What we talk about when we talk about women in church: part one


A female Christian leader I know and respect once said, "I've yet to visit a church that doesn't hold to something being funny about women."

Her comment either rang true to you or raised your hackles, didn't it? Let's stop for a minute while you ask yourself Why? Why did I respond the way I did?

Perhaps you don't believe that women are often perceived as dangerous in the Church. I am used to hearing, however, over and over again, that we don't allow women to serve in certain pastoral or elder or leadership or director roles because that would put them in close proximity to men. "And you know what happened in that one church when they..." 

If you've read the book Reclaiming Eve, you know we pointed out a few things the Church Fathers said in history that have caused no small amount of pain and questioning about the role and value of women:

  • Augustine: women were only made in the image of God if they were married
  • Tertullian: women were the devil's gateway (and worse)
  • Aquinas: women were inferior to men

As we also mentioned, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Our theology, history-wise, comes from men who were often openly sexist, men who viewed women disdainfully, from a place of superiority. And, I am sorry to say, I believe we are still buying some of what they are selling, even if we can't back it up biblically.

Let me tell you a story.

I attended a class once on Church Leadership. At one point, the instructor told a sad story of a pastor who was ensnared in adultery and sex with a minor. The instructor extolled the dangers of pastors meeting alone with a female and told of the vast damage done to his ministry and his family. He talked about the need for extremely tight boundaries around interactions with women. I knew the boundaries he suggested would limit women in a myriad of ways.

But what was so confusing about the story is this: the pastor had intentionally invited a young women repeatedly to his office, after hours, when the secretary was gone, to counsel her. So was the young woman inherently dangerous? Or did the pastor put himself in a situation ripe for compromise? (Let me be clear: the pastor was not engaged in adultery, but the rape of a minor.)

During this class conversation, I mentioned that I had met with a pastor privately to interview him for a class project, and that to me, the situation did not seem unsafe. A young man whipped his head up and said, "I would never allow my wife to do that!"

What has happened to us as a Church when a man and a woman who are reflecting Christ to the world cannot have a productive and fruitful conversation for the sake of the Kingdom? Have we so sexualized women and vilified them that their presence is an immediate cause for panic and fear?

For sure, appropriate safeguards are needed anytime we interact with another person, male or female. Both men and women can—and do—fall into sexual sin. But is the Church's view on what a women can do based primarily on fear and the Fall in Genesis 3?

Because Jesus reversed that situation, my friends. He is in the business of renewing us so that each one might reflect his image and his mission more and more, not less and less (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 3:23-29). Galatians 3:26-27: "So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized with Christ have clothed yourself with Christ."

Are women truly the "devil's gateway," as Tertullian said? Or are they brilliant imagebearers of the living God, created as ezers or strong powers (Gen. 2:18), and commissioned alongside their brothers to rule together over God's very good Creation?

I suppose you know what my answer is.

Your turn: How does your church view women? What safeguards in our interactions seem helpful and redemptive? Which don't?