Christian Women's Awkward Position

10:11 PM


I lead worship at my college church. I do the whole shebang -- sing, read Scripture, and pray. Several brothers and sisters in Christ encourage me afterwards: "Beautiful singing. You did a great job. Thank you."

At my home church, I can only play piano or help out in the nursery. My understanding pastor spoke to the deacon board on my behalf about the possibility of me co-leading worship -- just singing next to the male leader, not reading, not praying, just singing a scripted melody and lyrics. The conclusion was a quick no. My presence as woman in a perceived leadership role would be an offense to the congregation. 

I don't mean to rat out my home church family. I love them, and I understand their desire to not offend hyper-conservative attendees. It just strikes me as ironic that God blesses the use of my gifts in one Baptist congregation but allegedly cannot use my gifts to bless another Baptist congregation. 

Instead of getting miffed, I just get confused about the softer complementarianism influencing conservative churches in my neck of the theological woods. Take a look at the Christian woman's awkward position:

A woman can pick out the songs for the service as the church accompanist, but she can't sing them in front of the congregation.

A woman can sing a special solo for offertory, but can't lead singing during official church time. 

A missionary can give her testimony in evening service, but a normal woman can't read the announcements in the morning service.

A woman may ask a question or give a statement during Sunday school, but must remain silent in the actual service. 

A woman can teach a ten-year-old boy about Jesus but not a fifteen-year-old (unless she's a missionary on the field). 

Gladys Aylward gets praised for her preaching, teaching, and evangelism over in China, but I can't read the Scripture of the day in Wisconsin. 

A woman can write books men read, host radio programs men listen to, and speak at conferences that men attend, but can't teach a man the same content on Sunday. 

Women make contributions in all areas of academia, business, family, even theology, but must visibly contribute no wisdom via words to her brothers and sisters in the church. 

Isn't that odd? I don't mean that sarcastically. I mean that genuinely. Isn't that odd?

Isn't it funny that a mother's wise words to her son cannot be given to a group of male teenagers on a Sunday morning? Isn't it weird that I can occasionally say something thoughtful to my brothers in Christ here on my blog but not to my brothers in Christ here in my church?

Does truth change because of the messenger, the audience, or the day of the week?

Why is it that a woman's wisdom and spiritual gifts become ineffectual, even offensive, during the Sunday service? Why would God bless a woman with the gift of leading, teaching, speaking, or singing -- gifts designed for the edification of the church -- and want that silenced and squelched during the gathering of His saints? 

I guess the better question would be, "Does God want that?"

Photo Credz: The Sacred Sandwich

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23 impressions

  1. * flails without words * This. Just... * flails * This. From one worship leader to another, entirely... Yeah. This. (email incoming)

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    1. DO IT. I've been waiting anxiously for that email!! :D

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  2. I wrote a term paper in college on the education of women during the Reformation in England, and one of the facts I discovered in my research was that many men of the day who were in favor of educating women opposed teaching theology to women because a man might read their work and he might learn something and that would be bad.

    That seems a bit excessive. Then again, it was the 1500s. Women barely had any authority over themselves, much less authority over men.

    More relevantly, I would, though, differentiate between gifts and calling. A woman may be gifted in leadership or teaching. A woman will never be called to be a pastor or elder, because to be a pastor or elder is to have spiritual authority over the congregation, which is prohibited in scripture. There are ways to edify the body that do not involve usurping spiritual authority. Like in writing books, if a man believes that reading a spiritual book by a woman would violate scripture, then he shouldn't read spiritual books written by women. But no one should prohibit the woman from writing and being published.

    It's like marriage. Should I ever marry, I don't get to lead our home. That's not my job, even if I would be far and away a better leader than my husband. (I would be a better leader than no one ever, so that is not realistically an issue, unless I'm feeling uppity.)

    I would point out though, that you could do practically everything you listed at my church. So it's not so much "the Christian woman's awkward position" as "the awkward position of women who go to this church and churches like it, but only for the women who feel the awkwardness as opposed to those who believe this way and are okay with it."

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    1. Yes, not all churches (including my college church) create these awkward positions! I'm just saddened that this attitude exists at all. Also, I'm saddened that in the circles I've run with for many years, that attitude and those prohibitions are very prevalent. It's awesome that your church doesn't have an issue with that!

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    2. Actually, the person who leads worship at my church when the worship pastor is out of town or sick is a woman. Most of the people on the worship team on any given Sunday are women as well.

      And yes, my church is awesome. :)

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    3. "More relevantly, I would, though, differentiate between gifts and calling. A woman may be gifted in leadership or teaching. A woman will never be called to be a pastor or elder, because to be a pastor or elder is to have spiritual authority over the congregation, which is prohibited in scripture."

      -- This, I think raises MULTIPLE issues, which is why the question of women is so interesting. First, do our modern uses/roles of pastor or elder align with the way they were used in the NT? Second, is the prohibition against women in authority cultural or applicable in all times and situations? Obviously many modern day Christians seem to believe that, even if a woman cannot have authority to teach in the United States, its acceptable for them to travel and teach in poorer, isolated parts of the world as missionaries. It is also acceptable to teach children. I think we have to pause and seriously consider why that is. Is the spiritual foundation of our children somehow different than the spiritual foundations of the children of God (the church)? Is it somehow ok for a spiritually mature (usually white) woman to lead over a spiritually immature (usually black, asian, or indigenous) man in the mission field? Is this because we have a skewed view of children and other races, or is it something else?

      And the charge that a woman will never be called by God into teaching because there exists a biblical prohibition is a projection of your assumption that the prohibition is actually universal, and not cultural. This is a huge assumption and one I believe must be adequately and robustly defended by those who support and teach it, since it could very easily "quench the Spirit" so to speak, of one who has been called to prophesy and preach in the modern day.

      As for marriage -- its odd, because I would've spoken just like you! However, when you have children who depend on the home for literally everything, it is sometimes necessary to take the reigns from a husband who has lost control. Sometimes, he may even thank you for it. For example, if your husband struggles with anger or lack of trust (as mine did), you may actually be enabling and encouraging his sin by being "silent" and "submissive" in the way that is generally taught by most conservative/fundamental Christian circles. I had to stand up to my husband in his sin, and he acknowledged it and made things right! But this was impossible under my old model of "submission". Marriage is an alliance in faith, which sometimes means telling your partner when he's leading the team into a mine field and pulling, pushing, and praying him into the other direction.

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  3. The church absorbed Paul's hatred of women as doctrine and thinks that it was God's idea.

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    1. Oh, Heather! It breaks my heart that you think Paul hated women, though I totally understand why you think that. I've been doing some research on alternate ways to interpret those icky Pauline verses, but the biggest passage against his "misogyny" is Romans 16. It's almost like an egalitarian heyday. ;) Many of the church leaders he praises are WOMEN -- the apostle Junia, Priscilla, the deacon Phoebe, among many, many others praised as outstanding leaders and personal friends of his.

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  4. Hello Bailey!
    I TOTALLY understand where you are coming from - my family and I attend a Baptist church as well.
    It is unusual how the Baptist Church will change their point of view on any given subject on any day of the week.
    However while I see your point of view, I also understand WHY they have those "rules and regulations".
    Women are commanded in the Bible not to assurp a man's authority. So leading worship, preaching, etc. would in fact be assurping that authority.
    Witnessing to a fifteen year old boy is one thing, but teaching a group of teenage boys is not appropriate for a woman to do - those boys are male therefore they need a male to be teaching them. Just like it wouldn't be appropriate for a man to be teaching a group of girls. It's difficult for women to understand guys and vice versa.
    NOW women CAN be in leadership - if they are leading a women's ministry! Some may say that that is limiting .... but really it isn't. Women are needed to teach the younger women (as Paul says in 2 Timothy). Why is this allowed and not women being in leadership elsewhere? It all goes back to whether or not your asurping the man's authority.
    I'm not trying to defend the Baptist church - nor am I Baptist .... I'm actually Anabaptist :)
    I just felt like sharing with you what I felt like God wanted me to share!

    Oh here are two posts I've written that I think you might like:

    http://alishainprogress.blogspot.com/2015/08/are-you-married-to-god-or-church.html?m=1

    http://alishainprogress.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-problem-with-churchianity.html?m=1

    Blessings, Alisha

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Alisha! I used to think that it didn't matter that women can't use their gifts in the main service, that a woman could just use her gifts in the women's ministry and be happy. But I think it does matter. I've noticed a difference between my two Baptist congregations -- there is much more life, strength, and beauty in the one that allows women to be heavily involved in church leadership (though they prohibit women from being elders or pastors, as far as I know).

      While it's easy to explain that women should teach women because women understand women, that just doesn't jive with my personal experience! True, I've been blessed with the mentorship and friendship of many women. But two other things stand out to me: Men aren't prohibited from teaching me even though they're men and are allegedly don't understand me. That's because God's gifts edify regardless of gender. I greatly appreciate input and teaching from men, just like many of the men in my life appreciate my gifts. As a biblical example of this, Priscilla and Aquila co-taught the superstar apostle Apollo. I don't think that woman discipling a man or assisting in his discipleship is a negative thing.

      It's also awkward to think that after all the trouble God went to gift His church, He would want less-qualified men in leadership just because they're men instead of an outstandingly-qualified woman in leadership. I find it troubling, odd, and counter to the theology of spiritual gifts to insist on preferring some Christians based on gender.

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  5. You raise some good questions. What are your thoughts on the regulative principle of worship?
    A lot of things go on even in conservative churches that I don't think God approves of. I don't believe that solo singing, for instance, is in the list of 'spiritual gifts'. When I think of an ideal worship service, the old line Primitive Baptist model comes to mind: lots of hymn singing without instrumental accompaniment, then a sermon. I don't like sitting in church listening to anyone, man or woman, giving a solo. Congregational singing is a huge part of worship, and I think the less anyone has a chance to show off, the more worshipful it is. I love lifting my heart to God along with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and it is a joyous time. You haven't heard good congregational singing until you've been to an old line PB; they really sing out since they don't have a piano to 'cover' for them :D

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    1. I don't agree with the regulative principle of worship, but I used to. I'm a huge fan of congregational singing and responsive reading, though!

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  6. Churches are messed up, fumbling, places. If we want to justify ourselves it is pretty easy to find enough mistakes in churches to make ourselves feel justified. But a better course than trying to interpret God by means of the church is interpreting the church through the words of God.

    I am always amazed at how people on all sides of this issue simplify Paul to fit their notions--whether it be writing Paul off as a woman hater, a man exalter, or any other pet position. The reality is that most people are very confused by what Paul says, and they mask their confusion by trying to reduce him. If you point out to most people that early in 1 Corinthians Paul gives instruction for how women should prophesy within the church, and then later in 1 Corinthians Paul says women must be silent in the church you will reduce their exegesis to flailing, incoherent, sputtering.

    But Paul didn't have such a weak intellect that he contradicted himself within the space of one letter. The truth Paul teaches is more nuanced.

    So, if a person wants to understand the role of women in the church they should first come to understand Paul, and then consider how well their local church lives up to his (and by that I mean God's) instruction. It need not be said that the churches today are no better than the church of Corinth in faithfully living up to all Paul said, so looking to our local church to explain the role of women is like looking to the church of Corinth to explain instead of looking to apostolic teaching.

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    1. I agree that Paul's understanding of women in the church is (almost impossibly) nuanced! I don't think anyone is looking to their local church to explain women's roles, though.

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  7. I think your home church is misogynistic and stifles women in a shameful (not to mention completely illogical and inconsistent) manner, but I am not concerned about you because once you graduate and move on to your adult life, whether married or unmarried, I have no doubt your connections to this church will cease to be a significant factor in your life.

    Side question that I have been meaning to ask you from a couple posts ago: Are both your home church and your college church Southern Baptist? I think they must be. I assume you tried an American Baptist church and rejected it in the category of more tolerant churches that you didn't feel challenged you with meaty truth (I apologize if I am messing up the quote)? I think you would be much happier and fit in better in an American Baptist church, but it might take some searching to find the right American Baptist church for you that is spiritually and theologically rigorous enough.

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    1. Not misogynistic -- just misguided. My guess is many of the WOMEN would be equally offended by female leadership roles or quasi-leadership roles.

      Neither is Southern Baptist. The Southern Baptist church I attended when I was young had women in all kinds of leadership roles, barring elder and pastoral. I've always found Southern Baptist churches more open minded about things than strictly fundamentalist. My home church is independent fundamental Baptist, and my college church was founded by Free Will Baptists. My college church doesn't try to be "Baptist"; it just strives to be Christian, which is why I appreciate it so much.

      I'm not really Baptist, so I haven't been looking into more Baptist denominations. And while I am struggling with my home church's structure and beliefs, I hope I NEVER cut all ties to the people who prayed for me and loved me during crucial parts of my life. Our differences are big enough that I'm interested in worshipping elsewhere upon my graduation, but I still care about them and will try to make as big an impact on them as I can before God leads me elsewhere. :) My church's injustice against women grieves me not because they're my enemies but because they're my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. (And I actually think a good many of them wouldn't mind me leading worship.)

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    2. Just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting you cut all (or any) ties to the people in your home church. I know you will not do that and it would not be a positive thing if you did. I meant that your home church's views on women in leadership roles will matter less and less as you become more and more a visitor to that church. I'm sure you will seek out roles of influence and leadership in whatever spiritual home you find after you graduate, and eventually you will have a church that is "your" church. When that happens, while you will certainly continue to visit and attend other churches, some frequently, I believe you will be less invested in and impacted by the beliefs and policy decisions of those other churches. I could be completely wrong about this, of course. ;-)

      Also, the church policies ARE misogynistic, hard as it might be to use that term to refer to an organization filled with people you love. Dictionary.com defines misogynistic as

      "reflecting or exhibiting hatred, dislike, mistrust, or mistreatment of women"

      To not let women fill roles they are qualified to fill and desire to hold is mistreatment of women. To believe that something bad would result from women with influence over men, or to believe that women having influence or authority over men is in and of itself bad, is mistrust of women. To be offended by women in leadership roles is evidence of mistrust or dislike of women (or both), even if the person being offended is herself a woman.

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    3. That makes more sense! Re: misogyny. I am so nervous about that word! I was once one of those women who accepted and even promoted limited female participation in the church and the world. It wasn't out of a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. It was a sincere belief that I was following God and interpreting Scripture correctly. I thought that the patriarchal paradigm was "elevating womanhood" --- which is a ridiculous idea to me now. But however their/our actions and beliefs actually affected women, they were done out of love to protect and honor women. That doesn't excuse any injustice against women, but I think that it's different than the Trump-like, name-calling, purposeful hatred against women. It's patronizing and wrong, yes, and maybe accidentally misogynistic, but it isn't trying to be.

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    4. I know what you mean about misogyny being such a loaded word. Perhaps I should have chosen a different word. I dislike the word "misguided" because I feel like that glosses over the very real harm that can come from misguided beliefs even though that was never the intent of the believer. You used the phrase "injustice against women" and I am starting to feel like that is probably the best wording - it emphasizes the negative impact without making judgments or assumptions about other people's feelings or motivations. Also, looking back I realized my first post said "your church" was misogynistic and my second comment said "the church policies" were misogynistic. I may be splitting hairs, but I feel I can still stand behind the second statement, but I'm not sure about the first. Saying the church is misogynistic (I think) implies that most or perhaps all the members of that church are misogynistic in their own individual feelings and attitudes and I'm sure that is not the case. I do worry though, because not all people who actually are misogynistic make it as obvious as Trump. A man who claims to be protecting women and following scripture, but who truly believes that women are less capable of rational thought and more easily deceived and so need to be "protected" from inadvertently doing harm to themselves or others due to their feminine weakness is also a misogynist and just as dangerous if not more so because it is harder to fight against that less obvious misogyny.

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    5. I'm totally with you now. Your last sentence is SO SO true!

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  8. Great thoughts & points in this post. Personally, when I was growing up & struggling with the gender roles issue, I was always more bothered by the headship/'be silent in church' teachings, rather than the supposed prohibition against women teaching men. And the reason for that was just that it didn't affect me: I had no desire to be a pastor or take any other 'church leadership' role.
    In college, however, I was working on a group project about a Biblical view of gender roles, and I started to realize that women's ability to teach seems to underpin all of the problematic patriarchal and complementarian issues. It seemed like it is a half-way, hollow conclusion to say that women are equal in Christ, can have equal marriages, but can't teach men or lead worship because they are 'easily deceived'. That doesn't seem like true equity in the Church. If we teach mutual submission in marriage, but don't allow women to be publicly involved in worship, what message does that send? 'You're a full reflection of God until you walk into a church'?

    To put it another way, I think that if the church leadership issue can be solved, we have solved the gender role issue as it relates to marriage and to general society as well. And if our solution to gender equality doesn't include an acknowledgement of the equal ability of women to teach, I don't think it's fully complete.

    Now, in full disclosure, while I've studied the gender roles issue from an explicitly Biblical perspective, I should probably also say that I am no longer so sure that I am a Christian. I know this will open up any of my points to the criticism that I started with arguing against 'Biblical gender roles', and NOW look where I wound up! But honestly my main concerns with Christianity pre-date the gender discussion, and really revolve around the issue of hell/Old Testament genocide and death-penalty laws. But I do think it's possible, though difficult, to show that the New Testament supports an egalitarian gender position, and it's a lot easier if one focuses on the actions and teachings of Jesus.
    Thank you, Bailey, for discussing these issues :)

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    1. I wasn't as troubled about the "silent in church" line just because Paul himself contradicted it by allowing women to pray and prophesy. I think the gender issues will be solved with the Gospel, not with parsing the "women's verses." It does seem incredibly odd that "there is no male or female" is true socially....except in the church. That's not what I think Jesus had in mind!

      The OT seems tough to redeem, I'll give you that. Thank you for sharing your questions about your own faith -- you're always welcome to email me. I don't have answers, but I do encourage you to keep asking questions and seeking, even if that seems to be leading you away from Christianity right now. :)

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)