Why are some women passive in church?

Here’s what I was taught in my early days as a Christian. As a woman

  • I am always to be under a man’s covering or authority. If I’m unmarried or my husband is not around, I have to find a man to whom I will submit.
  • I cannot teach a man under any circumstances–unless they are under the age of 13.
  • Of course I can lead, but only through my influence on my husband.
  • I can never hold any position of strategic influence or leadership in the church.
  • Because Eve was deceived, I, as a woman, am more open to deception than a man.
  • God only uses a woman when a man isn’t available. (This permits women on the mission field.)
  • My husband is the leader; I am there to serve his calling and vision. His destiny is the one that counts.
  • My husband is the priest of our home.
  • I have to be very careful about what I wear in case I cause a man to lust.
  • A strong woman probably has a “Jezebel spirit.”
  • I shouldn’t take the initiative but pray for my husband to do so in order that I can follow his lead.
  • I  always have to obey my husband, willing submitting even if  I know he’s wrong.
  • If God uses me to lead/teach men in any way, it’s like God speaking through Balaam’s donkey–an aberration.
  • God created Adam before he created Eve. Therefore men lead; women follow.
  • Women are more likely than men to lead the church astray.
  • There are no such thing as women elders.
  • Once I have children, my place is in the home.
  • There are plenty of ministries I can involve in–prayer and women’s ministries, Sunday School and making the coffee. I should be content with this and not seek to use my gifting outside of those prescribed boundaries.

The obvious conclusion? God, for some divine reason, prefers men. Women are therefore inferior to men, comparatively unimportant in the bigger scheme of life in the Kingdom.

A whole generation of women has been brought up to believe these things are true. We have become conditioned to living within these boundaries because we have been taught this is what the Bible says about us.

Is it any wonder that some of us struggle when we are given the freedom to take the initiative?

What has been your experience?

Photo Credit: katerina r. via Compfight cc

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

    I am so thankful I was not taught those things growing up. By the time I learned that people teach this, I already had my own thoughts and opinions and knew I could disagree.

    • felicitydale

      That’s a huge blessing, Kelly. The rest of us are having to unlearn these things

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        I know it is a huge blessing and I am so thankful for it. When I first learned these ideas, for a time I thought there was something wrong with me, but then when I started researching it and came to a more educated understanding (rather than only my opinion and experience), I was able to then articulate it to others. I had an email conversation one time w/ a pastor about the issue (he was against women in leadership) and then one day I was in his office, looking through his books for research for something else, and I came across one that had a section that made the exact same points that I had made to him. I considered leaving it open on his desk (he wasn’t there that day), but I was too chicken. I probably should have done it.

        • felicitydale

          I’d love to have seen the pastor’s face if you had…

  • http://www.facebook.com/MizMarieCreations Marie Murphy Whitehead

    I was taught those things as a 24 yo new Christian. Worse yet when my abuse, alcoholic, philandering husband became a Christian a few years into our marriage, he really liked these rules and would point them out frequently when I somehow stepped out of line. His faith did not last long, sadly and eventually for the safety of me and my children, we had to leave. Fast forward a couple of decades and I rejoice at the way Jesus has helped me realize my true worth and value and role as a co-laborer with him!

    • felicitydale

      I wonder how often these teachings are used for abuse. So glad the Lord has set you free, Marie

  • http://synerchomai.org/ Tim Day

    Men were also taught these things, and because we believed them we’ve deprived ourselves – and the church has been deprived. This makes it all the more important for “those of us who are strong to help the weak, not to please ourselves.”

    So, when we fellowship together those of us who are more “naturally” outspoken encourage the others – of either gender – who are less so. Not that we compel anyone to speak, but we let people know we appreciate their input.

    We are also blessed with strong and Godly women in our fellowship, which helps model mutual submission for our children.

    And, my wife and I try to be transparent about the struggles we’ve had in this area as well as where we are at present. I think we all have to continue to witness the way Jesus is saving us.
    Sounds simplistic, but I think we have to keep chipping away as we each are called.

    • felicitydale

      Tim, you are right. Both men and women were taught these things. There’s no blame attached to the men. All of us were trying to follow the Scriptures.

      Your fellowship sounds great. And it’s often the case that women need to encourage the men to contribute, especially if they are naturally more dominant. I quite often get asked the question, what do we do in our marriage if the wife is the natural leader.

      We’re all learning!

      • http://synerchomai.org/ Tim Day

        I love the question about what to do if one spouse is a natural leader because that leads to a great discussion about leadership – and what that means.

        I think in a church if one gift is always leading, there are quite possibly aspects of our mission to which we are not addressing ourselves. Maybe the “leadership” gift is more a balancing function, to make sure that all the gifts are encouraged and given opportunity to participate.

        So I’d say if in a marriage one spouse is always leading, perhaps the one always following needs their gifting “called out.” At least I am finding that in my marriage as my wife and I learn to elevate one another’s gifts we become more “whole.” Yes and amen on the “we’re all learning.”

        I think the more we think of leading as Jesus defined it: serving, the less we will be concerned with who is leading.

        • felicitydale

          I agree with you. It’s a question of going lower, and promoting the other, no matter our gender.

  • http://twitter.com/GenerousWife Lori

    Amazing post, Felicity. Thanks for putting into actual words the messages we’ve had to live under. It really is a frightening list.

    • felicitydale

      Thanks, Lori. It is a scary list, and a lot of it based on half-truths which made it harder to stand against.

  • http://www.facebook.com/reinhold.scharnowski Reinhold Scharnowski

    Greetings from an old DAWN warrior! These were my spontaneous inspirations when I read your phrases :-)

    I am always to be under a man’s covering or authority.
    If I’m unmarried or my husband is not around, I have to find a man to whom I
    will submit – no matter how stupid he is.

    I cannot teach a man under any circumstances–unless
    they are under the age of 13 – hoping they
    are not in adolescence yet.

    Of course I can lead, but only through my influence on my husband – so I better master the high art of man-ipulation.

    I can never hold any position of strategic influence or leadership in the church – they would have to build ladies toilets in the leadership floor.

    Because Eve was deceived, I, as a woman, am more open to deception than a man – so I better do not ask him to use his credit card.

    God only uses a woman when a man isn’t available. (This permits women on the mission field.) I am thinking of starting a female jazz quartet..

    My husband is the leader; I am there to serve his calling and vision. His destiny is the one that counts. After all, ist called History and not Herstory, right?

    My husband is the priest of our home. And priestesses are not biblical anyways
    ….
    I have to be very careful about what I wear in case I cause a man to lust. And brown is the only color permitted for those woollen socks.

    A strong woman probably has a “Jezebel spirit” – so, for God´s sake, beware of dogs!

    I shouldn’t take the initiative but pray for my husband to do so in order that I can follow his lead. “Lead him not into temptation” being the main prayer theme.

    I always have to obey my husband, willing submitting even if I know he’s wrong. Just
    don’t let the children know ….

    If God uses me to lead/teach men in any way, it’s like God speaking through Balaam’s donkey–an aberration. I should learn I-a, Y-a, j-a so to have something to say …

    God created Adam before he created Eve. Therefore men lead; women follow – wherever they stumble.

    Women are more likely than men to lead the church astray. Thats why there are so many sects around.

    There are no such thing as women elders – they always look younger anyways.

    Once I have children, my place is in the home. Let him drive them to school.

    There are plenty of ministries I can involve in–prayer and women’s ministries, Sunday School and making the coffee. I should be content with this and not seek to use my gifting outside of those prescribed boundaries. You might run into the danger
    to make church a better place.

    • felicitydale

      Reinhold, great to hear from you. This is hilarious–made Tony and me laugh out loud. I’m going to post some of it, probably on Wednesday

  • UtahAnn

    I have seen this
    false notion that the man must lead, create dissatisfaction in wives when their
    husbands don’t lead the way the Christians have deemed a man should lead. I
    allowed this false notion to squash my Bible studies with the children because
    I thought that was my husband job. I got him to do it a few times but he
    struggled to get the kids on board with it. He loves the Lord but he does
    better pointing the kids to Jesus in other ways and not being in charge of the
    crowd control during a look at God’s word. So I was resentful and we stopped
    studying the Bible with the kids, rather than seeing in our home I was one the
    better equipped to wrangle the kids in for a look at God’s word. Oh, the wasted
    years!! We are trying to get back into the routine in a way that is natural and
    uses the different gifting God has given my husband and me. I love this
    awakening of women’s roles in God’s plans. I always wondered why God would give
    me righteous desires – the desires breathed into my heart by Him – only to fill
    stymied to live out those because of restrictions on women. Yet another freedom
    in Christ discovered. How sweet…

    • felicitydale

      UtahAnn. I suspect what you describe is common. It’s very sad…

      Like you, I kept asking God why he had gifted me the way he had only to frustrate me because I wasn’t allowed to use those gifts.

  • kenneth dawson

    we will never get our freedom from the letter–only god by his being can give us freedom

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  • Angela

    I used to believe all this! It really does a number on you when your husband is abusive and wandering in and out of fellowship with God and the Body. Thank goodness I had a mother who was constantly ministering and greatly respected by everyone in and out of ‘official’ leadership.
    The one that makes me the most angry is ‘ the husband is the priest of the home’ one. (Along with the little ‘umbrellas of authority” where if you get out from under your husband’s umbrella, you have left God’s protection!) It doesn’t even have one shred of mis-interpreted scripture to stand on! As if we didn’t leave the popish doctrine of a human mediator between us and God behind centuries ago! We are all priests unto God and have only one High Priest and mediator.

    • felicitydale

      I found myself suffering from a bad case of righteous indignation as I was writing this. I don’t think I’d ever put all these teachings together in one place before.

  • Carolyn Custis James

    I grew up believing a lot of these things. What turned me around was (1) marriage to Frank James–who didn’t buy any of it and wanted all of me in our marriage and who challenged me to find out what God wanted me to do with my life and that he wasn’t the answer to that questions–and (2) sitting in an Old Testament seminary class and hearing the latest research on the book of Ruth, from a conservative professor, no less. I nearly fell off my chair to hear him describe Ruth as a gutsy risk taker and the initiator of the action–that she was the true leader in the story. I wept to think of how much time and how many opportunities I’d wasted. I grieved that no one was teaching this to women. Instead we were getting a happily-ever-after fairy tale version of Ruth. I couldn’t wait to get that message to women. My book is The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules–http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0310263913/whitbyforum-20

    • felicitydale

      Hi Carolyn

      Thank you so much for commenting. I’ve been quoting you recently– a blog post that interviewed you.

      My husband sounds similar to Frank. He’s a very gifted communicator, but for years, he deliberately made room for me, refusing invitations unless it involved both of us. Now, I speak, write etc in my own right.

      It’s good to hear the story behind your book. I’ll order it from Amazon…

  • Joan

    I have a different experience of coming to Christ at 34 totally unchurched. I didn’t understand how we are free in Christ but then are supposed to be under the subjection of men. I struggled for many years to “fit” into the institution of church without having the “roots” of being raised in the institution. My thinking was always outside the box which eventually led me to study and see what God really thought of women in ministry. This journey culminated in leaving the institution of church into a Housechurch and they have been the best 3 years of my life as a Christian.

    • felicitydale

      I’m with you, Joan. We’ve been involved in simple/organic/house church now in this country since 1996, and thankfully none of the prohibitions against women apply.