This week's posts join in the theme of Rachel Held Evans' blog this week: One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality. This is an email exchange I had on the issue of women in leadership with a Baptist pastor in 2003--before I'd ever even heard the terms "complementarian" or "egalitarian". I can't believe it has been that long! Certain names have been edited to protect privacy.
Written by Kelly Youngblood to [Pastor Complementarian] on September 14, 2003
I have some questions/comments/concerns about your sermon on 9/7 though. Topics such as eldership can be touchy when it is the position of the church that elders should only be men. Although I completely disagree with that position, I do think you effectively communicated what your understanding is of the qualifications for elder.
You had us score ourselves in each category you covered. I am concerned because theoretically, if you had to pick an elder between [my husband] and myself, you would pick ]him] because he is a male.
However, I scored much lower than he did. If those qualifications are what is important, then shouldn’t the most qualified people become elders and not just because of one’s sex?
My belief is that by taking the position that women cannot be pastors limits God. How can wesay that it is not allowed when there are many women who have answered God’s call to positions of elder or pastor? We are told that people have different spiritual gifts. They are not separated into men’s gifts and women’s gifts. There are many women who are endowed with the correct gifts to be an elder or a pastor, yet some denominations still forbid it. That isn’t right, in my opinion.
When reading the Bible, we must take into account what was happening at the tie it was written, and what was meant when it was written. By doing that, it can help enhance our understanding of what it means now. We can’t just ignore what it meant then and only apply it now, because we can lose very important meanings and concepts that way.
The Church was in its infancy stages at the time that the gospels and letters were written. There was strife between the Jews of the day that did not accept Jesus, the Jews that did, and the Gentiles. It was breaking away from worshipping in the synagogues and was in need of structure. While Paul’s ideas of how to structure the church may have been fine at that time, it does not necessarily mean that it needs to be exactly the same today. Just because women weren’t allowed to do certain things then does not mean they cannot do them now. Women lived in a patriarchal society at that time, and much has changed in the last 2000 years. Women are much more educated now than they were then. If they were not as educated then, they obviously could not have a leadership role in the Church. But that doesn’t mean that once they became educated, they still could not have that role.
You used many verses from the first part of Titus. But if we continue reading, we come to 2:9, which says, “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior” (NRSV). Does this mean that since this is how slaves are to act that we should still have slaves? Of course not. We know better than that now. Yet some theology persists that women are basically still second class citizens.
Regarding Titus 1:6 where one qualification is: “Husband of but one wife”–taking this literally would exclude widowers who remarry. Is that right? Perhaps, rather than saying a person only gets married one time, it is an admonition against a person who practices polygamy. There are other verses that we do not practice, yet what differentiates them from the ones regarding male eldership? In addition to the example above regarding slavery, in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 we are told that women should pray and prophecy with their heads covered. That is not in practice today. In fact, in our culture, most people see it as a sign of disrespect when anybody
covers their head, not as a sign of respect as it was meant then.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to your response!
Response from [Pastor Complementarian] to Kelly Youngblood on September 29, 2003
Sorry it has taken so long to reply to your e-mail. I have been laid up these past few days and
today I feel good enough to write back to you. In your -mail you said...
"You had us score ourselves in each category you covered. I am concerned because theoretically, if you had to pick an elder between [my husband] and myself, you would pick [him] because he is a male. However, I scored much lower than he did. If those qualifications are what is important, then shouldn’t the most
qualified people become elders and not just because of one’s sex?"
Honestly the elders wouldn’t pick a person regardless of their sex if they were not doing exceptionally well in their walk with Christ. [husband] would not be picked on the basis of being a male but where he is at spiritually.
You also wrote...
"My belief is that by taking the position that women cannot be pastors limits God. How can we say that it is not allowed when there are many women who have answered God’s call to positions of elder or pastor? We are told that people have different spiritual gifts. They are not separated into men’s gifts and women’s
gifts. There are many women who are endowed with the correct gifts to be an elder or a pastor, yet some denominations still forbid it. That isn’t right, in my opinion."
I think the main place where the two of us differ is on the roles of women in church Vs men. God did not make men and women the same. He places upon them different roles. For example, the man is to be the head of his family. He is to be the spiritual leader of his family. I find it odd that God would set men to be the spiritual leader of the home but not his church. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Also I would like to note that all roles (Men or women’s) are of vital importance to Christ and to the church. Just because one person has this role and another has that doesn’t lesson the contribution that is being made.
As far as the cultural limitations of scripture about the church being in its infancy stages I have to disagree. Jesus wasn’t afraid of what was acceptable in culture during his time on earth. He spoke to those and loved those whom society said were unworthy. If God wanted to set up the leadership of his church with women and men I think God would have done that. The bottom line is that he did not.
This is not to negate the calling of women by God for service in God’s kingdom. I believe though that scripture is clear on the role of men and women in the church. Now I realize that what I have written my sound a bit chauvinistic but I do not intend it that way. Women have been the backbones of so many churches because men do not step up to the responsibilities that God has placed upon them.
If you would like to talk about this further I will be in the office sometime late next week. Have a super day.
From Kelly Youngblood in response to [Pastor Complementarian], October 4, 2003
I hope your surgery went well and you are feeling back to normal and that your knee is healing well. It’s hard to have our routines interrupted with illness or surgery. Thank you for responding to my e-mail, but I was actually pretty disappointed with what you wrote. I put a lot of thought into my e-mail, and I felt like I didn’t get a very complete answer back. I do have some counter points to what you did say.
Regarding the elders picking somebody based on where one is spiritually–you said they wouldn’t just pick a male. But the truth is that they would. If every woman at [name of church] was ahead of every male spiritually, they still would pick the males. That seems to be the deciding factor. The qualifications would not be looked at if a woman wanted to be an elder. You said: “ find it odd that God would set men to be the spiritual leader of the home but not his church. That doesn’t make any sense to me.” And “If God wanted to set up the leadership of his church with women and men I think God would have done that. The bottom
line is that he did not.”
It doesn’t make sense to me how one can ignore all the women leaders throughout the Bible.
- Look at Miriam. Exodus 15:20 calls her a prophet.
- Look at Deborah: she was JUDGE of Israel. The highest position at that timewent to her, not her husband. She was also a prophet (Judges 4-5).
- Look at Huldah. She was also a prophet (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:14-28) who spoke to King Josiah from the Lord. She is the one to pass on God’swords to him.
- Joel 2:28 tells us that women will prophecy.
- Luke 2:36-37 tells us about Anna, a prophet, who never left the temple and praised God and spoke to everybody about Jesus.
- Philip’s daughters were prophets (Acts 21:9).
- 1 Corinthians 11:5 tells us women can be prophets. Prophets are messengers of God. How is that not a leadership position?
- Philippians 4:2-3 tells mentions Euodia and Syntyche who “have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul calls these women his coworkers. He is not distinguishing their work from his in the least; he is not setting up a hierarchy.
- Romans 16 mentions many women, of which the following three I find notable:
- Phoebe, a deacon, who is apparently in charge as Paul tells the Romans to help her in whatever she may require (v. 2)
- Prisca a/k/a Priscilla. Her name is almost always mentioned before her husband Aquila’s, connoting that Paul saw her as more of a leader/teacher than Aquila. Paul states that she “worked with [him] in Christ Jesus” (v.3). Again, worked with him, not for him, and he is not in any way making it seem as if she was less of a leader than himself.
1 Corinthians 14:34 states that women should be silent in the churches. Well, they certainly aren’t silent. I have seen women at [name of church removed] sing, make announcements, etc. That’s not being silent. But of course we don’t take that literally. Yet some do apparently interpret it as women shouldn’t be in a leadership position. But it doesn’t say that.
- Junia, who Paul says one “prominent among the apostles” (v. 7).
One of your reasons was that God didn’t set it up that way. Well, the above examples do show women’s leadership. Not only that, but one cannot run things in a certain way because God didn’t do something. God didn’t get rid of slavery; slaves are mentioned in many places in the Bible. God didn’t set up the Sabbath on a Sunday, yet that’s when we worship. In fact, He set it up on Saturday. God didn’t set up big screens to view music on, yet we do that. God didn’t set up non-Jews as the first leaders of the church. Yet the church today is composed mainly of non-Jews. That means most pastors would be out of a job if they went by what God didn’t do.
It is very important to be aware of the culture and climate of the times when Paul wrote his letters. We have to understand what it meant then before w can understand what it means now. If not, we can get very confused. I recently read a cute story about a schoolteacher from England was going on a trip to Germany (prior to indoor plumbing). She wrote a letter inquiring if there was a WC, which means water closet, or bathroom, as we would say. The response she got told all about the WC, which was located nine miles away in a grove of pine trees. She was told many people went there in the summer months and there were even weddings there. It goes on and on describing the WC. The gentleman who wrote the letter back to her didn’t know English well, and he had deduced that WC stood for Wayside Chapel.
Furthermore, Jesus didn’t treat women as people would have expected. He treated them better. Look at Martha’s sister Mary. He didn’t make her go do “women’s work” in kitchen, but rather let her stay and learn. Or his many healings of women. Or his acceptance of women such as the one who was about to be stoned. He didn’t treat the men and women differently. He showed love to all. Jesus didn’t lay the guidelines for how the church would be run. Paul did. It doesn’t make Paul’s letters any less valuable, but we must take them in context. We need to know who he was writing to and why. What problems were they facing? What questions did they have? How Paul answered their questions isn’t necessarily how the questions should be answered today. Things change. People change. If everything was all set and answered, why do we need the Holy Spirit for guidance?
I am not trying to be difficult, but I am challenging you to look at this with a different perspective.
Response from [Pastor Complementarian] to Kelly Youngblood October 4, 2003
Thanks for the perspective. It gives me a lot to think about. Have a super night!