Let me just start off by saying, “I’ve got no problem with women in ministry!”
Resolutely and definitively.
I have no theological qualms with women serving in any role within the leadership of the church. I belong to a denomination that since its founding has ordained women. I am thankful that my tradition affirms the gifts and graces of preaching, shepherding, and leadership without gender distinction. Throughout my ministry, I’ve been surrounded by gifted women preachers and leaders. At the church that I currently serve, we welcome without hesitation the prophetic/pastoral voices of women from the pulpit. I’ve no problem with women in ministry.
And I thought that was enough…which is why I’m STILL a part of the problem.
Recently I had a wake-up call. Rachel Held Evans tweeted, “Imagine being a female professor of Hebrew & ANE literature at a seminary & knowing there are male students in your class who (because they read John Piper) consider your expertise worthless due to your gender. 😡”
I happened to see this Tweet just prior to prepping to teach undergraduates at a Christian University. This hit me like a ton of bricks. So, I had to do a little homework. Recently on the @desiringGod page, an interview was posted in which John Piper is heard saying that women should not be seminary professors. Because seminary is for ministry preparation and since only men can prepare for ministry as pastors, women wouldn’t be models for those ministers.
Can I be honest? I had to look hard because I don’t follow anything related to John Piper. About all that John Piper and I have in common theologically is that we both think Jesus is a really big deal. We’d be fairly opposite from one another on several issues, so I just don’t pay attention.
Which is part of the problem.
John Piper has a large following. 466,000 people follow his Twitter Page. In the Christian world, that’s a big deal. Maybe not Taylor Swift big deal, but at least Brittany Spears big. Again, he and I are opposites…I’m not a big deal at all.
When John Piper speaks, Christians listen. And in this case, it would be easy for me as a man to dismiss his voice as irrelevant out of disagreement and move on. However, to do so would miss the point. Women continually live in the residue of this misguided theological trajectory that continues to deny women their calling to give voice and leadership to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Piper is a complementarian. That tradition suggests that the roles of men and women are compliments to one another and those roles are best not confused. Men are to lead the church. Women are capable of any number of meaningful roles, but not church leadership. Drawing from a few proof texts in the Scriptures (I might note my tradition is not a proof-texting tradition), women are to remain quiet in church. Their voice is negated by “biblical mandate” and their position is subordinate to men.
I’m not inclined in this post to go through the biblical witness or theological tradition to which I belong that would enable me to say, “hogwash.” I could point to passages in Joel, the theological trajectory of the book of Acts, the historic-cultural context of patriarchalism of the Ancient World, the problem of Priscilla and Aquila, the ways in which Jesus continued to validate and empower women, the visible witness of anointing when I’ve listened to preachers like Tara Smith, Nina Gunter, Tara Beth Leach, Linsy Stockham, Aeromie Dockins, Danielle Strickland, Beth Moore and been impressed by the cutting edge leadership of people like Carla Sunberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Katie Hayes, Rachel Held Evans, Megan Pardue, and Robbie Cansler. Oh, I guess I just did what I said I wouldn’t do.
But for me as a man to simply blow off John Piper and move on would perpetuate the problem. It fails to acknowledge the injustice of such theological traditioning that continues to suppress women under the weight of nominal biblical evidence. It does nothing to name the residue of those theological errors and leaves women walking into classrooms and stepping onto platforms wondering who has already written them off.
I used to think, “They (people like Piper) have a different theological tradition than I do.” I would choose the cowardly means of non-engagement. I would choose the easy way out, “agree to disagree.” But what happens when that with which you disagree becomes an issue of justice and a betrayal of the image of God? What happens when that which you disagree is an attempt to quench the Spirit of God by denying the voice of the Spirit through women? What if denial of the pulpit plays into the larger cultural story of a society that continues to invalidate women through denial of equal pay, endorses misogyny, and leaves women victim to oppressive encounters with power?
This isn’t something that should be easily blown-off and passed by. That’s too easy. Especially for me. I’m a 6’3, 280lb white, middle-class, protestant, college-educated, veteran, former college-football playing MALE. I’m the one just about every system in America is designed for. It’s too easy for me to blow things off and think they don’t matter.
You know why? Simply because they don’t matter to me.
Well, this matters! I’ve had a wake-up call. Denial of a woman’s voice is an injustice and stands contrary to God’s imago dei. We must, those of us that believe in the equitable voice of the Spirit, call into question those that continue to perpetuate the fallacy of invalidity. We must empower women in local leadership. We must call on the carpet those churches in our traditions that validate the right of a woman to preach but wouldn’t consider a woman for a lead pastor role because they “wouldn’t be comfortable with that.” We need to ask God to raise up more women church planters, affirming and encouraging (and financially investing) in their apostolic gifts, those who will offer alternative contexts of pastoral leadership and communal equality.
We need to stand up and speak up.
WHOOPS! There I did it. Did you see that, I just projected and got all preachy?
I NEED TO DO THAT! I need to ensure it starts with me. Just because I regularly call women on staff at my church doesn’t mean I’ve adequately validated their space or listened well as they’ve negotiated the residue and outright resistance of those that would seek to tell them they aren’t worthy. I must become a vocal advocate, an empowering leader, a keen listener, and an engaged activist. I can’t blow it off. It’s too easy and makes me part of the problem.