So that seems like a pretty big deal. But wait:

Luke 8:43-46
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 

If you go on to read, you see that Jesus is very pleased about her being healed. He couldn’t even HELP healing this woman. It happened before he even knew she was unclean, or ostracized, or even that she was a woman at all! Because she believed and reached out to him, he healed her.

So it seems like God is less concerned with the present culture of the day, and  more concerned with matters of the heart. I guess that’s why He gives us people like Paul.

Because this blog is about being gay and a Christian, let's see how we can relate these topics.

Here’s an interesting fact: Paul, the man who wrote all of the passages regarding women, also wrote all of the New Testament verses that are used by Christians to condemn modern day gay relationships. 

Personally, I don't think the Bible condemns homosexuality. I think it's much more complicated than people think once you start digging in and learning about historical context and actual intention. And remember, we are ALL reading translations and we are ALL influenced by our culture.

But lets say, hypothetically, the Bible DOES condemn homosexuality. How can someone be sure that Paul is not just speaking to the present culture? And if he was, does that even matter to Jesus?

I would love to hear your opinions.

I'll leave you all with MY main take away from all of this Bible study I've been doing:

God is above culture.  

Wait. Did you get that?

God is above culture.

God is above every category, sub category, denomination and box that we try to squeeze ourselves (and each other) into. God is not that limited. He loves all people, regardless of color, size, gender, and sexual orientation. When you aren't sure how to interpret something, I challenge you to err on the side of love and be the kind, welcoming Christian that God created you to be. 

Galatians 3:27-28
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with the Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female. For all of you are one in Christ.


  1. Outstanding..! Will print it and hang it up for everyone here to read.. :)

  2. You are such a WISE young woman Missa!! I pray that God will continue to bless you in all that you do--you are a light to the world!!

    1. Thank you Carol, please keep me in your prayers!

  3. Wonderful wise words once again! You can see so clearly that you seeking God's heart and mind God bless you in your endeavours

  4. WOW. Your diligence to dive into Scripture and your wisdom are incredibly encouraging to me!
    I am grateful to be your sister in Christ! I need you!

    1. Thank you Linda!
      I wish I had a chance to talk to you at the conference. Your story had a really big impact on me, and I am inspired by your strength and bravery. Thank you for everything you do!

  5. Missa, I LOVE what you wrote. Your tone is so loving, but you pack such a punch! Wise insights, my friend, wise insights! Love. Susan

  6. Just a wonderful encouragement in the Lord!

  7. Missa, I love how thoughtful you are in working through these important questions. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist culture where I experienced some deep wounds as a female. Even though I always loved the Word of God, wanted to study and teach it, it never occurred to me to go to seminary because I had never met a woman who went to seminary, and I had always been taught that women don't do that. It was not until my late 20s that I went to seminary. One book that I found meaningful on the topic of women and the church is: "Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership" by Dr. Sarah Sumner. She makes one of the best arguments supporting women in ministry leadership--and she does it using the language of conservatives. She was the first woman to graduate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Ph.D. in theology. I ended up meeting her and she was one of the first women with a doctorate teaching theology/Bible that I had met. Anyway, I highly recommend her book, especially because of its ability to engage with conservative thinking in a way that can be persuasive.

    As for God being above culture--its true there are aspects of the biblical text that are reflective of the culture of the time. In fact, one of the most amazing things about Scripture is that it is a great example of "God with us." God speaking to human beings within their cultural context. I think what God seeks to do in the story of Scripture is call us to the culture that we were created for--a kind of culture represented in Jesus who is the "New Adam." That is, the culture of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps God is not above culture as much as God invites us into a different culture---a culture of God's making. We find clues to this culture of God in Scripture.

    1. Hi Karen!

      Your story inspires me. I love how you went to seminary even though you were raised to believe women don't do that. You go girl! I will definitely look into that book, because this is a topic that really interests me. I can't even believe some churches discourage women from serving. Jesus would have NEVER done that. Thank you for the recommendation! And I LOVE what you said about God inviting us into a different culture of His making. Those are some powerful words.

      Thank you for reading and sharing, I hope to have many more discussions with you! :)