Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why Women Shouldn't Lead Churches

I've said before, and I still think it, that the theological arguments seem to me to be inconclusive, and that in the C of E at the moment, it should be an issue of conscience as to whether women lead churches. I'm part of a denomination where women do lead churches, and I'm fine with that. I've got friends who are women who intend to lead churches, and I'm happy to support them in that. I wouldn't be happy to be a woman who led a church, but that's because I'm a bloke.

I've also said before that there are some things which seem to me utterly obvious from the Bible, which are relevant to the whole area.

  • Leadership is about service. The point of the "leader" is that they are meant to serve, to equip everyone for using their gifts to build one another up.
  • Women should be involved in positions of responsibility in churches, including doing stuff "up front"
  • Men and women are not identical. The marriage relationship is equal but not symmetrical.
  • Faced with a choice between a woman who believed in the Bible and a man who did not, I'd much rather have the woman leading my church.

But given all of that, if I was going to vote on whether women should be appointed from now on to lead churches, I'd vote against it. Here are some reasons:

  • The early church was socially revolutionary in lots of ways. Yet while they had women in leadership positions, and churches led by married couples, even couples where the woman seemed to be more theologically aware or in some way dominant (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila) I am not aware of any churches where the sole senior leader was a woman. Why not? Theological education does not seem to have been a requirement. Neither does social status. If we apply the famous principle from Vincent of Lerins - that we should interpret Scripture in accordance with the way it has been done everywhere, always and by everyone, it is clear that the interpretation which allows women to be the sole leaders of churches is an innovation, and so more likely than not to be wrong.
  • If we examine those groups where women have been allowed to lead churches, the first one of note is the heretical Montanist group (in many ways similar to some modern Pentecostalism). More modern examples are generally churches or provinces that are dying and where the authority of the Bible is respected less, which suggests it is an unwise route. I am not saying there is a causative influence in any direction; I am making an observation about the company we keep.
  • As it stands, with women leading churches, there is an inconclusive Biblical argument that we should not (but strengthened by tradition), a strong cultural argument that we should and a strong argument from tradition that we should not. To my mind, the arguments against probably have it on balance.

My mind may of course change in the future.

8 comments:

PamBG said...

If we examine those groups where women have been allowed to lead churches, the first one of note is the heretical Montanist group (in many ways similar to some modern Pentecostalism).

As an argument, this seems emotive and illogical.

More modern examples are generally churches or provinces that are dying and where the authority of the Bible is respected less, which suggests it is an unwise route. I am not saying there is a causative influence in any direction;

There is no reason that it would be 'unwise' unless there is a causative effect. The only reason it would be unwise to choose between two equal candidates on the basis of gender is if we might strongly suspect a causative effect, even if it can't be proven.

I am making an observation about the company we keep.

It looks better if 'we' don't have a female leader?

Just as a point of information, I was given three dying and one healthy church. In a system where ministers are allowed to interview with congregations, I wonder how many men would choose to serve dying churches?

Although I feel fairly confident that anyone who is sceptical about women in ministry will blame me if my dying churches die (and not give me any credit if they don't), as you say, I'm here to serve.

I honestly don't think I'd feel very supported if you told me, 'Pam, I support you in your ministry, as long as it's not the ministry of my church.' That's just FYI.

Custard. said...

And even though I'm a conservative evangelical, I'd much rather have a woman who was willing to serve than a man who wasn't.

And I'd much rather work in a church where a woman was leading well than where a man was leading badly.

Josh said...

I know how you feel custardy and I have come to the same conclusions. It's not because I am chauvanistic or anything (at least I try not to be). Like you, I have to look at the early church and scripture with an eye that is objective as possible.

I am an American Methodist and have seen how women pastors have fared. There are a few good stories (very,very few) but for the most part the role of single pastor seriously hurts women pastors' family, marriage, and mental health. The same can be said of men but it is really taking a clear toil on women.

It should also be noted that the single pastor role is not supported by scripture but was a later development(doesn't mean that it is bad, though). I am all for encouraging women in whatever ministry God leads them in. My denomination has the role of Deacon that suits many called women well. It allows them flexibility and the protection of other clergy.

I now truly believe that feminism has caused us all to blur the distinctions between the sexes and create a unisex language that the Bible does not speak in. I have seen women pushed into pastoral ministry because it was their right rather than listening to the Spirit. I don't want to see anymore women hurt because someone has an agenda.

Jeremy said...

Your comment suggests that you see this as more about what is likely to work well than as a matter of principle Custard. Is that right ?

If so, tradition doesn't seem so telling, because one might expect women to lead churches more successfully now than in times when their abilities were less respected.

PamBG said...

And even though I'm a conservative evangelical, I'd much rather have a woman who was willing to serve than a man who wasn't.

Ah, I didn't realise that you identified as a conservative evangelical. It's a weird sort of middle position but I guess fairly audacious from that stance.

Josh, in British Methodism, deacons go out into the community, usually working in deprived areas and evangelising. The Minister's role is to tend the church community, teach, preach, baptise, marry and a good part of our time is spent visiting the ill and housebound. It seems to me that the former role fits nicely with a secular masculine sterotype and the latter nicely with a secular female stereotype.

In the British Methodist Church, deacons usually get far less support than ministers. They are generally told to go out and create a ministry with no money and no volunteers. I'm not sure why that's an easier calling - other than that being a Deacon is wrongly considered a 'lesser' ministry by the people in the pew if not by the church.

Speaker for the Dead said...

What about 1 Timothy 2? Why has no one mentioned 1 Timothy 2?

Unless there is a complete absence of qualified men (and I don't know anyone who is making that claim, although ministers are not in limitless supply), I see no reason to acquiesce to the culture of the day.

I guess you could say that what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2 was based on his culture. There are four situations:

1. We allow women in the ministry and we're right.
2. Or we're wrong.
3. We don't allow them and we're right.
4. You probably get the picture.

(This is sort of like Pascal's Wager on a smaller scale.)

Now, except for the women who want to be ministers, there's not a huge difference between cases 1, 3 and 4. At worst, we are incorrectly imitating the traditional biblical model. But case 2 seems really bad to me, because if we're wrong, it's due to valuing culture over scripture.

I don't think Custardy's point was that women would lead to more liberal or progressive theology, but more that churches willing to ordain women would also be more likely to be on the liberal side of things. Which is probably true.

Custard. said...

For a discussion of 1 Timothy 2, see my blogging of the Chester Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship debate on Women Bishops, and also here.

Speaker for the Dead said...

I found this, and thought it might be relevant, especially because Lewis is Anglican.

http://www.acahome.org/submenu/docs/cslewis.htm