On Women in the Church

This isn’t a post I expected to write just yet, but recent events have meant it’ll soon become a source of much conversation.

But first some history

I am old enough to remember when the Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women, about 20 years ago. There was a lot of media attention on the matter and at the time I was never convinced by the arguments against the ordination of women. As a young Christian man, my opinion was that the spiritual qualities of a minister and their abilities to lead a congregation in a biblical were far more important than their gender.

At the time I worked in a computer shop and one of our regular customers was a vicar. A few days after the vote to allow women to be ordained he brought his computer in and he’d set up his Windows to have the most ghastly colour scheme you could ever imagine. Pretty much everything was a different colour and they were all bright and clashed horridly. When a comment was made, his response was that he had attended the vote and during the pre vote debate, so much was said that he considered unpleasant that when he got home he was in a such an emotional state it was the only way he could distract himself long enough to wind down to sleep. He was involved in the organisation of the Women’s World Day of Prayer, so I don’t think it’s difficult to guess which side of the argument he was on.

The Sunday after the vote, the leadership of the Church of England church I attended stated that they considered that the Church had lost something of its essence as a result of the positive vote. I never really understood what was meant by the comment and I never felt confident enough to ask. I was a little surprised though because the church did seem to support women in leadership. There was at least one female Lay Reader and women did preach on occasion as well. There was certainly nothing obvious about the language and the leadership of the church that indicated opposition to women in leadership.

After we got married, my wife and I were briefly involved in a church plant that this same church was involved in. The team put together was mostly women and the church actively supported the church plant and the members of the team.

When we relocated, we started attending a Baptist Church. One active church member, who we worked with in the youth ministry, was anti women in leadership. She was anti to the point where she would not attend a service when a woman was preaching. This included the occasions my wife would preach.

How do you support and work with a person on a close level and yet, due to their gender, don’t consider them worthy of your ear when they preach? The contradiction led to a couple of unhelpful conversations but, again, the reasons for the non-support of the female preacher never made any sense to me.

And so to now

Now we’re heading for the first anniversary of our latest move, gosh how the time flies! We’re at another Baptist church and we’re friends with the minister and his wife, and a handful of others too.

The church has its challenges, it has a far more conservative congregation, mainly due to its older demographic. The church forbids the women to preach, it’s in the constitution. The current minister does not support this rule, but he can’t change it without the support of the majority of the congregation. So my wife will not be preaching at this church any time soon, though she has already started leading worship on occasion and organised a worship group; two things that appear to be appreciated.

So why bring this subject up now?

Well, at the weekend one of the less old members of the congregation approached my wife and asked if they could meet up at some point to have a conversation because he suspected that they didn’t agree on women in leadership and he wanted to have an honest discussion before there was a chance of a misunderstanding.

I’m disappointed that this gentleman is closer to my own age than the traditional older members of the congregation, but I do admire his desire to head off a confrontation and hope that the result will be positive. However, I don’t really see either changing their minds so the result can really only be a return to the uncomfortable friendship previously described at our former church.

This makes me sad, but there is not a lot I can do about it, my wife is a big girl and she doesn’t need me to protect her from this sort of situation, however it is something she could do without. I guess we’ll have to see what transpires and deal with it from there.

Final thoughts

There is a paradox about not allowing women to lead and preach that has always bothered me. Churches (and people) that don’t support women behind the pulpit seem happy with women leading the children’s groups. If what the woman has to say is so unbiblical then why the hell allow her to talk to impressionable children but not to adults who can apparently think for themselves? If a woman is not worthy of expounding the gospel to adults then why the hell is she teaching the children?

I don’t get it.


10 thoughts on “On Women in the Church

  1. Many men are uncomfortable even sitting under a woman speaking(not preaching) in church. They believe that men are meant to be authorities over women and that they are to teach the women anything there is to know. Although this seems archaic it is right there in the scriptures. Needless to say the male leadership picks and chooses which New Testament instructions for the church they will obey. If they went strictly by what is in scripture the women would still be wearing head coverings and sitting on the opposite side of the church from the men.

    “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3.

    “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” 1 Timothy 12-14

    Some men really do believe they are not as susceptible to deception as women are. They were not deceived by the serpent. The woman was. As ridiculous as it seems I, too, once believed women had no place in church leadership positions, especially head of the church. So much of what is written in scripture either seems like a power play by the male authoritarians or it is being twisted to be that way now. Here in the States baptists certainly believe that is so. They have it in their church constitutions that the pastor may only be a man.

    • I’ve just watched that clip and oh boy!

      I think he crossed the line somewhat when it comes to taking the ethos of the bible and applying it literally.

      All the sermons I heard about Adam and Eve emphasised how the marriage relationship was a partnership and not a boss / subordinate relationship. I certainly don’t want a wife who is a subordinate to me, there is nothing about that idea that I find attractive or desirable.

      I am dismayed that that is a sermon is that obviously widely preached and followed. I am also relieved that I am not aware of it being popular in the UK, if it is, it is certainly in a minority of churches.

      • It is widely preached and followed in fundamentalist churches in the US. Most preachers aren’t quite that blatant about it. But some form of male headship is and female submission is followed here. There is a lot of debate about complimentarianism vs egalitarianism in marriage and in the church.

        I’m sorry your wife has encountered someone who feels that women should not be in leadership. I hope it’s not a sticking point. Maybe once the two of them speak it will all be worked out. Especially if they both approach it as coming from a common place of love for God.

        • Thanks D’Ma,

          I am sure it will work out, but it will depend on how rigidly the person concerned holds to the no women preaching attitude.

          As an aside, I also find it a little ironic that the majority of the deacons in the church are female. How did that happen?

          I think this particular church is in a transition under the current pastor and eventually it will move from its old anti-woman stance to a more inclusive position.

          • I’m actually quite surprised by that. The Southern Baptist church here, as part of it’s constitution, prohibits women from becoming deacons as that is considered church leadership.

            Maybe this is just one person who is alone in their opinion but still feels the need to vocalize it.

            • I don’t think the Baptist Church in the UK is anywhere near as conservative as the Southern Baptists you have stateside. In fcat I’m pretty confident that the UK Baptist Union would reject a lot of what the Southern Baptists preach.

              I am also fairly certain that this gentleman is not the only person in this church that is against women preaching. He’s just the only one with whom we have build a good enough relationship that the sort of conversation that has been proposed is possible. He’s also likely to the be the type mostly likely to soften on the issue. The other will older and more set in their ways.

              • The Southern Baptists do seem to get a little carried away, don’t they? I’m glad to know that the Baptist Church in the UK isn’t so extreme.

                Best of luck with the conversation. From what you’ve written you and your wife both seem very gracious. Hopefully you can have this conversation and, even if you still disagree, there be enough humility on both sides there won’t be any lingering awkwardness.

  2. Once upon a time I was asked to define mission. I said: “Mission is the work of the church, pioneered by women, to give positions of leadership to men.”

    Some people seem to genuinely believe it…

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