The Titus 2 Woman movement is alive and well. Marketed as the biblical injunction of older women to teach younger women to be modest and sober, to be good mothers and wives, Titus 2 women strive to pass on from one generation to another the acceptable traits of a good biblical woman.
I’ve had experience with my own Titus 2 women. It happened several years ago when I attended a Wednesday morning Bible discussion group at my church.
In dire need of some theological conversation that would feed my soul, I decided to try this group out despite being the youngest by a margin of somewhere around thirty plus years. Over the first few weeks as I dashed out of my university office in order to make it to the church in time, I began to notice how the anticipation of being with this group of wonderfully wise women gave my day—and often my week—a much needed lift.
But these weren’t Titus 2 Women in the popular sense of this movement. These women were boisterous, irreverent, opinionated, and wonderfully hospitable. There wasn’t anything out-of-bounds for this group. We talked through things I’d never heard anyone mention in church and all theological ideas were on the table, too. Here was a community where life experience and critical thinking infiltrated all reflections upon biblical texts.
So here is where there is a great divergence between the wise women who taught me much and the modern movements of Titus 2 Women: courage to speak the truth, to identify injustice supported by our church traditions, to call out theological arrogance for what it is, namely, sin.
While none of these women, sans the pastor, was formally educated in theology, each one had, over the course of her life, reflected deeply about God and life, about living and dying, about pain and faithfulness. And in so doing, each one had arrived at a unique understanding of God and the ways in which God interacts with the world. Too, these women were willing to hear what others said, to take it in and fully wrestle with it, and decide whether or not she saw some fresh insight. But there was never the sense that anyone had the corner on truth, not trained theologians, not the pastor, not the denomination.
I suppose in some ways this group of women is simply reflective of the best tradition of Methodism, the notion that we can disagree about our beliefs and yet create a vibrant and healthy community of faith. Yet, what I found so remarkably refreshing about this group was they really practiced this Methodist claim. We probably never agreed on anything, and yet that was hardly recognized. There simply was no desire to assert one’s ideas as best or right. Instead, it was a genuine sharing, trusting that the mystery of what we contemplated, in some small way, was beneficial.
My concern with the Titus 2 Woman movement is not the idea that older women have much to share. They do. In fact, I would venture to say most churches would benefit greatly to have older women speak from their pulpits regularly. To fail to hear the wisdom from these seasoned voices is to waste a tremendous resource.
But when the Titus 2 Woman is one whose message is confined to a certain segment of the church, when she is valued because of her willingness to support sexism in the name of the church, when she is heard only if she echoes the patriarchal values of some segments of Christianity, then I mourn the loss of what could have been.
I hope young women today will seek out the wisdom of older women. You can find them when you listen in unexpected places. And you’ll know you’ve truly found them, when the wisdom they offer invites you to wonder about the mystery of what it means to be truly human and when they encourage you to realize there is nothing faithful about certitude. Vibrant faith instead requires a steady dose of honest doubt. And women who have lived long in the shadow of church and yet refuse to let it supplant their experience, well, they are the ones who have much to teach.