Why I am Speaking Out for Evangelical Women

Why I am Speaking Out for Evangelical Women October 17, 2018

The same afternoon Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, one of my friends sent me a link to a devotional series for married couples from Desiring God. My heart just sank.

This is how it was tweeted on October 5, 2018: “She submits. He sacrifices. She follows. He leads. She affirms. He initiates. They both reflect Jesus.” The devotional book, Happily Ever After: Finding Grace in the Messes of Marriage, was a free digital download last weekend. I don’t know how many folk downloaded it, but the tweet was altogether liked, retweeted, and commented on more than 600 times.

Just the next day, on October 6, I ran across another Desiring God post (through twitter). In this post, Piper answered the question “can a woman preach if elders affirm it?” on his blog. It received 69,386 views on YouTube (by my count on October 12). You can watch the video (and read the really lively comment discussion), but the tweet already gave his answer:  “All men and women should be active in ministry. The question is how. Pastor John explains why God reserves Sunday-morning preaching for men.”.

(As a church historian, I could spend the rest of this post just on that one sentence. Why is Sunday-morning singled out as the authoritative event reserved by God when Sunday-preaching itself as the focal event for churches is a late historical addition? By itself, this statement demonstrates how tied complementarian theology is to modern North American Christianity and not representative of either the historic past or the global present. Moreover, why is preaching so clearly reserved for men? In Women, Ministry, and the Gospel: Exploring New Paradigms, editor and Wheaton professor Timothy Larsen shows how evangelicals were ONCE  committed to women in ministry. As he writes, “Many of the most prominent male leaders of evangelicalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were vocal champions of women in public ministry.” The Evangelical Free Church of America, for example, which is now committed to complementarianism was once more egalitarian.  In 1925 the Evangelical Free Church specified that “a candidate for ordination shall request a reference from the church which he or she is a member.”  Larsen unpacks this statement for us: “the Evangelical Free Church of America not only welcomed women into public ministry but also went out of its way to make this explicit by using gender-inclusive statements in its constitution.” I actually tweeted this article just a few days ago, and the response was really surprising. Evangelicals simply do not know the long history of women’s involvement in church leadership and ministry …..But I digress, for now, so back to my point…)

On the one hand, John Piper’s promotions of “godly patriarchy” on Desiring God has no explicit connection to the mixed reactions toward Christine Blasey Ford and the support for Brett Kavanaugh by conservative men and women. On the other hand, it has everything to do with it.  Attitudes like those perpetuated by John Piper create, sustain, and promote a culture of patriarchy in North American Christianity that advocates for submissive women and aggressive males. What saddens me the most is how these portrayals of manhood and womanhood are marketed (and I really do mean marketed) as the “biblical” standard for godly behavior.

For women in my Christian world, we are taught that the Bible advocates women to be submissive followers of men. Just think about the implications of this for both men and women. Just think of what it means for women, 1 out of every 3 in my state of Texas, who find themselves in physically abusive relationships. Just think of what it means for women, who like me, find themselves in leadership positions over men who have been taught that all women should be submissive and not leaders. Think about the correlation between this and the data that shows how much more men interrupt women when they are speaking…..

Just think about it.

I really never meant to become an activist.

My Southern Baptist world of small town Texas preached the ‘divinely ordained’ roles of women. From sermons to Sunday School to well-meaning high school teachers, women were called to secondary roles in church and family with an emphasis on marriage and children. School-sponsored dances as early as 5th grade, along with other small town dating traditions, pushed girls into serious relationships long before we were ready. The irony of teaching on sexual purity while sponsoring couple-centered events for fourteen and fifteen-year-olds seemed lost on local churches.  Church life for me was filled with the voices of conservative men, like James Dobson. Selected biblical passages wove through sermons, books, and bible studies to create a seamless picture of scriptural support for female subordination. Women were made to desire their husbands and let him rule (Genesis); women were to trust God and wait for their perfect husband (Ruth); men’s voices were public, women’s voices were private (Corinthians, Timothy); when women did take charge, it was either sin (Eve) or because men failed to do their job (Deborah). A woman’s lot was supportive and secondary, unless she had to (temporarily) step into leadership when men failed.

This was once my world. It is still the world of many women I know and love. It is to these women, and for these women, that I am mostly speaking.

I am not asking these women to change their minds. I really do get the complexity of life for conservative evangelical women. I really do understand that many women live in complementarian systems, often by their own choices.  This was once my world too.

I am just asking these women to listen.

Listen not just from the experiences of other women, but also from the evidence of church history. I confess it was experiences in my life, my personal exposure to the ugliness and trauma inflicted by complementarian systems in the name of Jesus, that tipped me over the edge. I can no longer watch silently as gender hierarchies oppress and damage both women and men in the name of Jesus.

But what brought me to this edge was not experience; it was historical evidence.

Soon I am going to start a new series on The Historical Problem of Patriarchy for Modern Christians. It will highlight my journey to egalitarianism through historical evidence. I hope you will join me.

 

 

 


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Salvatore Luiso

    Regarding “By itself, this statement demonstrates how tied complementarian theology is to modern North American Christianity and not representative of either the historic past or the global present”: I wonder if the author believes that complementarian theology has been taught by Catholic and Orthodox theologians long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and by Protestant theologians in Europe since the beginning of the Reformation.

    Regarding “Moreover, why is preaching so clearly reserved for men?”: I suggest the author refer to John Piper and other complementarian theologians. Regarding “Timothy Larsen shows how evangelicals were ONCE committed to women in ministry”: Yes–first they were unanimously against it, then some of them became for it, then later some of those became against it again.

    The author says “Attitudes like those perpetuated by John Piper create, sustain, and promote a culture of patriarchy in North American Christianity that advocates for submissive women and aggressive males”. Submissive in what ways? Aggressive in what ways? Surely within scriptural limits, no? Or does the author believe that complementarianism promotes sexual assault, such as the instance which Ford alleges Kavanaugh committed?

    Regarding “For women in my Christian world, we are taught that the Bible advocates women to be submissive followers of men”: Surely not _all_ men. And not in every circumstance. Men were are also taught to be submissive followers of men–but not _all_ men, and not in every circumstance.

    Regarding “School-sponsored dances as early as 5th grade, along with other small town dating traditions, pushed girls into serious relationships long before we were ready”: That sounds bad for both girls _and boys_.

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    I am convinced that Paul put the lid on women because a more prominent role for them would have been controversial in that time and place and would have been a distraction from proclaiming the gospel and making disciples – his first and foremost priority. Following this, if Paul were with us today and saw how egalitarian our society had become and how offensive it is to so many people to put women down in a subordinate position, he would not hesitate to set us straight and to remove this distraction and stumbling block.

  • Gayle Bernacki

    I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran school in the late 70’s, my mother was educated as a Lutheran school teacher. Lately I’ve been struggling with why our school had frequent “Lock-ins” where we would be locked in to the church basement or gym overnight, boys and girls. I remember a lot of spin the bottle, truth or dare and other shenanigans. When things went too far once it was the 8th grade girls who got in trouble. I don’t think the adults and parents were really thinking but this article helps me explain it to myself. As I re-read my description I can see how my selection of words is indicative of how powerful this thinking is.

  • Graeme Cooksley

    Looking forward to the new series mentioned.

  • Eren Kandemir

    Thanks a lot for this post,kurye

  • NorrinRadd

    I suspect the author is already well aware of writings by Piper, Grudem, et al. She is probably also quite familiar with Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, P.B. Payne, Linda Belleville, etc. She may also be aware of some of the research by Gary Macy w.r.t. the roles of women in the first thousand years or more of the Church.

  • Salvatore Luiso

    I have read several articles by her in which she criticizes complementarianism. So far I have not seen evidence that she knows and understands the reasoning of Piper, Grudem, et al.. They argue mainly from the Bible–I have not seen her do this in response. She dismisses their arguments as being based on grounds which are too narrow, but she has not presented a better alternative.

  • Kerry Wells

    I experienced Christ as the consciousness of the Sun. I wrote an ebook about my experiences that is free to download in pdf form, and the ebook is also available on blogger, links are below,

    link to my free ebook, “Messages from the Sun God, Jesus Christ” http://www.mediafire.com/file/riox16d87g86626/Messages_10.pdf/file

    link to the ebook on blogger: https://messagesftsg.blogspot.com

    blog: http://www.jesuschristsungod.com

  • Nathan D’Souza

    Men and women are complimentary like Christ and the church. I will build my church – how many men say that about their woman? Why select a few verses and ignore the Spirit of God? I have not doubt that men have done enough of damage to the unity of the body so don’t see why even men should be allowed to speak in church?

  • NorrinRadd

    You wouldn’t happen to be related to John G. Stackhouse, would you?

  • NorrinRadd

    I suppose it’s possible you’re correct. It appears her specialty is history, not theology or Biblical studies. That’s fine. Others, such as those I listed, have dealt ably with the Scriptural issues.

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    I’m sure if you went far enough back in the family tree, you would find a connection. Just about all the Stackhouses in North America share a common ancestor. We don’t personally know each other, though.

  • Salvatore Luiso

    For people whose faith is based on their understanding of Scripture and not on a knowledge of extra-biblical history, historical arguments will carry little or no weight–especially arguments from medieval history. To many of them, the Middle Ages were not a high point of theology.