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Women–We are part of the Body

March 30, 2009

I do not know of anyone that would quibble or disagree with today’s blog post title. As those who trust in Christ, women are part of the Body of Christ. Of course. So are men. So too are boys and girls, children. We come in various shapes and sizes. We come from a variety of experiences and backgrounds. We get this. We also know how difficult this is, for our experiences and backgrounds often put us at odds. For some time I have been reflecting upon what it means to be the Body of Christ. What did God have in mind? What do we represent? Who are we to be?

I have also wondered why women in ministry seems to become a separate issue. At times it feels like it is just an “issue,” detached from personhood. Churches often reference Augustine’s saying, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; and in all things, charity” as a means to recognize there are essentials of faith and there are nonessentials. Women in ministry leadership often are regarded as a nonessential because of the diversity of thought and belief. Nonessential also might mean we don’t talk about it, because we have not learned how to do so in constructive ways. It might also be the churches version of “don’t’ ask, don’t tell.”

How do women fit into the body of Christ? My own viewpoint has changed over the years. I had viewed the body of Christ as comprised of individual parts – individual people comprising the whole. I had not distinguished between men and women, or between adults and children. I had distinguished aspects of the body between “in” – what we might consider noticeable or essential and those “out”—the lesser members. I hadn’t thought specifically about women in relationship to the body of Christ. Yet as I come to terms with what it is to follow Christ, what it means to be the body of Christ, and who we are to reflect and represent in this world, I know that the presence or absence of women affirmed in their giftings (yes the same applies to men) strengthens or weakens the body of Christ.

It took a recent conversation to cause me to make a connection I had not previously made. Before I go on let’s read I Corinthians 12:12-30. I usually read from the New Revised Standard Version, but today I’ve included the passage from The Message translation.

12-13You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

14-18I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

19-24But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

25-26The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

27-30You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.

God’s word is rich. I invite you to take some time today or this week to meditatively reflect on this passage. Here are some things that jumped out to me as I’ve read through this passage several times.

· My significance comes from who I am part of. “As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are part of. This in no way diminishes my self-worth as created in the image of God, but prevents me from seeing myself as an “island” – complete in and of myself.

· There is equality among us that stands opposed to partiality or favoritism.

· We are dependent upon one another.

· If one part is hurt, every other part is involved in the hurt.

It is this last point that jumped out to me in a new way. Several weeks ago I was talking with one of my seminary colleagues. She mentioned that she had attended a meeting of women that were licensed ministers in her denomination. I do not remember her exact words, but she related to me that the pain in that room among the women present was visible and heard. Not an angry pain, but voiced out of a desire for unity. In that moment I realized why it must matter to both men and women when women are hindered, prevented or diminished in the body of Christ. Women in the Church are in pain–we are part of the body of Christ, our pain affects the health of the Body.

In the book, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, Stanley J. Grenz wrote, “the divine program leads not only to peace with God in isolation (note: individually); it extends as well to the healing of all relationships—to one another, to creation, and in this manner to ourselves (that is, to our true identity). And God’s concern does not end with a redeemed person as an individual. Rather, God desires a reconciled humankind (Eph. 2:14-19) living on the renewed creation and enjoying God’s own presence (Rev. 21:1-5).”[1]

Could there be a connection between the pain of women – sisters in Christ and a diminished body of Christ? I believe there is. And I had not fully recognized the connection until that conversation. If what Grenz writes is correct, “that we are to show what God is like,”[2] then what do we reveal about God to others when women are marginalized in the Church?

This is not an easy conversation to have with men or with women. Certainly this is not the only area of concern. This is not about blame, this is about our eyesight – what we see and it is about what we feel. We know that humanly speaking something can be amiss in our bodies for some time before we recognize it. At other times we just don’t feel right – our energy is down, we are fatigued. Several years ago I was extremely tired. I mean I had no energy. I could go to work, but stuff was not getting done at home. I would be driving back from a meeting and had to fight the urge to fall asleep. Something was amiss. Actually two things – I had sleep apnea and my thyroid level was totally off. My doctor commented that she was surprised I could get out of bed in the morning. It took time, I had to make some changes and take daily medication. For me to function properly I had to take care of what was not working. To move back toward health it required attention to what was wrong.

Our physical bodies are intricately made. What is happening inwardly does not always immediately manifest itself outwardly, but in time it usually does. In some ways the pain that is present in the body of Christ has sources of origin that are complicated and involved with other parts. Delicate surgery is needed. The cure can be painful as well. It takes and will take time. “The church of which you are apart is no ordinary community. It is to be a people who participate in a divine communion.”[3]

Could it be that we have ignored pain in the body of Christ? If we think of women in ministry as a nonessential and therefore do not talk about it because of the diversity of opinion and belief does that have an impact on the health of the Body? Is it logical to conclude that the pain of women in the body means the Body is hurting and our divine communion is affected?

Last September on the Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight asked Alice Sherey to lead a conversation on Nancy Beach’s new book, Gifted to Lead (it’s included on the “Resource” page of this blog). As the moderator she included this reflection in the comment section as the conversation wrapped up for the day.

“I met a woman who provides spiritual direction in a large, international parachurch ministry. She told me that when she prays for the women she meets with from across the globe, she prays with a primitive cross formed out of two large iron nails in her hands. She rubs her hands over those nails to remind her of the crucified Jesus. She says it is the only way she can pray for the pain and suffering of women at the hands of the church in the world. The stories she hears are horrendous. This practice allows her to bring all the burdens she would otherwise carry — and allow to fester in her soul — into the presence of the crucified Jesus; the One who completely understands what it is like to be marginalized, and the only One who can really carry the full weight of what many women in the church carry.

After meeting with a group of 14 women leaders tonight and coming home and reading these final posts … I decided I’d better go get myself some nails and make a cross.

In the end, I have no answers — only Christ, and Him crucified.”[4]

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Lord have mercy upon us.


[1] Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998], page 214. A widely respected theologian, Dr. Grenz passed away in March 2005. More information on him, his books, articles and ministry can be found at: http://www.stanleyjgrenz.com/index2.shtml.

[2] Ibid., page 215.

[3] Ibid., page 216.

[4] Alice Sherey, Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, source date September 9, 2008, http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2008/09/gifted-to-lead-1_comments.html (accessed March 30, 2009).

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