Mark Har­ris is for­get­ting a lot of what the Bi­ble says about women

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY SUZANNE WATTS HEN­DER­SON Spe­cial to the Observer ed­i­to­rial board

Five years ago, Pas­tor Mark Har­ris preached a ser­mon that said a woman’s “core calling” is to serve as “a sup­porter, a nur­turer, a care­giver.” He lamented a cul­ture that makes it “ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for any woman to live out and ful­fill God’s de­sign.” Af­ter all, he said, “only one ti­tle is given to a woman in all of scrip­ture … (T)he ti­tle is ‘helper.’ ” With all due re­spect, I have to won­der what Bi­ble Pas­tor Har­ris is read­ing. Af­ter all, scrip­ture ap­plies a range of ti­tles to women (and men) caught up in God’s story of re­demp­tion.

Take Phoebe, for in­stance. When Paul greets es­teemed col­leagues at the end of Ro­mans, she’s atop his list, named as both a “dea­con of the church at Cenchrae” and a “bene­fac­tor.” The mixed gen­der roll call goes on to en­ti­tle Prisca a “co-worker” and Ju­nia an “apos­tle” (see Ro­mans 16:1–7). Else­where, Paul men­tions Euo­dia and Syn­ty­che among his “co-work­ers” (see Philip­pi­ans 4:2–3).

Or how about Anna? Luke’s Gospel calls her a “prophet” and cred­its her with shar­ing the news of Jesus’ birth far and wide (see Luke 2:36 –38). Later, Luke men­tions three pa­trons – Mary Mag­da­lene, Joanna, and Su­sanna – who in­vest their as­sets in Jesus’ itin­er­ant min­istry (Luke 8:1–3).

Per­haps Pas­tor Har­ris has for­got­ten Luke’s story of Jesus at the home of two sis­ters, Mary and Martha. Mary sits at­ten­tively “at (Jesus’) feet” – a phrase that de­notes her role as a dis­ci­ple. When her sis­ter, a sort of first­cen­tury Martha Stewart, com­plains that Mary’s ne­glect­ing her helper role, Jesus takes Mary’s side, prais­ing her for choos­ing the “bet­ter part.” Did you catch that? Jesus votes for dis­ci­ple­ship over do­mes­tic­ity. (See Luke 10:38– 42.)

All of th­ese women live out a “core calling” to be sure, but it has lit­tle to do with “how to pre­pare a meal, how to sew on a but­ton, how to keep a home, (or) how to re­spond to a hus­band” – the “ba­sic things” that women need to know, in Har­ris’ view. Rather, they share a “core calling” with their male coun­ter­parts – namely, to love God and neigh­bor in ways that pro­mote the well-be­ing of all peo­ple.

True enough, the New Tes­ta­ment does in­clude sev­eral teach­ings that cur­tail women’s roles in church lead­er­ship and pro­mote their sub­or­di­na­tion to lov­ing hus­bands. Most schol­ars think th­ese pas­sages, writ­ten later than Paul’s au­then­tic let­ters and the Gospels, re­flect the early church’s ca­pit­u­la­tion to its host pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture. Did you catch that irony? Har­ris thinks con­tem­po­rary cul­ture’s egal­i­tar­ian bent thwarts “God’s de­sign,” while Jesus thinks “God’s de­sign” dis­man­tles cul­tur­ally as­signed gen­der roles so that ev­ery­one – ev­ery­one! – has a part to play in fos­ter­ing hu­man dig­nity and whole­ness. (Paul agrees: see Gala­tians 3:28.)

It’s one thing for a pas­tor to in­ter­pret scrip­ture, quite se­lec­tively, for a group of de­voted fol­low­ers. It’s quite an­other for that pas­tor to as­pire to rep­re­sent the con­stituents of North Carolina’s 9th Con­gres­sional District. A can­di­date who con­fines women’s “core calling” to the home isn’t just out of step with the 21st cen­tury; he’s out of step with the 1st-cen­tury ver­sion of “God’s de­sign” pro­claimed and lived out by Jesus. Thank good­ness we have the chance in Novem­ber to elect a can­di­date com­mit­ted to fos­ter­ing “God’s de­sign” of hu­man flour­ish­ing for all peo­ple.

Hen­der­son is an or­dained min­is­ter in the Chris­tian Church (Dis­ci­ples of Christ) and serves as pro­fes­sor of re­li­gion at Queens Univer­sity of Char­lotte. She and Demo­cratic can­di­date Dan McCready at­tend the same church. Email: hen­der­[email protected]

JEFF WILLHELM Observer file photo

Mark Har­ris, who is run­ning for Congress, says the Bi­ble gives only one ti­tle to women – “helper.” But he’s over­look­ing a few oth­ers men­tioned in scrip­ture.

Suzanne Watts Hen­der­son

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