Thursday, June 07, 2012

REPOST - The Importance of Sharing Stories

This post was originally written in observance of International Women's Day in 2008. As with all reposts for this "Week of Mutuality" event, I have updated the material somewhat.

One thing (among many) that I learned from David Scholer was the observance that it seems "especially true" that feminists thrive on sharing personal stories, as he says when he relates his own story of work on behalf of women in church ministry, as he wrote it for Christian Feminism Today back in 2006.

There is a common criticism, especially among Evangelical leaders, that sharing such stories can be too "irrational," or not "impartial" enough, and thus should not be allowed to affect one's interpretation of Scriptural teachings, especially when it comes to issues of what women are allowed to do as Christians or what church offices they are allowed to hold. There is something I want to affirm in that criticism, in that the temptation to read into the Bible only those teachings one already believes in (and "explain away" the ones one doesn't) can be very strong. Indeed, it is a temptation that all Christians face.

To tell the truth, my own inclination, as a student who thrived on Biblical studies while in seminary, is to stick almost exclusively to the Biblical text when building my argument for an issue of Christian significance. But I cannot affirm the traditional conclusion that it is never appropriate to share one's personal story. The Bible itself is full of such stories of personal experiences with God. I would go so far as to argue that most of the Bible is, in fact, story. A comparatively small portion of the Bible is straight "teaching" (or "doctrine," if you prefer) or some other genre (such as poetry and song). There is a good deal of overlap, to be sure. Prophecy, for example, often occurs in the context of the prophet sharing his story. Doctrine occasionally is taught within a "story" context. The point is, studies of the Biblical texts definitely suggest that telling the story of the people of God is a primary, if not the primary, method of how we communicate who God is and what God has done for us, both in ancient times as well as today.

Within those Biblical stories, often set in a patriarchal culture, are many stories of women who went against the grain of that patriarchal culture. More often than not, these women are not chastised for this action, but are in fact praised for it. To suggest that these stories of women doing acts of ministry, proclamation and, yes, obedience are mere exceptions to the rule God would have for us today do not take these stories seriously enough, it seems to me. It is Deborah's story that is told in the book of Judges, not her husband's, and she who held the office of "judge" and is said to be "leading Israel" (or "judging Israel," depending on your translation). The book of Esther tells how one woman risked death by performing a very non-patriarchal action (going to speak with the king without his prior request to see her), and was rewarded for her bravery. Jesus affirmed Mary's choice to sit and listen to his teachings, not Martha's choice to prepare supper. Even Timothy (you remember him. He got that letter we've been talking about, of which much has been made against the idea that women should be allowed ministerial positions) is said to have come to faith as a result of his mother and grandmother, not his father.

Certainly, there are many more stories of men to be found in the Bible. This is to be expected, given the patriarchal culture. The existence of the stories of these women, told without negative judgement, is an indication that the culture of patriarchy is not intended to be normative for us today. Faithfulness to God's will is the important thing, and far from being criticized as being against that will, women's activity on God's behalf is affirmed as part of what God wants to do for God's people, whatever culture women (and men!) of God find themselves in. Praise be to God for the testimony of these faithful women!

NOTE: When I posted the original version of this post, I not only included a link to other posts involved in that year's International Women's Day, but I called special attention to Scot McKnight's post from later that same day, detailing biblical evidence for the existence of Junia, a female apostle. When I was deciding which posts from the past to post again for this week, I also considered re-working this other entry I put together after McKnight was at Fuller talking about Junia and related issues just this past year. I ultimately decided that taking that post out of its original context would only be confusing, so I'm making do with a link down here, instead.

This post is the fourth intended to tie in with "A Week of Mutuality," hosted by Rachel Held Evans this week (the week of June 4-10) at her blog, You can head to this link to learn more about the project.

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