Suffer Not a Woman to Teach (at Cedarville University)

I participated in AWANA, a Bible club, from kindergarten through 12th grade. When I was in the high school group, there was a bit of a disagreement over who could serve as our lead teacher. You see, a woman wanted to lead the high school group. You know, a woman. There were Bible study books we would work through, it wasn’t like she would be developing the materials or anything. But still, she was a woman. And therein lay the problem.

Some of the leaders argued that it would be okay for her to lead, because she would be teaching minors, not adults. Others contended that the teenage boys she would be teaching already counted as men. Some asked if any of the male students would be 18. High school seniors sometimes were. What was all this about?

I Timothy 2:12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

One simple verse, here quoted in the KJV. One simple verse, but it mattered a great deal. In the end, there were two co-leaders for the AWANA high school group that year, one male and one female.

I say all this to provide some context for something Sarah Jones wrote about her own alma mater, Cedarville University, last week. I hope this anecdote from my own childhood highlights how important this question of women teaching men can be for conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists.

This from Sarah Jones:

Today, I learned that my alma mater, Cedarville University, has decided to restrict classes taught by its solitary female Bible professor to women only. This marks a notable change for the university.

I attended Cedarville from 2006 to 2011. During my years as a student, I took Scriptural Interpretations of Gender Issues, one of the classes that’s now been restricted to women. When I took it, the class was co-ed.

Christianity Today adds this information:

Cedarville, which recently weathered a turbulent year of disagreements and resignations, has also restricted classes in the women’s ministry program—functionally, every Bible class in the fall schedule taught by a woman—to only female students, according to alumni and a university representative.

“In courses where we seek to equip women for women’s ministry in the local church, classes have been reserved for women in order to accomplish this goal most effectively,” said Mark Weinstein, spokesman for the university.

The Friendly Atheist was confused by Weinstein’s statement:

I don’t even understand this from the fundie perspective. If you’re training to become a church leader, wouldn’t it be helpful, even from a managerial standpoint, to learn about women’s ministries?

The reason for the confusion is that Weinstein is almost certainly not being completely honest. It is almost certain that the real concern centers on the perceived impropriety of women teaching men, most especially when it involves teaching theology. As Cedarville moves in a more conservative direction on gender, they’re working to bring their practice in line with their theology.

This is very familiar to me, and not just from the AWANA incident I opened this post with. I attended an evangelical megachurch as a child and adolescent. I still go with my parents sometimes when I visit home. The church’s policy has always been that a woman may give her testimony before the congregation, or share stories from a missions trip, but that a woman may not preach a sermon. A woman may not teach—except in classes composed only of women.

And thus half of the population is cut off from any wisdom the other half of the population may have to provide—even at a place like Cedarville University, which styles itself as an institution of higher learning.

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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