This is the personal story of Marianne Tiessen Bell, a member of the ASBE board.
I was brought up going to Mennonite and Baptist churches in southern Ontario. I was a “good Christian girl” who wanted to do whatever was in the Bible, so when I learned from the pulpit and elsewhere (e.g. Bill Gothard seminars) that women should submit to men in church and in marriage, I figured that’s what I’d cheerfully do.
As I became an adult, though, and observed women leaders in various sectors, the idea of women’s submission to men – just because of their gender - didn’t sit right with me. I successfully took on leadership roles in non-profit boards & clubs, secondary & post-secondary classrooms, Bible studies, and local politics. . . while still understanding that the Bible taught complementarianism. The effect was that I lost respect for the Bible. Too many passages just didn’t make sense in light of what I saw and knew to be true, and so I just figured that the Bible was partly nonsense and largely irrelevant. I still loved God and tried to serve God, but I didn’t care much for the Bible.
Then in the fall of 2020, I signed up to take an online graduate course at Acadia Divinity College with Dr. Melody Maxwell: Women in the Christian Tradition. I like history and I wanted to see what the church had been doing to/with women over the centuries. Early on in the course, Dr. Maxwell assigned us to read an article by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis called “The Bible and Gender Equality” published a few decades ago. This article meticulously explained the various tricky passages in the New Testament that appear at first glance to prescribe submission of women to men, but it provided historical context, looked at how the Greek words were used in other places, compared passages with one another, and so on. It presented a whole new interpretation. I know there have been other articles over the years providing similar illumination (for example, written by Hugh McNally), but, you see, I wasn’t reading much about the Bible and only read this article because of the course.
This article showed me that the Bible wasn’t nonsense. It showed me that there are better ways to interpret the Bible than what I’d learned. Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of well-intentioned but improper teaching in churches in my lifetime. Now that I see alternative well-reasoned interpretations of those troublesome passages, I am way more interested in what the Bible says about equality and many other matters.
Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of well-intentioned but improper teaching in churches in my lifetime. Now that I see alternative well-reasoned interpretations of those troublesome passages, I am way more interested in what the Bible says about equality and many other matters.
It is crucial that uninformed interpretations and preaching don’t steer people away from knowing Jesus. It’s also crucial that women know they can use all their gifts fully in the church and in relationships without being reined in for no good reason. My heart goes out to women like me who want to follow Jesus but cannot reconcile what they have been taught with what they know to be true.
My heart goes out to women like me who want to follow Jesus but cannot reconcile what they have been taught with what they know to be true.
I’m thankful for ASBE and its mission to promote “the biblical message of full equality between women and men to advance the kingdom of God in Atlantic Canada” - a message that brings freedom, joy, and spiritual growth for people like me…and hopefully like you.