Posts Tagged ‘women’

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.

Women in Church Leadership (Part 2)

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Diane Chandler

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Women in Church Leadership

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Diane Chandler

Last week, I had a three-way phone conversation with friends of mine, a married couple, who live in another state.  Last year, the husband became the senior pastor of their local church, where he had previously served as a board elder.  My friends described a recent issue being discussed among the current board elders, which is comprised of all men.  It has been suggested that a multi-gifted person in the church, who has been in fruitful ministry over many years, be invited to serve on the elder board.  This person is a woman.  The reaction ranges from full agreement to adamant refusal.

In this conversation, both of my friends (the pastor and his wife) are very supportive of this woman joining the elder board.  Not only has she faithfully served in the church but also has ministered at other churches and in the community with obvious giftedness and anointing, which has earned her great respect. However, one elder, in particular, is having a problem with the thought of a woman having authority over a man.  Of course, you can imagine the Scriptures that he has identified to preclude any such eventuality, among them 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

This issue of women serving in church leadership remains a contemporary “hot button” and raises the question of how spiritually gifted women might fulfill their God-given calling within the local church and beyond. These scriptures mentioned above remain the arsenal for the prohibition of women fully expressing their giftedness in serving the body of Christ. Further, traditional views/practices and cultural assumptions related to the preclusion of women serving in leadership roles in the church reinforce these textual interpretations.

These issues are real and contentious, often leaving Christian women who are gifted and anointed to defend their callings, often facing misunderstanding and rejection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Women and the Churches: Part I

Friday, June 4th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

Bella's Baptism

Recently my oldest daughter, Bella was baptized. As every parent knows, the baptism of your children is momentous because it is about their becoming members of God’s family. For those who practice believer’s baptism, as I do, the feeling is more akin to what parents who practice infant baptism feel when their children undergo confirmation. To see your child publicly and personally embrace the faith in which she was raised, well, let’s just say it is one of those markers in life.

I have always supported women in ministry in part because from its inception pentecostalism has always had women ministers. This was long before cultural trends were in favor of it. In fact, just the opposite was the case; it went directly against cultural trends.

The baptism of my daughter has reminded me of the prayers I have always prayed for her and my other two children. These are common prayers: that God would raise her up, make her strong in mind and body, give her of powerful sense of calling, use her for his kingdom, in short, that God would cause her to flourish. It is for these reasons that I write now in support of those prayers.

The more I study the history of Christianity, the more it seems apparent to me that the Spirit has continuously raised up women to advance God’s church. The historical fact that they have had to do this while being consigned to particular roles has not stopped the Spirit from giving them a continual voice. So, for the next few posts, I want to talk about women and the churches as a way of honoring all Christian women and expressing a hope for my daughter. Read the rest of this entry »