As our home group gathered one evening recently, another member of the group asked me how my week had gone. I mentioned that I had attended a Bible study at another church in town. When I told him which church, his reply caught me completely off guard. He questioned whether there were any believers in the denomination of which the church in question is part. That alone troubled me, but then he added the question, “Don't they allow women to preach?”
This second question offended me, because I do not believe in the restriction of women from leadership within the church and para-church ministries. I certainly do not believe that the inclusion of women in church leadership, including preaching, excludes a church or a believer from the community of God's people. In fact I consider the exclusion of women from these roles to be one of the greatest sins of the Church, akin to the segregation that some churches (far too many, unfortunately) used to practice concerning different ethnic groups or races. The struggle for the inclusion of women in church leadership is a key issue for me as a feminist, particularly as a Christian feminist.
I understand that this question can provoke some highly contentious debate and I do not intend to undertake a full defense of my position in this blog. I know that there are verses in the Bible that seem to restrict women's roles within the church as well as to prescribe (and proscribe) their behavior in the worship community. I have read many articles on this question and am convinced that one can exegete these passages in a sound manner that does not result in the exclusion of women from leadership. In fact, some of the vitriol I have heard and read by certain esteemed Christian leaders concerning women offends me and displays not only a false understanding of Scripture but a highly sinful pride and attitude of male superiority. I will not name these people, but their attitude toward women causes me to receive anything they have to say with a very critical spirit.
I believe that God gifts all of his children. Those gifts different for each individual, but are not segregated according to our sex. There are not certain gifts that are appropriate for and given to women and others that are not. I believe that we hinder the in-breaking of God's kingdom, we hinder the spread of the Gospel message and the transformation of lives when we refuse women the right and opportunity to exercise their callings. We lose the talents and abilities of half of God's people. I no longer consider this acceptable. It is time for us to affirm the full equality of women within the community of God's people.
Some, many in fact, argue that men and women complement each other by their differences. I do not argue that women and men are exactly the same. In fact I'm beginning to question the whole social construct of gender, but whether men and women are different is not the issue. These “complementarians” claim that the Bible teaches that women are equal, but that God has given them different roles from men, roles that complement men in their roles as leaders, husbands, fathers, etc.. This sounds a lot like the old doctrine of “separate but equal.” Most of us have long ago recognized that separate is not equal. We can affirm the value and equality of women all we want, but if we are unwilling to accept them as equals in every area, then we effectively deny their equality. This is not acceptable.
Churches that do not want to reconsider their position on this issue may well continue along in their status quo. I think there will always be some people willing to accept this segregation of the sexes. Unfortunately despite progress within our culture on this issue, the Church in general, especially those portions of it that label themselves “evangelical” lag quite a distance behind in this area. But I think that such churches will find that they increasingly alienate the younger generation. If I were a woman, I would not be eager to attend a church where I was told I could not fill certain positions simply because I had two X chromosomes. Those who understand and affirm the equality of God's children, male and female, will increasingly abandon those churches that do not. Some may find a home in other Christian worship communities. I fear though that some may reject the faith altogether because of this lack of love on the part of their brothers (and, yes, some of their sisters as well). That would be a tragic loss, all the more unfortunate because it is entirely avoidable.