A young male pastor’s thoughts on women in ministry: What is the problem?

WomenPreach2So in my routine, daily internet rounds, I am often on the lookout for articles, blog posts or news stories on the church, ministry, millennials, leadership, social justice, theology, Jesus… basically anything faith related. And lately, I have come across blog posts by women about the role of women in the church. Quite a few blog posts, in fact. This comes on the heals of a book written and published, recently, by my fellow Lutheran pastor and colleague, Nadia Bolz-Weber called: “Pastrix”… a pejorative term for a female pastor. Apparently some Christians don’t like the idea of women being pastors, or preaching in church, or teaching boys over the age of 12 or really doing much else than serving the potlucks. How 1750 of them.

All I can say is… What the hell? Did I miss something?

The idea of “Complementarianism” has come up over and over. As far as I can tell, this is basically a nice word for, institutionalized and indoctrinated, patriarchy. Here are some excellent articles on the topic (written by three women who would be fantastic pastors in orthodox and mainline denominations):

Now, I understand the history of patriarchy. I understand the biblical argument for the “submission” of women (a tenuous argument at best). I have studied the scholarship, the greek and the history of the Bible and Church – a couple of theology degrees worth.  And ultimately, the evidence shows that patriarchy is contextual, cultural baggage. It is not Christ’s design for the church. It is sad that it has taken centuries to figure this out.

Women in ministry my whole life

When I started my Bachelor’s History and Theology degree in 2001 and my seminary MDiv in 2005, I knew that Rome didn’t ordain woman. And I knew those other Lutherans called the Missouri Synod didn’t either. And I knew that some other brands of Christians, called Evangelicals, ordained women and some didn’t.

But my kind of Lutheran had been ordaining women since before I was born. We elected women bishops more than decade ago. One of my friends growing up was confirmed by his Anglican Bishop – a woman. I met United Church of Canada women who were pastors. My Roman Catholic theology professors felt that the ordination of women was on its way to Rome… but it might take a few decades – which is fast for Rome. There were even some wacky Baptist and Pentecostal kids in high school who had women as pastors. For my whole life, as far as I could tell, women in ministry was a completely normal and unquestioned  part of being a Christian. This made complete sense to me.

Not to mention that my grandfather was a pastor, and my great-uncle the Evangelical Lutheran Church Canada president (read: National Bishop) for 15 years starting in 1970. They were the ones that introduced women’s ordination. To me this was hearing about TV or airplanes being first introduced. This was history… not an issue for debate.

Wow. Was I wrong.

For some reason we still have problems with women’s ordination

I remember sitting in a seminary class, where 3 seasoned female pastors were invited to tell us about their experience in ministry. They told us about parishioners struggling with the idea of a woman being their pastor. They talked about condescending comments, bad behaviour, and people having trouble with change.

Hearing their stories made me so mad. I wanted to go back to their churches with them and take these offending parishioners out behind the church to let them know what I really thought of their behaviour. I knew it was of course not a real solution, but it is what I felt. So if people (usually older) having trouble adjusting women pastors was the worst of it… I could begrudgingly accept, and work to change, this reality.

Now, nearly 5 years into ministry, I am now married to a seminary classmate – also a pastor. Whenever I hear about her parishioners treating her with any less than the respect and deference that I can unthinkingly expect as a male, it makes me insane. In fact, when I hear stories I have to work hard to keep myself from wanting to intervene with a few choice words for her badly behaving church members. I know this isn’t the solution. I know that she has to fight her own battles.

But I also know that as a male pastor I have to hold my congregation, my colleagues and all Christians to a higher standard of theology, ecclesiology, biblical scholarship and basic human decency. I, also, have to expect the same from my male pastoral colleagues.

A responsible view of women in ministry

Sarah Bessey, who I mentioned above, has a crowd-sourced project called #Jesusfeminist. She invites people to come out as Jesus feminists. Well, I will certainly come out as Jesus Feminist. And I think it is a noble attempt to claim space for women in ministry. I laud theses evangelical women who are making the case that there is room for women to take on leadership roles in their churches, especially pastoral roles.

But I don’t think making space, for women in the church, is enough. That position implies the old patriarchal model is acceptable.

Well, I disagree.

So I am pulling a Stephen Colbert and putting a few people on notice.

If you are Christian and you think the bible says women can’t be pastors, you have been mislead.

If you are a pastor and you are telling women to go back to abusive husbands, you should resign your call.

If you are a husband and you use the bible to keep your wife in line or to make her obey you, you are a sad man.

If you are a teacher of matters of the church or theology, and you take the “complementarian” view, you are not reading the bible seriously. You are not reading Paul right, you don’t really know what the New Testament is about and you are not listening to Jesus.

And guess what… I didn’t miss anything.

So what do you think of women in ministry? Am I taking too harsh a stand? Share in the comments. 

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34 thoughts on “A young male pastor’s thoughts on women in ministry: What is the problem?”

  1. Rev. Parker, thanks for this post! Since you’re new to this, you may want to know that the cause of women’s equality in evangelicalism has gone backwards in the last two decades, due mainly to a patriarchalist backlash orchestrated by a group called “the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” A number of well-known, influential and respected evangelical leaders are card-carrying members of this group, such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It would be wonderful if people– particularly male pastors– from your denomination would read up more on this and take a public stand against it. Thanks for listening.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Kristen!
      I have been thinking this too. I suspect that many Lutherans are simply unaware of the movements within Evangelicalism… Just as most Evangelicals probably don’t know that US Lutherans elected a woman, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding Bishops (bishop of the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). And in Canada we elected Rev. Susan Johnson our national bishop in 2007.

      While mainliners like Lutherans seemed to have fallen out of favour with media these days, I think there are many of us who would being willing to publicly stand up against the complimentarian movement. And there are a number of us who are doing so. Patheos.com’s progressive Christian section is a good place to look.

      But ultimately, I think there is a lack of confidence among many Lutherans who for some reason feel like we have to defend our brand of faith against conservative fundamentalists. I shake my head at this. Lutherans have the best systematic theology there is and some of the best biblical scholars out there… and yet, we hum and haw when challenged by unsophisticated theology like that of John Piper and Mark Driscoll. I actually find it difficult to accept those guys as Christians and feel no need to defend my orthodox Christianity against their pseudo Christian patriarchal capitalist America worship.

      In any case, all this to say. I am on board with you and I will happily and publicly declare this patriarchal movement in evangelicalism is not biblical and not Christian.

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      1. Thanks Erik! I suspect that the reason Lutherans are out of favor with the media is that you’re all just so. . . common sense. When people like Mark Driscoll are out there creating controversy and being extreme, ordinary Christians who just go on loving God and their fellow human beings just aren’t going to get headlines. But I think mainline congregations really need to speak out and say, “Those people aren’t representative of Christianity as a whole.” Because right now, most non-Christians think evangelical fundamentalism is what “Christianity” means.

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        1. Well, we try to be common sense but we have our problems too. Hopefully we can start to speak out, Not all Like That (NALT) is an example of mainliners speaking out. I will work to be voice speaking out against patriarchy as much as I can.

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  2. Thank God for you. So thankful for male allies in our church leadership and clergy. Truly, truly, I thank God for you and for speaking out.

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  3. Thanks for this! Thought I will share with you a post with a female minister from my church that will add on to your post and hope you will enjoy it too 🙂

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/november/christine-caine-trust-god-to-open-doors-for-women-called-to.html?visit_source=facebook

    As she puts it for me as well: “I come from such an inclusive leadership environment (race, gender, ethnicity, age, tradition, denomination) that at times I am a little stunned that it does not always appear to be that way everywhere else.”

    Female ministers are a norm in the church culture I grew up in, it’s only recently after visiting ministries and churches in your part of the world, have I started observing it really isn’t quite the ‘norm’ as I thought it is elsewhere in the world!

    In any case, I hope this blesses your wife as well! 🙂

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  4. “If you are Christian and you think the bible says women can’t be pastors, you have been mislead.”

    So, I’m a Christian, and I believe the Bible says and shows that the pastor role is designed to be filled by men. Would you explain how I’ve been mislead? Thanks.

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    1. Like many things, just because it is in the Bible, doesn’t make something biblical. In this case, Patriarchy is 1st century context. Yet at the same time, the first proclamation of the resurrection was by a woman – Mary Magdalene. The early Christina community had female leaders – Pheobe, Junia.

      But perhaps most importantly, Paul’s prohibition of women speaking in the church is likely a textual addition, a scribal note that was incorporated into the text. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 does not fit with the verses surrounding it. The later pastor epistles, attributed to Paul, were written during a period in which the early Christian community was trying fit in with the patriarchal society around them.

      So where Paul’s two verses of instruction to women (like not really written by him) are just that, Paul’s theology, like Jesus’ was one of radical inclusion. In Christ there is no male or female – Galatians 3.

      Given that the New Testament has female leaders and apostles, and a radical theology of egalitarianism, which is essential to the gospel itself, we can only conclude women are used by God to preach and teach the good news. To think otherwise, is to confuse God’s divine inspiration with 1st century baggage.

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      1. What would you say about 1 Timothy 2:12-14? Paul gives a reason which is not based on 1st century patriarchal culture but on the order of creation, and of the fall. Incidentally, I do not have any issue whatsoever with women in ministry. My issue is with women having authority over and/or teaching men in the church.

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      2. 1. What your post fails to take into consideration is that many, if not most, complimentarians hold their view with no malice intended toward women, rather simply because it seems to be the most biblical to them (us). Simply telling us our view is wrong and out-dated, or hateful to women does nothing to promote civil debate, and in fact misrepresents our position. …if your side is to win, it must win the biblical argument…which lead to #2.

        2. Your comments about scribal additions point to another reason most complimentarians reject your arguments, because what it SOUNDS like, is “that part of the bible isn’t really part of the bible, so we can ignore it.” Which is quite a statement to make, especially when the text in question happens to support your point. As a general rule, those who hold to a more strict innerrancy of scripture tend to be less open to egalatarian interpretations, and vise versa…you would probably agree.

        3. You should really read Gateway Church’s position paper on this issue…it is very interesting. (read here: http://gatewaypeople.com/sites/all/files/pdf/position_papers/Role%20of%20Women%20in%20Ministry.pdf ). It is an interesting hybrid of having female pastors, but not elders and senior pastors.

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    1. Offseid and Andy:
      1 Timothy was not written by Paul, it is attributed to Paul. It is a later pastoral letter, and does not reflect Paul’s theology in this respect. It is rather trying to make the radical egalitarianism of Christianity more palatable to the patriarchal society that surrounds it. And the author of 1 Timothy did not understand the order of creation very well considering in Hebrew lists, the last thing is usually the most important i.e., the woman.

      Here is the thing about the complementarian view, it is not really looking at the full picture of scripture. It is not looking at language, context, and nor does it seriously look at Jesus’ attitude towards women, nor the Gospel writer’s attitudes.

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      1. Thanks for the reply, Erik,

        So we are back again, not to an argument based on looking at all the biblical texts, but one that specifically disregards certain texts as being “incorrect”, because they may not have been written by Paul? You see this is a different conversation than I would be having with an egalatarian who says, “Yes, 1 Timothy is there, and as scripture, it is entirely true and when understood correctly will not conflict with Paul’s theology or that of Hebrews.”

        That’s a different answer than what yours seems to be: “1 Timothy is not written by Paul, and in fact cannot be said to be entirely correct as it does not reflect Paul’s earlier theology.”

        (I know, a completely different rabbit trail, but one that should at least be mentioned.)

        And of course I would disagree with your final sentence. 🙂

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        1. Like I said to Andy, this isn’t about correct/incorrect passages of scripture, but about seeing 1Timothy in the bigger picture. Its authorship, context, and theology. It is important to understand it as a later development in the early church, and not a theological development but a social one. It is about social conformity. This is basic biblical scholarship.

          Of course, we all have canons within the canon. As Lutherans we name our canon intentionally. The Bible is the manger that holds the Christ, as Luther said. That which witnesses to Christ carries more weight. Paul’s theology of radical inclusion carries more weight than the social instructions in 1 Timothy attributed to Paul. This is how 1 Timothy is properly understood within the larger context of the New Testament.

          So yes, this is a different conversation than I would have with a complementation who is trying to apply 1 hermeneutical lens, rather than accounting for the larger context.

          Just to be clear, I didn’t put the biblical arguments for my understanding of scripture in my post for a reason. I think the onus is on the complementarians to justify their position with the full breadth of serious biblical scholarship, not just a ideological literalism. Because that is a new and “liberal” development from orthodox Christianity.

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  5. I am a woman working in ministry for the past ten years. While I agree with most of what you say, I believe that God created men and women differently for a reason. Women aren’t created to fill every role a man does and vice versa. Women spend too much time trying to be and do all the things men are, seeking equality. We are equal but different. You can peel a potato with a knife or a potato peeler. One is easier to use and more efficient – made for the job. I don’t personally believe women were created to be senior pastors. Pretty much every other role in ministry, but not that.

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  6. You have a few typos, it is complementarianism, not complimentarianism.

    The supposed idea is that the genders are complementary (which is of course true) and that therefore there is a male way (or role) to follow Christ and a female way (or role) to follow Christ and they are very different (which is of course false). It is a lot of hogwash, but there it is. The term was invented by the advocates as they did not like any of the existing terms (like patriarchy or masculinism) as they seemed to have too much of a negative connotation.

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  7. Wow, I was surprised by your answer. I was not expecting to hear that you have chucked 1 Tim 2:12-14 out the window because it may not have been written by Paul. I’m truly speechless. So I’ll stop here.

    But hey, you’re young, I’ll cut you some slack. (And don’t tell me I can’t look down on you because you’re a young pastor, because that is also 1 Timothy!) Dont’ mind me – I’m just messin’ with ya now. 😀

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    1. I haven’t chucked 1 Timothy at all. I am taking it seriously, its scholarship and authorship. And in particular 1 Timothy’s place in the development of the early Christian community. The instructions about women are just that, instructions for the sake social conformity. They are not in keeping with the theology that came before, beginning with Jesus and then with Paul.

      I appreciate the slack and offer the same back. I know that “complementarians” have the capacity to figure gender issues out. But it will mean giving up power and control.

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      1. Wow. You are right — this debate is about basic Biblical scholarship. But if Stephen Colbert style is what it takes to communicate with a millennial pastor then here goes: If you think that you have done true Biblical Scholarship on this issue, you are misleading people and should resign your call.
        I was following you until you dismissed 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy with some lame repeated arguments about authorship and culture. As a movie buff, you completely jumped the shark on this issue.

        You can’t make Scripture fit your views of what God should or should not have done or said in regards to the role of men and women. You can’t discredit Scripture and thousands of years of theological study because it doesn’t fit your ideas. That’s an argument from arrogance, not facts.

        Making those kinds of statements discredits the education you received as well as a generation of millennials. We already have a bad rap as Wikipedia know-it-alls who haven’t done serious scholarship with the arrogance to think that we are so much smarter than everyone else so they should be interested in our opinions.

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  8. I appreciate the theological discussion happening in the comments but it comes off to me as a way to avoid our humanity. It reduces the experience of women down into an academic discussion.

    Here’s the simple truth: The relationship the Church has with women is broken and hurtful because women say it is.

    If your beloved sister tells you that you are hurting her, you believe her. You don’t get to tell her that she is wrong, that she is confused, that she doesn’t understand, that she is not really hurting. That is abuse.

    When I read or hear people (men and women are both guilty) belittle the calling and skill that women have to lead, I weep. I don’t tear up a little – I weep. As a leader in a ministry (a faith-based organization, not a church) this kind of talk reminds me that I have to work harder, be stronger, and be smarter just for the possibility of being seen as the equal of the men I lead. It makes me question my gifts and calling. It makes me wonder if I’m not as feminine as I should be, am I less of a woman? It just makes me feel less. Then comes the shame and doubt. And the prayer “God you gave me these gifts and this calling. But your Church tells me I’m wrong. So, where do I belong? God, I’m so alone.”

    Men do not get to tell women the relationship the Church has with women is not broken. They just don’t.

    If you love me you will believe me when I say I am hurting. If you don’t believe me, you don’t love me.

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    1. I usually have a rule when reading articles online, “don’t read the comments”… I guess I couldn’t help it on my own blog. You are bringing the issue home, it isn’t about getting the correct or wining side of the “debate” but about seeing each other in out humanity… Oddly, what Jesus had a habit of doing when people used scripture to de-humanize each other. Thanks for your words!

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      1. Where in the Bible does it say any other person can deny God’s call on my life? Or the skills and talents God gave me because I am a woman?

        P.S. I’m not including the teachings of the Catholic Church because I’m not Catholic and not subject to that structure.

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  9. I appreciate this post so much. I grew up in an evangelical church that taught that women could not be in leadership. Just last year I took nine months to study the whole Bible inductively and discovered some amazing things in there. I also discovered that I have been given the gift of teaching. As I begin to teach the Bible, and discover other leadership gifts that God has given me I’ve been praying that God would make a way for whatever he is calling me to do.
    Having said that, I know that none of our gifts are given to build ourselves up, but they are given for the body. With that in mind, I would not push my way into any leadership position.

    The more I think, pray and study, the more I realize that this misunderstanding will not change with only women standing up and stepping out. Men need to see it, too.

    Thank you for speaking out.

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  10. I think you’ve been quite reserved in your ire toward partriarchical understandings of women. For goodness’ sake there were women disciples. Lydia was the bishop of a house church. Priscilla was an itinerant apostle. Where do we get the idea that women are not capable? Scholasticism, medieval RC, and Aristotle–not Scripture. Good job. Keep up the good work.

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  11. Thanks for this post. We agree that women should be in full participation in the ministry and the home. I am a staunch egalitarian, though I grew up in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I became convinced of egalitarianism through reading the Bible. The more I read it, and the more I read complementarian writings, the more I realized they simply did not line up. It seemed complementarians were reading preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity onto the text.

    I am pleased to see other men speaking out on this issue. We need to proudly note that we are evangelical feminists and not be ashamed to speak out on this topic.

    However, I think that we also must defend our position from an objective standpoint. I am not trying to be overly critical, but it seemed to me that your own argument was largely grounded in subjective experience. For example, “For my whole life, as far as I could tell, women in ministry was a completely normal and unquestioned part of being a Christian. This made complete sense to me.”

    The experiential side is interesting, but I would have liked to see some kind of positive case and/or critique of the opposing view. I am mostly concerned with the last section titled, “A responsible view of women in ministry.” It does not seem this is a positive case, but rather a section bashing those who are opposed. I definitely think there is a place for calling out complementarians for the damages done through their position, but rather than building a positive case (as the title suggested), it seemed that all which was done was to alienate those who might disagree.

    All that said, I once more must emphasize that I am pleased to see others writing in this vastly important area. We need to stand together in order to fight against patriarchy.

    And all my critique may of course be moot because I think there is something to be said for speaking out forcefully against patriarchal views of men and women, which dishonor both men and women in a number of ways. For highlighting those areas, I thank you. I hope you won’t take this criticism as a condemnation but rather as a call to even greater heights. Thanks again for your post!

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  12. Thanks for your comment J. W. I appreciate your comments, and I agree. You are right in saying that we need to deal with the objective aspect of this issue, particularly as people of faith we need to work out how we have made our way through biblically and theologically. I attempt to do that in my recent post: 12 Years a Slave – Why Women Should be Equal in the Church. There need to be the balance of experience and objective points shared. And I can certainly see where what I write can be alienating to those who disagree, I try to be direct which comes across as aggressive at times. Probably my frustrations comes out because it is a personal issue for me, as my wife experiences daily struggles simply because she is a woman and a pastor.

    Beyond that however, I don’t think this is an issue of opinions or agreement. Sometimes there are times when we are just wrong. Given the weight of the Bible witness, complementarism is unbiblical. So to me the burden of evidence rests with those uphold complementarianism to show the professional theologians and scholars where we have erred. Which is why I am hesitant to make the case or argue the point. Because that implies the burden of proof rests with me.

    Despite this, I have gotten into the biblical theology of women in minsitry in a few comments already on this post.

    https://millennialpastor.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/12-years-a-slave-why-women-should-be-equal-in-the-church/

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  13. I have had several female pastors from the 80’s til today ad they have the same problems, abuse not only by male members but female. They are excluded from meetings and important discussions that exclude female pastors and if they have a untraditional congregation (as we have a home mission church made up of mostly Burmese refugees) we received racial discrimination also. Open and affirming sometimes are only words to some people. I have so much respect for females in any traditional male dominated careers but the ministry in particular.

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