I found myself immersed in reading some of the papers I wrote whilst studying theology at Belmont. I forget how much I enjoyed the topics I wrote about. So, why not share some of them with you? The paper I want to post today is something I wrote my very first semester as a freshman for an English class so please read it with that in mind. I still feel very passionate if not more about this topic. Go ahead, and call me a feminist.
November 14, 2007
Dr. Bonnie Smith
Woman: Capable Enough to Preach and Lead?
My heart is attached to this subject strongly and I want to make that clearly evident before I pursue anything else in my research. My own life experiences have influenced the desire to investigate and support this strong calling I feel toward this particular topic. I have been told that the calling on my life contradicts the “Word of God” and that as a woman I am not capable of handling a role such as pastoring, preaching or even praying in front of other men. Instead of accepting these warnings, I intend to use them as motivation to support my heartfelt beliefs with facts, testimonies and Biblical information. My objective in this research is not only to inform and make a point, but also to inspire, challenge and give hope to all generations of women. This requires an open mind and heart from the reader and it is my hope that you would join me on this journey with both.
To understand and appreciate my views and beliefs we must first explore the opposing side’s understanding of this controversial issue. Because there are so many stems and interpretations related to this issue I have decided to focus on two denominations with opposing views in context of female leadership in the church: Presbyterian USA and Church of Christ. The reason I chose these particular
denominations is because I have had past experience with both churches and am familiar with their faith and practices.
I grew up in a non-denominational church myself where female pastors preached the “Good News” and we respected them for it. This idea was also present when I would occasionally attend my best friend’s Presbyterian USA church. I never questioned the idea of having a female pastor. It was the norm for me and for years that idea was not challenged. However, last year I attended a Church of Christ private school for my senior year of high school. I immediately became aware of the gender discrimination within their denomination when the seniors held a devotion night before the first day of school. After hearing a short sermon (brought by a man) they opened the floor for prayer. After a few young men prayed, I decided as the new student, to offer my own prayer to the group. Afterwards, I was pulled aside and told that they did not accept “girls” to pray in front of men. I could not even comprehend at first, what that meant and was bewildered by such news. A similar experience happened a few weeks later when one of my teachers announced to the class that he needed participants to volunteer to speak and pray during chapel for the rest of the year. He began to hand out slips of paper, but I soon realized that he skipped my desk and every other girl’s and only handed them out to the boys. It was then when I felt an overwhelming feeling of worthlessness and helplessness. I had never felt so discriminated and unworthy in my life and thought to myself “this must be a glimpse of what slaves felt like”. All of these wounds were re-opened every day as their beliefs were reinforced and practiced everyday.
The Church of Christ states in one of their belief statements that “We believe that a man must be called of God by revelation and ordained by those having authority, to enable him to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances there of” (Church of Christ 12). You would never find a woman behind a pulpit preaching the Gospel at a Church of Christ because they believe that it is only a job men are capable of doing. Preachers try to comfort the women by stressing and elaborating about how much value there is in cooking, cleaning and looking after children but what happens to the woman who does not fit into that mold?
We meet several women in the Old Testament who rebel against and desperately try to flee from that mold. In fact, Eve is a perfect example of what God intended women to truly be, no matter how hard theologians and pastors try to fit her into the typical female mold. Carolyn Curtis James introduces a very intriguing insight into the scripture: “First, God created Eve to be his image bearer-“in his image and likeness”-and second, to be the ezer, or the strong helper”(James 31). I would like to call attention to the word ‘ezer’. Earlier on, the church defined this word as “helpmeet” and specifically labeled it as a helper in the home and marriage. (James 35)
However, recently the idea of women being made to be man’s helper has been contradicted with this discovery:
…scholars pointed out that the word ezer is used most often (sixteen of twenty- one occurrences) in the Old Testament to refer to God as Israel’s helper in times of trouble. That’s when ezer was upgraded to “Strong helper”, leaving Christians debating among themselves over the meaning of “Strong” and whether this affects a woman’s rank with respect to the man. Further research indicates ezer is a powerful Hebrew military word whose significance we have barely begun to unpack. The ezer is a warrior, and this has far-reaching implications for women, not only in marriage, but in every relationship, season, and walk of life” (James 35, 36).
What a wonderful insight and fact. This supports the idea of God creating and equipping women with leadership qualities, enough so to call them ‘warriors’. This theory contradicts any notion that women are only able enough to be a “stays at home mom”.
When we explore the scripture in depth, rather than at face value we are able to discover and explore simple truths that can impact, challenge and expand our faith and knowledge of God. Unfortunately, this idea is too much of a challenge than most Christians are comfortable with, so instead they just skim the top of the water instead of diving in and becoming immersed with the richness of faith. Most preachers quote from 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which states “Let a woman learn by listening quietly and being ready to cooperate in everything. But I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” However, I would like to call attention to a few verses before in 1 Timothy 2:8 when it says “So, I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up their hands in a holy manner, without anger and arguments.” Why is this part of the “Law” not enforced? Why do we not see men walking around with the arms in the air but see the second part of the Scripture so heavily emphasized? (Scott-Ferguson 140) “When we select certain Scriptures to support the case of women’s subjugation- and they do appear to be there at first glance- we are in danger of taking selected verses to define dogma while disregarding the overall principles of God’s Word and the overwhelming evidence that woman have equal rights in his original plan” (Scott-Ferguson 141) As we said before God made Adam and Eve in His image so that we would be like him as equals.
Another wonderful Biblical reference that would seem like an obvious example of Jesus endorsing female leadership is when He commissions the woman at the well to spread the word that the Savior was in town. “He did not disregard her gender and assign a male to herald the good news” (Scott-Ferguson). Jesus did not discriminate against women then and He surely does not now but for some reason a good amount of His followers do in the present day.
Alice Scott-Ferguson puts Christians in their place when she says “Perhaps if we consider the word serve in place of ministry, we would silence the controversy over who is eligible to minister. Seen as a serving rather than a ruling role, ministry would mean following in the footsteps of Jesus who came to wash feet: to be least, not the greatest” (Scott-Ferguson 140). This is a profound thought that should be emphasized more heavily. This thought should also silent any man who is afraid of woman competing for authority.
We are not called to compete for God’s roles but we are called to share in a mutual mission that should not be limited to one gender but shared by both God’s creation. When we limit God’s service and restrict it to one gender, are we not limiting God’s power to one gender? Alice once again reinforces this with truthful, hard hitting words: “For the Christian it is in disagreement with the new covenant, and it sets up unnecessary and ungodly competition, hierarchies, and enmity between men and women” (Scott-Ferguson 46) How much more efficient and powerful our ‘service’ could be if we decided to all share in the responsibility of preaching and leading God’s people rather than compete for it?
The problem with this whole issue is that it leaves women feeling worthless, unimportant and cast aside. These feelings felt by many a woman contradicts the whole attitude the Bible stands for. God is all about finding worth in Him and His purpose for each individual, male or female. I cringe when I hear a woman exclaim ‘I have freedom in submission’, because that just sounds like a temporary condolence of the fact that she must bow down to men instead of bowing down to her God alone. The only being we should be submitting to and standing up for is God, not a man. “When religion conveys that one part of the Godhead is bigger, better, or more dominant that the other we represent a distorted and lopsided representation of the One whose image we bear” (Scott-Ferguson 30). When we value power and hierarchy more than oneness and unity within the context of Christianity, we begin to demolish the cornerstone on which we are called to build His kingdom upon. When the church and the rest of the world begins to recognize that women are valued by God just as much as men are and that GOD equips and gifts women with leadership and speaking skills; that is when we will see a revolution unfold. Alice Scott-Ferguson writes it so beautifully when she says:
A woman’s role in the church should be limited only by her talents and abilities,
not her gender. As her male counterpart is never disqualified because of gender,
neither should she be. She should have the opportunity to preach (and to be
ordained, if that is the requirement of the denomination), teach, administer, or
lead according to her calling and character. A woman’s talents, which are
considerable, are so often wasted and missed by denying her the use of her God-
given rights. These are lost to the church by the edict of patriarchy, pride, and
presumption. (142, 143)
Why would God install a passion to lead, and or a desire to preach in a woman, only to enforce a law that says she must restrain that gift? God is more of a just God than that.
“The criteria by which we are judged as women will be no different from what is expected of all believers. That in itself should tell us that in out earthly lives no standard separates females and males” (Scott-Ferguson 160). When women uphold this brilliant thought, I believe we will witness a legacy being built by unity that can be upheld and renewed by generations to come.
Even though this research at times, was frustrating and intimidating in the way of transferring my thoughts onto paper; I completely enjoyed this process. It was exciting to put my thoughts, beliefs, and hope into words, which I have never done before with this topic. I realize that my research is not complete and never will be as this is a very dynamic issue that will be ever changing, and ever going. I am pleased however, that I was able to at least make a dent and a starting point, which I know I will continue to search and run with.
Curtis James, Carolyn. Lost Women of the Bible. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005
This book researches women in the Bible within their context of lifestyle and culture. James’s purpose of this research is to reveal and uplift the true personalities and leadership tendencies of the women in the Bible.
Brummet, Nancy and Alice Scott- Ferguson. Reconcilable Differences. Colorado Springs, CO, 2006
This insightful book presents two different opinions and views about women’s roles by two different authors. My research comes only from Alice Scott- Ferguson. She uses a combination of her heartfelt believes and Biblical references to support her objective.