Did I read that right? Women are not allowed to speak in church services! We are to be silent and submissive! What!?!
This particular scripture took me off guard. I am a woman, a rather liberal and progressive woman I might add, and this one stopped me in my tracks. I can understand why Christianity is sometimes a sensitive subject to strong women. So now I had two options: I could overlook it and go on about my day or I could face it head on. I suppose you know which I chose, so here we go.
Once I began to breathe again and got my mind to restart, I remembered something very important -- the role of women in the 1st century was drastically different than it is in Western society today. Though the Bible applies to us in every time period (why it is often referred to as the “Living Word”) it was still written in a specific time and to a specific audience. In this case, Paul wrote this letter in about 55 A.D. to the church of Corinth. To understand the strong and straight-forward voice Paul uses in this letter, it is important to know a little more about Corinth.
Even in the 1st century women were thought of as property. They were to be silent, submissive, obey commands without asking questions, bear children and did not have any real say in the goings and comings of politics, religion or often even their own futures.
However, a Christian woman was allowed a few, though subtle, progressive indulgences. A woman was allowed, and encouraged, to worship and praise God (as long as she covered her head -- 1 Corinthians 11:5.) Jesus had many women travel with him during his ministry, including 3 whom Luke calls by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Suzanna (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus often talked to women as equals, something extremely uncommon at that time (John 4:27). To put simply, if being a woman is hard today, I could not imagine what it was like back then.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians was not about women’s roles, it was about unity in the church. It was simply fact that women were not as well educated or publicly acknowledged in that time. The Christian freedom applied fully to women -- it gave them right to worship, participate and contribute as an active member of the body of Christ, even in public worship. However, because of the societal restrictions to women at the time, openly questioning any aspect in public was frowned upon by some and caused a rift in the church among believers.
Though Paul uses strong and straightforward language in his letter, he is actually only trying to keep peace and unity within the church. By allowing women to freely and publicly participate in worship, but be silent and submissive during teachings, it was a middle ground for the church to compromise on and keep their unity as a body of believers intact.
So what does this have to do with women today? My takeaway is this -- I don’t believe I must be silent or submissive during church because I am a woman. However, I do believe I need to be aware of the people around em and respect my fellow believers. When I am attending a corporate worship, I would not object the person preaching because I have respect to others who are listening and learning. If I have something to say on the matter, I would bring it up in a smaller setting. When I worship in small groups, I am open and honest about my views, but I am still respectful of others who are around me and how my attitude and opinions might affect others in both a positive and a negative way.
As women we are not required to be silent, but as believers and part of the body of Christ, we are to be respectful and not be a stumbling block to our neighbors. We are to lift each other up, pray for one another, encourage one another, and love one another. I am a woman and God loves me just as much as he loves any other. I take comfort in that. God listens to me, God knows me and God loves me. It doesn't get any better than that!