Daniel Kirk: When Silence is Yella

By Daniel Kirk, from CBE:

“Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes, it’s just plain yella’.”

That one-liner is one of my summary takeaways from Christians for Biblical Equality’s conference in Houston.

The gathering was a multifaceted engagement with God’s calling of women into all ministries of the church: there was teaching, digging into scripture, and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of storytelling.

Women in many parts of the church are told, through word and deed, that they are not needed for the church’s work. Not only are they in denominations that will not ordain them, they are in worship services where women will never be able to read scripture or preside at the table or, in some places, take the offering.

Dear everyone: this destroys women.

Listen to the stories of women who have had to fight to find a calling. Or the stories of those who have given up.

It forces them to live in denial of the calling that God issues in Christ as the Spirit of Christ gifts women to preach and teach and pastor. It is the ear saying to the eye, “I have no need of you.”

Dear everyone: this impoverishes the whole church.

Dear men, it is not enough to be supportive in your hearts. If your church is excluding women from service, you need to be creating opportunities to overturn that practice.

You need to speak. You need to ask.

Dear pastor, it is not enough to huddle with your buddies over beer or in your internet discussion room and talk about what a bunch of sexist [edited] your fellow pastors are in your denomination.

If you are not working to change what women can do, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that you deride in private.

If you are not opening up space in your church for women to preach and teach, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that denies the truth of women’s identity in Christ.

Dear seminary professor, your job is to be a change agent. Your job is to transform the way that your students, and their churches, think about and act on issues of gender.

It’s not enough to “know” that women should be able to do anything. You need to show your students, from your scripture study or theology, that this is God’s intention for the church.

It is not enough to theorize about it in the classroom, either, especially if folks at your church listen to you.

Having secret friends who will not act creates little more than a secret consolation that will not comfort.

One of the reasons that Christians for Biblical Equality is so important is that it is reminding those of us whose worlds have “settled” the question that there are still thousands of churches where women are not being treated as equals. We need to continue to speak, we need to continue to agitate for change.

And this means men in positions of authority in particular. If you are a pastor, this means you. If you are a professor this means you. If you are an elder or deacon, this means you.

It is on us, inasmuch as God has entrusted the church to his people and we are called to be faithful in it and act to conform it to God’s will.

We must create the kind of church that will receive not just our sons but our daughters, not just our brothers but our sisters, in the fullness of who God is making them to be, in Christ, by the Spirit.

If you believe in women’s equality, your calling is to act it out. If you’re not, don’t convince yourself that you’re being “wise” in biding your time while your sisters suffer. Wisdom is a convenient cover for fear, but not all silence is golden.

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  • Fish

    A woman pastor is the reason I became a Christian. To deny their calling is to deny who calls them.

  • Great post.

    I was at that conference, too. It was life-changing. I went in as an egalitarian and left as an egalitarian with a sense of urgency.

    Sometimes silence is yella.


  • EricW

    I was there, too. Loved what the speakers had to say, and especially loved getting to hear and meet and talk to Dr. Payne and his wife.

    Shirley Taylor http://bwebaptistwomenforequality.wordpress.com/ and Mabel Yin and everyone else who put on the conference – Mimi Haddad was able to attend, too – deserves a lot of thanks.

  • EricG

    Excellent post.

  • Great and challenging thoughts! I think of Desmond Tutu’s famous quote: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  • EricW

    My friend Michelle Morr Krabill just posted a blog post along these lines – i.e., a challenge and call to action


    which comes a day after her heartfelt great, great post: “Sometimes I Grow Weary of the Fight”

    (I’m removing the hypertext h t t p so this comment won’t have two links and get hung up at Patheos)


  • Paul S.

    Do you folks read the Bible? It’s pretty clear about what the Bible says concerning women as preachers and teachers of men. All of what you say makes sense if you choose to ignore that. There are many positions for women in all churches, they aren’t always the same as those for men.

  • JohnM

    Oh, Paul S.! Are you new here? 🙂 Don’t take offense at me, but hang around and eventually you’ll see what I mean.

  • Dopderbeck

    “this destroys women..”. Really? “Destroys?” My mom is one of the truly great women I know and she wasn’t destroyed by so-called “complementarian” churches.

    I might agree with a more egalitarian model hermeneutically, but I’m not sure we should frame it this way.

    And, the same arguments are made concerning LGBT persons – it seems to me these questions cannot be neatly separated.

  • EricW

    Paul S.

    Yes, we read the Bible, not just in English but also η κοινη διαλεκτος. 🙂

    A good book for what the Bible teaches about the things you mention is Philip B. Payne’s MAN AND WOMAN, ONE IN CHRIST. He has spent 35 years researching and writing on those subjects.

  • Paul S, yes, but obviously what you carry into your reading differs from ours when you read.

    Dopderbeck, if your mother never felt called to push back or stray from the roles, she was not perceived as threatening. However, “destroy” is a very appropriate verb for what many women have encountered when the Holy Spirit called them into ministry, to question entrenched discrimination and hierarchical orders, or to speak and stand vs the abuse women have suffered. The level of spiritual warfare against godly mutuality in ministry can be deep and intense for the women and for their families. It can also be as intense for godly men who support them in ministry. Daniel doesn’t mince words because, imho, it would have belied the experiences of many.

  • Many evangelical churches are not ready for this yet. Do we cause division and split churches at this time because that is what would occur is we get too aggressive. I appreciate the candor and calling to the higher plane but there is more at stake here than one agenda. There are ivory palaces and then there is the real world. Pastors and leaders need encouraging to change but they alone are responsible for their flock.

  • EricW

    If the true Body of Christ is not to be divided into Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male and female, then to say “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” is to proclaim and demonstrate that. Patriarchalism is what is causing division in the church between male and female. To proclaim that men and women are one in Christ is to work for the unity the Gospel declares and commands. It is not the Egalitarians who are or would be causing division.

  • phil_style

    @ Paul.S.

    I will not lay the blame for our sexism at the hands of the Bible.

  • Ann (#11) — that assumes quite a bit about my mother, whose story you don’t know! True, she never felt a call to be an ordained pastor. Nevertheless, she did, in mid-life, move (not entirely willingly) from a very restrictive Plymouth Bretheren church — where women couldn’t even wear pants (they had to wear skirts) — to a slightly broader fundamentalist-evangelical church, and has grown into a dynamic minister (small-“m”) to women.

    Anyway, my point is not that all of this isn’t painful for many women — it certainly is. Nor is my point that nothing should change — I think it should. My point is that nobody ever said that working in the Church would always be easy, fulfilling, or free of suffering. Again, this isn’t a plea for mere quietism — just grin and bear it — but I do think some of the rhetoric around these issues is too focused on the felt need to be free of all difficulty, limits, or suffering.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    “Be careful when you are fighting a dragon lest you become a dragon.” I have seen power plays done by all sides. To think that one side’s cause is righteous leads to the temptation to justify things that neither Scripture nor Jesus would ever endorse. There are times to fight and there are times not to fight, and a whole lot of discernment to know the difference. Change certainly needs to happen but it comes often and best usually through slow teaching, equipping, and small steps (at least that has been what I have witnessed). The irony I have seen in the church is the largest group of people mainly against women’s more inclusive involvement in ministry is other women!

  • When I hear “people aren’t ready” or “don’t be too aggressive” or “you get crumbs from the table, so don’t complain”, I remember that this “gender war” is like any other: to fail to stand can be considered treason or cowardice.

    Who is to say when people are ready for truth? How can the slave be too aggressive in demanding freedom? Why should half the Body of Christ live on a starvation diet while the other half dines on all that is on the menu?

    I personally do not care who doesn’t like what I say… and I have the blog stats to prove it. 😉 I will speak what I see is the truth and write according to my convictions. I will oppose without compromise or wavering any doctrine which divides by decree, shows no fruit of the Spirit, or refuses to apply “not so among you” to everyone without favoritism. This is the difference between a belief or opinion and a conviction.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    If people want to kick the door down, they can (just don’t be surprised if you don’t like what’s on the other side). One of the women on this list who demonstrates such godly wisdom and character is RJS. From what I have heard in the past from her, I’ll just say a more nuanced approach with even a different kind fo spirit would be given by her.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I’ve got to go but here is the bottom line for me. If people have strong convictions on this topic (good). But the question is, “Are you willing to split churches over this issue?”

  • Marilyn Barnes

    A heart felt thanks to you Daniel for these words that encourage and compel! I was one of the people who shared my story at CBE Houston. It was a healing experience to hear both women and men speak boldly. I am 58 years old and have spent most of my life in a church setting where I was not allowed to use my gifts in some very important areas. Am I supposed to wait more years before the “timing” is right? Clearly that is not what the Sprit is urging us to do nor is it what the Bible teaches when you take a deeper look into the context, history and original language. The middle initial of CBE is very important~ Biblical. This is not, as some would accuse, a group of people with “wishful thinking” or guidance from society. Nor have I met any woman in the group that wanted to bring glory by her service to anyone but Christ. It is a group that desires to bring the church closer to God’s original intentions for her and in so doing fulfill God’s perfect plan of oneness in Christ!

  • @CGC,

    The churches are already split. And we might ask whether abolishing slavery was worth splitting churches over as well. Injustice is injustice; sin is sin; oppression and silencing half the Body of Christ is inexcusable. Can outward conformity be worth keeping such things as they are? The SBC has boldly alienated and split churches who have treated women equally; as long as they are not being cautioned, then I see no justification for cautioning egalitarians either.

  • JohnM

    Paula #21 – I would say exaggerations on the part of gender egalitarians are unhelpful, except it probably doesn’t matter anyway since churches are, as you correctly note, already split, and I would add, minds mostly made up. I just wish descriptions of the other sides intent, not to mention the actual situation, were kept within the bounds of reality. Silencing half the body of Christ? Silencing? As in what? Not allowed to talk? Allowed no input? No influence? No kind of participation? I have enough experience with the SBC to pity the fool who would try to do that.

  • @JohnM,

    Exaggerations have been the mainstay of anti-egalitarian rhetoric for quite some time. There is not enough space here to list all the things egals are allegedly guilty of, all the bad company we allegedly keep, and all the names we have been called. So if exaggerations are unhelpful, surely only pointing it out for one side is even more so. (Or, as Capt. Jack Sparrow would put it, “even more than less than unhelpful”.)

    The silencing I speak of seems hardly in need of explaining. To tell half the Body that they cannot teach “with authority”, cannot lead males of whatever age is deemed adulthood, cannot ever have “final say”, cannot do this or that, is a silencing that cuts to the bone. It is a pre-judgment based solely upon the flesh, before any consideration is to be given to gifting or aptitude.

    It is most unhelpful too that anti-egalitarians cannot agree among themselves on exactly where the lines are drawn: can a woman stand within several feet of a pulpit? Lead singing? Teach teenage boys? Serve communion? Take up an offering? Lead the congregation in prayer? Plant a church in a modern, western country? Give driving directions to a man as long as she doesn’t sound too authoritative (ask Mr. Piper about that one)?

    So it seems that egals are not the ones you need to be asking this question about silencing, but rather the popular teachers and authors who keep writing about women’s limitations. Some actually do believe that a female voice must not be heard in a sanctuary; but extreme as that may be, the fact of silencing is never in doubt but only the degree.

  • JohnM

    Paula – “extreme as that may be, the fact of silencing is never in doubt but only the degree”

    No, where (rare) extremes exist and degrees of difference are recognized distinctions should be made , for the sake of honesty and clarity if nothing else. It does not all amount to silencing women.

    Gender egalitarians have no business making much to-do over differences in where lines are drawn if they find any lines at all abhorrent. Would you really find it helpful if anti-egalitarians all did agree with one another? Would you think better of them? Is there any point short of what you would consider fully egalitarian that you would accept? If not, there’s no point in saying the mere fact of differences is unhelpful.

  • JohnM,

    Are you saying that these “recognized distinctions [that] should be made” do not amount to silencing? As I’ve tried to explain, “silencing” means restricting and controlling the sphere of women’s activities. If the anti-egal position does not restrict women or control where they can exercise their spiritual gifts, then there has been a long and heated debate for no reason. Yet organizations like CBMW were formed over the assumption that women must be restricted and controlled; how would you explain to them that they shouldn’t say such things?

    Words like “for the sake of honesty and clarity” are vague and undefined; what exactly do you mean? What necessary distinctions are there which must be maintained for honesty and clarity? Do they always make women more restricted than men?

    Gender egalitarians have every right to object to any differences which go one-way all the time, on the basis of the flesh alone. It isn’t about personal offense or taste but true equality of being and function. Substitute racial terms for gender terms, and see how the anti-egal arguments sound.

    My statement about the disagreement in the anti-egal camp about where the lines are drawn was to make the point that if these lines were drawn by God and not men, there would be little if any disagreement— especially to such a wide degree. If the “plain reading” so clearly states women’s limitations, then why the books full of explanations? Why the seminars? Why are the extremes so far apart, such as Piper’s statement about women not appearing to ever lead men with authority on one hand, and many others’ opinion that women just can’t be pastors? The distance between those extremes shows that it isn’t God’s idea at all to restrict or control what women may do.

    We are adults, not children or slaves, and we too read and study the scriptures. It is not the place of one half the Body– men– to treat the other half– women– as their wards. There are men who are egalitarian, and women who are anti-egalitarian; this is therefore a difference of interpretation like any other, not something intrinsic to all men or all women. So again, as adults who study scripture, women will decide for themselves what they will do in the church and home. It certainly is our business to “make much ado” over injustice, flesh-based pride, and the teaching of division.

    I don’t care whether objections to things that violate the teachings of Jesus and Paul seem “unhelpful”; I only care whether the truth is taught and the people are free, just as Jesus promised.

  • JohnM

    Paula, #25
    Yes, I am saying that. As I’ve tried to explain, “silencing” does NOT mean restricting and controlling the sphere of women’s activities – silencing would mean not allowing women any expression or input at all. Since it’s nothing like that in the SBC (your reference), or very many, if any, other churches you need to find a different word to describe the actual situation. A word that is not misleading.

  • Taking the word ‘silence’ to refer to denying certain people a voice in society or the church is not a new usage, and thus not misleading at all. I’ve explained explicitly what I mean in this context as well, so everybody knows exactly what part of its semantic range I’m using here. Your attempt to apply the fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer” (that all meanings of a word must be applied in all contexts) is also the fallacy of “red herring”: a distraction from the debate at hand. My argument has been, and still is, that women are being denied a voice in the church and home due to arbitrary restrictions based on the flesh, regardless of gifting or ability. So I reject your claim that ‘silencing’ does not mean restriction. To use your own term, I find it ‘unhelpful’ for you to keep complaining about my choice of terms rather than dealing with my argument.

    But you have yet to explain your terms: what are the “recognized distinctions”, and do they apply always to restrictions based on the flesh? I find your use of vague, undefined terms here ‘misleading’.

  • JohnM


    I am aware taking the word ‘silence’ to refer to denying certain people a voice in society or the church is not an invention of your own, and it is a legitimate usage, but only when those certain people are acutally denied a voice, which women are not in most churches that restrict them from certain roles or posistions, whatever one may think of that. Your explanation in context – that you meant “women are being denied a voice in the church and home” – doesn’t demonstrate commission of any fallacy on my part, it just makes it sound like I got it about right, and sounds not at all like the way things actually are. I’ve thrown out no red herrings either, as your choice of terms is very much an element of your argument -“My argument has been, and still is, that women are being denied a voice …”. – Or in other words (yours), ‘silenced’. Either way you put it, it is not true. And that has been my point.

    You may argue that prohibiting women from certain roles is unwarranted, you may argue that it is unjust, but even if you are right the prohibitions do not add up to silencing by any legitimate usage of the word. Do you feel your argument is not compelling enough without dramatic language calculated to elicit a visceral reaction? Do you feel that only when you present anti-egalitarian (I’ve gone along with your choice of terms here) churches in the worst possible light can you make a good case for egalitarianism? I should think you would consider the fundamental case for gender egalitarianism to be stronger than that.

  • JohnM,

    Again you aim your objections at my choice of words, complaining about “dramatic” language; this is ad hominem (and I’m sure there would be no use in my explaining how you committed the other fallacies, so I won’t go over that again). Your earlier list of questions about the meaning of ‘silence’ gave the distinct impression that you were not in fact aware of its legitimate usage. Looking over the series of comments, it has become impossible to know what exactly you want the word to mean.

    And you still have not explained what exactly those “recognized distinctions” are.

    You claim that women are not denied a voice while also acknowledging that “most churches… restrict them from certain roles or posistions”. These are one and the same thing; to restrict women from certain roles/positions is to remove their voice from those positions. It appears that you consider influence or the expression of opinions as having a voice, but that is not the case at all. What a woman is denied is full humanity, full adulthood, full spiritual equality, because the female “voice” is not to be heard as authoritative or trustworthy or on the same level as that of the male “voice”. Thus her voice is silenced, simply because it is her voice. Thus I see no evidence that my claim is untrue.

    If your reaction has been visceral, that is something only you can control; the blame cannot be laid at my feet since I have no power over you. My purpose here has been to argue points, nothing more, and thus far I’ve seen no attempt from you to even say exactly what it is you feel men should tell women not to do, much less to defend your view. I see the summary of your argument as “You’re wrong, and I don’t like how you write”. I also deny that I’ve presented anti-egal in “the worst possible light”— a claim that I too could label “dramatic” or “unhelpful”. When a bright light is shown upon something and it looks bad, don’t blame the light. And as I mentioned before about substituting racial terms for gender terms in arguments used to restrict women, I don’t see how it’s even possible to put either racial restrictions or gender restrictions in a bad enough light; they are inherently at odds with “not so among you”.

    My case for egal has been made on the basis of both scripture and the essential character of our faith, in many writings in my blogs and books. So I’m hardly relying upon the various unsubstantiated charges you’ve made against me to defend it. If you truly want to understand the egal argument, there are plenty of other resources as well, such as CBE or God’s Word to Women. Were I to form my opinion of the anti-egal cause strictly upon what you’ve written in this comment stream, I too could challenge you to do better than to focus on my alleged attitude or choice of words. As the saying goes, “that door swings both ways”.

    I will do my best to ignore from this point on any complaints about my expressions and only respond to specific scriptural arguments about whether God puts limits on women that he does not also put on men.

  • JohnM


    Apart from your responses to my comments you’ve posted two comments (#17 & #21) neither of which represent your case for egalitarianism, they merely assert your convictions, and how wrong anti-egalitarians are. I’m not bothered by your doing that and it’s really all beside the point, except then you shouldn’t be complaining about what some one else has or hasn’t attempted to explain. Since your case is made elsewhere then it is elsewhere and not here. My complaint was singular and I stand by it because your choice of words was not incidental or beside the point.

    ‘Recognized distinctions’ was a reference to the distinction YOU made when you rightly acknowledged that there are extremes. That implies some non-egalitarian churches are extreme and some less than extreme – as egalitarians would see it, really bad and less bad I might suppose, some truly silencing women and some not exactly silencing women. But then you’ve made it clear you think the degree of difference doesn’t matter anyway, you paint them all with the same brush.

    You say “to restrict women from certain roles/positions is to remove their voice from those positions.” – But that’s not what you said at first, you spoke of “silencing half the Body of Christ”, without qualifying that statement. I deny that removing women’s voices from particular positions amounts to silencing women period, which is what your unqualified statement implied.

    You said “It appears that you consider influence or the expression of opinions as having a voice, but that is not the case at all.” All I can say to that is – I flatly disagree. I’m not a pastor. Whether I could be or not is beside the point – I am not one. I am NOT silenced in my church. I DO have a voice, and now, I wouldn’t have to become a pastor, deacon, or elder to have a voice in the church. Foreign born citizens may not, by our constitution, be President of the United States. Right or wrong, that’s the case. However, some of those same foreign born citizens can and do serve in the U.S. Congress and in the the President’s cabinet. Would you say they are silenced in the public sphere, or denied a voice in politics, because the one thing they can never be is President? It would ridiculous to say that.

    I’m going to assume you are sincere and really didn’t understand what I was getting at when I talked about a ‘visceral reaction’. I didn’t mean MY reaction, – but the emotional reaction YOU want from the readers you expect to sympathize with your cause.

    Finally, No, I don’t expect you, or anyone else, to form an opinion of the “anti-egal cause” based upon what I’ve written in this comment stream. That never was my purpose. Besides, the one thing I think we’ll agree upon is that your opinion on the matter is solidly formed and not going to change based on anyone’s comments anywhere. I don’t care. I do care when opinions are expressed in terms that misrepresent the truth of the matter.

  • JohnM,

    The thrust of the article was that those in a position to right the wrongs of women’s limitation should no longer be silent. It was not meant to be a complete egalitarian apologetic but a simple challenge to do the right thing as Christians. For you to expect me to turn the whole comment stream into a complete egal apologetic is far away from the point of either the OP or any of the comments.

    Now I’ll give a conversation summary to help clarify this:

    My first comment (17) was an objection to some earlier comments that complained about the oppressed being too aggressive or too ungrateful for the crumbs from the mens’ table. Nothing in my comment was directed at you. Likewise for my second comment (21).

    Your first comment directed at me was #22, wherein you accused me of exaggeration, and then asked a series of questions indicating you had no idea what I meant by ‘silencing’, in spite of what I had made clear and what the OP was all about. I responded in #23 by noting that a common tactic being used to fan the flames of the gender debate are exaggerations on the part of anti-egals. Then I explained further what ‘silencing’ means.

    In your comment #24 you stated that “distinctions should be made” to excuse the fact that anti-egals cannot agree on what exactly women aren’t supposed to do, but never is it in doubt that women should be limited. This is the point I was countering and defining with the word ‘silencing’: that it means women must be limited in ways that men are not.

    In my response to that, I asked you to define the statement “for the sake of honesty and clarity”, which you completely ignored. I explained further comments made in response to you earlier. You continued to keep turning back to the meaning of ‘silencing’ and backtracked on your earlier list of questions about what it meant. You then turned your attention to my apparent failure to adequately defend the entire egal position, though that was never the intent of either the OP or my comments.

    Now (#30) you again complain that I haven’t been turning this whole thing into a complete egal apologetic and continue your ad hominem attacks. You repeat your view that degree should matter more than kind on the matter of women’s limitations, and then you accuse me of not having adequately defined the meaning of silencing half the Body of Christ, though I have done so several times.

    Your only new point is that not being a pastor doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. But you are ignoring the REASON this is the case: your not being a pastor has nothing to do with your being male. You are not barred from “authoritative” teaching or offices because you are a male, but because it isn’t your gift. This is the crux of the whole debate between egal and anti-egal: that what women are denied is simply because they are women, NOT because they are not gifted. I cannot overemphasize this point, and hope against hope that you now understand what I mean by women being silenced.

    Finally, you admit that I was not to be expected to defend the whole egal position here, though you’ve repeatedly criticized me for not doing so— which is why I even brought that up; remember that. But when it comes to misrepresenting the truth, no truth has been more badly misrepresented than “not so among you”. What I have said about the anti-egal position and rhetoric is true and accurate, and cannot be exaggerated any more than slavery’s inherent injustice could ever be exaggerated.

    There is nothing more I can say to make this any clearer.