(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=14 )
A Side Trek into the “real” Beam-me-up realm (c): Trek’s end (Conclusion)
Item: In the end, convincing the audience of the potential of a female person, whether fictional or real, is more important than whether or not said woman actually fulfills that potential.
Life imitates art, or art imitates life, far more often than we admit or even recognize. In the opinion of the two critics, both Star Trek and Left Behind introduce female characters of great potential, only to leave these characters stuck on “potential.” Moreover, since both works of fiction were created to advertise, rationalize, and normalize specific worldviews, it may be necessary to examine how these fictional attitudes translate into the real world. What happens when real people are expected to behave as fictional characters behave? In the real world, people are not always easily labeled, nor should they be. In the real world, people can get hurt.
Lalli observes a dualism in the Trekverse between self-promotion and defensiveness. On the one hand,
The Next Generation is a self-congratulatory program. A self-righteous tone rears its head in [the pilot] “Encounter at Farpoint”; one example is Tasha Yar screaming, “This court should be down on its knees worshipping what Starfleet represents!” This tone continued throughout the first season. A certain amount of pride among Starfleet’s finest is understandable, but the finger-wagging of Picard, Riker, et al., has been nearly a constant. This is especially offensive in reference to the supposed sexual equality of the Federation. We have seen several alien races who were surprised at the status of women on the Enterprise (the Ferengi are amazed by “clothed females”); Yar’s fighting skills usually taught them a lesson. Such scenes dare the viewer to accuse The Next Generation of sexism. By stridently insisting on its own progressiveness, The Next Generation gives itself away; the show protests far too much. (page 63)
On the other hand there is the defensiveness:
One of the most common excuses for Star Trek’s sexism is that “the spirit of the show” promotes equality, even if what we see is sexist. Nichelle Nichols expresses this view in The Star Trek Interview Book, saying, “whether I ever took over the ship or not is immaterial … I was capable of it.” (page 61)
In her autobiography Beyond Uhura Nichelle Nichols discusses the double prejudice she faced as a Black actress in the 1960s. Racists harassed her in the real world almost daily. For her first year she was paid as a day player after “the suits” denied her a written contract (pages 146-148). Security guards on the set refused her entry (page 161). The studio refused to deliver her fan mail. (Two honest clerks broke the rules and told her where to find her mail, an action that could have cost them their jobs; pages 161-163). When the actress did get in the door, mutilated scripts awaited her (page 159). The situation became so intolerable that by the time she met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she had decided to quit. (Dr. King talked her out of it; pages 163-165.)
But two developments that forever changed her personal life and professional career had nothing to do with racism. On a personal front, as Gene Roddenberry waited for his divorce to become finalized, he and Nichelle Nichols started dating. Then Roddenberry decided to introduce her to his girlfriend … his other girlfriend.
I knew that the last thing Gene wanted was to hurt either of us. But I also knew that he wanted what he wanted, and it was conceivable that we might continue in this triangle indefinitely. I loved Gene, but the situation was simply untenable. Maybe it was my ego, maybe it was my commitment to my career—I don’t know. What I did know was that Gene had placed the decision in my hands, and there was no choice for me but to end our romance. Out of deference to Majel, who I soon realized was dedicated to Gene above all else, and for my own salvation, I could not be the other woman to the other woman. And so I fled. Typical of Gene, however, he could not accept my rejection of him.
“How can you do this? How can you just walk away?” he asked me several times. Granted, it was not easy. It broke my heart. But it sure as [bleep] was not the end of the world for me, either. How I could and did go on without him is something Gene never quite understood. (pages 131-133)
In theory this should have been the end of it. It was not the end.
Gene had many wonderful qualities, but he was not someone you wanted to have as an enemy. In his darker moments he was prone to a tenacious jealousy and possessiveness that could not be reasoned away. I know that throughout our friendship Gene sought to do the best for me. Once when we discussed my leaving he said, “I want you to stay with this because I believe it will turn into something that will benefit you for many years to come.” And he was right. But while there was never any doubt that our romantic relationship was over long before Star Trek began—and it was never rekindled—Gene still could act like a jilted lover whenever he felt me moving away.
During Star Trek’s first year, Mission: Impossible began filming on a nearby set. Gene knew the show’s producer, Bruce Geller, and Bruce respected Gene. In fact, Bruce’s office suites were upstairs over Gene’s, and the two became good friends. The year after Bruce launched Mission: Impossible he premiered another hit, the long-running detective drama Mannix. In its first season Joe Mannix (played by Mike Connors) worked for a private detective agency. In the second season Bruce decided Mannix should be out on his own, and so he created Peggy Fair, a Black woman whose policeman husband—a friend of Mannix’s—had been killed in the line of duty. Peggy would be Mannix’s indispensable secretary and so much more.
Bruce told me he had written the part for me. Knowing, as everyone else did, that Star Trek was in its third and last season, Bruce offered it to me through my agent, and of course I accepted, thrilled at the prospect of going from one series to another, and in a starring role. Since I was under contract to Gene, however, I needed for him to release me from my contract. Unwisely, perhaps, Bruce felt that his relationship with Gene was such that he could approach him directly. But at the time, Bruce was getting along quite well with the studio heads, while Gene was not, and I think this caused some resentment on Gene’s part.
When Bruce asked Gene if he would cancel the remainder of my contract, Gene caustically replied, “Over my dead body.” Stunned, Bruce backed off at once rather than risk incurring Gene’s wrath. When I heard about Gene’s refusal, I was incredulous, and called Bruce. He described Gene’s reaction when he broached the subject: “I saw the hurt in his face. It was like, ‘You’re trying to steal her away from me.’” My first impulse was to confront Gene, but Bruce made it clear he didn’t want any bad blood between him and Gene, and there was no point in pursuing it. I was crushed.
Gene’s decision hurt me deeply on a professional level, too. To be a Black actress even now is to be in the minority of a minority. There simply are not enough roles to go around, and those that exist are understandably coveted and hard-won. [snip] I was a single mother with a teenage son. Gene knew I was in no position to take my show on the road again, as it were, and that a role in another series would be a godsend to [my son] Kyle and me.
As it happened, Mannix ran for another seven years. Gail Fisher got the role of Peggy Fair after Geller instructed his casting people to “get me a Nichelle Nichols.” She played it beautifully and won an Emmy for best supporting actress. Through the years Gene and I talked about this, and while he acknowledged my disappointment and hurt, he never apologized. (pages 190-192)
Aside from these life-changing incidents Beyond Uhura is full of praise for Gene Roddenberry. Where lies truth? Well, the truth is that the man who always believed in Nichelle Nichols, the man who remained her close friend as she remained one of his staunchest supporters, is the same man who undermined her career. The truth also is that the man who undermined her career is the same man who remained her close friend as she remained one of his staunchest supporters, a man who always believed in her.
The fictional character Uhura survives in non-canonical spin-off novels. The novel Uhura’s Song (purportedly one of Nichols’ favorite books) is arguably one of the best Star Trek stories ever written. (And this was in spite of a “Mary Sue” character!) Unfortunately this novel and fanworks like it were written two decades too late to be of use to the actress as leverage in her job negotiations. In the official Trekverse Uhura’s claim to fame remains The Kiss, The Line (“Hailing frequencies open”), and The Whimper (“Captain, I’m frightened.”)
(Personal aside 2016: in the new films, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is portrayed as being in a love affair with Mr. Spock. Did we or did we not just say in this very article that if female characters want more ink and/or screen time, they have to get written into a love affair with a more famous man? Of all the questions we might have about Lt. Uhura, of all of the possible ways to develop her character, is her love life the only direction they could think to take?)
In the meantime Nichelle Nichols has gone on to live a rich and full life, if not the one she anticipated. Her NASA outreach program “Women in Motion, Inc.” led to the integration of the American space program; arguably the Space Shuttle never could have flown or succeeded without it (pages 219-225). Yet it could be argued that if Nichelle Nichols’ acting career had gone in the direction she desired, her passion for justice might have led her to launch the NASA outreach program anyway.
As he draws to his conclusion, Tom Lalli comments of Star Trek,
In a response to my letter to Roddenberry, [his assistant Richard Arnold] wrote, “the philosophy of the show is more important than the gender of the lead roles.” This suggests that the gender of the lead roles is somehow separable from the philosophy of the show. (pages 61-62)
Star Trek’s reputation for progressiveness is due more to its suggestion of a future society devoted to equal rights than to what was portrayed in the show. In other words, the supposed sexual equality of the Federation was largely left to viewers’ imaginations. (page 41)
Early in Amy Johnson Frykholm’s life she had her own encounters with the difference between “the philosophy of the program” and the real-world role pre-assigned to her as a female growing up in a male-dominated church. For example, in Christianity it is taught that
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female ; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
What happens when people believe in the equality of men and women in God’s eyes, but in a way that it does not interfere with the home life of the church? As a child Frykholm had trouble reconciling this verse with the church she saw every day.
In a way apropos to this subject, it might be said that I read my way out of evangelicalism. In high school, feminist reading had the strongest effect on me and provided the context for my break with [my church] Trinity Baptist. My father gave me a book written by feminist evangelical Virginia Mollencott called Women, Men, and the Bible. I became fascinated with the idea of feminist biblical scholarship. Always outspoken, I became passionate on this subject and quickly found trouble. The first incident occurred at a summer camp when a respected minister came to speak to the youth about vocation. He drew a chart on the board showing the clear, hierarchical, divinely ordained relationship between men and women. He said, “Someday you will be spiritual leaders; someday you will be the wives of spiritual leaders.” I walked out. Later I summoned the courage to speak to him about what had so profoundly disturbed me. I remember the coldness in his eyes as he looked past me and refused, in the end, to talk at all. I tried to share my sense of growing alienation with others and found no one to engage me.
The second incident occurred while teaching Sunday school to third graders in my senior year of high school. Fresh from my reading of Mollencott, I told my Sunday school class, “Some people think of God as their mother.” A woman walking by our open classroom door heard what I said and came in. “That’s blasphemy,” she said. The third-graders looked at me wide-eyed. I tried a futile argument before she stormed out and our lesson was over. Afterward, one of the children came up to me. “Is that really in the Bible?” he asked. “Yes,” I told him, even as I felt my own doubts rise.
These two incidents, among others, made me increasingly uncomfortable with my own place in evangelicalism, and although the break was neither easy nor clean, I eventually, predominantly on feminist grounds, distanced myself from it. (page 5)
Feeling forced to choose between two important parts of her self-image, Frykholm left her church. As we mentioned when her book was introduced in the Sources section, Frykholm was re-introduced to rapturism through relatives she loved and trusted. Left Behind was part of that re-introduction.
What do we make of Frykholm’s original departure from her church? Was she just a jerk as a child, or did she have legitimate concerns?
(Personal aside: From this point on we can attempt to reconstruct a possible dialogue. None of the below comes from Frykholm’s book.
Let us start by noting that God welcomes Christians to address God as abba, or Father [really, “daddy”; Romans 8:15]. Your host has no problem with calling a God who is above gender, “abba,” on the grounds that your host prefers to call people what they like to be called … well, except for Cameron Williams, of course.
At the same time there is ample evidence that Jesus has a strong feminine side, as documented by Julian of Norwich. Jesus described Himself in maternal terms in Matthew 23:37 / Luke 13:34. Jesus performed a motherly duty by cooking for the disciples [see John 21:9-13]. Look closer at these verses and we notice that Jesus already had food ready before the men brought their own. Jesus broke sexual taboos by teaching Mary the sister of Lazarus and treating her like an equal [Luke 10:38-42]. The house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was the closest place Jesus had to a home. It should be no surprise that Jesus wept for Lazarus, comforted Mary, and let Martha yell at him even as she confessed her faith [John 11:17-45]. Note also the similarity of her confession to the confession of Simon Peter “the Rock.” Finally Jesus broke both sexual and racial taboos by teaching the Samaritan woman and treating her like an equal [John 4:7-30]. All these things crossed taboo lines, not just because there were things men were not expected to do, but because Jesus accepted women who did things they were not expected to do.
These things make sense when we consider that Christians consider Jesus to be homoousion, “of one being with the Father.” After all God has a strong feminine side. See Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 66:13 and possibly Hosea 11:1-4. More to the point, male and female were both created by God, so they must have gotten their good qualities from God. There really is nowhere else that humans could get them.
So how could the confrontation in Frykholm’s classroom have occurred? Frykholm’s ad lib comment, combined with a lack of instant-recall Scriptural support, could be construed as though she was promoting some sort of Goddess belief. [This is a big no-no in Christianity. Even the Shakers, who believe Jesus manifested His Second Coming in the form of “Mother Ann” Lee, have their limits.] Would things have been different if Frykholm had had a concordance in the room? Would things have been different if the adult visitor had not gone into the room assuming the worst about her? Romans 14 cautions the new and tender-minded Christian not to push beyond the restraints of conscience. It also cautions the mature Christian not to make a brother “stumble” by flaunting freedoms or being too aggressive.
What about the first incident? Did Frykholm react negatively to a division of labor that may have left no room for her?
Many verses are cited to explain some denominations’ decision not to ordain women. Some people cite Eve’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Other people state that “Jesus only ordained men, therefore we cannot ordain women.” Still other people cite the words of Paul in such as 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 or 1 Cor. 14:34-35.
It is reasonable to look at these scriptural passages. Let us start with the Fall of Man as attributed to Eve. In Genesis 2:18 we read, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will create an helpmeet for him.’” In the original Hebrew the word ezer or azer is a unisex word meaning, “to work alongside.” [There are no vowels in Hebrew that ancient.] Elsewhere in the Bible, God refers to Himself as Israel’s ezer.
Eve was created to be another worker. Work existed in the Garden before the Fall of Man. Work was not a punishment. It was humanity’s right, privilege, and natural occupation. Humanity was offered a chance to participate in the creation. [We still have a limited privilege called “healing the world” which is good but not what we started with. Lutherans in particular will press this point. It even appears in non-religious works, such as The Last Farmer by Howard Kohn.]
Do not misunderstand—Eve also was created as companionship, but only our small-minded, sin-prone mental dullness would price her primarily as entertainment for Adam. She had worth independent of her sexuality. Anyway, “I and Thou” goes deeper than sex.
Eve is blamed for the Fall of Man, but note what it says in Gen. 3:6. Eve talked to the serpent, took the forbidden fruit and ate it, and “gave to her husband who was with her.” Adam saw what she was doing, did nothing to stop it, joined her in doing it, and then blamed her it. Adam never spoke against what he saw and he never said No for himself. If Adam was head of the family [really, the senior member by being created first, rather than by being of a given gender], then he failed at that job. Consider the excuses they gave:
Adam: “This woman you gave me, she gave it to me.”
Eve: “The serpent tricked me.”
God applied punishments to fit the crime. “This woman you gave me”—suddenly she is not his wife anymore? She is just some weirdo/nuisance that God foisted upon him? The man denied responsibility for his actions, therefore his punishment was to assume crushing responsibilities. He would still work, except that he would know how it feels to work and have nothing to show for it.
The woman Eve claimed she should not be held responsible because how could she help being tricked? First of all, if she really had her doubts she had two people to consult for second opinions: Adam and God. Secondly, if Eve is insisting she was easy to trick, then she is calling herself dumb. Now if Eve truly was dumb she would not be a proper companion for Adam, therefore your host is inclined to think they were fairly matched: either both smart, or both dumb. Eve was punished with pain in childbirth, implying that her sinless body originally had not been designed to feel such pain. Her other punishment was that “your need shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This makes more sense when we observe certain dynamics in marriage. How many times has a man married a woman because he admired her resourcefulness, optimism, and free spirit, and then one day he hears this:
“Honey? Does this dress make me look fat? Are you happy in this relationship? Do you love me? How much do you love me? Why is it you never say you love me? Did you love anyone before you met me? Did you love her more than me? Did you settle for me? She was prettier than me, wasn’t she?” (Woman pauses for breath; man braces for the worst) “Notice anything different?” (Man thinks to self: “Um. New haircut? New dress? Thinner? Younger? What does she want from me? Ack!”
Where did that confident woman go?
It may be part of the human heritage from Adam and Eve. Doesn’t the wife’s constant plea for validation give a man the upper hand, even if he never wanted it?
Not all women undergo this transformation. Sometimes the intense closeness of a relationship is tainted by outside influences:
A lot of what we define as “masculine” or “feminine” is actually behavior that more precisely stems from being financially dominant or dependent. Because women usually earn less than men, it’s easy to mistake the infantilizing effects of dependency for something deeper in the feminine psyche.
–Marcia Millman, Warm Hearts, Cold Cash
The woman gives up a lot to marry her man. But how does she make the mental leap that she “needs” her husband more than the life she gave up to be with him, especially if she was not emotionally or financially vulnerable before they met? Some would trace this to social conditioning. Others see a biological contribution from Adam and Eve, since some behavioral traits have biological origins.
In Paul’s letters he notes, “Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve for Adam.” People have used these words to justify the subjection of women.
But look again at the punishments inflicted upon Adam and Eve. Most of them were punishments inflicted upon husband and wife, not upon male and female.
The celibate male or female experiences few or none of these punishments. The celibate female does not experience the agony of childbirth. Also, she does not die in childbirth, which has consistently killed more women in history than any other cause. The celibate male [or female] may still drudge for a living and finish with nothing to show for it. However these individuals have the small comfort that since no one was dependent upon them, then at least their failure did not hurt anybody else.
Most of the curses imposed upon Adam and Eve take effect upon marriage, not upon birth. When a couple enters into marriage, they obtain the blessings of a covenant, plus the curses imposed upon their ancestors who broke their covenant. Obviously a celibate person misses out on the blessings as he or she missed out on the curses.
Eve was created for Adam. But not all women were created for Adam, nor were all men created for Eve. The male, individual or collective, has no claim on the strange female, individual or collective. The female, individual or collective, has no claim on the strange male, individual or collective. Only when a male and female enter into marriage do either give the other claim upon oneself. This claim is theirs to give. It is not something that a stranger-on-the-street has a right to demand, seize, or use.
There is only one curse that applies to all humans, male or female, adult or child. That curse is death. [“For the wages of sin is death.” – Romans 6:23a.]
If we cannot cite Adam and Eve, what of the statement that Jesus ordained only men? Yes, Jesus chose twelve men for special fellowship. It makes sense that Jesus would not want The Twelve to struggle with the additional distraction of women. The last thing these men needed was one more thing to fight about. Jesus also chose Jews [whether Jewish by birth or possibly by conversion in the case of Simon the Less a.k.a. “the Less a.k.a. “the Cananean”—the Canaanite]. However no serious scholar of the New Testament would argue that today’s Christian leaders or pastors must be converted Jews.
When Jesus left the disciples, they were as unfinished pottery. They were instructed to wait for the Holy Spirit, who would continue the work. The Twelve waited, along with the outer circle which comprised about 120 people [Acts 1:15]. Some of these were women, who especially waited and prayed. On Pentecost Peter states twice that God would [and did] pour out the spirit of prophecy upon men and women alike (Acts 2:17-18). Peter quotes Joel 2:28-29 which also states God would pour out His Spirit upon men and women alike. Since Acts 1 says it three times, and it also states that Mary the mother of Jesus and the other women had been waiting with the men and praying, we must consider the proposal that the Spirit which filled the women was not different from the Spirit that filled the men.
What then of the apostle Paul’s directives to women? In most cases there is a cultural/contextual explanation. Some of Paul’s churches had many Jews. Other churches had many Gentiles. Each church had its own set of cultural preconceptions to overcome.
For example, when Claudius Caesar expelled the Jews from Rome, some went to Corinth. Why did Paul tell them in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 that women should learn in full submission and remain silent in church? When Paul preached, he preached at the top of his game. Paul was a lawyer and a Pharisee, which meant that not everyone could understand him. In those days it was common for Jewish women to receive the equivalent of a third-grade formal education followed by home-based internships with relatives. This may not seem like much education to us, but in its day it was not that bad. Western cultures have a weakness for “education inflation,” that is, in our culture many people with college degrees are working in the mailroom. The Jewish woman had a better education than some Gentiles of the day, of either gender. However, the Jewish man with time and money could study Torah, Tanakh and Midrash into adulthood. This gave him the equivalent of a university degree.
One day Paul preaches in this couple’s synagogue. To what level does he preach, to the man’s level of understanding or to the woman’s? If Paul preaches to the woman the man will be bored into a stupor. If Paul preaches to the man, the woman will be bored—and embarrassed. She would feel rustic and out-of-place because she cannot keep up. It isn’t fair. That is why the women were being disruptive during the worship service. No doubt some women dealt with their boredom by catching up on their gossip. Alternately, the women who were serious about learning must have felt frustrated that they did not understand what the pastor just said. This made both the men and the women look bad. On the one hand, these women knew better than to interrupt a worship service in a synagogue. Why did a church receive such disrespect? On the other hand, it reflected badly on the men that the women interrupted or argued during the service if it was the only place they could be heard. Should Paul really have to tell men not to make beggars of their wives? If the pastor did not meet with them and their husbands kept their knowledge to themselves, where else were the women going to be taken seriously?
Paul concluded that the pastor should preach to the men, and that the men should help the women “get degreed up” at home. To Paul, a husband who had promised to share his worldly goods with his wife ought to share his education as one of those goods. Paul seemed surprised that he had to explain any of this to anyone.
Also in 1 Corinthians 11:5-15, Paul tells women to cover their heads because an uncovered woman in equivalent to one with a shaven head. Why did he say it? Why did he say it was a disgrace for men to have long hair? [And how could they tell it was long? According to popular portraits, Moses, Elijah and Jesus did not wear buzz cuts. By our standards, their hair was long.]
Paul said that women’s hair was given to them by God as a “covering.” That word, “covering” in the original Greek is a euphemism. The word “covering” means … pubic hair. No, seriously.
Paul was writing to a church that happened to be sited in a culture where the people viewed a woman’s long hair as a sexual organ. Yes, a glamorous actress may have “sexy” hair, but that is not what they meant. [Before you fall off your chair laughing, keep in mind that modern scientists claim that the brain is our sexiest organ.] In Corinth a modest woman would no more walk down the street with uncovered hair than walk down the street with exposed genitals. Likewise men were advertising a distasteful message if they walked down the street with the equivalent of a woman’s genitals on their head. Additionally, “shorn” or bald women would be considered to be walking down the street with the equivalent of a man’s genitals on their heads. For this reason the Corinthian police punished prostitutes by shaving their heads. Innocent bystanders could recognize “perverts” from a distance and avoid them. [Nowadays the police post this information on their websites.]
Note that this is not the same as “dishonoring one’s head.” There are two metaphors: covering, and head. Nevertheless they affect each other: a shameless display in your culture shames your spouse and the things you claim to value.
Paul did not praise or condemn the Corinthian dress code. He simply acknowledged that it existed and that it had to be respected. By doing so Christians showed respect for their neighbors [so as not to be a stumbling-block]. They also showed respect for themselves and for their marriages. [The only part of this ancient belief that would be recognizable in our culture is the superstition that bald men are more virile because their brain, their sexual organ, is flaunted.]
If someone wrote to a Western culture, it would be more like this: “Men can wear nylon mesh shirts or even no shirts at all because there is nothing wrong with the sight of your six-pack killer abs. But women, um, well, God invented cotton for a reason. You shouldn’t let people see your, um, skin.” Here of course “skin” means “breasts.” But what would happen if future readers lived in a different culture and century, where breasts were never sexual objects? They might not recognize the euphemism and decide to cover all of the woman’s skin. In the same manner Paul used a euphemism that does not translate into modern Western culture.
Modern readers also do not understand that in biblical times the head was not the same as the hair. The Greeks always bared their heads when they prayed, regardless of gender. It was their way to acknowledge that nothing could be hidden from the divine. Jewish men and women both covered their heads when they prayed. This was because Moses had to wear a veil after the people found that they could not look upon the glory of God in his face. An additional, modern explanation given is that Jewish men cover their heads because it is “impertinent” to let the Shekinah Presence see a man’s baldness.
Meanwhile, Roman men and women covered their heads when they prayed, for reasons of their own. In the mixed Corinthian church, some ethnic groups used their traditions to shame and intimidate other groups. Paul issued a compromise ruling that men should take it off Greek style, and women should put it on Jewish style. Modern churches tend to be 100 percent Gentile and therefore do not, or should not, have this problem. This is reflected in the fact that they do not understand the problem.
Let us look closer at the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. In verse 5 Paul’s complaint about women with uncovered hair is not merely about the hair. “If a woman prays or prophesies—” then, what? Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dressing immodestly for their culture, but he never rebukes the women for prophesying. Wait a minute. Prophecy is a major “charism,” or “gift of the Holy Spirit.” When a speaker prophesies, a listener may learn something. The very church may be guided by it. If listeners are learning, does it not follow that whatever the prophesier is doing might be related to teaching?
Put it another way: in Christianity, prophecy is only marginally concerned with revealing the future. Instead, pagan soothsaying and fortune-telling is about foretelling the future [and making some money]. Christian prophecy is intended to instruct and edify the church. Knowledge about the future tends to be revealed only to the extent that it edifies the church. Additionally, if a church or individual believer fails to learn anything from a prophecy, it does not change the fact that the prophecy was meant to be instructive. There is a difference between hearing new facts and deepening in grace and wisdom. That is what people miss when they try to turn prophecy into a Christian version of calling your Network of Friendly Psychics on the Hotline.
Paul told women to cover their heads when they prophesied to respect the local dress code, but Paul also told believers who received the charism of “speaking in tongues” not to speak aloud during worship service unless the congregation had another person present who had been given the charism of interpreting tongues. Even then he told the congregation that two or three speakers-in-tongue were plenty. If more were present, or even one with no interpreter present, then the speaker-in-tongues should keep silence to not disturb the service [1 Cor. 14:27-28]. Paul’s concern was not that people [both men and women] had charisms. He was not trying to stifle them. He simply wanted them to exercise their gifts of the Spirit wisely and with respect.
As we see, a number of Biblical verses that are held up as timeless points-of-doctrine can be explained within cultural context. Specific people in specific churches had specific problems. Paul solved those problems. Modern Christians can learn good advice from these verses, such as dressing modestly within one’s culture so that a brother will not stumble. Christians can also learn how to show respect for the worship service; this includes showing respect for individuals by not backing them into a corner until causing trouble becomes the only way for them to see their needs addressed.
Modern believers sometimes cite the above verses to argue that Paul disapproved of women in positions of church leadership. If Paul did disapprove, why did he commend and befriend so many female leaders? Did he forget? Was he shy? Well, when the Corinthians received “false apostles” Paul listed paragraphs of credentials as to why he was the superior witness [2 Cor. 11:16 – 12:19]. When Paul disliked something that Peter did in Antioch, Paul rebuked him in public. Then Paul told it to Christians living hundreds of miles away [Galatians 2:11-14]. Paul made this fight so famous that we still hear about it two thousand years later. No, Paul was not shy.
Yet Paul welcomes Lydia in Philippi, Paul’s first convert in Europe and possibly head of Paul’s first church in Europe [Acts 16:13-15].
Paul commends Priscilla and Aquila “who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks”[Rom. 16:3-4].
Paul commends Julia [Romans 16:16], Mary “who has worked hard among you” [Romans 16:6] and three other “toilers” [kopiaein] named Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis in Romans 16:12. This word is the same word Paul calls himself in 1 Cor. 5:10.
Paul calls fellow prisoner Junia an apostolos [Romans 16:7], the same word he calls himself in most of his salutations.
Paul commends Phoebe the “deacon of the church at Cenchreae” [Romans 16:1]. Some translations render diakonos as “deaconess,” but it is inaccurate to take this to mean “the deacon’s wife.” [The word for “deacon’s wife” would not be invented until the rise of Byzantine Greek, about 400 years later. In koine the only way to denote a deacon’s wife was to use the words, wife of the deacon.] When older translations call Phoebe a deaconess, it is like calling a woman a “lady firefighter” or “lady astronaut.” They are real firefighters, real astronauts; without commenting on the motive, it reflects the way that an older generation used to speak. The issue at hand is that, while no one would mistake a “lady firefighter” for “a firefighter’s wife,” even nowadays some believers are being taught that Phoebe the deacon was really a deacon’s wife.
Priscilla and Aquila deserve special mention. They were among the populations who had to leave the capitol when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in the year 52. [In those days the Romans considered Christians to be a sect of Judaism.] Paul met the couple in Corinth [Acts 18:1-3]. He converted them and stayed with them for some time, working in their business. These verses are noteworthy for being the first, last, and only time Aquila is listed first. From this point on Priscilla always comes first. The couple joined Paul when he went to Ephesus [Acts 18:18-19], and though Paul moved on, Ephesus was the place where Priscilla and Aquila most often lived and usually returned. If Paul had a problem with Priscilla he could have criticized her in writing or in person at any time (or many dozens of times, such as when he was living with them). But he never did.
Most Biblical scholars believe that Priscilla came to be listed first because she was the mightier witness. Priscilla was not only the wife of a spiritual leader, but a spiritual leader in her own right. Aquila had a strong charism; Priscilla had a stronger one.
There is no reason to believe that Paul or any apostle had a problem with Priscilla, Junia, or any of the prominent women of the early church. Consider Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9a: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” The word used here for “priesthood” is not gender-limited or gender-related. Likewise women can and do exercise a priestly ministry in their personal dedication even up to offering their bodies as a sacrifice [Romans 12:1-2]. The koine words Paul used for his readers for the act of offering up one’s body as a sacrifice are not gender-limited or gender-related. The “offering up of one’s body” is something Paul believed all Christians are capable to do and ought to do.
The apostle Paul could, and did, say many things to women: Stop this, I don’t like that, Don’t do it. However the apostle Paul did not give charisms, nor did the other apostles. The apostles baptized converts in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But the apostles did not bestow charisms, or gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit bestows charisms.
We have covered this ground in an attempt to show what it would do to a young Amy Johnson Frykholm—or to underage Christians everywhere—to have this knowledge of past female heroes of faith but to be unable to act upon it. When Frykholm was a child a respected minister put up a chart that told the children that the boys would be spiritual leaders and the girls would be wives of spiritual leaders. There is no place for the first-century Priscilla on that chart. In theory all Christians honor the efforts and sacrifices of their first-century “ancestors in faith.” In reality Frykholm’s church had structured itself in a way that no modern-day Junias, Phoebes or Priscillas could rise from within their ranks. A Priscilla who visited from the outside might be turned away, and a Priscilla born within their community might not be nourished or nurtured. [To be fair, rapturists are not the only branch of Christianity who are struggling with this issue.]
Frykholm grew up rapturist Protestant. That means that the Bible would be her “constitution”; anything a church teaches would have to line up with that standard. To resolve her questions, all a church would have to do is to show her a scriptural verse that states that the Holy Spirit does not give charisms of shepherding and/or leadership to women. Alternately, they would have to show her a verse stating that Priscilla, Phoebe and the rest were activated under some kind of “Rosie the Riveter” clause for the duration of the crisis. Presumably such a verse would be accompanied by another verse stating under what conditions these women would be deactivated, lest people keep doing it. Frykholm needed to see that proof to satisfy her that the restrictions of her church were coming from God rather than from man. The fact that she cites her departure as long, slow, and messy suggests that her church did not show her the evidence that would have made her choice clear to her.
The purpose of this little expedition is not to argue for or against the ordination of women. The purpose is to compare the principles and ideals of Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 4:32 to the way the teenaged seeker Frykholm was actually treated. The purpose is to ask whether “the philosophy of the program,” as it relates to gender, is a coat of paint, or a load-bearing wall, in the rapturist house of faith. The purpose is to inquire whether self-righteousness and/or defensiveness are woven into the fabric of rapture theory, and if so, why.)
Your host does not know if this side expedition satisfied the Gentle Brower. But it must be noted that fans of Star Trek and fans of Left Behind may not be so different in the eyes of non-fans. The word fan derives from fanatic, which in turn derives from an ancient word meaning, “one who dwells in the temples.” A fanatic was one who possessed so strong a desire to encounter the divine that he (or she) abandoned family and workplace to live in the temple, that the divine might in turn abide with him. Sort of “God groupies” or “roadies” or whatever the term is.
This side trek was in no way intended to suggest that Left Behind is a religious form of Star Trek. (It is not. Trek is a humanist morality play that has some elements in common with postmillennialism.) Rather, this was intended to explore whether Lalli and Frykholm seem to draw their rhetoric from the same playbook because the fictional works they criticize seem to draw their rhetoric from the same playbook. Left Behind and rapturism in general reaches deep into the Puritan heritage, the same Puritan heritage from which also arose Star Trek. There is simply something about the Puritan heritage that encourages the creation of sealed, self-contained worlds, bound by similar rules. These rules are considered necessary to protect those worlds from armies of outsiders and evildoers. These rules help the righteous to defy impossible odds without and to silence uprisings within. Gender roles are merely the most obvious of commonalities, and the lightning rod to which critics may be drawn.
Yet the Trekverse, the rapturist movement and its Left Behind novels, and even the Puritans themselves all hearken back to the original sealed, self-contained world: Noah’s Ark. The call still resonates in Christian consciousness: Come in here where it is safe. This is the only boat that floats. Out there is death. Come in here and live.
At times Trekkies must step back to look at themselves with an objective eye—to see themselves as the world sees them. Your host cannot offer an educated guess as to whether it might behoove overly enthusiastic fans of Left Behind to think about doing the same. (How would one define that term, anyway?)
One can only propose that there is often something to learn from the mistakes of others.
(At this point we will now return to the study of Left Behind by the five critics listed in post 2.)
Next stop: Applied Theology II: Looking outward toward the world