Women in Church Leadership (Part 2)

By: Diane Chandler
Friday, March 4th, 2011

On January 21, 2011, I posted a blog entitled, “Women in Church Leadership” and thank all who interacted around that discussion.  This blog continues the conversation.

Church history travels along a circuitous path that has seen both advances and restrictions regarding gender equality and women serving in church leadership. In part, these restrictions derive from theological reflections and writings of some the church’s early fathers, thinkers, and theologians. For example, Tertullian (160-220) said of women: “You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack: you destroyed so easily God’s image: man. On account of your desert – that is death, even the son of God had to die.” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) spoke of women as “misbegotten males.”  And Martin Luther (1483-1546) believed that women should not participate as priests so as to protect order and decency and because of women’s “inferior attitudes.”

As women engage in educational and literary endeavors to counter traditional and oppressive scriptural interpretations that preclude them from expressing their giftedness in the church, they often counter what Paulo Freire describes in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as the “culture of silence of the disposed” that results from a sense of domination Freire contends that each person has a right to speak and to name the world in an “incessant struggle to regain their humanity.” Women have indeed, to use Freire’s words, perceived “the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform” (p. 34).

Contemporary biblical scholarship has challenged the misuse of Scripture and theological perspectives that demean and denounce women and minorities. Author Michael Joseph Brown cites in his book The Blackening of the Bible, the racism associated with biblical interpretation in reinforcing slavery from the work of Howard Thurman, an African American and former dean of theology at Howard and Boston University and a civil rights activist.

Thurman recalls the story told by his grandmother of the white master’s minister who would hold services for slaves and use the biblical text from Paul (“Slaves be obedient to them that are your masters….as unto Christ”). Brown’s grandmother vowed to herself that if she would ever learn to read and become free in the future, she would never read that part of the Bible. Sadly, the Bible has been used by the dominating and the dominated in their struggles against each other.

Another example of the misuse of Scripture to support unbiblical practices is found in parts of north and east Africa where some independent churches justify female circumcision by appealing to 1 Corinthians 7:19: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing.” Clearly, Paul never intended his exhortation to be interpreted in this manner.

Gender dominance and superiority can never be biblically supported in any situation. If the concept of ministry as serving in humility had been consistently applied, the conflicts and fractures experienced between the genders could have been avoided. Full participation in ministry is offered by the Spirit for the loving edification of the body of Christ for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

How can women who are called of God in the church but have encountered unfortunate restrictions see this as a situation that may be limiting but one, to use Paulo Freire’s parlance, can be transformed? How do women and men go about transforming harmful attitudes related to gender in God-honoring ways? What is the way forward?

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Diane Chandler
This entry was posted by on Friday, March 4th, 2011 at 5:00 am and is filed under Christian Leadership, Church History, Church Ministry, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Women in Church Leadership (Part 2)”

  1. Laura Latora says:

    Dr. Chandler,

    Thank you for this post. I think it is so important that people understand that many of the post-New Testament Fathers came from traditions and cultures that dehumanized women. Their backgrounds biased their interpretations of passages regarding and involving women. These misinterpretations created oppressive traditions within the Church and even biased the word choices in certain biblical passages. It is the duty of the Church and theologians today to go back to the original text and look at our traditions and Scripture anew!


    Laura Latora

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Laura, I appreciate your comment. I think your point that the cultural milieus of various theologians impacted their writings and scriptural interpretations is well-taken. Being able to see both the literary and historical context of Scripture is vital. [As a sidenote, I don't think your post was deleted. There is a lag time sometimes for people's replies to appear to the blogs.]

  2. Laura Latora says:

    hmmm…I wonder why my post was erased?

  3. Anil Mathai says:

    1) Why didnt Jesus Christ have at least 1 woman on his staff of 12 Apostles?
    2) Every institution that has promoted themselves as egalitarian, have they become more conservative or less conservative as time went on?
    3) Why has the egalitarian issue really “taken off” after the 1960′s yet for almost 1900 years the church knew what 1 Timothy and Titus meant?

  4. Anil Mathai says:

    A cargo ship heads for an island ravaged by a tsunami. As the ship heads towards the island, it’s constantly battered by storms where it believes the best way to survive is to off load cargo into the seas. The crew continues down this path to save their lives, forgetting the original intention of the mission; which was to bring food and supplies to save the people on the ravaged island. When the crew finally arrived at the desperate island with its starving people, the crew tells them that they intended to come with food but the storms were so ferocious that they had to throw away the precious cargo to save their own lives. After hearing the crew and their excuse, the island people became monsters as they were now placed in a position of losing all hope of survival. They hoped for salvation but received death.

    This scene is no different from those Christians, denominations, and/or churches that have constantly ignored or forsaken various parts of scripture each time they faced a “storm”. They offloaded some parts of Biblical cargo every time they were faced with violence/death from their environment; believing that their appeasement would stop the attacks against them and in turn allow the people to like them more. When we compromise on scripture, a little here today, a little tomorrow, we will end up in a position of having nothing left from God to give people desperate for hope, for salvation. God didn’t expect people to adhere to a small part of His word. He expected His entire word to be adhered to so that others lost to “life storms” would have hope of survival, of eternal life.

    A study of American Church History is needed to see how compromise has occurred. I will list two general examples; the first will be about mainline denominations (specifically the Episcopal Church) and the second will be the denominations that came out of the Azusa Street Revival (AOG, COG, and COGIC; specifically AOG). Let me be clear from the beginning that my overview is a generalization, there are some individual churches that have opposed the liberalization within the larger denomination and have held clearly to scripture.

    Today, most mainline denominations have walked away from the complete Gospel and are losing thousands of members each year but the root of the problems happened early in the 20th century with an attempt to liberalize the scriptures and force them into what is acceptable by the liberal elite society of the day. Fosdick, Tillich and other liberal theologians drove the scriptures into revisionism and thereby forced what society believed as acceptable over what God did.

    The attack started first on the marriage and the issue of submission. There was an attempt to eliminate the God ordained roles of the husband and wife where the wife is to submit to her husband. The liberals wanted elimination of that by saying that since both are equal (which I agree and is scriptural) then there should be no submission of women to their husband in marriage (which I disagree with as this conclusion perverted God’s rule/design for marriages). So the effects of the women’s liberation movement, then with the feminist movement of the 60’s drives the “submission” issue out of God ordained marriages.

    Role reversal, refusal, etc could only happen once the marriage roles were reversed and women no longer needed to submit to their husband. Since women were “equal” in their marriages, the pulpit was the next logical step. The rejection of scripture has allowed the mainline churches to free fall into accepting anything that is pleasing for its members and their sins. The mainline churches have been reeling ever since the attack on marriage roles and the allowance of women as pastors/elders. Today, many mainline denominations are headed by women (Episcopal Church, Disciples of Christ, etc) and their leadership pushes further women and “oppressed” persons including homosexuals into the pulpit. It is no wonder that today the acceptance of homosexual people into the church leadership is supported and promoted fully; it is the next logical step after ordaining women. Sin is promoted more by the “church”; and thousands are leaving the church daily, and walking away from Christianity. The liberal denominations show that once they have rejected scripture and God, everything else (in forms of sins against God) was indeed acceptable in the “Church”.

    The other side of the pendulum is the Evangelical Pentecostal movement that I grew up in. Having grown up in the AOG and a former Royal Ranger, I love the denomination but lately I have been studying its history and very shocked by the root of some its positions. Please note that my belief is that denominations are not scriptural. They are usually created by a “preference” of the founder of the denomination and people follow the person instead of the scriptures. Denominations weren’t created by God, they were created by men.

    The AOG was created (in addition to COG and COGIC) out of the Azusa Street Revival in 1906. There were 3 distinctive aspects of the denomination from its creation:

    1) Only one who speaks in tongues is filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts).
    2) Women can be Pastors/Elders (Joel/Acts).
    3) Blacks cannot be part of the AOG denomination.

    I read that the denomination stated that all three positions were justified by the “Holy Spirit” but I wanted to research further. I tried to research biblically these positions based on consistency and could not find the justifications.

    The speaking in tongues movement in the US was first not in Azusa Street in Los Angeles, CA in 1906 but in Topeka, KS in 1901 by a woman named Agnes Ozman who spoke first in tongues. She then led the movement that affected Charles Parnham, William Seymour, etc. And the women pastors issue came from Seymour as he and Parnham favored that position before the revival as they were influenced by spiritual women. And history seems to conclude that Parnham at minimum took that position based on Ozman’s spiritual nature; who later corrected herself before her death; “Agnes changed her views and admitted that she had been wrong to believe that all people would speak in tongues when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Amazing and honest before death!

    So can the Holy Spirit be divided? Or can the Holy Spirit never be divided, and the 3 positions were not biblically based but human preference? For example, the issue with blacks is not biblical and is in fact racist. In fact in 1994, the AOG went to Memphis and publicly repented of its racism to COGIC. So if AOG repented of one of its “Holy Spirit” led factors then the other two factors are in question.

    The Bible is clear that speaking in tongues is relevant for today also; but nowhere in the scriptures does it say that you must speak in tongues to prove that you have the Holy Spirit in you. Further discussion on speaking in tongues is found in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Furthermore, the woman pastor issue was led by the inspiration given to Ozman rather than by the scriptures.

    As a conclusion to this discussion on following the Bible and not culture, Matthew 12:33 states that “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” Therefore if one is led by God, His Spirit and His word, then the fruit it produces will be good and long lasting but anything short of God will produce bad fruit, and will eventually die off.

    One recent study I did was on the topic of women as pastors/elders. In my study of 46 major denominations in the US, I found subsequent actions that resulted based on the initial decision of liberalizing the pulpit.

    32 denominations (70%) DO ordain woman as pastors/elders and here are some lingering fruits from these denominations:
    • 44% (14 of 32) support homosexuality.
    • 34% (11 of 32) support abortion in some form.
    • 16 % (5 of 32) support divorce outside Biblical standards.
    • Only 9% (3 of 32) support Israel (Biblical Territory).

    14 denominations (30%) DO NOT ordain woman as pastors/elders and here are some lingering fruits from these denominations:
    • 0% support homosexuality.
    • 14% (2 of 14) support abortion in some form.
    • 0 % support divorce outside Biblical standards.
    • Only 36% (5 of 14) support Israel (Biblical Territory).

    Using this issue and looking at the initial data, the trend is clear in the US that
    • more and more people are supporting women as pastors/elders (which is against scripture)
    • there is increase in biblical illiteracy in the evangelical churches (where 59% say there are many ways to heaven, in line with culture, yet in opposition to what Jesus says in John 14:6)
    • there is an increase in support for homosexuality in some form
    • there is an increase in support for abortion in some form
    • there is an increase in support for divorce outside Biblical standards
    • there is an increase in rejecting Israel and its Biblical Territory (simultaneous increase in anti-Semitism in Christian churches).

    When one looks at the fruit of those who reject scripture completely or in some form, the fruit resembles more the sinful world, and does not represent the God of the Bible. All one has to do is study history and see the fruits that is driven by some type of pride. Proverbs 16:18 states that “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

    If we want to succeed with the Lord we must adhere to ALL of HIS Words and not only those we are satisfied with! When we are selective with God’s word, we will never address the deep sin in our own hearts, and this sin will grow and will destroy our souls in the process. If we want to get precious cargo (spiritual cargo) to people in need of hope, we must maintain our course and trust our spiritual guide maps/charts (the “Bible”). How much more to know that God wants us to go through our storms trusting Him and His word completely; and in this process, our life will lead many people to know the salvation and hope, that is found in the God’s word.

    Let us trust and obey God completely from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22!! May God Bless You!

    Anil Mathai
    19 June 2010