Patriarchy In Churches

It’s been a while since I ranted, so heeeeeree I go!

I’ve become more and more aware over the last few years of the unusual upbringing I have had in terms of women and leadership in the church.  I grew up in churches where it was normal for women to preach, be pastors and be in all sorts of positions of leadership.  It is a baffling concept to me that women are somehow less able or less worthy than men to preach the word of God and be in positions of power.  We are all made in his image and if God has something to say, isn’t it up to him who he chooses to use?  Why do some people discount half the population?  Is God that limited?  I think not.

Not only is it illogical, it is unspeakable offensive to say that women cannot preach or lead.  I heard a young man a couple of months ago flippantly say that when a woman speaks it isn’t really preaching, and it took all my self control not to scream in his face.  What misguided arrogance!  And the devastating thing is that he had no idea that he was being offensive.  This was normal and acceptable to him.

Not long after that I heard a woman say that some people have a problem with women leading, so in order not to offend anyone, it’s easier to just let men do the leading, at least that way no one is offended.  Again, it took all my self control not to yell about how offensive that was!  What does a woman think and believe about herself to say that she is less worthy than a man to lead?  And that it is ok for people to discriminate against us within the church?  I feel desperately sad for women who have bought into the notion that they are somehow unequal, that God made them lower than men.  What must they believe about themselves to think that way?  If we are not all equal before Jesus then I think we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel.

The Bible is full of women stepping outside the patriarchal model of the day.  Jesus treated women in a scandalous way for his time.  He gave them roles and dignity and respect that was uncommon.  All throughout the Bible women are given status beyond what was normal for the time.  No where in the Bible is it suggested that we ought to live by old societal standards for how women ought to behave.  In fact the opposite is true, the status quo of the roles of women is constantly being challenged!  Women were regularly treated by God in ways that defied what was acceptable at the time, why are we not following that example now?  Thankfully some of us are…

There was a big Lutheran conference in Australia last year where they voted on whether or not to even discuss the idea of allowing women to be ordained as pastors.  They voted not to discuss it.  Appalling.

I can’t even believe that we still need to have this conversation and it makes me crazy that there are people who think it is their job to judge and belittle and crush women into the mould that they have decided they ought to fit into.  There is no biblical precedence for it and to pretend otherwise is using the Bible in a way that diminishes God’s beautiful creations.  It belittles both men and women.  We are all better than that.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that everyone who tells women they are not to lead is doing so with a bad heart.  In fact it is my experience that most people who do this think they are being humble and simply following correct doctrine.  They think they are being obedient.  This is hard to combat because this idea of a woman’s role gets equated with obeying God.  It’s hard to argue against someone who tells you that you are disobeying God and not just them, it takes away all your power.  Just because you are well meaning, doesn’t mean you aren’t hurting others with your ideas.

There is a much more sinister application of this line of thinking that can turn into abuse (not just physical) where men laud power over women and the women must ‘know their place’.  Disobeying men becomes disobeying God and can have disgusting consequences.  I’m not going to talk about this side of it here, but I think we all know where it can lead.  If your fundamental understanding of men and women is that men are above women and that God has ordained it that way, you can see how this kind of behaviour can manifest.  I’m not saying this is the normal progression of this way of thinking, but it certainly can happen.  Mostly I think the consequences are much more subtle than that.

If you honestly believe that it is not biblical for women to lead and preach, then I challenge you to look at what texts you think support that idea and look at them in their contexts.  I would suggest that it is your traditions that have taught you this rather than any real scriptural basis for the idea.  The main one we all hear is Paul saying that women ought not to speak in church (1 Cor 14).  He was speaking to one church about one specific group of women who were a big problem for that particular church, it is not a general principal to be applied, as other parts of Paul’s teachings that contradict this idea, confirm.

We lose out on the richness God has made in us as a community when we limit people to roles they were never meant to be contained in.  Let’s not limit what we can do as people who work together by having outdated ideas about the roles of men and women.  We are all more powerful and more effective when we help each other reach our potential instead of telling each other what spaces to fit in.


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