Women in ministry: another view

I was over at InternetMonk.com, reading an article dealing with women ministering in the church — specifically, with one (male) teacher’s statement that women should not be allowed to perform general teaching ministry in the church.  This concept usually goes under the title of “complementarianism” in Christian circles, though it also shows up in Islam and some sects of Judaism.

Now, I hesitate to leave it there, because to give this general theological stance a single name is kind of misleading — there are dozens of differing opinions even among self-proclaimed complementarians as to where the line between what women are and aren’t allowed to do in ministry should be drawn.  To some, no public ministry is allowed for women, ever.  To others, women are not allowed to preach or teach except to other women, or except to small children, or at some church functions but not others, or in hiding where the neighbors can’t see it … and so on.  I saw one report recently where a prominent evangelical leader, in answer to a question of whether it’s OK to listen to female Bible teachers on the radio, said that it’s probably all right … as long as the woman in question wasn’t the guy’s “primary teacher.”  (He left “primary teacher” undefined, so who knows what he meant.)  In regard to women in ministry, there’s a lot of that kind of hair-splitting in Christian circles.

One of the commenters on the article (credit where it’s due) was a fellow who calls himself “Eagle” — an outsider like myself, only more so.  He shared something he’d gotten from elsewhere, that was too pertinent for me not to steal and share with you.

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Senior Pastors

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Now, you may be thinking, “how absurd!  This is obviously a joke!”  And it is.  But the joke’s on us — because if you swap “men” and “women” in the above and change a few references (“home” for “army,” Eve for Judas, etc.), then you have almost all of the complementarians’ arguments as to why women shouldn’t be senior pastors!

And they’re no less absurd then, either.

I don’t want to belabor this point, so I’ll keep this short.  The complementarian position(s) that women should not be allowed to engage in certain types of ministry is based on two short passages in Scripture (in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2) that are wrenched out of context to support what I believe is a view that is not in line with the rest of Scripture.  In numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments, women are shown in positions of leadership — including preaching and teaching members of both sexes — and given tacit endorsement for their actions.  The apostle Paul, who wrote both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, ministered alongside women such as Priscilla, and entrusted the delivery of his greatest written work, his Epistle to the Romans, to a woman (Phoebe, who was a deacon — part of the leadership — of the church at Cenchreae near Corinth).

To take two small sections of the Bible and build one’s theological viewpoint on it, against the teaching of the whole unified story of the Bible, is to use Scripture the way a drunkard uses a lamppost — for support instead of illumination.  It is, I think, to subordinate God’s Word to the whims of man, and to place man’s will, not God’s, as paramount.  And it explains why there is so much hair-splitting and argument even among the position’s supporters — because that’s what happens when the evidence to support your position really isn’t there.

If you want to dive into this topic further, I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, which uses the issue of women in ministry as its main example of how Biblical content gets twisted out of context, and how a better view of the Bible can give us a better idea of what God has in mind for His church.  But I’d like to conclude here with my heartfelt thanks to Heather Sato and Duffy Napper, to Karin Hulbert and Sandy Freitas and Chrissy Navarro, to Lynn Krogstad and Mardell Shebley, to Kay Arthur and Cynthia Tobias (over the radio — were they primary teachers?) … to ALL the women who over the last quarter-century have ministered to me, taught me God’s Word and helped me grow closer to Christ and to His people.  Preach it, sisters!  (And don’t listen to the haters.)

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