For Men Only? An Open Letter to Women in Seminary
While I wasn't prepared to go all the way with my literal hermeneutic (I didn't expect women to wear head-coverings in church or for men to keep their hair short), I was settled in my position; so much so that when the church where I served as youth pastor invited a woman to preach on a Sunday morning, I skipped the service. Thankfully, I didn't make my stand known to anyone but the pastor (as far as I was aware). Had I broadcast my little protest, who knows what damage I could have done to the church—in particular to women who may have already struggled to embrace their status as glorious creatures, created in God's image and equal to men in God's economy (Gal 3:28)?
In the years since, I've changed my position on women in ministry and in the home. I don't need to go into all the exegetical, hermeneutical, theological and ethical (not to mention practical) reasons for that. I'm sure you know them all anyway. But in sum, I came to realize that women and men are equal not just in "ontological worth" but in God's salvation history and that God's planned future for all people is an egalitarian community of mutually submissive, loving, and honoring relationships built on the Gospel of Christ, the Servant-Lord. Why should we structure our churches, families and relationships on the basis of past and present sins and failures rather than on the basis of God's planned future for shalom?
Furthermore, I sense that Paul was concerned less with the details of gender relationships than he was with the advancement of the Gospel. His practical theology of church and family life was meant to serve the Gospel, much like the Sabbath was made for people, rather than people for the Sabbath. In our day, I believe that the Gospel is most powerful and effective when egalitarian relationships are the norm and when the equal worth of women and men is not just affirmed, but exemplified and practiced in the church and home. It's one thing to proclaim an egalitarian theology, it's another to support it and encourage it by practice.
I think back on my immature unwillingness to listen to a woman preach in church with embarrassment, shame and a sense of lost opportunity. But I use that now, I hope, to redouble my efforts to encourage you women who desire to follow Jesus into the often inglorious, sometimes thankless, and at times seemingly-homeless life of ministry.
I'm glad you are studying and preparing for ministry in whatever capacity and role God may call you toward. When you are discouraged with "opposition," whether that opposition is explicit and brash or implicit and subtle, be assured that people do sometimes change their minds. More importantly, know that you are valued and loved and that the Church needs you.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Lead Faculty for Christian Thought
St. Paul, MN
Kyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture. Follow Kyle Roberts' reflections on faith and culture at his blog or via Twitter.