Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What About Women In Ministry?

Last Thursday, The Center for Theology, Women and Gender Studies, at Princeton Theological Seminary, sponsored a grand event: "Breaking The Stained Glass Ceiling." Our time centered around a panel discussion, featuring four of the leading senior pastors in the U.S., who just so happen to be women: Amy Butler, The Riverside Church, New York City; Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.; Shannon Johnson Kershner, Fourth Presbyterian, Church, Chicago, IL; Courtney Clayton Jenkins, South Euclid United Church of Christ, South Euclid, OH.  (View the entire panel discussion via video, by accessing the following link:  http://av.ptsem.edu).

The evening was not only educational, but confrontational, reminding me, and others, we've traveled some ways, but not far, in our quest to fully embrace the gifts of all, including women.    

Part of the confrontational dynamic of the evening, were the horror stories of verbal abuse and misrepresentation inflicted on women in ministry, from name-calling (including the b-word), patronizing comments about appearance ('you've changed your hairstyle, again?'), and insensitive male observations ("you realize, Pastor, childbirth is painful").

All this got me thinking?  Why is the recognition and inclusion of women as pastors, so difficult?

I think, for starters, it's because women lead differently than men -- and -- many have difficulty with difference.   A surprise: I learned on Thursday, those with the greatest difficulty toward women as pastors, are other women!   So sure, men, have their issues -- but many, of both genders, struggle with women leading out in major, transformational roles, outside the home. 

But's it's so ironic:  the Bible does not have issues with women leading-out in major transformational roles, outside the home.  Why, even the fabled, ideal, woman lauded in Proverbs 31, not only "...provides food for her family..."  (Proverbs 31:15) and "...makes coverings for her bed..." (Proverbs 31:22) -- she also "...considers a field and buys it...[and] sees that her trading is profitable...:  (Proverbs 31:16; 18).   The inference:  the woman uplifted in Proverbs 31 is not only a housewife but a businesswoman as well.

At this point, some are thinking:  this is still a stretch, especially in regards to women in the church.   I mean, 1 Timothy 2:11-13 is so clear
"[11] A women should learn in quietness and full submission. [12] I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."  [13]  (1 Timothy 2:11-13).  
But remember: scripture is a matter of interpretation (hermeneutics).   And scripture properly interpreted, can not be interpreted outside of context.  And in context, N.T. Wright believes:
"...The key to the present passage, them, is to recognize that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be refrained from doing so (verse 11).  They are to be 'in full submission'; this is often taken to mean 'to the men', or to their husbands', but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God -- which of course would be true for men as well.  Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as 'I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man'...It can equally mean to imply that I'm not setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women..."  N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone:  The Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus (Louisville:  Westminsiter John Knox Press, 2004), p. 444.
Continuing, N.T. Wright gives additional valued, context:
"...There are some signs in [1 Timothy] that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And...[the main religion...in Ephesus...was a female-only cult...[based in] The Temple of Artemis...[where]...the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in place. Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus [e.g. Timothy was tasked to care for the church in Ephesus]  and wanted to say that because of the gospel...the old ways of organizing male and female roles had to be rethought...[and that] women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying women should be trained so that Christianity would gradulaly become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did [all] the leading and kept men in line?  That seems to me, to be what verse 12 is denying..."  N.T. Wright,  Paul For Everyone:  The Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus (Louisville:  Westminister John Knox Press, 2004) p. 472.  For N.T. Wright's insighful commentary on additional, relevant verses, such as 1 Timothy 2:14-15, see the commentary just cited; an enlightening, excellent resource).
In the context of a contextual understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11ff, N.T. Wright goes on to make a persuasive case, for women, nevertheless, leading out as servant-leaders in the early church, and in turn, Christian ministry.  One of his most convincing examples is Junia, a duly credentialed, but often overlooked apostle, cited in Romans 16:7. (for more of N.T. Wright's discussion of Junia, and his overall, understanding of women and scripture, access: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaVVXleoAdU. )

Well, so much more could be cited:  Jesus empowerment of women, throughout his ministry (John 4:27; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3)  The fact that women were the first to convey the message of Easter Morn (John 20:1-18; Matthew 28:1-10).

But my favorite additional truth is this:  there is no preamble before any of the listings of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:7-13) restricting any of the gifts to just men.  And so, when Romans 12, for example, includes gifts of teaching and leadership (Romans 12:7+8) these gifts are not restricted to one gender.  In fact, each listing of gifts begins with an inclusive clause, indicating the availability of all gifts, to all, as God ordains:
"...We have different gifts...(Romans 12:6, emphasis added) -- "...Now about spiritual gifts brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed...There are different kinds of working, but in all of them, and in everyone is the same God at work...(1 Corinthians 12:1; 7, emphasis added) -- "...But to each of us grace has been given...:  (Ephesians 4:7, emphasis added) .
As grace has been given to each of us, may each of us give grace to one another. Beginning with a gracious acknowledgment, that all of us have been called to ministry, according to the gifts given to us by God.

And so, women might not be called to preach.  But in like manner, men might not be called to preach, either.

It's all a matter of the Gift/s, given by God.  God, alone, determines who does what, in ministry.

And God does not favor one gender over another.   


  1. Nice article, Paul.
    It's hard to imagine how this sort of reasoning would be difficult, unless one is entranced by one's own opinion that reason is of no use.

  2. It's called sexism.

    Tragic, how after all these years, none of the foundational, relational sins (e.g. racism, sexism, etc) have truly been acknowledged and repented of. As a baby-boomer -- under the influence of Martin Luther King -- I naively assumed, that King's leadership turned the tide. Wrong. Even the brilliance and charisma of MLK wasn't enough. Praying, God will show us the way forward. The pain, and injustice women, in particular, have suffered is inexcusable.

  3. Really enjoyed this and have printed it out for reference :)