He finishes reading the passage and we look up at each other. The circular seating arrangement makes it difficult to keep from staring at the person directly across for me: a twenty-year-old man named Curtis who I have already deduced is too young for me to date. I hate that I keep track in my head of who I could date and who I couldn’t.
“So, what do we think of that passage? Any first impressions?” Tom asks. He’s the leader of the Bible study, although he’s already admitted that he missed church last Sunday and therefore didn’t hear the sermon on this verse. The sermon should have been posted online, but a staff member must have slacked off because it’s not there yet. The staff member in question is seated to my right.
A girl across from me, Katie, is practically jumping out of her seat to share her thoughts. We laugh at her enthusiasm. She laughs, too.
“So,” she begins when she has the floor. “I come a very traditional church background. There’s no pastor there; the men in the congregation lead the services, and all of the women have to cover their heads. And it’s a big deal if you show up without a head covering. One time, someone panicked and used the first thing she could find, a lettuce leaf.”
We laugh, but inwardly I’m shocked. I thought my home church was conservative.
“It’s because the angels are looking down and have to decide who is a man and who is a woman. 1 Corinthians 10:10 says that.”
I look down at my own Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:10 says, “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” It doesn’t say that the angels can’t tell men and women apart.
Perhaps her home church believes angels are visually impaired. I suddenly imagine them appearing to Ben Franklin, placing a bulk order of bifocals just moments after their invention. I hold my breath for a few seconds, trying not to laugh out loud, but a smile tugs at my lips.
We all quietly consider Katie’s opinion for a while, the women in the room knowing that no matter what anyone says, they’re not going to start wearing head coverings to church. What’s the point of God’s grace and Jesus’s death on the cross if we’re going to be turned away from heaven because we didn’t cover our heads? I’ll take my chances here.
But perhaps I take my chances far more often that I should. I remember the song I was listening to on my drive here. It was about sex. God created sex, didn’t He? So why shouldn’t I look forward to it?
I wonder if the people in my Bible study have ever sung along to a song about sex. I twist my hands in my lap.
“I think the point is,” Erik chimes in, “the man has the most responsibility. He answers to God, so his head is uncovered. He’s exposed to God’s judgement. The woman answers to the man. So, if the man isn’t being faithful, he’s disgracing himself and his wife. If the wife isn’t being faithful, her husband should look at himself and see what he’s doing wrong.”
I remind myself that I have to leave Erik for my friend, Amanda. She has a huge crush on him.
“But,” Josh chimes in. “Sometimes a man stops leading by God’s authority and starts to lead by his own authority, and he uses the Bible to justify it. Pastors do that sometimes, too.”
I nod in agreement. I think we should shout it from the rooftops. Just because you’re a man in the church doesn’t mean you can treat women like inferior beings. I think of my ex-boyfriend and his dad.
I consider chiming in here to talk about how men flourish in relationships when they’re respected, and women flourish when they’re loved, but that doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t also love, and men shouldn’t also respect. But I don’t feel like saying anything, so I don’t.
The only married man in the group chooses that moment to speak up.
“Submitting to God’s authority as a man is a really high standard, and we’re never going to live up to it. I know I fail at it every day.” He looks at his wife, who smiles back. “But that’s why there’s grace. And our marriage is supposed to reflect how much Jesus loves us, which is unfathomable.”
I wonder how something can mean so much and also so little at the same time. Jesus loves us; that much is obvious. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have died and gone to hell just so we could be with Him one day in heaven, free from sin. But sometimes it seems like we throw around the word “love” too much. It’s supposed to be divine, but more often I visualize it as a trap.
As I look around the circle, my eyes fall on Curtis’s crotch. I snap my eyes up, hoping nobody noticed the accidental glance. Or maybe it was a Freudian slip.
I wonder if anyone else in the circle has ever accidentally looked at someone’s crotch. Probably not.
The conversation turns to women and what it means to submit.
“I think it’s like submitting an assignment.” Katelyn says. “You don’t submit only half of your assignment; you submit it all. So, we’re supposed to give all of ourselves to our husbands.”
I’ve never heard that interpretation before; I like it. But I wish someone would mention that men are supposed to give all of themselves to loving their wives. I could say it, but I don’t want to sound too demanding.
Clara asks what the single women think about submitting in marriage.
“I’m a very stubborn person,” Amanda answers, “so I used to really dislike the thought of submitting. But now I think I’m understanding better what it means. It has to be in the right context, of course.”
Unlike Amanda, I always liked the thought of supporting a husband through submission. That is, until I was supporting the emotional equivalent of dead weight in my former relationship. I wonder if I should say that, but I don’t know these people very well, and I don’t want them to think I’m treating Bible study like therapy.
I uncross my legs and re-cross them on the other side.
“I think it’s important to ask how traditional the church should be, especially since this is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people. So, should women today cover their heads?” Tom prompts.
“I think it’s important to stay relevant as a church.” Travis says. It would be weird to date him; I’ve known him for years. “When I plan youth group or some event, I have to think about how to tailor it for the target audience. If it’s for teenagers, you have to play music they like. Christian rap, maybe.”
I realize then that a large portion of the members of this Bible study work at the church. At least five. Well, Josh just got offered a job there, so six. Is it healthy for them to be together all the time, worrying about things like head coverings and the optical capabilities of angels?
Maybe I should get a job there, too.
“But the message has to stay the same.” Andy adds. “You can tailor it, but it still has to be about the Gospel.”
We all nod. Mentioning the Gospel is a great way to get people to agree with you.
The conversation is winding down now, and we are all looking forward to our post-Bible study trip to IHOP. No one seems to notice that we didn’t actually answer any of the questions.
“Does anyone want to close us out in prayer?” Tom asks. As always, everyone becomes eerily quiet, not wanting to be selected.
“Too bad.” Says Amanda. “My head isn’t covered, so I guess I can’t.”
We all laugh, and Julien ends up praying for us.
I suddenly realize that it doesn’t matter who I could and couldn’t date, because none of these men are going to be asking me out anytime soon. Besides, they seem to be a lot stronger Christians than I am.
“IHOP isn’t going to know what hit it.” Julien grins around at the fifteen people who are coming along.
As I put my shoes on and head to my car, I wonder if I should become a member at this church. I’ve never met nicer people, but I’ve also never felt more out of place amongst Christians.
But we’re all sinners, right? Or am I the only one?