Women in Ministry in Africa

Evidently, the African context is about the same as the North American context: some do and some don’t think women in teaching positions is a good idea. In the Africa Bible Commentary there is an essay on “The Role of Women in the Church.” It appears in the commentary on 1 Timothy 2:7-10 — which is an interesting placement.

What do you know about women in ministry in Africa?
The article is by Nyambura J. Njoroge — I don’t know if this person is male or female. Here are some highlights:
1. It questions using 1 Cor 11:34-35 (it says 13:34) and 1 Tim 2:11-14 as “laying down absolutes rather than general principles within a particular culture.”
2. We need to avoid the cultural roles men and women play; we need more theological exposition by discerning God’s will, by rooting ourselves in Jesus’ liberative vision (Luke 4:18-19), and by exploring the fullness of life (John 10:10).
3. “What women and men can do depends on our obedience to the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.”
4. Because of patriarchal, hierarchical, and sexist attitudes, women have a critical and prophetic role in Africa.
5. “Where churches have listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit … women have been ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament.”
6. Women are doing lots of work in the ministry of the gospel in Africa.
The commentary is by Solomon Andria, and it shows more of a “complementarian” view. It sees “silence” in terms of hierarchy; it suggests Peterson’s The Message is more acceptable to some because it anchors Paul’s statement in a particular context of assertive women; for Africa, the author asks, there is the question of what “silence” means in Africa as an equivalent.

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  • Matthew

    4. Because of patriarchal, hierarchical, and sexist attitudes, women have a critical and prophetic role in Africa.
    Is this fleshed out at all? It is a very interesting comment that leaves me wanting more. It reminds me of that feeling when I steal a sip of my wife’s hazelnut latte and wish I had ordered one too!

  • Nyambura J. Njoroge is a woman.
    I am really enjoying the Africa Bible Commentary, for essays like this one and also for the different perspective revealed by the application comments and underlying assumptions that surface here and there.
    My husband and I served in a township outside Cape Town for a couple months. Altho I’ve never hung out much over here in situations where questions about women in ministry were even raised (so I can’t really compare the two), I’d describe what we experienced there as a much more patriarchal society in general, carried over into church life. Xhosa people in particular were clearly not at all accustomed to our situation (I’m ordained, he’s a layperson). We did see women in other leadership roles (worship leader, youth group).
    It would be interesting to know about the role of women in the indigenous African churches – i.e., settings similar to those started by folks who are identified as prophets like William Wade Harris, Simon Kimbangu etc. In the West, the more pentecostal communities have often been ready to accept women leaders who show evidence of spiritual power/anointing — I’d be interested to know if that works the same way in Africa.
    I should also say that in Afrikaaner churches or even the Xhosa Anglican church we visited, the situation was much more Westernized.

  • Kim

    I think the crux of the Women in Ministry solution is found in this statement:
    “Where churches have listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit … ”

  • All I can say is that I walked out on a village level pastor who preached for at least three Sundays in a row on how women should submit to their husbands. I chose not to attend again until the topic changed. I don’t think he would have had a clue as to why I could not tolerate his sermons. This was in rural Africa about 30 years ago now. Lots has changed since.
    Women in rural Africa are very active in leading other women. Women are becoming more educated. Once educated, they begin to value themselves as more than just a “useless woman”. But the culture in most places is still very patriarchal. Although I was a professional woman, other than in the dental clinic, I was always referred to as “the wife of…”
    I am glad to hear the one of the contributors to this commentary is a woman. Other women in Africa will gain much from this and from the leadership roles of other women in the church who are given a voice.

  • My folks were missionaries in Kenya through most of the 90s with the Church of God (Anderson), teaching at a seminary for indigenous pastors. The U.S. COG is historically egalitarian, and it’s the same in E. Africa — about 1/3 of their students were women, and most (if not all) of those went on to pastor local congregations. The large majority of National Church Offices, on the other hand, were and continue to be held by men (also quite similar to the state of things in the U.S.), but part of that dynamic is due to educational opportunity: many more men have higher education and terminal degrees than women.

  • Terri

    I have never been to Africa but have several fellow African students. While I’ve never discussed gender issues with any of them, they have been the most encouraging and accepting (I am one of I think three female PhD students at my school). They rejoiced with me when I passed my entrance exam, call me “professor,” and have extended formal and informal invitations to come and teach in Africa when I graduate. I have in general recieved a much cooler reception from other nationalities (American and Hispanic especailly). I suppose all of this, of course, could be due to social and cultural factors other than or in addition to gender issues.

  • Ryan

    As a missionary, with a Bible translation organization, I take exception to Kim’s statement (#3). In Uganda the churches are basically, Catholic, Church of Uganda (Anglican), and Evangelical (or Pentecostal).
    In the Pentacostal churches there are sometimes women leaders, never senior leaders; but I have found that in the Urban setting there is more freedom for women in various ministry roles (like worship). However, in both Church of Uganda and the Catholic Church there are few if any roles for women to play, there are very few reformed churches.
    As to women’s role in society, my observation has been that women’s roles are inextricably linked to giving birth and child rearing. However, with globalisation, the introducion of western values has meant that more women get “formal education” and in urban areas can get professional jobs, though they are less likely than their male counterparts. This “professional training” does not seem to extend into the churches. When I was an Undergraduate in College I took a course on women’s struggles in the third world. I think women play a significant role here in Ugandan society, but their status is low, and that the Bible has some good things to say to this culture to address that. In regards to church roles, it wasn’t very long ago that churches stopped making it a requirement that you were married to only one woman to be a church member, which meant divorcing your other wives and sending them back to their parents in shame, so I don’t think you can extricate western Christian values from “Church roles”, even though this society (agrarian) is closer to the social exchanges Paul adresses.

  • Ryan

    Sorry I did not complete the argument-
    This society is socio-economicaly (or economic modality) is agrarian, unlike the western industrialized/modern. The society in Uganda is in flux becoming more industrialized and facing many similar problems of the US in the late 1800’s early 1900’s, however, such a shift changes the roles of men and women, as argued by smarter people than I, and that shift ultimately effects our views of men and women’s roles. Consequently, the way men and women and their social roles, what they can do and what they should do, shift as well. western Christian values are informed by this shift already, but it is foriegn to the Ugandan who is working from an agririan modality.
    Sorry to go so long…