CTBHHM: Women Can Be Effective Leaders—So What?

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 119-121

Some of you have noted that Debi’s getting a bit repetitive. In future posts I’m going to try to move more quickly through parts where Debi’s simply restating what she’s already said. In this section, though, Debi says something I don’t think she’s said before.

God expresses a clear and sure mandate when he tells us: “But I suffer not [do not allow] a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, [that includes your pastor] but to be in silence.” (I Timothy 2:12).

I call your attention back to the argument in a letter we read in chapter 5. [I reviewed that section in this post and this post.]

I have been deeply blessed by women speaking on the platform. I don’t understand how God could move so profoundly through women who are not in accordance with his will.

The assumption of this woman’s argument was that the only reason God would command women not to preach is because they are not very good at it. . . . What she does not realize is that it is on the very grounds that women can be effective public ministers that God commands them not to do so. It is not a question of being qualified; it is a matter of being authorized. . . . If she is effective as a replacement for her husband’s ineffective leadership, that makes it all the more wrong! For then she is, as the Bible says, usurping authority over the man—usurping glory . . . usurping honor . . . usurping control . . . usurping leadership. That is, she is doing what a man should be doing, and thus getting the recognition a man should get.

Yes, this section really happened. This is like arguing that women shouldn’t be artists because art is a male thing, and responding to someone pointing out that women are capable of just as great works of art as men are by saying that that’s not the point—or even that that makes it only more important for women to not be artists. And indeed, Debi finishes this paragraph with concern that if women are great preachers, pastors, and leaders, effectively teaching people the Word of God, men won’t get the “recognition” for being the ones to do those things. Silly women, always getting in the way of men’s desire to be the most important and most lauded.

Modern Christianity has steered women into a perversion of their nature, allowing, and even encouraging, them to be in spiritual authority over men. The fruit of this false doctrine is evident in the unhappy women and dissatisfied men of the last couple of generations. It is a shameful matter of statistics that the fundamentalist Christian home is not as enduring as the general populations.

Debi’s trying to do two things here and I don’t think she can pull them both off at once. First she says that women can be good and effective leaders and teachers but that that’s not the point, and then she says that allowing women to exercise spiritual authority is “a perversion of their nature.” But if women can preach and teach effectively, how can doing so be against their nature? Bringing the art example back in, it would be like saying that even though women are capable of being just as great artists as men are, creating art is nevertheless “a perversion of their nature.”

Also, what is this about pointing out that evangelical Christians have much higher divorce rates and then claiming it’s because of women exercising spiritual authority? Is Debi seriously going to blame feminism in the church for these higher divorce rates? If this is the case, shouldn’t we expect the culture at large, which has a ways to go but is definitely more feminist than evangelical Christianity, to have the higher divorce rates?

Next Debi works to head off feminist influence within evangelicalism by addressing Deborah and Priscilla. Deborah was a judge who ruled Israel, and Priscilla was a missionary in the early church. These two women, along with many others throughout the Bible, are held up by Christian feminists as examples of female leaders or preachers who were praised and esteemed. First, Deborah:

If you actually read the story, you would know that the text makes much of the fact that the men were shamed by allowing a woman to take the place of prominence. There is no question that Deborah performed her job well, that she saved Israel, that God used her; that is just the point. When the men allowed a woman to take their role and perform their job successfully, it resulted in shame to the nation of Israel.

So I just went back and reread the story of Deborah. I honestly have no idea what Debi is talking about here. There is absolutely nothing there about Deborah’s ruling resulting in “shame to the nation of Israel”—in fact, it’s rather the opposite: Deborah’s reign as judge brought Israel victory and prosperity. There is also nothing there about men being “shamed by allowing a woman to take the place of prominence.” Honestly—nothing. Read it yourself.

God’s rule that women not take the lead is not a statement about our being inferior or not as capable as men; it is a statement by God about it not being within our sphere of authority or nature to take leadership over men, to teach them, or to gain a place of prominence among them. Yes, we are capable of teaching, and teaching well. I am teaching you, but this book is not written to men. It is written by an “aged” woman teaching younger women to obey God and their husbands—just what God commanded me to do (Titus 2: 3-4).

I include the above paragraph merely to remind readers how Debi justifies her own leadership role.

And now Priscilla:

Priscilla is never mentioned alone. She is always with her husband, as I am with mine. When my husband goes to speak at a seminar on family and child-training issues, they usually advertise us as “Michael and Debi Pearl.” He takes the stage and does the teaching, while I sit in the audience and support him.He sometime s calls on me to publicly answer questions about child training or homeschooling, but I never publicly teach doctrine to men or women. I counsel women and make sure my husband gets plenty of rest, has something good to eat, and is able to remember where he is and what he is to do next. . . . My role is a support role, as I am sure was the case with Priscilla.

It’s rather hard to respond to this, because Debi is simply making an assertion without any evidence whatsoever. Yes, Priscilla is never mentioned without her husband Aquila (and vice versa), but those mentions are things like this, from Acts chapter 18:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

It doesn’t say “they invited him to their home so that Aquila could explain to him the way of God more adequately while Priscilla made sure they had something to drink.” Of course, Debi is right that conferences bill her together with her husband even though he speaks and she doesn’t, so it’s not like I can prove that the same thing wasn’t happening with Priscilla and Aquila. But then, Debi can’t prove what she’s asserting either, because she doesn’t have any actual argument to back up her claim that it was. For someone who claims to approach the Bible literally and take it at face value, Debi does an amazing amount of reading into the text things that aren’t actually technically there.

But then, even if Priscilla were preaching alongside her husband, or even if the text were different and had her preaching alone, Debi would probably simply respond by saying that just because Priscilla could preach and teach effectively doesn’t mean she should have. Oh, and also that she might have won converts but she brought shame on the Christian communities she was involved in.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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