jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

Philemon

I joined Twitter in 2007. It wasn’t very large yet, at least in terms of users, but it was creating a buzz. I did not really know what to do with it, and so I didn’t do much at all. Then a couple of years ago I watched this TED talk by Ethan Zuckerman. He tells the story of a Twitter campaign that went viral during the 2010 World Cup. It was a campaign to save an endangered Amazonian bird. There were tweets flying around the twittersphere explaining that if you retweeted the phrase, Cala a boca, Galvão, then five cents would be donated to help save the rare Galvão bird. As it turned out there is no such thing as a Galvão bird. The phrase Cala a boca, Galvão in Portuguese actually means, “Shut your mouth, Galvão.” It refers to a famous Brazilian soccer commentator named Galvão Bueno. He has become known as a cliche machine who can ruin the most interesting match, as well as a commentator prone to making major gaffes on and off the air. He has also built a reputation for being one of the rudest commentators behind the scenes that one will meet. The consensus among Brazilian soccer fans was that he needed to go, and they successfully figured out how to get “Shut your mouth, Galvão” trending on Twitter for the entirety of the 2010 World Cup.

Zuckerman opens with this story in order to illustrate how, on the one hand, Twitter is a global phenomenon with a truly international representation. And on the other hand, most Americans on Twitter are largely out of touch with the rest of the globe that is conversing there. The reason that this is true is that Twitter, like any good 21st century computer application, is designed to allow the user the ability to choose which parts of the endless sea of information available on the web actually make it onto said user’s Twitter timeline. He goes on to give some suggestions on how to open up your Twitter world in order to experience a true global community.

So, I went back to see who I was following on Twitter. Sure enough, I picked all of my interests. I was following certain sports writers, athletes, and team pages. I had several dozen personal friends that I followed. I was also following a select number of major and local news outlets, as well as a few random interests of mine. In other words, I was listening to the same ol’ white guys. So, I decided I would try something different. I began to search out bloggers from various regions in the world who were also on Twitter. Once I cracked a region I looked at who those individuals were following and followed them as well. I noticed who my new circle retweeted and also followed them. I continued that way until I felt like I had a good grasp on the region. Before you knew it I felt like a true global citizen. It was around that time that the first of the Arab Spring began happening in Egypt. I continued to follow the rest of the world, but was particularly interested in the developments in Egypt, which soon spread to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. I would tell my wife about awful developments (often with videos to prove it) in some of these places, then wait for the stories to pop up on major news outlets like CNN. It often took days.

But something else happened during that time. I noticed something in me that I never knew was there. I noticed some prejudice I had against Egyptians and Arabs and other middle easterners. I was able to notice it only because my heart had begun to open towards them. I began to feel a genuine empathy for the atrocities they were experiencing, admiration for the courage they had to lose their lives for the cause of freedom, and deep love for them as a people. In light of my open heart, my past views were exposed.

Recently a few fairly famous Christian leaders who take the complementarian view (as opposed to the egalitarian view) of the role of women in marriage and religious leadership have made some headlines. More specifically, Mark Driscoll did so here and John Piper did so here. This is not a new debate (relatively speaking), neither for American Evangelicalism nor for me personally. In fact, I gave up on debating this issue about four years ago when my own denomination declined to remove any and all restrictions for women in ministerial leadership (it should be noted that two years ago my denomination did remove the only remaining restriction in the local church, and has a long standing history of female pastors and female licensed ministers).

But there are three things that compel me to put forth my view one more time. First, it occurs to me more than ever that my three daughters might want to follow in line with their mother and grandmother, and pursue ministerial license within our denomination. If they do, I pray they will be able to do so with female representation on their respective examining boards, regional council, regional bishops, and elected international leadership. Second, I believe more is on the line than ever. The most outspoken and well-known complementarians come from congregational traditions, where their views primarily impact their congregants. Even in a congregation like Driscoll’s Mars Hill, which is more than ten thousand members, we are talking about a relatively small amount of people. The decisions of my denomination, on the other hand, impact over seven million people. Third, I am finally convinced that I know what the problem is.

And that leads me to the book of Philemon. It is one of those short (335 words), one-chapter books near the back of the bible that many folks never get around to reading. Paul is writing to an apparently wealthy man named Philemon. The church in Colosse met in his home, and it seems there had been some sort of issue with one of his former slaves named Onesimus. The slave evidently ran away at some point, but became a believer and then a helper to Paul while he was in prison.

Paul is writing Philemon in order to ask him to receive Onesimus back, but not as a servant. Paul wants Philemon to take him, “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (v. 16). Paul says that Onesimus (his name means “useful) was “formerly useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (v. 11). All of this, of course, has fascinating connections to the current dialogue on the issue of women in ministerial leadership. However, it is something else in the book that has my attention at the moment. That is the way that Paul begins his request. He says, “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (vv. 8-9). Evidently Paul had some grounds to demand Philemon to take Onesimus back and grant him this brotherly status. But he wants to appeal to him on another level, the level of the heart. It is not an unprecedented request from Paul. He used it in some of his other letters, perhaps most notably in 2 Corinthians 7:2 when he pleaded, “Make room for us in your hearts.”

Frankly, I am tired of the arguing points. There are so many well-written sources that address every single question that members of one side of this debate have for the other that I feel that I have nothing to add. Personally, I can find no good reason to hold the complementarian view (and I have honestly tried). And I know that my conclusions will likely change no one’s mind.

I understand that not everyone has had the opportunity to work their way through all of the talking points on this debate. Not everyone has had the privilege of looking at every verse, placing the views within a systematic theological construct, figuring out the hermeneutical implications of interpreting a certain verse (sometimes tiny phrase) one way or the other, etc. So, I understand why some members of my church hold that view. But when someone who has dedicated their life in order to answer exactly that type of question searches for the best response to this question and espouses the type of stuff that Piper and Driscoll stated recently, I want to say, Cala a boca, Galvão.

I could say that. Just like Paul could have told Philemon, “Look, I am telling you to do this whether you want to or not.” I may not be able to order people to change their views like Paul, but I can make both the observation and appeal on a different level, just like Paul did.

So, I am now convinced that I know what the problem is. The problem is that the only way to come to these complementarian conclusions is to keep your heart closed on the matter. I have always strived for the most conciliatory approach when possible, but I see no other way to put this. If you insist on holding this view on women your heart is not truly open to women, any more than my heart was opened to Egyptians. So, to all of the complementarians you are to me my Philemon. We do not know how Philemon responded, and I am certainly no Paul. I doubt that my words will prove efficacious. Nonetheless, I now offer my appeal:

See here, my mother, my wife, my daughters…see all of my spiritual mothers and sisters and daughters. See any one of them and see Woman. Bone of my bones. Flesh of my flesh. She has not been useful to you, but she is a great use to me. I appeal to you on the basis of love, as your brother. Open your heart. Receive her better than a helper, but as a dear sister. She is very dear to me but could prove even dearer to you, both as a human and as a sister in the Lord. Welcome her as you would welcome me.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

16 comments on “Philemon

  1. emilyelizabethstone
    February 4, 2012

    You are a true defender. I had no idea what you were writing this time. 🙂 I was moved. Thank you.

  2. Phyllis Davis
    February 4, 2012

    Are we to worship God the way we want to or the way God wants us to worship him? We should speak where the bible speaks and be silent where the bible is silent. Do we do what seems right to us or what is right according to the Holy Bible, Gods Word? “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 16:25. Does God’s word give authority for women to preach in the assembly of worship? “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” I Timothy 2:11, 12. Is there authority for a woman to be a bishop or a deacon? “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, giving to hospitality,apt to teach” I Tim. 3:2. “Let the deacons be the husband of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well”. I Tim. 3:12 A woman cannot be the “husband of one wife”, therefore, cannot be a bishop or an elder. Is there any example in God’s Word where a woman is given the right to preach in a worship assembly of the Lord’s church? We had better not try to change the bible to suit us (what seems right to us). Of course, women have a role in the church. There is plenty for them to do, such as teach bible classes for children or for women’s classes, clean the building, prepare the table for communion, sent cards, make phone calls, visit, pray for others, help those in need, invite people to church, sponsor “ladies day”, have a church in their home (as Pricilla and Aquila in Romans 16: 3-5) and many other activities. If there is no authority for the way we worship then we had better not do it.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 4, 2012

      Phyllis, thank you for taking the time to read my post. If you want to dialogue on each of the issues you mentioned, as well as any other concerns from complementarians, there is a plethora of resources. If you are not sure where to start let me know and I would be happy to point you in a few directions. As for me, I have worked through the questions, verses, and issues you mentioned and cannot hold the complementarian perspective. Furthermore, when someone has genuinely worked through the logical (head matter) questions and still maintains that perspective I believe the last remaining obstacle is a matter of the heart. That is the subject that I was writing about. My assumption is that you have either not seriously looked into the rational arguments, or there is something left to be dealt with in your heart. I would encourage you to ask the Lord to guide you as consider which of the two might be the case for you.

      Shalom,
      Jonathan

  3. Jonathan Simmons
    February 4, 2012

    Three words come to mind for this post: humble, contextual and relevant. I will certainly make this a point of reference for all future dialogue concerning some of the aforementioned “hot-button” issues. The Twitter setup? Brilliant.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 4, 2012

      Wow, Jonathan! That is quite a compliment! Thank you, brother! And glad you liked the “Twitter setup.” I have to admit, the article finished up in a way that made me look more clever than I am. The Spirit was helping!

  4. Beautifully phrased. I’m one of those people who hasn’t dedicated their life to searching out all the details of this debate (although there may be a ‘yet’ in there somewhere). I only just joined Twitter when all the John Piper thing broke out and I feel like I got caught up into the aftermath of hurt that swept around in it’s wake. The Bible tells us to love God first and our neighbour just after that, and whatever else we debate, we shouldn’t forget those things.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 4, 2012

      Thank you for reading. What you’re saying is so true. I am not always quick to remember how I should be treating others in the midst of a heated debate, but I certainly try. I am passionately engaged in some other issues besides womanhood. And many of the sisters and brothers in Christ who take an opposing view to me on the role of women in leadership are a great blessing and support in these other areas. The truth is when it comes to addressing great strongholds in our time such as economic injustices, abortion, pornography, human trafficking, etc., we need the John Pipers and Mark Driscolls and everyone else. We have to be careful not to so alienate one another that we no longer have one another. Thanks again, for stopping by!

  5. duanemiller
    February 4, 2012

    A daily blog! Old School. I like it. Thanks for your reflections on Scripture.

  6. Matt
    February 4, 2012

    I haven’t looked at this issue very closely. There’s just a ton of stuff we believe just because. I try to find out the real why but haven’t got to this one. One thing I did examine was the section of verses on the husband being the head of the house in Ephesians.

    I was really surprised when I looked closely at what was being said. Paul uses a marriage of the day simply as an example of Christ and the church. He’s not even talking about marriage specifically.

    Anyway, this was a great article giving me even more to think about, so thanks. And I mean that seriously as well as sarcastically:)

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 4, 2012

      Matt, thanks! I really like your blog, by the way! And I am glad to make you think, and sorry to make you think as well. 🙂

  7. RED
    February 11, 2012

    Jonathan,

    Thank you! I understand your weary spirit regarding the debate, but it looks like you still have good things to say. I’m glad you spoke up this time, anyway.

    Please don’t forget that support and encouragement from men is hugely important to us egalitarian women who have been hurt by the church. I thank you so much.

    And to Matt; I can’t tell you–I really, really cannot–how good it feels to see people approaching this issue from an unbiased perspective. Even if you were to dig deeper and still land on a complementarian perspective, the fact that you are willing to think about it gives people like me hope.

    It’s hard, nearly impossible, to explain to someone who is just on the cusp of the debate, how deeply the damage from complementarian philosophy can go. Before I was strongly egalitarian, I would never have said that gender roles was such an important issue….before I realized what complementarian theology was doing to me on a subconscious level. Then I looked around and saw all my sisters in Christ suffering in similar ways.

    So, Jonathan, I understand what you are saying about your heart being open. My heart wasn’t fully open to other women, and I wasn’t even fully aware of my own feelings! And to Matt; thanks for looking into this, and please be encouraged that it may turn out to feel more important than you ever imagined it would!

    A Visitor

  8. ih
    February 18, 2012

    Interesting post! Thanks also for stopping by my blog.
    Rev. I.K. Hadinger
    Wife, Mom, Missionary

  9. thecosmicsoul
    March 1, 2012

    I really enjoyed your post – global communication and technology, which led you to your realization of prejudice against a culture and subsequent relinquishment of that prejudice, and then your insight into helping others with a potential prejudice of women leaders in the church – spiritually fulfilling. Thank you!

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