Mistrust and the problem of “overgenderizing”

When we first moved to England for my husband’s sabbatical, we began watching a new miniseries on the BBC called, The Honourable Woman, a fitting name for the subject at hand. Every episode began with The Honourable Woman, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, saying, “Who do you trust?”

The questions being asked here are who do you mistrust and on what basis? On gender alone?

First, When it comes to men not trusting women I think we’ve hit on an anthropological problem of sin that affects all types of relations. After Adam and Eve sin, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. Then in the next chapter Cain murders his brother from a place of jealousy and mistrust. We see this continue to manifest itself between races, nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, ages, religions, gender, etc. Simply put, we mistrust each other. To be sure, there’s a mistrust of women by men, as has been discussed, but I don’t think we should have the conversation without acknowledging an equal mistrust of men by women. I say this because I don’t want us to “overgenderize” (if I am allowed to make up my own word) this issue.

A danger of overgenderizing is reducing an issue such as mistrust to gender alone and thereby raising up a gender over another. Do all women deserve to be trusted simply because they are female? My answer is a firm, No. In the same way I don’t believe women should not be trusted simply because they are female. Being female (or male) doesn’t make us more or less trustworthy than the other. In fact, because of my view of sin and humanity, I find us all pretty untrustworthy. Yet, when I decide whether or not to trust someone or to believe what they say, it is not based on gender alone but on the person’s character. If there is a woman who is gossiper and liar, they will lose believability. If a male pastor has an affair, he will lose my trust. There are women who do not trust any man because they have been abused by men. There are men who do not trust any woman because they have been cheated on by women. And, of course, as already discussed, there are those who are very biased and allow gender to be a cause of mistrust more than character or behavior.

A second point that follows is that I don’t believe that the passages mentioned by Bronwyn and Graham are much to blame for a general mistrust of women among men. I think the issue, going back to the first point, is a result of sin and, as Alastair mentioned, partly influenced by how we are raised and other outside factors. But I don’t believe 1 Timothy 1 or 1 Peter 3 has had much influence (if any) on the general male population. For example, I don’t believe that every male mechanic to whom I have ever taken my car and has not believed me when I have said that my car is making a funny noise (not to mention that it never makes the noise when I take it to them!) is using 1 Timothy 1 as their reason. As it relates to mistrust of women, I believe the place where these passages of Scripture often come into play is within the ecclesial context where women might not be trusted as senior pastors or as preachers or teachers.

I liked what Bronwyn said in her piece, but I would clarify it a little further. She wrote,

“That first Easter, nobody trusted the women. But I’m reminded on Easter that Jesus did. He trusted the women. And it tells me that somehow, when it comes to bearing witness to Him, He trusts me too.”

I would say that Jesus didn’t trust the women at the cross simply because they were women. Rather, Jesus entrusted the message of his resurrection to the women, without regard to their gender, because he chose them and because they were there. Obviously these women were just as capable as men to take the gospel, but not because there was something in their gender that made them that way but because God chose to redeem and to use both sexes. The emphasis, then, is placed not on gender but on God.

To be honest, knowing my heart the way that I do and how prone I am to wander, I am surprised that God would entrust his gospel message to me at all. I sure don’t deserve it. But by his grace he does, and we must recognize God’s grace at work in others when he entrusts the same message to them that God has entrusted to us.

In response to Graham’s post, it seems that Paul was on trial in regards to his intentions (“Did Paul bring patriarchal bias into the composition?”) and in regards to inspiration (“Luke Timothy Johnson takes Paul to task for his poor exegesis.”). If one doesn’t take the “plain reading” of the text, then there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Rather, instead of raising a level of suspicion of Paul, I think a better and more helpful approach is to show from Scripture, tools of hermeneutics, cultural background, etc, how we have been misreading Paul. What Paul has written is the Word of God, but we have been misinterpreting or misreading him. This would be a better approach, in my opinion. I am uncomfortable with the other approach. A helpful book here that charges us to not read anachronistically is William Webb’s book, “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals.”

Secondly, in regards to the comment about Paul doing “poor exegesis” of Genesis 2, I think a better explanation of what we find in 1 Timothy 1 is Paul making an application of Genesis 2. He is not exegeting Genesis 2 as such, but rather he is using Genesis 2 to explain what is happening in Ephesus with the women. I personally understand Paul here to say that wherever women are being deceived like Eve and spreading false teaching, they need to shut up. And to that I say a hearty, Amen.

“Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien would be a helpful read also.

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