An Easter message – gays and women in the Church – how wrong can the Church be?

The lectionary appoints 1 Corinthians 15 to be read at Evening Prayer in Easter Week. In verses 5 to 8 Paul describes the tradition about the resurrection which he had received, that Jesus appeared to Cephas and afterwards to the twelve, then to over five hundred of the brothers at once, then to James and afterwards to all the apostles, and last of all, to Paul himself. There are no women in St Paul’s account of the resurrection appearances of Jesus (unless they are included with the apostles).

Mark says that when the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome bring oils to anoint Jesus, enter the tomb and find a young man in a white robe who tells them to go and say to the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead into Galilee. Verses 10 and 11 record that his disciples did not believe Mary of Magdala when she told them Jesus was alive. Later Jesus appears to two of them while they are on their way into the country and later still to the eleven. In Mark’s account women are the first witnesses and they communicate the news to unbelieving men.

Luke follows Mark, recording that Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, encounter two men in dazzling garments, and with other women, report everything to the eleven and the others, who will not believe them.

Matthew brings two women to the empty tomb, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary, who encounter a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord. As they hurry away from the tomb, Jesus meets them on the path and tells them they are to take word to the disciples to leave for Galilee. There, the disciples meet him on the mountain.

John has Mary of Magdala coming to the tomb alone and finding the stone moved, running to tell Simon Peter and John, who run to the tomb, find the linen wrappings and return home. Mary remains and encounters Jesus who instructs her to give the disciples his message. There follow appearances in the upper room and by the lakeside to disciples, all those named being male.

I recount these 5 accounts in brief, not to highlight the discrepancies between them, which are obvious once they are drawn to your attention, but to focus in particular the dramatic gender difference between Paul and the gospel accounts and to raise the question, who is telling the truth, Paul or the four?

This is a reminder to myself of how I live in the mindset which has internalised as true about the Bible, accounts of the resurrection and the role of men and women in God’s economy, that are patently distorted. This rewriting of the truth about the witnesses of the resurrection and the carriers of the message (in which Paul may be an innocent or a deliberate falsifier of the truth) has for 2,000 years been the error on which Christianity has based its teaching about the roles of men and women in Church and society.

The Church, on my reading of scripture, has been wrong for 2,000 years and is still wrong in the majority of denominations. Men have been and are the authoritative witnesses to God in their roles as teachers and preachers, priests and bishops and conservative, reactionary groups in the Church are determined to maintain this fiction to the end. However, gender distinctions are being slowly dissolved, and even in Africa, bastion of scriptural authority and male domination, women preachers and pastors are found in significant numbers.

If the church has based its whole teaching about the roles of men and women in the Church on such shaky and unreliable foundations, based on a grossly inaccurate reading of scripture, it is no surprise that it finds it equally impossible to read Biblical texts about same-sex activity and attraction with a clear, open mind which reads and interprets accurately.

My chains fell off years ago! From the age of 12 when I realised I was gay, I have never allowed church teaching or tradition to tell me who I am, who I’m allowed to love and what I’m allowed to do sexually. I have modelled myself on my reading of the Bible and on Christian and spiritual values learnt from the wise men and women of my youth. If the Church can get its reading of the role of women so totally and utterly and scandalously wrong, how much more does its prejudice against homosexuals enable it to read the Bible in perverse and prejudiced ways?


  1. says

    Imagine you are in one of the communities where the scripture is still being written, with much expectation of the Messiah to return (less so with John, more a fulfilment underlined). The first issue is the legitimacy of the first leaders, to produce more leaders, and that comes via the visitations. Why no more visitations? Because there was an ascension. What does the ascension imply? A second coming. Then the question is, why does no one go and worship at a tomb, unlike for many? Because there were women as witnesses then, but witnesses that were told to say nothing, or said something but weren’t believed, or the scene was not believed. So the women are not a statement of first line equality, but a statement against equality. It is not clear what Paul thought on equality – the most unequal statements are late and may not be him at all, but then his no male, female, Jew Gentile is as much a statement of the world to come as a world now.

    So, in the end, all of this is relative and limited and is not a source for statements of equality. It is thought before our time.

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