My son asked his dad and I what patriarchy was yesterday. It came up as he was listening to us discuss one of my favorite stories in the bible, when Jesus turns water to wine at a wedding in Cana. After hearing me say that I feel Jesus’ mother is criticized unfairly, my husband answered, “well, yeah-patriarchy”, thus leading us to our son’s question. The bible was written by men for men during a time and in a culture where women had very little worth. It’s challenging to explain how patriarchy exists in a book that is central to our faith, a book we call the Word of God. It’s not any easier to explain how patriarchy lives in our churches, or so I thought. In a moment that I’m not entirely sure wasn’t spirit led, I was able to give my son a clear example he would comprehend. As I’ve shared before, we left a Church of Christ. What I haven’t yet shared is one of the catalysts to that departure. When I discovered on my own through reading the bible that female deacons are in the new testament, I asked our church leaders why we didn’t have female deacons. There was a scriptural basis for having them. Paul refers to Phoebe specifically. If the leaders were using 1st Timothy to validate their reasoning for excluding women from teaching, then surely Paul’s praise of Phoebe in Romans was evidence in favor of having women in leadership as deacons. The answer they gave me was unbelievably insulting, telling me that Phoebe was likely only doing work with other women, like cooking and caring for children. They argued that Paul’s use of the word “deacon” meant servant, so he was merely describing that Phoebe was a servant of the church, not that she was a leader in it. When I pressed further that Timothy himself was taught by the women in his life and Paul credits them accordingly, they told me that it was different because those women were his family members. In other words, the elders of our former church were willing to follow 1st Timothy literally but not do the same for Romans as it pertained to Phoebe and female deacons, thus maintaining the status quo of only men in leadership. When given scriptural proof that they could have women in positions of authority while also following the recommendations of 1st Timothy, the men governing our former church refused. When the bible says you can include women more thoroughly and you still choose not to, it is patriarchy being followed and patriarchy defining Christianity. There is a reason I was taught about Rahab, Ruth, Mary, and Esther in Sunday school, but not Phoebe. If you don’t learn about what you can and should have, you won’t ask for it.
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