Well, Shut My Mouth
As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (NRSV)
I’m always tempted to skip this particular reading, or to follow it with nothing but a blank screen—the visual version of a woman being silent in church. But instead, I’d like to have my say.
“Sit down and shut up” is not the final word of the Lord.
I once led a Bible study for some well-educated clergy on a reading from Paul. A woman minister interrupted me right off the bat, saying: “Sorry, but I just have to say, I have a real problem with Paul.” And I responded, “Well the feeling’s mutual.”
But despite her problem with Paul, I continued. Paul’s letters, while not perfect, are still wonderful and rich. I have no trouble believing that someone can be right on many spiritual things and still get stuck in the cultural norms of his day.
I approach texts like this with a spirit of humility. What statements of mine will people read one day and ask, “What was she thinking?” I know I carry the prejudices of my world around with me, just like Paul. And like him, I may be ignorant to many of them during my own lifetime.
For that reason, I am grateful to all the people who were told, “Sit down and shut up,” and didn’t. Because of them, we read Paul differently today. He’s fallible, as we all are, and the church is richer for it.
Still-speaking God, have I shut down someone else’s speech? Still-speaking God, have I allowed myself to get shut down? Have I been sad and silent when I should have been loud and proud? Have I been proud and loud when I should have listened in humility? Guide me, Still-speaking God. Amen.
Lillian Daniel serves as Conference Minister with the Michigan Conference UCC. She is the author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To and When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough.