Friday, 6 October 2006
Junia not Junior
I suspect most readers of AW are blokes, judging from the gender balance of the comments. The old time WCG was a blokes' club with not just an all male ministry, but (and this was highly unusual) a preponderance of men over women in the general membership. This caused problems for the single men, exhorted to be maintain a high moral standard but unable to marry outside of their faith (and for most of the church's history outside of their “race” as well.)
Which is why most of the eligible bachelors scrubbed up with particular care for the Feast of Tabernacles. A chance to impress was too important to miss!
But what about the women? In some ways women have been the forgotten 50% of the Church of God. No women as preachers of course, no women as administrators, no women consulted when it came to the latest flip-flop over divorce and remarriage or make-up. For years even the by-lines in church publications were exclusively male, women apparently made inferior writers as well.
Today the new-look Tkach-WCG has, thankfully, made most of that history. They're even looking at the issue of women in ministry, though that reform is slow in coming, and you've got to suspect that, despite the advocacy of Sheila Graham and others, there is a lot of resistance. A cousin of mine, a fine and sincere man who has stood by the WCG through thick and thin, has written a paper opposing the idea.
So, let me introduce you to Junia, woman and apostle. Her story is a fascinating one. She's been hiding away in Romans 16 for nigh on two millennia, but precious few blokes seem to have noticed. Those that have, more often than not, have felt the need to perform gender reassignment: poor Junia has been shorn of her femininity and morphed into a man.
Check out Romans 16:7. “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (NRSV)
Compare the same verse in the NIV where Junia goes under the knife to emerge as Junias, a male.
No, this isn't a trendy new feminist re-reading of the trusty old KJV, the KJV has Junia correctly identified, as did the early church fathers (mainly composed of misogynists who'd make Rod Meredith look positively enlightened by comparison.) Even Fred Coulter's translation (gasp!) gets it right - though I doubt he thought through the implications.
Junia, a woman who was “prominent among the apostles”? What gives?
Rena Pederson comes to the rescue with “The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia.” Pederson is a Washington journalist, not a theologian, and a “moderate Methodist”, not a COG member. Her book, however, illustrates the doggedness of a journalist who knows how to go after the facts, find the people “in the know” (she has interviewed a “who's who” of Christian scholars) and then present the findings in a highly readable, accessible way. I particularly enjoyed her account of meeting with a gaggle of Vatican scholars at the Pontifico Instituto Biblico:
"Surrounded by male scholars at the table, I had the feeling that this was what it must be like to have lunch at the Elks Lodge. I had envisioned a defensive or hostile reaction from the church scholars, but the institute professors exuded a gentlemanly curiosity about my topic. As it turned out, studying the women of the church was not high on their list of scholarly pursuits. It was like asking them what they thought about hormone replacement therapy."
You won't trip over theological verbiage, but you will get a fantastic insight into how women have fared in the Christian church down through the centuries, and who knows, just maybe you'll end up agreeing with Joe Jr. that the issue really does need addressing.
Agreeing with Joe about anything is a scary thought, but he's got to be right about something occasionally. And, just quietly, I think the various COGs would be much improved if some of the wooden-minded blokes stepped aside to make way for a few multi-tasking females. Any one of the service-minded secretaries who make coffee and clean up after Dave Pack would be a definite improvement, don't you think?