Sunday afternoon Julie and I were driving through San Dimas and saw a church sign with the intriguing phrase: “Can Women Preach?”. My usual sarcastic response was No! but Julie said, “Too late.” All who go to this church would dismiss this sign out of hand. We’ve had a women preacher here for over 30 years, but for some churches and denominations the answer is still, “No”.
The no answer is generally a fall back to the household codes that the followers of Paul wrote into 1 Timothy2:12: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” I must say that passage was wrong in the 1st century and continues to be wrong today. I say it primarily because the passage stands outside the frame in which Jesus spoke and lived. It is impossible for me to imagine that Jesus would have said that by his example of living. He had deep relationships with both men and women and let each speak freely. Even outside the context of Jesus, it’s still just wrong.
So why do some still hold to such an antiquated view of the church? Two reasons: Sexism and power. Sexism, like racism, has and continues to play a major destructive role in society. The belief that race and gender are markers of a person’s ability and worth continues to be a drag on the mission of the church. Our own denomination struggled with the place of women in leadership throughout the 20th century.
The first women to be ordained in the Disciples of Christ happened in the 1800s, yet these women found that their ordination was not recognized by the wider church. Our own congregation didn’t have women Elders until the 1960s. When Julie was called as the first woman pastor of this congregation, there were members who believed the job was too demanding for a woman to do. Some wondered if a woman could or should have that much power to lead a congregation.
The two largest Christian denomination in the world: The Catholic and Orthodox churches deny women the priesthood. This is a power issue. The Church is a very powerful institution and it has been incredibly hard for those in power (men) to give up that power, let alone share it. In the Protestant world, the place of women in the church started in the same place as the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, but there was a challenge to their exclusion from the very beginning. The door was opened a crack and it has been a slow, hard won battle to continue to fully open that door. Women are still questioned in their ability to serve; in many ways the church is still male dominated, but continually increasing the number of women in leadership is making the church a more equal place to be. Can women preach? Here yes, but the Church still has a long way to go.