The Sermon I Shouldn’t Be Giving

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

“I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into Torah.” 
– F.F. Bruce

On Sunday morning I’ll be speaking at RISE Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

And I probably shouldn’t be.

I’m halfway through my year of biblical womanhood, and so far I’ve done a  good job keeping all of my self-imposed ten commandments, #8 of which is “Thou Shalt Not Teach in Church.”  I’ve been speaking at colleges and conferences and church events all across the country, but I’ve never spoken on a Sunday morning. 

So why now? 

Well here’s what happened: When the good folks at RISE first contacted me about coming to Harrisonburg, I kept putting them off because I wanted to coordinate the trip with a visit to Amish Country for the project.  When I finally got the details figured out and agreed (only about two weeks ago), I mentioned that I’d prefer speaking on a Sunday evening on account of Commandment #8. What I didn’t realize was that RISE meets in a theater, and they don’t have access to the theater on Sunday nights. The poor pastoral staff spent two weeks scrambling to find another venue at the last minute, and just when they thought they had something, it fell through.  When I saw all the trouble I’d put these people through, (and that their senior pastor was a woman anyway), I agreed to do Sunday morning.  

It’s not a sermon, really. It’s just the talk I give at college chapels…

But on a Sunday, at 10 a.m.  

Needless to say, this whole thing has raised some really interesting questions about my project and about those passages that seem to prohibit women from teaching in church:

  • What is the difference between teaching a group of Christians in a chapel service on a Monday morning and teaching a group of Christians in a church service on Sunday morning? 
  • Is it the building that makes a gathering “church”? The time of day? The type of service? 
  • If the “church” is not a building, but rather a community of Christians, then should women be forbidden from teaching any group of Christians in any manifestation? Should they be forbidden from teaching at conferences, in Sunday School, in college classrooms, on blogs, in books, in small groups?   
  • How can this be when the Bible celebrates female teachers—Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Junia, Priscilla, and (to be cheeky like Rob Bell) “the woman who wrote Hebrews”? 
  • Why is it that Paul instructs women to remain silent in church in 1 Corinthians 14 but then refers to women “prophesying” in church in 1 Corinthians 11? What is the difference between teaching and prophesying? 
  • Why do so many Christians continue enforce Paul’s no-teaching instructions found in 1 Timothy 2 but ignore the head-covering instructions in I Corinthians 11?  (Not to mention his instructions regarding slavery found in most of the letters!) 
  • Could it be that the epistles were written to specific churches regarding their specific questions for that specific time and place in history?  Would Paul have written the exact same instructions to a church in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2011 that he wrote to a church in Ephesus in the first century? 

Okay, so that last one was a bit loaded, but you see where I’m going with this. 

When I signed the contract for this book back in October, my editor made it clear that I should continue speaking and writing as I tackle my “biblical” tasks throughout the year. “We’re not expecting you to quit your job,” she said.

I personally have no problem with women leading and teaching in churches. 

Still, when it comes to the project, it feels like I’m cheating a little on this one

What do you think? Is this a violation of my project rules? Is it a violation of biblical teachings? Should I do some kind of penance? Shall I just call it a “prophesy” rather than a “sermon"? And why does "prophesy" sound WAY creepier?  I’d love your thoughts on this!

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