As stated in my previous post, The Comic Lens is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (and, as an extra bonus, this weekend’s grand opening of DC’s swanky new Museum of the Bible) by taking a super-special deep-dive into scripture. (As an aside, I can only hope the Bible Museum, created as it is by the family of Hobby Lobby fame - and/or infamy - is bringing the text to stunning new life with bold applications of glitter, pipe cleaners and Mod Podge, but that’s for another blog.)
Yes, The Comic Lens is putting on its special goggles and exploring if and how some of the most difficult, offensive, dangerous, and hated sections of scripture might actually be funny. After all, if we believe the Bible is a comedy, then so is (at least perhaps) this stuff. And, as comedy, perhaps it has a radically different message regarding life with God and one another.
In determining what dastardly texts to prospect, we were helped by the fact that several “most awful” lists can be found flying down the worldwide information superhighway. We chose to at least start with Ship of Fools’ “Top 10 Worst Bible Passages” as reported by The Telegraph (9/1/09). There are many much longer “worst” lists to be found, but we thought we’d start short and see how things go. We can always add to our collection of 10. Like ordinances to the Commandments.
So with no further ado, here we go!
Top 10 Worst Scripture #1: 1 Timothy 2:12:
As noted in the Telegraph article, this passage has been the go-to reason used to bar women from becoming priests (and pastors). It’s also used to keep women from serving as teachers (of men) and even committee heads. (Despite its protest-worthiness, I can imagine many a woman in my congregations wishing they could use 1 Timothy 2:12 as an excuse when the Nominating Committee comes calling….)
This passage (and others like it) can also be seen as contributing to the subjugation of women in “Christian” culture generally. It speaks to the eye-opening epidemic of sexual harassment and assault against women that has overtaken the national conversation in recent days, because it, like the biblical text, is all about sending the message that men are supposed to be and stay in charge.
Of course letting this text justify abuse is an abuse of textual interpretation. And chances are quite quite good that this proscription, as well as the one as found at 1 Corinthians 14:34, are not authentically Paul’s, nor from the original Christian community. Rather, they come from Paul’s later “disciples” who speak in Paul’s spirit and name, sensing Paul’s authority, laying down law they are sure Paul would support if he were still alive and saw what was going on. (This was a common way for religious communities to proceed in the ancient world.)
It’s pretty clear that the real (original) Paul enthusiastically supported the leadership of all who Christ calls: male, female, slave, free, rich, poor - that was a big reason he found the Christian ecclesia so sacred, vital and world-changing.
Perhaps this generations-later view about women, attributed to Paul, is one of the casualties of the early Christian movement evolving (devolving?) over time into an institution. Typically, no matter what the organization, what first sets out to turn the status quo upside down eventually, if it survives and grows, seeks to align with it.
Most probably also, this text was meant to address a particular problem in a particular congregation or at a particular time in the Church’s development. It wasn’t meant to be understood universally and for all of time. I sometimes like to imagine how horrifying (and embarrassing) it would be if I were an epistle writer of yore coming back to life centuries later and discovered the church everywhere and unsparingly maintained a finger amputation ritual because I once wrote a friend that God desires His Children to refrain from picking their noses in public.
Nevertheless, what we have here is a statement that would seem to forever shut women out of full-on ecclesial leadership and, more painfully, shut their mouths, their minds and their message. At least in terms of relaying them to men.
This, when you put on comic lenses, is…ironic. Downright ridiculous! Hilariously stupid even!
I mean, it begs the hundred million dollar question(s): Do ya know how the Church even got started? Why we have Christianity in the first place???
It’s because when Jesus rose from the grave the first people Jesus visited…and instructed to go tell the disciples…were…WOMEN! That’s right. Women were the ones who were to go and teach the men the number one most important and foundational fact upon which everything else about following Jesus from hereon was to be based: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!!
Seems some men got with Jesus' program (and/or rejected what 1 Timothy demands). Christ's successful Easter conveyance seems most realized in Matthew’s telling of the Resurrection. As instructed, the women at the tomb go and tell the men back home what they have witnessed and, by the time Jesus is ascending at the end of the gospel, we’re told some of the men at least finally believe, although some remain doubtful. (This waffling is perhaps is a good thing because it causes Jesus to utter one of his most important comfort statements of all time: “I am with you always, until the ends of the earth.” I’m guessing the women probably told the men as much but to no avail, so Jesus turns these lemons into lovely lemonade!)
We have in Luke’s gospel several women who run to tell the men, and they’re blown off as gossips. Thankfully Jesus is gracious enough to meet those doltish men on the road to Emmaus and substantiate their claims. (Even though we’re never told the men later apologize to those women, which is of course most impolite.)
In John’s gospel, we not only have men not believing the empty tomb witness Mary Magdalene provides, but we’re then treated to a wacky running in-and-out-out-and-in-sidewise-stop-then-tap-dance-home-type empty tomb encounter by Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved who still, after all that viewing, will not believe, so Jesus kindly shows up later, and often, to do a tell-and-show to try and get them to get what Mary was saying all along.
In Mark’s version of the Easter story, we’re told the women scatter after witnessing the empty tomb, afraid to tell anyone anything, and then the gospel abruptly ends. It’s so over-the-top sudden and strange you have to wonder if it’s supposed to be satire. The traditional understanding is that Jesus appears before the women and they're to go tell the men; by their blatant failing to do so furthers his overarching gospel message that everyone in Jesus’ time had trouble following Divine directions.
From a comic perspective, no matter what gospel you read, the Church gets off on very rocky footing, largely in part because the men wouldn’t listen to the women. Apparently they were far to eager to follow 1 Timothy rather than Jesus!
“Sure, women are to refrain from teaching men…and look where that gets us!"
Sounds like something we’re sadly having to realize throughout the culture right now. I submit we can find this passage funny because it summons a knowing smirk, the kind that can't help but come to our faces when reading outrageous dating guides from the 1950’s.
Maybe they didn’t know better. But we do. We must.