"Let The Women Keep Silent" - Sexism in the American Christian Church
READ TIME: 7 MINUTES
Systematic sexism and misogyny are alive and well in parts of the American Christian Church.
Not all of it, but parts of it.
And it needs to be addressed seriously.
While most Christians I know aren’t against women teaching in the church…
when you look on the stage of most churches on Sunday, it’s clear that’s it’s a systematic problem.
Most of America has evolved since the 1950s when June Cleaver cooking in heels all day was the ideal family woman… And then you see more antiquated views are still officially held and publicly practiced in certain denominations who hold a “women in the nursery, not the pulpit” view.
To borrow a phrase from another feminist group…
Believing men are superior in intelligence to women…
Believing men are more spiritually superior to women…
Believing men are designed by God to be above women…
Believing women shouldn’t be preachers and pastors…
(As a bonus)
Believing we should literally apply select verses from the Bible that are in favor of our close-minded points-of-view…
God’s Better Way
Let me break down a Bible passage which I think is the main recourse for a misogynistic viewpoint on “a woman’s place” in the church organization.
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
In my real life, I’m a decently informed Bible student. Growing up as a Preacher’s Kid (yep, that’s what’s wrong with me), I learned Bible drills before I ever personally believed in God. I was an AWANA kid, a VBS kid, a Sunday School kid, a Wednesday night youth kid, a VBS worker, a Bible study leader, a Sunday volunteer coordinator, etc. I’ve not only been in churches for a long time, but I’ve been a faithful believer for the past two decades.
I’ve studied Scripture since before I could read.
My husband has not.
He doesn’t know the Bible well. He was never discipled. He’s a believer who struggles to read the Bible…like many, many believers in today’s time.
Shortly after we got married, we would watch sermons, listen to podcasts, go to church…and then discuss it. For him, the Bible didn’t make sense.
As I watched my undiscipled husband go to church Sunday after Sunday and still not know the Bible, and as I pointed God to this Scripture about women staying quiet, He corrected me. God told me I was ignoring my gifting & calling because of one twisted viewpoint of this Scripture.
I searched through commentaries from (non-misogynistic) theologians and Bible students, and I found so many wise resources supporting a few ideas behind Paul’s “Let the women keep silent” directive:
Paul may have been addressing 1 or 2 disruptive women in the Church of Corinth.
Paul may have been addressing immature women who disrupted the church service to ask questions which are better addressed at home.
Paul is addressing women who are spiritually undeveloped at the time due to the cultural background, not God’s design for women.
Either way, it’s certainly not the “clear command” that pro-patriarchy men claim it to be.
In fact, I believe this next point shreds that idea altogether.
Within the same chapter…
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
1 Corinthians 14:26
What do you think about the earlier part of this same chapter of text, which is addressed to male AND FEMALE singers, prophets, and those speaking in tongues in the church?
Do you think Paul, within this same time of writing, flip-flopped from “women can speak” to “women cannot speak”? And then just said, “You know what? Just publish it. It’s fine.”
Dissecting the Bible
There are a few big problems with how we use the Bible right now that I’d like to address on a more macro level.
When we read a Bible passage or one verse apart from the full context of the Bible, we will misinterpret it and/or God Himself.
When we read the Bible apart from considering God in the flesh — Jesus Christ — we misunderstand Him.
When we literally apply what we choose to apply and then ignore the things we don’t like, we become hypocrites, and that’s just plain annoying.
*Don’t Take Me Literally*
I think most of us can agree that 1 Corinthians 11 doesn’t literally apply… Men are allowed to wear hats in church and it isn’t disgraceful. And women are allowed to shave their heads without being dishonored. It’s a cosmetic decision (or a medical decision for some).
I think most of us can agree Jesus wasn’t speaking literally in Matthew 5:29… You probably shouldn’t pull out your eyeballs to avoid lust.
I hope most of us can agree that 1 Timothy 2:9 doesn’t apply literally… Women who wear pearls and braid their hair aren’t immodest. Our First Ladies often wear pearls, and Girl Scouts often wear braids.
Y’all Need The Spirit
We need to quit reading the Bible without consulting God. Jesus promised His Living Spirit would be with us to teach us the Word and remind us of truth. And yet, we try to read it like an ancient book and apply ancient biblical law to our 2019 lives.
And it doesn’t work.
Just like applying British law from the 1500’s doesn’t work. Only it’s worse…
Do you know Walt?
If you read Walt Disney’s biography, it doesn’t mean you knew him. If you memorized his quotes and used them at your discretion, you still didn’t know him. Sorry, but you just didn’t.
And that’s how most Christians have been trained to — or have observed how to — use the Bible. They say, “God says xyz”, but they don’t actually know Him: His loving heart, His character, His ways, His plan.
God gives us access to the Holy Spirit for this exact reason. So we don’t literally apply the Bible as if He wrote it Himself as a law book for Christians to stay in His good graces.
The Bible was given to help us fulfill Jesus’ command to love, not for us to defend our staunch beliefs (and pride).
Why I Want To Preach
I struggled with being a female teacher for far too long. I would hear God call me to teach in my personal devotional time, and then I’d point God back to HIS Bible and ask Him to reconcile it.
He told me (paraphrased)…
I’m not surprised you’re a woman. I made you a woman.
I need you to preach, because family dynamics are changing, and woman need to hear woman preachers. As the divorce rate rises, and men are no longer the primary heads of household, women will be the ones bringing their family to church on Sundays. And they don’t need to hear how quiet and sanitary the virgin birth was… They need to hear a woman speak from the perspective that women know.
I’m not surprised you’re a woman. I made you a preaching woman.
THIS is why I teach. Not because I crave the stage. Not because I’m trying to prove my value as equal to anyone’s. But because I deeply believe God has called me to this work. If I didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t be worth the fight. I’d just write books and hush in church.
But I believe we need women in the pulpit to reach women in the audience.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of going to a family member’s church. The exact church group isn’t important, so I’ll leave it unnamed. During the alter call, there were 4 pastors on stage, ready to pray with whomever came forward. Three were men, and one was a woman. As I watched the first person come forward, I was reminded of how needed women are in pastoral roles. A woman slowly walked forward, and instead of going to the men, she looked up, locked eyes, and made a beeline toward the female pastor.
When I was part of various churches of all-male pastors, I had nobody to talk to when I really needed to. There was a policy that male pastors couldn’t meet one-on-one with females. (Which is fine — clearly some men need more policing in these institutions…..…) But the lack of female pastors meant they were providing spiritual guidance for men, but not women. What message does that send to women?!
Think about the problems women face that differ from men’s. Sexism, balancing career & home, dating & marriage, miscarriages, pregnancy issues, mothering, marital problems, body issues, sexual harassment & assault. Should we REALLY be expected to consult a male pastor about these, as if he can relate??
My answer: No! Churches with female members should have a female pastor to consult. Make it a priority…NOW.
The Long Road
It’s 2019, and some churches like to behave like it’s still 1950.
Though some things have changed (seemingly as concessions for us pesky women), it’s apparent by practice that the general attitude has not. That’s severely disappointing to me.
I have to look outside the church organization to let God minister His grace through me to my fellow Christians.
I’m so so grateful for this blog, and all of you readers, but I hope one day, women across America and around the world won’t be forced to minister OUTSIDE of God’s church, but will be allowed their rightful place within His Church.
Finally, it’s not these few extreme anti-feminist men who are the main problem. The main problem is the mass majority of us who don’t speak up. The ones who witness this problem and turn a blind eye.
Silence and acquiescence — that's how vile things continue to be the norm.
We have to quit being complicit in these issues and speak up.
Tell your church you no longer will pay for multiple male pastors and no female pastors.
Support female pastors. Look at your book collection. Is your theology shelf entirely composed of male teachers? Go buy some female teachers’ books!
Watch YouTube videos of female pastors.
Interact with their social media channels.
With love and hope for a better future,
To read more about the VERY REAL SEXISM still rampant in some parts of the south…
by Relevant Magazine
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Cover photo by Isabella Costello.