It seems like every week we hear about another church scandal. Rape. Abuse. Misuse of power. Victims ignored, paid off, or shamed. And I can’t help but think that if these church leadership boards were a little more diverse, perhaps the sinner would have been held accountable long before it became a nationwide scandal.
I like to believe church leadership does the best they can with the information they have. They act as a jury and a judge, trying to hear the facts from all sides. Unfortunately, too often, the people who determine how to handle sins like sex abuse often have more in common with the perpetrator than they do with the victim. And while we might like to think we can overcome our personal biases in search of the truth, we are all naturally biased towards the people who are most similar to us.
The Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century made this abundantly clear when it showed that an all-white jury, no matter how well-intentioned they believed themselves to be, could not make fair, unbiased decisions when determining fault between a black man and a white man.
Notice that it required loud voices like that of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to convince a Congress full of white men, who did not understand the oppression that women suffered, to pass the nineteenth amendment. Those men had no motivation to pass such an amendment until the women shoved the injustices into the government’s face and changed the bias.
I’m not offended by people who might be biased against me, as I know I have my own issues that I need to overcome. However, the best way to change our biases is to surround ourselves with people who have different views, and converse until we all have a well-rounded viewpoint. So when we hear about these church scandals, it does not surprise me to find that many of these churches have bylaws that present women as helpers in the kingdom of God, rather than equal disciples and equal decision-makers.
Now, to be fair, at face value, some of the Bible supports this type of sexist exclusion. But when you study the Bible- I mean really study it- it becomes increasingly clear that God does not call people to specific roles based on their demographics.
Need evidence? Open the Bible:
In Genesis 3:6, God gives Eve a foreboding warning, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
And just like that, God prophesied about the birth of misogyny. Not because He wanted men to rule over women. But because He knew man’s nature, and He chose to warn the woman of things to come.
Every generation has seen this prophecy come to fruition. From the rape of Tamar to the destitution of Naomi. Daughter after daughter given away in marriage, regardless of her own wants.
It happened to Hagar, a slave girl who gave birth to her master’s son, only to be cast out when her service was no longer needed.
Then there was Esther, thrust into a marriage built on lust. (Not to mention her predecessor, Queen Vashti, whose refusal to be mere arm candy was enough to cost her the crown.)
And of course, there are the hundreds of nameless concubines, mothers, sisters, and daughters, who were left out of the birthright because of their gender.
God knew all of this would happen. He knew it was the result of the Fall. But then He sent new prophets to make new promises of redemption. These prophets foretold of the Majesty of Christ, the Savior of the World. And this salvation was going to redeem and rewrite every law that the Lord had previously provided.
This new covenant meant that men (and women) no longer needed to fear death. It meant that they were no longer controlled by the laws of matter, that while their bodies would return to dust, their souls would continue into eternity through faith in Christ. The prophecies that God gave man in Genesis 3:17-19 no longer held any power.
Christian doctrine accepts this. So why is there any question that the prophecy in verse 16 should also be powerless in the Christian church?
There is a distinct difference in the way that the women in the Old Testament are referenced in comparison to the New Testament. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, was the first person to recognize that Mary was pregnant with Christ (Luke 1). Furthermore, the first person to see Christ after His resurrection was a woman. Jesus embraced women as his disciples, just as he embraced men.
When women “forgot their place,” Jesus encouraged them to learn along with the men (Luke 10). When they asked for forgiveness, he gave it to them (Luke 7). He had conversations with them, he listened to them, and he commissioned them (John 4).
But somewhere between Jesus’ death and the actual formation of the Bible as a text, God’s intentions for women got twisted. I blame Satan as the source of this deception, as he benefits a great deal when Christian women must follow strict regulations. After all, if he manages to silence half of God’s children just by convincing them they are unworthy or incapable of spreading the gospel, then he has won countless more lost souls.
Current westernized culture is on its way to fully celebrating a woman’s capabilities. But many modern churches still fight the quandary over traditional Christian values concerning the roles of women both in her household and in her church.
Almost all congregations have embraced the idea that Christian women hold limited leadership value. Few question that women can lead other women and children. But lead men? Lead an entire church? Traditional bylaws still cannot grasp that concept.
They quote 1 Timothy 2:9-15, forgetting that if they accept these verses only at face value, then they cannot also believe John 3:16, as you cannot believe that a woman is both saved through childbirth and through salvation in Christ. And you cannot believe Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:8, as childbirth is supposed to come inside of marriage, and how can it be good for a woman to remain single if her only hope for salvation is childbirth? And, if you would like to take the verses completely literally, then every girl who has ever braided her hair or put on a necklace is perpetually doomed, which means that every woman in my congregation needs to repent. My church conducts weekly prayers of personal confession. But of all the things I have confessed to God, I have never confessed to or felt guilty for braiding my hair.
So if we can accept that Paul’s guidelines for modesty were context-specific, is it possible that his admonition to the women who were speaking was also situational?
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. When I was in middle school, my church ordained a female minister. She was the pastor’s wife, and her commission created quite a stir. But if anyone fit the part of a missionary, it was her. She never fit the mold of the docile pastor’s wife, instead branching out into her own calling through writing and counseling both men and women in the faith.
Most Southern Baptist churches strictly regulate female leadership. As a stubborn, independent woman, I’ve struggled to bury my own opinions, telling myself that it was just my own prideful nature. It’s only because I don’t like being told no. I tried to convince myself that God has regulated that I, as a woman, am ill-equipped for certain acts of service in His kingdom. And it’s only my sinful nature that creates my discontent.
Why would a logical God give some women the gift of exhortation if he didn’t want them to speak truth to others? Why would a logical God give women the gift of prophecy if He didn’t want the prophecy shared? Why would He send women into the mission field but tell them only to speak to other women and ignore his sons, who also desperately need salvation? If we don’t use those talents for His glory, aren’t we damaging His kingdom through the sinful acts of compliance and apathy?
I think of Lottie Moon, who took it upon herself to evangelize to Chinese nationals, even though her mission board regulated her to teach in a small school. I think of Elisabeth Elliot, who was able to bring Christ to an unreached tribe, even after the tribe murdered her husband. I think of Joanne Shelter, who translated the Bible for the Balangaos people and taught them about God’s power, even as the Balangaos were being destroyed by evil spirits.
You can’t tell me that these women weren’t commissioned by God. And yet, instead of encouraging women to use these gifts, too often we steer them towards the “quiet gifts.” Hospitality. Helping. Children’s church. Let me tell you, I rarely sign up for meal trains because my cooking is mediocre, at best, and the thought of cooking for someone else gives me anxiety. If I was the church greeter, I would word vomit all over the nice people who just want to hear some hymns. And while I like children, it’s assumptious to believe that all women are called to work with children.
I’m not pretending that women are the answers to all of the church’s problems. For every Esther and Priscilla, there is a Delilah and a Jezebel. But if a church is going to thrive, then they must stop putting limitations on women. Because when you put limitations on God’s flock, you’re challenging God’s omnipotence. If you claim that He cannot use women as pastors or elders or in any other leadership capacity, then you are debunking your own belief that God is all-powerful and capable of performing His will through even the most unlikely candidate.
It is good for a woman to listen. It is good for a woman to learn in submission. It is good for her to treasure the Lord’s truth in her heart. But it is just as good for a woman to preach what she has learned. In fact, if we want our churches to find redemption, I believe that women must be allowed onto the pulpit.
Of course, it is ridiculous to believe that our damaged churches are irreparable. While my initial question today sounds hopeless, God makes beauty out of hopelessness. God made man from dust and woman from a rib, so He can certainly rebuild His church from its current state.
However, on an individual level, the churches that thrive are the ones that fully embrace the gifts of all of their saved attendees. The ones that fail are the ones who cling to their bylaws and traditions more tightly than they cling to Christ. Tradition might say that a woman can’t, but Christ is the Conqueror of Death. Surely He can bypass the failings and shortcomings of my gender and use me in any way He pleases.