Occasionally, the most powerful impact the words of Scripture can have is in the embodied, public reading of the text. Case in point: This past Sabbath, the pastoral staff at the La Sierra University Church in California–a staff that includes four women–read aloud the words of 1 Corinthians in which Paul admonishes the church in Corinth that women must be silent in the churches.
The biblical texts that subordinate women are texts that La Sierra senior pastor Chris Oberg generally doesn’t use in her preaching. Most often when the texts have come up in the reading cycle, Oberg has elected to have one of her male colleagues do the preaching. “The higher value,” Oberg told me by phone, “is doing the work assigned to us (women pastors), and letting that be the witness.”
In her March 14 sermon, Oberge leveled with her congregation. “To be candid with you, it is easier to step aside than to receive the critique women usually get that we are either self-promoting or on some feminist rant. It’s easier to keep silent on these texts,” she said.
Several factors played into Oberg’s electing to preach from the Pauline text this time:
First, she said, senior pastors on Adventist campuses in North America have agreed to speak out on the issue of women in pastoral ministry in advance of the 2015 General Conference Session, where the issue will be put to a vote. Along with Jennifer Scott, the senior pastor at the Keene Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University, Oberg is one of two women senior pastors on fourteen college and university campuses in the North American Division.
Second, the Corinthian passage came up in the Scripture-reading schedule the church is following, and Oberg decided not to side-step the texts when their turn came in the cycle. “It emerged in a natural flow of reading,” Oberg told me.
Third, Oberg pointed to the theological intent of Paul’s writing–power reinterpreted by the cross event, a central theological framework on the way to Easter.
Seldom does the reading of the text and preaching from the text have the same impact as on this Sabbath on this issue.
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Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.