Women in Ministry

Women in Ministry

There has been some heated discussion about women in ministry on the following weblogs.

Jen Lemen
Barky’s Blog
Jordon Cooper
Jonny Baker Blog

I’d like to contribute. I will preface my comments by saying that I am part of a house church that affirms women in leadership.

Understand the debate
Many of the people who don’t affirm women in leadership roles are simply trying to be faithful to scripture and 1Tim in particular. This isn’t sexism. There is solid scriptural evidence to deny women leadership in the church. If we don’t honestly and humbly engage with scripture on this issue we essentially have decided that we base our theology on what we think is right. I’m not willing to go there because our cultural values are rarely the same as God’s values. If we fail to move beyond our own postmodern cultural bias we will make the same mistakes the church has been making for almost 2000 years.

Two sites I recommend for further research

Christians for Biblical Equality
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

A recent survey found that 37% of pastors admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour with someone in the church. Cross gender one on one mentoring is a bad idea because the risks are too high and there is too much too lose. That doesn’t mean people can’t be taught, trained and equipped in groups or even as couples.

Women in the emerging church
The emerging church has almost no hierarchy. Any one can comment on the Ooze, start a house church, or maintain a weblog. There are various ways people can exhibit leadership. Unless people want to start talking about specific organizations I don’t know how the path to leadership could be more free for women.

Narrow perspective
Is the emerging church so narrow that it cannot allow for people to follow the traditional interpretation of 1Tim 2? If we are going to move beyond the petty political/theological debates that often tear denominations apart we are going to have to let honest Christians come to legitimate interpretations of scripture that are different from ours. This includes traditional conservative ones.

  1. #1 by Toni on January 28, 2004 - 4:49 pm

    Leighton – may I applaude you for standing up and saying this.

  2. #2 by Marc Vandersluys on January 28, 2004 - 7:15 pm

    Very well said. I have been reading some of the blogs you link to, and subsequently a whole chain of other links dealing with this subject. There seems to be a lot of hostility out there. No one can honestly say that “narrow-mindedness” occurs on only one side of this or any other debate. We are all instinctually compelled to self-preservation, shutting off our minds to any threat to what we believe (whether it be conservative, emergent, or whatever you may call it). Reading things into scripture, choosing one’s feelings over scripture, or simply ignoring scripture also occurs on both sides.

    Daniel Taylor made this appropriate point: unity and unanimity are not the same thing. It seems that the latter is what is wanted by everyone involved in this and other debates, when it is the former that is really needed.

    G.K. Chesterton also made a fitting point: that we need to be careful that we attempt to make the Church fit God’s ideals, not our own. (He said it much more eloquently).

    Sorry for the length of this comment.

  3. #3 by Marc Vandersluys on January 28, 2004 - 7:16 pm

    That should be “instinctively,” I suppose. That’s what happens when you rush.

  4. #4 by Marc Vandersluys on January 28, 2004 - 8:12 pm

    One more thing: any “changes” made in the Church will only lead to the same mistakes made again (but perhaps with different issues) and again as long as we remain self-defensive and closed minded.

    It is impossible to move completely beyond this, but it pays to atleast be aware of it.

  5. #5 by dan on January 28, 2004 - 8:25 pm

    I disagree Leighton. It is sexism. The fact that we might appeal to some other authority for it doesn’t make it less sexism. I haven’t been following the debates on the other sites, but having a biblical justification doesn’t absolve us from actually in fact being discriminatory.

    If you want to follow the texts in Tim and others, then you are merely saying that you believe that the bible authorises sexism in this way and in this instance.

  6. #6 by Marc Vandersluys on January 28, 2004 - 9:05 pm

    If semantics is the game here, then perhaps you’re right. If that’s how you define it, perhaps the bible does authorize “sexism” in this way and in this instance. What if it does? What would we do? What authority do we go by? Our personal, subjective sense of what is right and wrong? Can we have it both ways — cite scripture as authoritative and inspired (however you define that) and yet do away with those things in it that make us uncomfortable? Do we interpret the Bible based on flavour-of-the-age ideas? Do we simply toss out thousands of years of tradition for a current philosophical fad? These are serious questions I have — I’m not trying to be sarcastic. What if God did design certain roles for the sexes? What then? If that’s how society defines sexism, then so be it. I’m not saying sexism is a good thing, what I am also saying that we, as a society, can conveniently make sexism be whatever we want it to be.

  7. #7 by dan on January 28, 2004 - 9:45 pm

    Mark, I think you have misunderstood me. My point is that saying that certain roles are off limits to women is sexist, which is an affront to our cultural values. Citing an authority for it doesn’t make it gender neutral or not sexist.

    All of the questions you ask are valid – if there is a gap between cultural values and what we believe to be the authority of scripture, then we need to make a decision about how that conflict will be addressed. In making that decision, we need to be honest about what we are deciding and the implications for that. I don’t know that we always are about gender.

    I don’t know if I am making myself clear here. If we believe that God wants us to go against the dominant values of society, then why not proclaim that? Why not say – yes it is sexist, but it is also right.

    It seems to be incompatible to me for a Christian to say “I believe this, but I don’t agree with it”. It seems to me, in the gender debate, that some people want to have their cake and eat it too – profess to be for gender equality and opposed to women in leadership. But there is no “I’m just following orders” version of christianity.

    Just to clarify – this is not a reaction to the opinions expressed by Leighton or Marc, but rather a reaction to the comment about the distinction being a “semantic game” – I just wanted to flesh it out a bit more.

  8. #8 by Marc Vandersluys on January 28, 2004 - 10:06 pm

    Dan, thank you for expanding on your point. I understand your point now. And your right when you say “Why not say – yes it is sexist, but it is also right.”

    I wonder, though, if we haven’t claimed an incompatibility where there isn’t one, namely that gender equality and gender “roles” cannot exist at the same time. Those who balk at the idea that women should not be in leadership in the church also seem to balk at the suggestion than women and men are “equal but different”. Yet this claim is undeniably true. We are different. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We do different things, and we do them differently.

    It seems to me that the debate is less about gender equality than gender obliteration. Rather than celebrating our differences, our unique qualities as men and women, we are attempting to blur the line between male and female.

  9. #9 by LT on January 29, 2004 - 12:26 am


    As I looked up the definiton of sexism I realized you are correct. If we take Paul literally in 1Tim 2 we treat women differently then men based on their gender. That by definition is sexism.

    I was discussing something with my friend Mark tonight. Paul never really taught the equality of all people, just that we were all one in Christ. I think that many of the ramfications should be similar, but I think we may be doing ourselves a disservice by framing this as an equality issue.

  10. #10 by dan on January 29, 2004 - 12:30 am

    I think that there are a couple of interesting aspects of this debate. First, we wring our hands about the dominance of men in leadership in churches but I think we also need to look at the dominance (numerically) of women in membership. So why are there more male leaders, and less male members of church? Is it that the men naturally “float to the top” of the leadership tree, or is it that men don’t choose to stick around if they are not in a position of power.

    Do we think it is a concern (even if we have the idea of different gender roles) that we have a situation that leaders are predominantly men, leading a group of predominantly female members. What does this say about the nature of our churches as institutions (if anything).

    I am not convinced about the arguments about the differences between men and women. I do believe that there are a lot of differences between one person and another, but I don’t know that this translates to generalised “male” and “female” characteristics.

  11. #11 by Toni on January 29, 2004 - 12:26 pm

    Interesting comments, and more light than heat. Great.

    Regarding the idea that there is a contradiction between wanting to do something and believing it’s right – I personally see no contradiction. I believe it’s right to fast, but I certainly don’t want to. I believe it’s right to talk to people about Jesus, when what I really want to do is run away. I even (oh heresy) have to force myself to pray, when I’d rather be entertaining myself.

    For me, Christianity is about dying to my own desires, believing that what I’m doing is right. Obviously there is much more to it than that, but while there is much that I can do that I enjoy, self denial is a key part.

  12. #12 by Tim Bednar on January 30, 2004 - 11:52 am

    What is the ‘traditional interpretation of 1Tim2?”‘ And who created the tradition?

    My Pentecostal tradition recognizes and encourages women in ministry and does not see any limits on their leadership role.


    From my tradition, I do not see all the fuss about the theology–so, I have been focusing on the problem of living my theology.

  13. #13 by LT on January 30, 2004 - 1:25 pm

    The traditional interpretation of 1Tim 2 is the literal one.

    Historically the church agreed with culture which said women are inferior to men.

  14. #14 by Carla on January 31, 2004 - 1:33 pm

    “Paul never really taught the equality of all people, just that we were all one in Christ.” Wouldn’t that make us all equal?!

  15. #15 by LT on January 31, 2004 - 2:04 pm


    Our idea of equality didn’t exist in New Testament times. When studying ancient authors we can mislead ourselves when we put our concepts in their mouths.

    Paul was very much a radical in purposing that there should be no distinctions between several different classes in the church. Slave/Free, Jew/Gentile, Greek/Barbarian, and Male/Female. I can’t say for sure all of what Paul means by this but it is probably more profound and much deeper than our idea of equality even though it is probably similar on one level.

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