Rejecting Junia

Over the past several years, my faith journey has taken me away from nondenominational, non-institutional expressions of the church. Since then, I’ve found myself belonging to the mother of all Christian institutions (well, apart from the Catholic Church): the Anglican Communion.

This journey might not have taken place if it weren’t for a wonderful little Church of England parish my wife and I belonged to when we were living in the UK in 2008. Being part of an active worshipping community that had been gathering in the same place since the 1300s has a way of putting my own faith journey into perspective. As I entered the sanctuary every Sunday, walking past tombstones of those who’d been dead for centuries, I was reminded: Christianity doesn’t begin or end with me. I am a tiny part of something so much bigger.

And so I’ve come to appreciate what the institutional church, for all its flaws, has to offer: a vital connection to our past. I think there is something significant, maybe even a bit mystical, in the idea of apostolic succession — in the fact that the bishop who presided over my confirmation is part of an unbroken chain going all the way back to the very first apostles.

Jesus gave those first apostles the authority to “bind and loose” — that is, to permit and forbid on behalf of the church — and I believe that authority is passed down through the church’s apostles, bishops, or leaders today.

Yet a deep connection to the past can either give you the courage to move forward, or it can hold you back. Which is why today, I have no energy to defend the institutional church. Not when my own mother church* tells half the human race, in effect, Your services aren’t required. The Church of England’s vote against women bishops was more than another nail in the coffin of its own irrelevance. It was a slap in the face to women who are tired of fighting for a seat at the table.

It was, I believe, a rejection of the very apostolic authority the institutional church depends on for legitimacy. How can you stand on the shoulders of the apostles when you implicitly reject one of their number? After all, Junia was a woman and an apostle (Romans 16:7). By rejecting women bishops, you are rejecting Junia, a vital part of our apostolic foundation.

This is about more than cultural relevance. It’s about more than making women feel welcome in the church (though that in itself is a worthy enough endeavor). By denying women their rightful place at the table — a place they had in the very beginning — we the institutional church are cutting our legs out from under us. We’re not just hurting women. We’re hurting all of us.

Apparently, God thought women were worth including among the apostles. Today, a minority in the Church of England seems to think otherwise. Sadly, that was enough to carry the day.


*I’m grateful to be able to say that my own Anglican tribe, the Episcopal Church, welcomes women to serve at every level, even as presiding bishop.

5 thoughts on “Rejecting Junia

  1. I’m not familiar with how the argument was formulated within the CofE synod, but there is the possibility that Junia was well known among the apostles rather than numbered among them (two very different translation choices of the word epistemoi in Rom. 16.7). I think it’s important to recognize there are faithful members on both sides who have reasonable arguments for their positions (although there are often extremists who make these reasonable positions more difficult to see).


    1. The unlikelihood of that interpretation of Romans 16:7 has been conceded by even some complementarian scholars, so I don’t think it’s a particularly strong argument to stand on…


      1. Ben: My intention wasn’t to persuade anyone concerning what translation of epistēmoi he/she should take. I see reasons for both translations when looking at the Greek and the surrounding cultural/theological milieu and we probably won’t solve that today, although I certainly welcome a conversation another time. Rather, my purpose was to point out that both sides have plausible arguments concerning the Junia text, in spite of the many misogynysts, among others, that make charitable dialogue difficult to maintain.

        [Of course, the last thing I want to do is stir up harsh feelings from either side that would cause us to communicate in an uncharitable fashion, especially on this day that many Christian sisters are in such great pain. Please feel free to delete either of my comments if you think it best.]


  2. Thankfully, the Church of England has moved forward and will by the end of this January have its first woman in the episcopate.


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