[16]   Human Rights (3): Feminism & Women’s Role in Church

Background:

·       Like the society as a whole, the Christian church has historically discriminated against women. The Roman Catholic Church and most Protestant churches still place limits on women assuming leadership. The Christian and Missionary Alliance does not allow women to be elders.

71.  Are men and women completely equal?

a.   Women have always suffered discrimination and unequal treatment in the past few millennia.

b.   The Bible emphasizes equality:

·         Man and woman were created equal (Gen 1:27), and are equal in the church (Ac 2:16-17; Gal 3:28). Husband and wife are to submit to each other (Eph 5:21) and mutually dependent (1Co 11:11-12).

c.   Man and woman are equal but different:

·         Man is the head of the family (Eph 5:22-25).

·         However, this applies only in the family, not male-female relationship in general.

d.   The Jewish tradition discriminates against women. (Jewish prayer book: “Thank God that I am not a woman.”) But Jesus did not discriminate against women.

·         He spoke to women in public (Jn 4:27). He spent time teaching women and welcomed them as disciples (Lk 10:38-42). He made a woman the first witness to His resurrection (Jn 20:10-18).

72.  Should Christians support the feminist movement?

a.   Feminism refers the organized activities that advocate women’s rights and interests. There are two very different types of feminism. On the one hand are the traditional feminists who wants equality with men. On the other are the radical feminists who reject men.

b.   Traditional (or early) feminism:

·         It began in the 19th century, and was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was an attempt to deal with the historical inequality between men and women in many areas of life.

·         The only objective was to strive for equality, not any special treatment. They asked for the right to vote; for the control of their own property; for equal employment and educational opportunities and, for the right to obtain divorce on the grounds of brutality and drunkenness.

c.   Radical (or modern) feminism:

·         In the late 1960s and 70s, feminism abandoned its moral heritage and became a movement based on the attitude of anger, resentment and self-pity. This is represented by the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the US (founded in 1966) and the National Council of Women of Canada.

·         They hold that women are victims in the male-established social order. They proclaim women’s sexual freedom. They hate men and marriage.

·         Equality is no longer the only objective of the feminist movement. Instead, radical feminists seek to overturn and restructure society.

d.   Recent development:

·         A 1999 poll shows that women are growing more uncomfortable with radical feminism.

·         Many have returned to support traditional values. They only seek to end discrimination of women. Representative organizations include REAL Women of Canada and Concerned Women for America in the US. They can be called the New Traditional Feminists.

e.   Comparison of the two types: [according to Concerned Women for America]

·         Traditional feminists saw motherhood as privilege; radical feminists see the family as a prison.

·         Traditional feminists were against abortion; radical feminists support abortion.

·         Traditional feminists wanted to maintain the traditional family; radical feminists work to destroy it.

f.    Conclusion:

·         Radical feminism advocate power struggle with male, call for the abolition of marriage and family, uphold self fulfilment above family responsibility, and seek to destroy the traditional family. They should be opposed by Christians. In contrast, traditional feminism is worthy of support.

73.  Can women preach or assume leadership in church?

a.   For many centuries, women had been excluded from preaching and leading in the church because of some Bible verses (1Co 14:34-35; 1Ti 2:11-12). However, such restrictions are based on arguable interpretation of the Bible. That is why some Protestant churches today have women pastors and women elders.

b.   To say that Paul’s commands may not be applicable to today will require satisfying the three questions on “cultural relativity” [see lesson 2 on principles].

c.   First, it should be noted also that restrictions of ministry of women in the church is not a question of morality. It is a question of propriety (see 1Ti 2:15).

d.   Second, the restriction is not universally applicable to all times because there is no uniform witness in the Bible.

(1)  Restriction on women to teach is not universal. While 1Co 14:34-35 apparently prohibits women from public speaking in the church, Paul in the same letter teaches that women can pray and prophesy in public (1Co 11:2-16). Prophesy refers to preaching and teaching, with the intent to edify, to comfort, and to encourage (1Co 14:3-4,24,31).

(2)  Restriction on women as church leaders is not universal. There are numerous prominent woman leaders in the early church:

o        Ro 16:1-15 lists 8 women highly regarded by Paul including Phoebe the deaconess [Greek word is actually “minister” (diakonon, translated as “servant” in NIV) meaning one who presides, also 1Ti 3:11]; “Junias” was most likely “Junia”, a female apostle (Ro 16:7).

o        Priscilla was Paul’s fellow worker (Ro 16:3) and was sometimes mentioned (contrary to Jewish custom) before her husband Aquila (Ac 18:26) indicating her greater role in church.

e.   Third, Paul’s commands are probably to be understood in its specific life situation and cultural setting in the 1st century, possibly only for Corinth and Ephesus.

(1)  In 1Co 14:34-35, the Greek word for “speak” (lalein) refers to conversation. The women were asked to “hush up”, not to “shut up”. The intention is an orderly worship.

(2)  In 1Ti 2:11-12, the Greek word “have authority” (authentein) means “domineering or usurping authority”. Paul was likely responding to specific situations in Ephesus where some women were influenced by heretical teachers (2Ti 3:6-7).

(3)  Women in the 1st century were poorly educated and public teaching by a woman is improper.

f.    What are the reasons given by Paul in placing restrictions on women?

(1)  accepted social practices (1Co 11:13-15)

(2)  the order in creation (1Co 11:3-12; 1Ti 2:13): Adam was created first

(3)  Eve was tempted (1Ti 2:14): possibly referred to the susceptibility of women

g.   Additional arguments against restrictions on women:

(1)  Female missionaries are not prohibited from preaching and leading in their mission field.

(2)  God gives spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership to some women (Ac 2:16-17). Spiritual gifts are given solely for the benefit of the church (1Co 12:7; Eph 4:11-12). How then can the church prohibit the use of those spiritual gifts?

h.   Conclusion: Most evidences show that women should not be restricted from any kind of work in the church. In view of the presence of arguable points, positions could be held tentatively. In the C&MA, women can perform ministry functions including preaching and leading, but they cannot assume eldership. Notwithstanding the interpretation above, conflicts with regard to women’s ministry in church should be avoided.