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