By Ruth Tucker
For those looking for biblical study on egalitarianism, Discovering Biblical Equality is the ticket.
Back to Ruth’s post.
If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded? — John Piper
If John Piper believes women should not be pastors or seminary professors, why did invite me—and introduce me himself—to preach a Sunday night “sermon” at his Bethlehem Baptist Church? I have a cassette tape to prove it. And there was no lack of men in the congregation. He was then, back in 1987, a fervent supporter of missions and my “sermon” was drawn from the fascinating field of missionary biography. I obviously was not filling the role of pastor, but I was a seminary professor and I was teaching men that evening as I did on a weekly basis in my classes.
For anyone who has followed Piper’s complementarian line of reasoning, his recent published opposition to female seminary professors is vintage Piper, not even needing biblical support apart from a passing reference to 1 Timothy 2:12.
His blog post comes at an interesting time in history. Women in America and around the world have been speaking out like never before. No longer will they be silent about sexual harassment and the power behind all efforts to keep them in their place.
My first experience as a seminary professor was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) though only on a part-time basis. Most of my colleagues treated me with respect but I was ever conscious of their uneasiness. One of them commented while several of us were sitting in the faculty lunch room that I was brought in as a token woman—that being the only reason I was invited to teach. No doubt he was speaking the truth. But I might have piped up and said: So what’s your excuse? (He had not completed his PhD nor had he published, as I had.)
In another instance, after I had been invited to teach a church history course while another professor was on sabbatical, the offer was rescinded after the department chair strongly objected. Church history, he said, was historical theology, and a woman must not be permitted to teach theology (even though I was already teaching other courses with theological components). So I accepted the ruling only to be surprised when shortly thereafter I was asked to teach the same church history course off-site, this time with no objection. Apparently the department was unable to find anyone else who was willing to go to that location. So out of sight out of mind, a woman at TEDS was permitted to teach historical theology. How do you exegete Paul on that?, I might have asked.
As much as I disagree with Piper, let’s be clear that any woman teaching at a complementarian seminary, by its very definition, must believe and teach that her own gender should be banned from the pulpit. At Al Mohler’s Southern Seminary, Mary Kassian adheres to that principle. She is listed as Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies (her only degree being in Occupational Therapy) and she is permitted to teach women only.Bottom line, John Piper is all about male power and authority, and his opinions must be seen in that light. He argues that it is wrong to “distinguish the seminary teaching role from the pastoral teaching role,” and he insists that the issue “is not the competence of women teachers or intelligence or knowledge or pedagogical skill. It’s never competence!” And, I’m sure he would add that it’s not about spiritual maturity.
But when churches and seminaries seek a pastor or professor it is about competence. It is about intelligence and knowledge and pedagogical skill and spiritual maturity. When women are denied such roles it’s about male headship, power, authority. Such is the very foundation of complementarianism.
To the credit of Piper and fellow complementarians, male headship and authority is preached loud and clear. We all know where they are coming from. Boys are better than girls. God’s word. Not so in the secular world. We’ve been reminded recently how equality-touting men behave. Whether in Hollywood, on Wall Street or in Washington D.C., word and deed often have little correlation. Behind the scenes women endure sexual harassment and discrimination of every stripe.
This is also true for women in seminaries where equality is proclaimed. At TEDS I was not allowed to teach an on-campus church history course. The objection based on male headship and authority was argued openly. I knew where I stood. Not so at Calvin Theological Seminary, a school that outwardly affirmed women pastors and professors. As the first full-time woman professor in the school’s 125-year history I encountered far more serious sex discrimination—though always behind the scenes.
My effort to confront the administration was met with denial. How is it possible for a school that affirms women’s equality to discriminate against a woman? It’s absurd, so the reasoning went. But that was a dozen years ago. We know today that such reasoning is not absurd.
At one point after having been given a terminal appointment and taken off tenure track with no warning, I wrote to the dean, summing up an article I had read about women academics. The author argued that women are expected to play hardball with their male counterparts. Okay, that’s fair. The only problem, the author wrote, is that women are expected to play hardball with a puff ball. I concluded my letter with these words: “This is how it feels at CTS. If I play ball at all, it better be with a puff ball. There is not a level playing field for a woman on the CTS faculty.” I went public with My Calvin Seminary Story in 2006—an action that blindsided CTS administrators perhaps no less than they had blindsided me.
Today things have changed considerably. Women in large numbers are going public. They are telling their stories, hopefully women seminary professors as well.
Of course, there are no such professors to speak out in John Piper’s virtual world.