What do we do when the historic interpretation of a passage (or two) of Scripture does harm? Certainly a multitude of faithful Christ-followers in every expression of Christianity, and as well as those who never really gave Jesus a chance, have been bruised, broken, and bloodied by the teachings of the Church. The Bible has often been misused, misinterpreted, misquoted, mistranslated, and even weaponized throughout the centuries.
Katia Adams and Lucy Peppiatt have both been contributing to the conversation with regard to how passages regarding women’s places in the Church could be interpreted. My own United Methodist denomination (with all of our perceived openness) is not without its own need for confession and repentance with regard to how women have faced (and continue to face) challenges, obstacles, and opposition to their ministry and leadership based solely on their gender.
Adams and Peppiatt both give thorough and compelling treatment to the traditional interpretations of many of the Scripture passages that have been used throughout history to limit a woman’s status and role in the Church. They both not only break down some of the old ideas to make the case for dismantling ancient systems and understanding regarding women, but their approach can be applied to our broader means of interpreting and applying the Scriptures today.
I have a mentor in ministry who has always been like a father to me. He retired from full-time ministry a few years ago, but has been serving in part-time and interim pastorates since then. He told me last month that this year, he is hanging it up for good.
I congratulated him and wished him well, then asked where he planned to worship once his Sundays were free. (I confess I was hoping he was planning to attend my church where I could quickly enlist a veteran volunteer!) He told me his wife (they met and married a few years ago after both were widowed) was really looking forward to returning to her former church. His wife and her first husband had been a longtime members of a large non-denominational Bible church in the community. After she married my friend, she faithfully supported him in his ministry and attended most Sundays at the churches he served. Now that he was no longer committed to a church, she was ready to go back to her “home church.”
The answer seemed clear to me- he should support his wife and attend worship with her. But I could hear the apprehension in his voice. He said the people of the church were great. The pastor was a nice enough guy. And the quality of the worship was excellent. He said he could even stomach the linear approach to teaching- most of the time. I asked him, “So what’s the problem?”
He said, “The problem is that I was born in the Methodist Church. My parents had me baptized as an infant. I professed my faith in Jesus after my Confirmation class experience. I sensed a call to ministry at the age of 23 which was confirmed by the church. I have a Master’s in Theology, a Doctor of Ministry, and 50 years of professional church experience. But as far as the leaders of that church are concerned, I’m a heathen and doomed for hell because they do not recognize my baptism.”
My friend has had conversations like this with other seekers throughout his ministry. He knows the Scriptures. He knows the Greek. He knows how he helped others claim an assurance of salvation and he is confident of his own. But he is genuinely struggling with how to be a supportive husband with his wife in a church she loves while sitting among those who have already told him his gifts for ministry cannot be used to serve the church until he is “saved.”
I do not have a very high compassion or mercy gift, so I just responded to all of that by saying that he and his wife could solve their problem by joining my church. And we both had a good laugh.
It seems that for a multitude of reasons, some pastors, churches, and church leadership teams seem incapable, perhaps even threatened by the idea that traditional interpretation of Scripture could be open to new insight or a fresh movement of the Spirit. These traditionalists often have a more “defended” posture to borrow from Simon Walker’s work when challenged by the likes of Adams and Peppiatt. One might even dive back into Jonathan Haidt for a better understanding of our tendencies to double down on our firmly held beliefs and close ourselves off to perspectives that contradict them.
I just happen to believe we gain more with an open hand than with a closed fist. The reality is whether we are talking about differences in our understanding of baptism, justification of slavery, women in positions of leadership, divorce, sexual identity and the “biblical” definition of marriage, dietary issues, how to discipline children, etc., we rob ourselves of the fullness of God when we adopt a “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” approach.
Peppiatt writes, “Christians have been in disagreement over deeply held beliefs since the beginning of the church, and anxiety and disagreement should not be a reason not to engage with ideas and discuss and debate with one another.” Adams goes a step further by wondering what might become of the Christian Church “if the Bible turns out to be less explicit than we would like on this (women) and many other issues in order to teach us to love walking in love more than we love walking in being right.”
Right now, I would honestly settle for walking in a desire to do no more harm.
 A marketing slogan from several years ago branded the United Methodist Church as having “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” Sadly, this was not exactly an accurate experience for many who visited our local congregations or who were ordained into ministry but encountered resistance from churches who would not receive them as appointed pastors.
 Grateful to cross-reference Simon Walker’s “The Undefended Leader” and Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” here and to begin to see how the markers on the map are lining up. We also could probably go back to Bebbington’s description of the early days of Evangelicalism and the gradual shift within to a more literal approach to Biblical interpretation.
 Lucy Peppiatt, “Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts.” (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019,) Kindle, 3.
 Katia Adams, “Equal: What the Bible Says About Women, Men, and Authority,” (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2019,) Kindle, 176.