Intellect and Idol

The intellectualization of the Christian faith cannot help but lead to the idolization of scripture. The assumption that there is a definable philosophical/logical/rational/scientific background on which to stake our understanding of God and history is the golden calf of our intellectual culture. To claim instead that God alone is the arbiter of truth and definitively reveals Himself in scripture is to require that present experience of God play a key role in standing under authority – not a mind game, a mind changed to see clearly.

It does not make any more sense for us to now adopt the ‘background’ philosophical understanding of the bible than it would make for us to adopt the scientific background of Genesis – it’s not that a ‘biblical’ worldview or a ‘modern scientific’ worldview is right or wrong – the problem is that we can’t define the ground on which we stand in either case apart from the ground upon which we stand. Culture will never stay still enough to feel like we have any semblance of a solid place to stand.

Placing God at the center of our faith (and not scripture, or philosophy, or whatever else) necessarily feels like a shifting sand beneath our feet because we will never understand God to the extent that we can lock God down and know God perfectly by a set of beliefs and words. Refusing to assume there is solid intellectual ground without the power and presence of God is an essential part of the church’s continued faithfulness – just like refusing to assume a golden calf could contain the essence of God was an essential part of Israel’s faithfulness in the Exodus.

Literalism is practical atheism

Literalism as a moral guide is always a form of practical atheism. Literalism inherently fails precisely to the extent that it obfuscates the simple fact that we are not God and we will never fully understand or control our actions, intents, or the results of either. I’ve written more generally about complementarianism and it’s problems, but it is the most illustrative of this point.

For the sake of this particular argument I’ll assume that the Bible does in fact say what the most plain reading seems to say and that the Bible means to imply what complementarians take it to imply – namely, men are the head of household and women are not to have authority over men. The Bible says “the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” (Eph. 5:23) Therefore, men are to be the spiritual leader, make final decisions, etc. A couple of other verses may also be brought in as relevant – “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” (1st Tim. 2:12), for instance – and a whole way of life, marriage, and church leadership is developed to most literally reflect the words of scripture.

This is the point at which a literalist reading presumes that it has made a definitive moral argument – the Bible says it, we must live accordingly. But to segment off this question of morality from 1) a further reading of God’s Word and 2) the rest of a faithful life, is to compartmentalize God out of the equation as an unnecessary distraction rather than the source of life and meaning.

1) Here are a few other things the Bible says – “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed,” Psalm 82:3. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” James 1:27. “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless,” Isaiah 40:29. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” Luke 14:11. I could go on naming verses about the reversal of power God brings about and naming those passages that emphasize humility and self sacrifice as the Christological form of power. The weight of scripture has a very clear theme – God lifts up the least, the last, and the lost time and time again. To do anything to harm these, is to do the very same to God (Matthew 25:31-46)

2) Here is something else complementarianism justifies in the real world – spousal and child abuse. I don’t know that specific research has been done to express just how often complementarian thought is used to justify abuse, but it happens infinitely more than is acceptable. My wife’s experience with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse combined with a cursory internet search lead me to a heartbreaking number of anecdotes in which it is the case that 1) a woman is made to feel by her abuser that abuse is justified by his God given authority, and/or 2) a church implies (and at times outright says) that a woman cannot escape abuse because she is to submit to her husband. The numbers do not matter to this argument nearly as much as it matters that such justification does in fact arise through complementarian arguments.

The literalist reading would suggest that the existence of people failing to live into complementarian marriage in the way God intended it to exist is no excuse for abandoning the clear sense of marriage as described in the set of verses above. Put differently, just because we’re bad at God’s ideal for marriage doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. We should still strive for that ideal because the Bible says so. This is the point at which literalism fails so spectacularly and devolves into practical atheism.

Christians do not have any possible way to separate our decision to follow this pronouncement about men and women from our decision of whether or not to lift up the powerless, defend the widow, value humility, challenge the world’s assumptions of power, or any other desire to embody the love and life that Jesus makes possible. Again, I’m happy for the sake of this argument to accept the validity of the assumption that the above verses say and mean what a plain reading implies. But we cannot say that we support ‘biblical gender roles’ and at the same time pretend that this particular take on ‘biblical gender roles’ does not in actual, lived experience lead to spousal abuse.

To pretend like we have no choice but to be complementarian is to choose the value of male authority over the reality of female suffering. Jesus, faced with the choice to heal on the Sabbath or keep it holy, chooses healing over strict interpretation. The same logic is at play in every aspect of the way we live our lives – it’s not a question of if we are faithful, but of which attempt at being faithful is the most important for the here and now. We will fall short of some aspect of the life God intends, but I cannot see how we should ever prefer to try for a way of life that leads to spousal abuse instead of a way of life that puts the well being and humanity of women and children above any perceived benefit of complementary gender roles.

Said differently, even assuming men are scripturally supposed to have greater authority, we necessarily have to choose whether to value the safety of women and children more than the value of living into that authority structure. You may say that by choosing the former value we are choosing to violate God’s will and design, but when male authority creates the space in which women and children are abused, we have already made a choice about which kind of failure we authorize and which we ignore. Given that we are always choosing one value over another, I cannot see any scenario in which God would call us to choose spousal abuse over egalitarian relationships.

Literalism is a form of practical atheism because it empowers us to pretend like we don’t have a choice. It enables us to hide our deepest imperfections and failure to live as God calls us to live. Literalism gives us the space to pretend that we’re “just following God’s word,” when in reality we are living in a fallen and broken world in which our words and actions go far beyond our knowledge and control. Literalism suggests that we can take one snippet of scripture, divorce it from all other scripture and life itself, and have a clear understanding of how we are to live that compartmentalizes away the necessary harm that results. By pretending like we can segment our lives in this way and, even worse, that we should presume only one kind of moral question matters at a time, we do violence to the powerless in our world whose voices are not heard over the assertions of power made by those of us viewed as having authority.

Literalism never allows God to call into question the rationality and tradition that are shaped by the strong and authoritative men in the world, even though scripture itself calls those with power and authority into question time and again. The cross is God’s radical declaration that we are embraced and transformed no matter how far we fall short – literalism is practical atheism because there is no space to admit the multiple competing values and choices that we make everyday; choices that cannot be perfect to exactly the same extent that we are not God.

To live in submission to God requires us to at least 1) admit how deeply flawed we are and how impossible it is to fully embody the new life in Christ without the constant grace of God, 2) embrace and never hide the fact that we are always making competing value judgments in every decision we make, 3) refuse to hide behind tradition or bureaucracy as a reason for our failure to embody the love of God more fully, and 4) prioritize the same people and values that Jesus did – the sick over the healed, healing over Sabbath, the powerless over the powerful, the outcast over the popular, etc.

Anger, terror, and the reality we don’t want to talk about

Anger, terror, and the reality we don’t want to talk about

I’m not sure there is anything that bothers me more right now than the constant rhetoric about ‘Islamic terrorists’ and ‘illegal aliens.’ I don’t agree with those characterizations and I have said why at length. But that’s not what brings me to the point of anger. I am angered because the VAST majority of crime that actually destroys lives and dehumanizes children of God has nothing to do with the big scary boogeyman waiting around the corner.

Every time we participate in the culture that vilifies and dehumanizes the ‘others’ of our world, we are actively creating the space in which a blind eye is turned toward the people who actually do the most harm. I could say this alluding to a variety of offenders, since more than half of violent offenses are committed by someone the victim actually knows. But one particular type of violence is especially on my mind.

Every time we cheer on the rhetoric that says people of a different religion or race or culture are in any way to be feared merely bc of who they are or our views of what they believe, we are actively creating the space in which crime survivors are shamed and silenced because their attacker is too ‘normal’ or ‘so nice’ or because we don’t talk about it. For domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, justice rarely comes.

In the last 40 years, foreign born people have killed 3,024 Americans in terror attacks on US soil. That includes 2,983 deaths on 9/11. That means an average of 75 Americans have died on American soil each year from terrorism, or 0.205 each day. Every day, 3 women are killed by an intimate partner (a spouse, boyfriend, or ex) – but that is only the tiniest fraction of the iceberg in domestic violence.  

18.3% of women will be raped in their lifetime. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men will be victims of some form of sexual violence. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men will be victims of severe physical violence. A great majority in each of these cases is perpetrated by someone the victim knows. It is likely that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual abuse before age 18, although precision is difficult because as little as 12% of instances are reported. Of all childhood sexual abuse cases, around 93% are victimized by a family member or acquaintance.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence did a 24 hour census of domestic violence agencies. A few stand out stats – 25,735 domestic violence victims sought emergency shelter…in one day; 21,332 local, state, and national hotline calls were made by people seeking assistance…in one day; and 12,197 requests for help in that one day went unmet because of a lack of resources.

The result of such encounters, when survived, can be depression, anxiety, PTSD, reproductive problems, chronic pain, unwanted pregnancy, STIs, suicidal behavior, an increased likelihood for alcohol or drug dependence, and any number of other social, mental, job related, or physical ailments.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse cross over all age, socioeconomic, racial, religious, and whatever other lines you want to draw. With a very conservative estimate, at least 1/5 of the people you know (and far more likely close to ⅓) have been directly affected by these heinous crimes. And yet we almost never try to root out the perpetrators or start a war on the actual terrorism taking place in the American home. To spend almost any time focusing our energies and our fears on people who scare us by their differences is to further isolate and victimize the people whose lives are actually being turned upside down by people who look no different than us.

I’ve heard the argument that we have to be careful not to ruin the lives of good people, almost exclusively good men, if a baseless allegation is made against them. The two salacious cases of the Rolling Stone article and the Duke lacrosse team are sure to be referenced. The myths and misinformation surrounding false reporting are far too complex to do justice here, but suffice to say false reporting is not at all common and there are a lot more reasons to recant an accusation than to push through to a trial.

But any meaningful worry about the effects of an allegation on men, false or not, have absolutely zero standing to me after November. The US elected a president who has been accused of the things he himself claimed to do, accused of spousal rape, accused of raping a 13 year old, and accused in multiple other instances of groping; he has ‘defended’ himself of an accusation of abuse by implying he prefers better looking women; and he has been implicated in so many cases that it’s hard to keep track of which case is which. And we elected him president. We don’t need to be more careful about accusations, we need to be willing to open our ears to the cries of the people whose voices we have not heard and whose struggles we cannot understand.

It’s far easier for us and makes us feel safer to paint the Middle East or Mexico as the land of all the evil extremists than it is and feels to actually confront the abusers who look and talk and act just like us most of the time. But buying into the terrorism narrative necessarily turns a blind eye to the plight of our vulnerable neighbors who are deeply harmed by the rampant, actual crimes that are committed every day. And that is what makes me so angry right now. I’m not at all convinced that any of the recent executive orders will do anything to make us more safe. But I am entirely certain that vilifying the ‘others’ rather than confronting our own will actively harm the most vulnerable among us. I refuse to do so.

The Insidiousness of Complementarianism

It’s been a long time since I’ve been part of a church culture that does not affirm the equality of Women and Men at every level of church leadership. Granted, there are some subtle and sometimes not so subtle biases and comments about the “lady preacher” – but in the communities that I have served, the comments have always been a reflection of upbringing and discomfort rather than a systematic and intentional way to discourage Women from preaching and/or leading. I’m not suggesting that makes such comments acceptable, but I see an entirely different set of issues at play in careless speech as opposed to systematic devaluing.

I happened upon a tweet conversation recently in which I was once again forced to see the reality of both the kind of simplistic arguments that are made and also the kind of hateful and demeaning rhetoric that bleeds through even when people are trying to calmly argue for a “traditional” view of equal but different gender roles. Ultimately, I followed the rabbit trails until I found this transcript from John Piper that concisely makes one such argument.

I realized two things while meandering through the arguments.

First, As I’ve said before, “separate but equal” doesn’t work any better in the complementarian context than it has elsewhere. The implication nor the truth of that statement didn’t really settle in until now. How do you expect it to sound to say women get to lead the kids, but men have all top level authority? Or women can quote scripture, but only men can preach and interpret?  Or wives have to follow the spiritual direction of their spouses? No matter the intention, it is demeaning and belittling to the roles of women. And that mentality actually puts women in abusive situations in which it seems reasonable to think the man is still right. If you cannot teach complementarianism in such a way that no woman ever wonders if it is OK for her husband to abuse her* AND no church member or leader ever requires a woman in an abusive relationship to be silent or stay put, then something inherently problematic exists within the doctrine.

One further point: perhaps one of the more nebulous, but problematic undercurrents of how the gender role distinction plays out is that no one seems to question that the ‘traditionally’ male is somehow superior or more important or valuable than the ‘traditionally’ female role. There are fewer men clamoring to be a stay at home dad than there are women desiring to be CEOs or full time workers. A value differential may not be written down anywhere, but the statistics about what people actually try to do with their lives makes a clear statement about which roles are seen as more desirable or important in our current context. It is just as misogynistic to devalue the roles women often play as it is to keep them out of roles claimed for men. I can’t help but think the complementarian mentality that bifurcates the world along gender lines is a significant part of the culture that enshrined the respective values of each kind of role, even outside the church walls.

Second, arguing against complementarianism is like arguing against fake news. There is just enough information in the Bible that you can shut off your mind, ignore culture and context, and think only about the static and precise wording of a couple of stories or letters and come up with a bullet point list of complementarian roles for men and women. Once you’ve made the commitment to reading that way and using those filters, there is nothing that could persuade you away from the position; in just the same way that once your favorite deeply slanted fake news site shares just a little nugget of truth or conspiracy theory, there is no persuasion.

How can you prove, for a clear example, that there is no child sex ring in a pizza parlor when the only “evidence” that there is one in the first place is the super narrow fact that it has weird symbols and some powerful people mentioned it in an email? If you’re unwilling to consider the lens through which you evaluate information, nothing could ever persuade you of change. You can’t produce documents that prove the evidence of a story is false when there is nothing to disprove.

What is perhaps most difficult about arguing for a different lens when others have a myopic and literalist view of scripture is that it isn’t the text that we’re arguing about. The Bible says tons of things that are not taken literally – “sell all you have and give it to the poor;” “the meek shall inherit the earth;” “even in laughter the heart is sad, and the end of joy is grief.” – but without an acknowledgment of the tradition of thought and values and choices that lead you to take one thing literally and another not, there is no ground upon which to change viewpoints.

The Christian faith is ALWAYS a dynamic tradition in which the very values and shapes of discipleship and faith are constantly called into question and given new life for the present day. Peter and Cornelius is one of the most fascinating examples of a moment in which, even inside of scripture, we see a very deeply held, key marker of faithful life challenged and changed because of a new direction the Spirit of God is showing. When your assumption about what the bible is and how to read it do 95% of the work toward an interpretation, there is little chance you’ll be convinced of anything significant by reading another verse.


*It happens enough that a Psychology today article actually mentions ‘based on the bible’ as a reason men sexually abuse women.

Responding to the first two weeks

The challenge I have with making a coherent statement at the moment is that there are so many competing, subtle, and deeply problematic things going on that it’s impossible to treat any aspect well. I also recognize that humans (individuals and societies) are systems far more so than they are a discrete and single thing. Any one part of our experience and upbringing is always in conversation and/or competition with all other aspects of who we are. For me to attempt to say anything meaningful requires me to weave together a variety of strands within the system that get us to where we are now.

The greatest danger I find in Trump’s presidency (something I thought during the campaign rhetoric and something he has lived up to so far) is not in the concrete actions that he may or may not take, nor the wars that he may or may not start. I’m not at all convinced that Trump’s goal isn’t to burn it all to the ground and wind up with power and wealth galore. But, for now at least, those are distractions from what is already so dangerous and harmful about a figure like Trump.

The greatest danger I see is that most evil in the world does not come through overt, obvious, concrete actions. Most of the world’s evil comes in the form of subtle, passive aggressive, divisive, often implied actions and words that instill fear and do violence to relationship. Many of the worst offenders generally look and interact like a normal person. Whether or not Trump has meant or done anything overtly problematic, he has done everything with callous disregard for the people most affected and with such deep disdain for anyone who disagrees. That in itself is extremely harmful and will cause more harm than any good his orders and actions could conceivably do in the long run, if ever deemed reasonable and implemented appropriately.

Even if you don’t agree that his actions are security theater and will cause more harm than good, his words completely justify the fear and anxiety that he has caused. You cannot tease apart the specific, letter of the law actions Trump has so far made from the bombastic, hateful, xenophobic, and caustic campaign rhetoric that he used to rile up crowds during and since the election. If it is in any sense reasonable to say people have overreacted to the specific, narrowly interpreted actions Trump has taken so far, the blame for that overreaction lies squarely at the feet of the man who ran a campaign on promises to do exactly the things that protesters fear he is already doing.

Children who suffer physical abuse are often some of the most gifted at reading the emotions of others. The skill is often learned in an attempt to avoid the next round of abuse – if you can tell when the parent is angry or drunk, you know when to act normal and when to respond accordingly. For so many marginalized and trivialized groups of people, they have read the emotional state of the president and where things seem headed. It doesn’t matter at all whether things are going to be as bad as people expect – unrest and uncertainty are in many ways worse realities than overt acts of discrimination or abuse. This is the reality we are forcing a great number of people to live in – and it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference whether or not that is the intent of Trump or a fair reading of the actual words in his executive orders.

How you do something is at least significant as what you do. If you’re on the playground, it makes you a bully; when you’re the president, it makes you the worst kind of abuser. If you’re famous, you might rally a crowd; when seeking office you have no idea and no control over the backlash your words will have on others. It makes no difference to me at this point how you describe the specific actions Trump has taken or whether you think they come from a good or reasonable place of protectionism and safety. The manner in which he has done everything is inherently problematic and hurtful in some of the worst ways.

At least 6 interrelated strands of thought are necessary to express why I say all this –

  1. An African Proverb – “If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” (from a ted talk podcast on what we need to know about europe’s muslim children – the talk is about why young muslims are drawn to extremism when they are rejected by the dominant culture).
  2. My understanding of Sallie’s MFT training – when you repeatedly tell your child they are “X,” they will often spend their whole life trying to live up to or reject that label. Some are driven to be the smartest, for instance. Others are crushed by their inability to be smart enough. Still others intentionally fail so as to be seen as not smart as possible.
  3. A critique of modernity from Stanley Hauerwas – Modernism is the story that “you should have no story except the story that you chose when you had no story.” (explored here in relation to American religion; from my perspective as to why social identity is more basic than individuality here)
  4. Symptoms vs diseases – We are infinitely more likely to address the symptoms that we can see than the disease underneath. This happens especially in relationships. One of the greatest challenges to heal current wounds is that the internet and partisan politics are terribly suited to create the space in which people can express their brokenness and find healing.
  5. Tribalism – people want an identity and a community that safely defines the insider and the outsider. We will forgive a multitude of sins as long as we get to be on the inside. Multiple theories attempt to put a hard number on the limits to a human tribe and others show the problems with too much open access to resources. But for Christians to view our ‘tribe’ as anything short of all creation is precisely to reject the gospel. (#s 2 and 3 here, in the form of a sermon here)
  6. Predictors of Societal Violence – One of the stronger predictors of societal violence is unequal and especially limited access to vital resources. I can’t think of one specific source to cite, but it’s not hard to find historical examples – race riots in mid 20th century America, the connection between drought and the Arab Spring, the French Revolution, the disparity b/w the US and Mexico, the conflicts of the Protestant Reformation, etc. All share the fact that when at least one group doesn’t feel their needs met, violence is likely to rise up.

Trump’s campaign promises and his actions so far seek to 1) reject any attempts to change American culture and values, from inside or out – holding tight to some magical picture of ‘great’ is a flat out rejection of the young and the diverse; 2) label vast communities of people in dramatically simple, negative terms that only name problems and never speak of hope in anything but himself; 3) speak grand pronouncements about ‘greatness’ and other such lofty words without saying what he means or even critiquing those who interpret those words as a rejection of foreigners and the civil rights movements; 4) talk incessantly about ‘fixing’ problems without even a tacit acknowledgment of how we arrived where we are or what reconciliation and justice might entail apart from a police state; 5) isolate America from the rest of the world in every conceivable way; 6) prevent government attempts to redistribute wealth to meet the basic needs of all.

If you actually want to make the world a safe and better place, you would have to start by 1) finding ways to embrace and value the differences of the next generation and the neighbor who doesn’t look and think and act like me; 2) speak to the reality you hope to create in the world rather than constantly name the fear and brokenness you see; 3) recognize that we are all a part of an interconnected, global story that no one alive created nor does any one person or nation control; 4) actually create the spaces for conversation and healing rather than just stick a band aid (or pour gasoline) on centuries old divisions; 5) encourage the development of tribes that recognize rights are not pie, and lives are not actually a zero sum game, economically or theologically; 6) and invest in ways to ensure that the increasing automation of the workforce and changes in technology become means of human flourishing rather than a primer for the next great social (and military) revolution.

Nothing about what has happened gives me hope for positive change. Nothing makes me feel even the slightest bit safer or more empowered.

It was said countless times that Trump was all talk in order to rally the votes, but he should not be taken literally and he would back down and mellow when in office. It’s time to accept that we really can take Trump at his word; he says what he means and means what he says. Whether or not he starts WWIII, he is already doing a great amount of harm by traumatizing an unbelievable variety of people (victims of sexual violence, fully documented and employed immigrants, LGBTQ persons and supporters, foreign officials, refugees, men who are masculine enough to show emotion, Jews, African Americans, inner city residents, democracy itself, and I’m sure I’ve missed others).

It would be bad enough to have to create this list, but not once has Trump so much as acknowledged that anything he said could have been harmful, much less flat out wrong. The only ‘apology’ I’m aware of is the most clear cut example of a statement written by someone else that I have heard from him; but more than that, an actual apology is not an opportunity to tell the world why we’re wrong for being bothered by something you admit to having said. Nothing in him shows the capability for remorse, regret, or change. He has, at best, deflected the criticism and told the people he harmed that they’re wrong to feel hurt and has challenged the reality of the criticism for everything he’s done. At best, that makes him an ass. More likely, Trump is gaslighting us all.

I am proud of the UMC response and not surprised at all to see the vast array of other peaceful protests that have already happened. It is all entirely justified, regardless of where you stand on a narrow interpretation of what Trump has actually done and regardless of the danger in what might come next. Reasonable people can disagree on whether some of the principles behind Trump’s policies and actions are justifiable or beneficial in the long run. But the divisive and harmful rhetoric that Trump has spoken and that which he has allowed to go unchallenged is a direct affront to pretty much everything I believe is good and holy in life.

As a blonde haired, blue eyed, white, cis gendered, heterosexual, married, American, protestant, pastor I’m about the only kind of person with nothing to fear directly from Trump. I recognize that puts on me a distinct requirement to speak up and I will try to do so in whatever ways I am able.

The gospel I preach and to which have given my life says power is made perfect in weakness, not in the ubermensch. Our words will not change the world, but we are called to witness to the one who did. And there is room for all at the table of the Lord. I pray that all my words and actions reflect hope, trust, love, and fear in the Lord – no matter what that looks like.

On preaching: or why an Evangelical/Fundamentalist stance against women preaching is the most anti biblical stance around

On preaching: or why an Evangelical/Fundamentalist stance against women preaching is the most anti biblical stance around

If 2preach=2speak the gospel of Jesus resurrected & the bible is clear women don’t preach; why’d women preach the 1st sermon #literalismftw

If you’ve been to an evangelical or fundamentalist ministry, you’ve probably been confronted in some way by the argument that women are not to teach or have authority over men. For me, it was most obvious in college when I was sitting in a planning meeting for a summer camp and the female co-leader of the whole camp got up to talk. She began by telling us not to worry, she would only be exhorting us in Scripture, not preaching. And so for the next 20 or 30 minutes she walked us through about 30 or 40 verses of scripture, each time offering a word or two about how this verse applied to our task ahead. I suppose if she had started preaching rather than exhorting, the Bible itself would have become a tool for Satan by tricking us poor men into hearing a woman preach.

This was the first time I’d been struck so concretely by the implications of a tradition’s refusal to let women preach or lead churches. I was bothered at the time, but did not know why it felt so problematic. I have since come to recognize that any form of the argument is no more persuasive to me than “separate but equal.” The contortions required to justify any particular set of practices have never made sense and have often caused and justified harm.

I find that the more ‘literal’ we view the whole of scripture, the more often we really just mean we take the parts that justify our conclusions literally to the extent that they literally mean what they need to mean to justify our literalistic conclusion. In practice, literalism tends to mean something along the lines of being too lazy or afraid to have to explore the mysteries of God and nuances of living out God’s love. Needless to say, I don’t put much stock in a strict literalism when it comes to scripture. But I was struck by a new literalist reason to disagree with those traditions that prohibit female preachers last year when preparing for Easter Sunday. In good literalist fashion, I’ll use the clear and specific words of scripture to further make my case against prohibiting female preachers.

I’m confident this has been pointed out before, but I can’t recall having seen it anywhere in particular. Preaching, to the extent that it is a unique form of public speaking and thereby something worth doing, is a proclamation of the Gospel message. Namely, that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected in fulfillment of the promises of God. Even Paul, author of the greatest battle cries against women in ministry, says as much in a variety of ways in the first chapter of 1st Corinthians. Most succinctly stating in verse 23 – “we preach Christ crucified.” Unless he just changed his mind by the time he arrived at 15:14 (if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless), crucified would be nothing without resurrected.

I was struck to recognize that to accept that preaching is the art of proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection requires that we also accept that women preached the first recorded sermon. Matthew (28:7) and Luke (24:9-10) make it crystal clear that the two Marys and other women were the first to be told that Jesus is risen and the first to go and proclaim that good news to others. The implication is the same in John’s gospel (20:18) as well and the ending of Mark’s gospel makes no clear statement. If God did not intend for women to preach, it seems quite odd that women were clearly the first to preach the gospel message. Women can preach. The Bible tells me so.