Conservative Christian Women And The Worst Accusation

Photo by Erin Rempel

Photo by Erin Rempel

Arguments that restrict women from leadership devalue womanhood and question the calling these women have to pastoral ministry. As I have defended my work on the biblical and theological support for women in ministry, I’ve learned that these implications may not even be the most hurtful thing that is said to these women.


Please don’t misunderstand. Even those that are trying to be pastoral are prone to devalue women with both of these arguments. Whether one imagines that their definition of gender roles is a case of “separate but equal” or not, to suggest that women and men have different roles and that women’s role excludes leadership is not equal. It’s sexist and demeaning. I’m the first one to say that we would still be required to hold these positions if obedience to God demanded it. As I have argued here, here, and here, the Bible certainly does not make that argument.

For those women that feel called to the ministry, this is painful for another reason: it prohibits them from pursuing what they believe God has them to do. Our calling is a deep and intimate part of our identity. When people tell women that feel called to pastor that they cannot do so, it strikes a blow to the heart of these women’s identity.

I would suggest that there is an even more painful reason that these arguments are hurtful to women.

The most common trump card that women that pursue church leadership will hear is that “it isn’t biblical.” In conservative Christian communities such as my Pentecostal one and many evangelical ones, being “biblical” is the most important religious virtue. Being biblical means that you have likely spent many hours studying and understanding the Bible. It also means that you have had the deep faith to trust what Scripture says over your life — you have submitted yourself to God’s Word. In some of these communities, there is nothing more important than being biblical. To be biblical is to be faithful.

As I have argued publicly that women should be leading at all levels of Christian leadership, I have insisted at every point that I think this is the most important issue, first and foremost because the Bible says that women should be in leadership. If this weren’t true then the discussion would be fundamentally different. But I think this is what the Bible says and I have defended this position.

I am an ordained minister from a fellowship that requires me to adhere to inerrancy. I have an earned Ph.D. in theology from an A.T.S.-accredited seminary. In spite of my “credentials,” people have insisted that my position is “not biblical.” It’s as if they imagine that I’ve never considered what the Bible says on this matter. Let me assure anyone with concerns that I have investigated it quite thoroughly.

I’m a pretty confident guy. I’ve long since stopped caring what other people think of me. I am quite certain of my ability to defend my position conclusively. But it is still a hurtful allegation for a person to tell me that I’m not being biblical. I suppose that it’s hurtful because this is a commitment that I hold so dear and that my community holds dear. Can you imagine how this must affect the women that are accused of the same, especially if they do not have significant “credentials” and it is wrapped up with the other two offenses that I have articulated above?

I hope that my colleagues that make such an accusation to women that are called to ministry will think carefully about their words. I hope that they will understand that they are calling the most fundamental value of that woman into question. They are calling her commitment to God into question. They are calling her spirituality into question.

If that woman is from one of these conservative Christian communities, she likely holds the Bible just as highly as her accuser. She likely would be just as concerned as her accuser if she found herself to be in violation of one of its commands. And in the majority of cases, you can rest assured that she has studied this subject at least twice as much as her accuser…because her calling and identity are dependent upon it.

So she isn’t less biblical than a person that opposes her; she interprets the Bible differently. She too is making a biblical argument. One or the other of the persons in the discussion has a more cohesive biblical argument, but that should not be decided in advance. If you are the one that opposes women’s leadership, you would do much better to tell her that you read the Bible differently than her. But at least acknowledge that she too is striving to honor God and God’s Word with her life. To tell her that she isn’t “biblical” is to call her essential spirituality and relationship with God into question. To do so certainly is not good leadership or pastoral. It’s simply a power play to silence the opposition.

So before you accuse a woman of not “being biblical” because she believes she is called to lead the Church, allow me a moment to turn the tables. Theologians and biblical scholars have conclusively shown that the ones that prohibit women from leadership are those that are not biblical. But thankfully many supporters of women in ministry have shown the grace to claim more humbly that those who oppose are in fact reading the Bible…we just think that they are reading it poorly.

Click here to see all that I’ve written on women in ministry.

Related Post: 4 Reasons Why Ordaining Women Is No Longer An Option

 

Comments

  1. says

    this is excellent! I think so much of what is happening right now in the evangelical world seems to come down to a battle for “The Bible” — specifically who gets to say what it means. In other words, its a major power struggle, and sadly the conservative side tends to be the voice most laying claim to “we have it right and you have it wrong” thinking rather than “we read it differently and there is room at the table for multiple ways of engaging the Bible.”

  2. Greg Hahn says

    Even when we think we are “right”- maybe even especially then- we so often fail to consider the implications of our callous comments.

    This is a very real issue. Thank you for writing this. I think you will help someone understand.

  3. says

    Great job, Jeremiah. I’m seeing more and more that “Biblical” is being used as a trump card, played to end conversations and not further anyone’s understanding.

  4. SW says

    Everyone is called to ministry if they have been born again! Ephesians 2:8-10 tell us we have been saved to serve. Ministry is serving and “pastoral ministry” is not “the ministry”. We do a great disservice to the church to think that the only ministry is done by those who hold the mic, tout a theological degree, and can grow a bread!

    Paul referred to two women pastors in Romans 16, Phoebe and Pricilla, and Junia, a female apostle mentioned in the same chapter! Being “ordained” is consecration, and as far as I’m concerned, though I have been “ordained” and my credential card says Rev. in front of my name, we are all consecrated to serve as a royal priesthood- men and women alike.

  5. A. Amos Love says

    Jeremiah

    When I read the Bible differently then you, as we both strive to honor God, and His word.
    Seems to me, Jesus, has a unique take on leaders for His Disciples – “ONE”

    Haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ? Mat 23:10 NASB – And NONE did…😉

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant.”
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Mat 23:10-12 TM – The Message.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to be called **Leaders** and NONE did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
    None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders?”
    And someone calls them self a “leader?” Or allows others to call them “leader?”
    In opposition to what jesus taught His Disciples…

    Are they one of “His Disciples?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important?😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  6. says

    “I am an ordained minister from a fellowship that requires me to adhere to inerrancy. I have an earned Ph.D. in theology from an A.T.S.-accredited seminary. In spite of my “credentials,” people have insisted that my position is “not biblical.””
    Let me be frank. LOTS of people have a Ph.D. in theology. LOTS of people disagree on these issues. Your having a Ph.D. does not make something any more “biblical”.

    “Theologians and biblical scholars have conclusively shown that the ones that prohibit women from leadership are those that are not biblical.”
    What about Catholic theologians like St. John Paul II and Han Urs von Balthasar and Alexander Schmemann (who had an S.T.D, an LL.D., and a D.D. mind you) who don’t agree with your assessment of this issue? I can label some biblical scholars that don’t believe in the resurrection. Just because John Dominic Crossan and Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong say the resurrection is a myth does not mean it is a myth. Just because a Bible scholar or a theologian says something specifically does not make it correct (as per your dismissal of those Biblical scholars and theologians who disagree with your assessment in this case as well as those who even disagree with the resurrection).

    I just wanted to be clear that when I challenge your assessments of this issue, I am not judging your credentials at all.

    • says

      On the first point, you have misrepresented my point with your careful editting. The next sentence says that I cite those credentials only to insist that i have studied thoroughly. (I’m no hack.) Scholars can still be wrong, of course.

      Glad that you added Grudem, since these other men would have been excommunicated or laicized for such a position. (I actually don’t know what the Orthodox do with dissenting opinion on this, but Im guessing there is no freedom to disagree.) i would like think that Balthasar would have been for women if the option were open to him. I’m confident that JPII would not have been in any case. That said, some disagree that could do otherwise. I think they are wrong, of course.

      • says

        That makes no sense that a guy wouldn’t seek for an honest answer to the question simply because “his church say so”. Karl Rahner criticized the Catholic church for being too decisive about this issue.

        The Orthodox have not officially declared a doctrinal position on this. So are you undermining all their credentials simply because they were part of a “church” that say women should not be ordained?!? That’s a hunk of baloney! You’re part of a church that says women should be ordained as official doctrine! If these men’s credentials to the sole exclusion of Grudem are undermined for their church’s doctrinal biases they were a part of then your credentials should be undermined as well not as someone who is looking for truth but is trying to defend your church’s doctrines.

        Please correct me if I have misrepresented what you are saying but this does seem to me to be what you are saying.

        • says

          No. I’m saying that the RCC forbids these men from speaking out on the issue at the cost of their whoke ministry. Particularly in the Assemblies of God there are many that disagree on the issue. I’m not undermining them or their credentials. I’m suggesting that we shouldn’t read RC theologians as if this were an issue which they are free to express their opinion.

        • says

          See my more recent comment. Gary Macy, S.J. is a guy who would agree with your position.

          I also point out that many RC theologians also disagree with other points of Catholic orthodoxy any way (issues they would not normally be “free” to disagree on).

        • says

          You might also be interested in Gary Wills who speaks his mind freely about problems he perceives in the Catholic Church without being excommunicated.
          http://www.amazon.com/Why-Priests-A-Failed-Tradition-ebook/dp/B008EKMAKG
          Against their doctrine of Holy Orders no less. Your argument that we have to assume Catholics agreeing with the magisterium of their church are like robots is turd and belongs in a toilet.

          Conclusion: It is safe to read Catholic theologians as if this were an issue they were free to disagree on. They are humans like you and I. They are not robots.

        • says

          BTW, I’ll keep this in mind whenever I read a Catholic or Anglican theologian’s views on the Trinity–“Oh no, they just defend the Trinity because they fear being excommunicated!”

      • says

        In case you need further convincing evidence that just because someone is Catholic means they are going to automatically waste their credentials just to agree with their church on this issue, I will point you to Gary Macy’s Hidden History of Women’s Ordination. He teaches at the Jesuit Theological Seminary in Berkeley California. Ironically, a good majority of the professors there would seem to agree with you on this issue despite being Catholic.

      • says

        “Glad that you added Grudem, since these other men would have been excommunicated or laicized for such a position. (I actually don’t know what the Orthodox do with dissenting opinion on this, but Im guessing there is no freedom to disagree.)”

        I actually found that the National Catholic Reporter actually strongly disagrees with the official Catholic stance. Regardless, Catholics are also obliged to agree with the doctrine of the Trinity. Should we assume that if they weren’t Catholic, they would, oh, you know, actually endorse Arianism or Modalism?

        Further note: in the Orthodox Church, this issue is still an open question with most theologians disagreeing with women’s ordination.

        Also: Thought experiment here. Replace women in this article with “people who have psychological impediments to ordination” then see how far your argument goes.

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