There is nothing like stepping out of your own context to give fresh insights into hot topics; topics such as gender.
Stepping into another context provides two hermeneutical benefits. First, it reminds us how context specific our own interpretation can be (even if Scriptures are ‘context neutral’ – and I don’t think they are – we cannot help but read Scripture through the twin lenses of our contexts and traditions, after all even sola scriptura is a Protestant tradition). Secondly, it allows us to see how others, whose contexts are profoundly different, engage with Holy Scripture. The fact that Scripture can be read in different ways, by different groups of people, is one way in which we can proclaim the universal truth that ‘the word of God is alive and active.’
To be believe that Scripture should be read free of all context would necessitate belief in some weird form of Divine regression, rather than an acceptance that what we, as Christians, are charged with is partnering God in bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to earth (as we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer) and, in time, the creation of the new heavens and the new earth; this being the final destination, the end point of the Christian journey and, the direction which all Scripture points towards.
What on earth has this got to do with gender?
Well, perhaps, quite a lot for last week I stepped for the thirteenth time, but the first as an ordained minister, into a totally different context (Kabubbu in rural Uganda). A context where women (and some men – I listened to the most harrowing story of barbarism from a man, gladly now a successful teacher, by relatives male and female alike) have been historically subjected to the most horrific abuse from family members. I listened to stories of abuse, mental and physical, by fathers on their daughters. Dozens and dozens of women asked me to pray with them that their hearts be enlarged so that they might forgive polygamous and violent husbands (and fathers). Many women told me that their most fervent hope was to live a life free from men. Listening to their stories I can understand why. Tragically some, perhaps the majority, of men, continue to believe in male superiority and, as we might think of it in Western Christianity ‘male headship.’ And, how do these men affirm their beliefs? Scripture. But, what if their reading of Scripture is inaccurate, what if they like many of us, simply rush ahead, read the narrative too quickly in order to ‘mine the scriptures’ for verses that support a prior ideology or set of doctrines?
So how does hearing the women’s stories inform my reading of Scripture?
We need to go back to the very beginning, to the very first time that human beings are mentioned, Genesis Chapter 1 verse 26: ‘Then let us make humankind in our image (if your translation says mankind I suspect that the word is used in a non gender specific way), according to our likeness.’ So God’s first move, it seems, is to create a category that is simply to be thought of as human. Let’s move ahead, to God’s second move, (Genesis 1, 27): ‘So god created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ The subdivision of humankind, into male and female, both of who are made equally and totally in the Divine image is God’s second move. The third move, Genesis 2,21- 23 reveals how God, as understood by the authors of Genesis, made the female: ‘So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.’ Now at this stage I can hear all that are attached to notions of male headship saying ‘yes Andrew, but, whatever you say God made man first.’ My response to this argument would be threefold:
Go back to Genesis 1, 26 and ask why the divinely inspired Scripture stresses that the category ‘human’ is antecedent to the sub categories ‘male and female.’
Ask yourself why God stresses that (verse 27) both male and female were created equally in the divine image. Where there is equality there can be no ontological hierarchy. (I hear the arguments that ontological equality can coexist alongside functional hierarchy – let’s just say I am cynical, extremely cynical).
Finally, what if Genesis 2, 21-23, can be read as presenting a truth that suggests that in order for women to become more, men must become less (hence the removal of the rib).
If I was an abused woman in Kabubbu this might just be my hermeneutic of gender. In fact so painful was last week that, in many ways, it is my hermeneutic; what’s yours?