Posts Tagged ‘priests’

Women in Pentecostalism: Prophets or Priests?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

The gender paradox in Pentecostalism is no secret. There are many more women in the movement than men, and yet women are not allowed into visible positions of authority (you can reverse this paradox). To put it differently: While Pentecostalism maintains to be an egalitarian movement, women are only as equal as men allow. Some would say it differently again: female Pentecostals can be in any position of authority they want as long as it does not include authority over men. What is wrong with this picture?

The literature on the gender divide in Pentecostalism is large albeit still new. We can certainly blame the neglect of the Pentecostal gender paradox by the social sciences (both the neglect of women and the neglect of Pentecostalism). We can also blame the predominance of theories that silence women’s experiences and marginalize women (not only among Pentecostals). We can also blame a fundamentalist reading of Scripture that purportedly justifies male authority and the submission of women, especially in the church. But these blatant issues are not constituting the paradox. How is it that Pentecostalism is a religious movement largely made up of women, when women are not allowed into visible positions of authority?

I suspect that it has to do with an undeveloped ecclesiology among Pentecostals (and this may include an undeveloped anthropology). The charismatic movement in the mainline churches finds its own problems in the often uncritical adoption of hierarchical (read: patriarchal) patterns of the mother church. For some reason, charismatic manifestations do not seem to challenge institutional structures. Classical Pentecostals, on the other hand, have falsely adopted the Protestant idea of the “priesthood of all believers” in addition to a more genuinely Pentecostal notion of the “prophethood of believers.” (Roger Stronstad has long warned that the Protestant paradigm is ill-fitting for Pentecostals). I have elsewhere suggested that Pentecostalism should not be confused with Protestantism. More so, however, Cheryl Bridges Johns has frequently lamented that the gender divide in Pentecostal leadership is to be blamed on the dominance of the priestly image of ministry and a restricted image of prophethood. She sees an abundance of “priestly pentecostalism” characterized by a male dominated hierarchy and institutionalism while women are placed in the position of prophetic pentecostals that co-exist with the priesthood albeit without challenging the patriarchal authority. I think Johns is on to something that needs further development.

There are to my knowledge no studies on the juxtaposition of priesthood and prophethood in Pentecostalism. If Stronstad is correct, then Pentecostals traded their prophetic heritage and calling for a Protestant mindset of the priesthood that is ill-fitting and misleading. Certainly there is the image of the church as a royal priesthood, and I would not insist as harshly as Stronstad on the false choice made by Pentecostals. I do concur, however, that the prophetic dimension of Pentecostalism has suffered since the beginnings of the modern movement. Evidence to the latter can be found frequently and with particular intensity in regions like Latin America and North America, where the patriarchal heritage and male dominated image is still strong. The emphasis on women as prophets instead of priests is coupled with the relegation of women’s authority to the household instead of the church. The prophetic gift has consequently moved to the family (where it encounters other obstacles). In the Pentecostal churches, prophecy holds no significant ecclesiastical authority. And that is the crux of the matter: the idea and office of the priest has been severed from the image and anointing of the prophet. I am talking strictly in terms of leadership structures here. The barring of women as prophetesses from the priestly office has backfired in ways I am not competent enough to analyze at this time. Certainly a blog is not the place for such analysis. But this is the place to call attention to such matters, especially in light of the ongoing heated discussions in general assemblies among many Pentecostal denominations. I believe these discussions will go nowhere quickly unless we face the theological problem of juxtaposing priesthood and prophethood in Pentecostal churches. A more developed anthropology and ecclesiology might indicate that men and women are called and equipped to be both prophets and priests. At least in my reading of Scripture, prophets and priests are not mutually exclusive. In the very least they coexist in the exercise of authority among the people of God. In the Spirit-filled church, they should be one and the same.