Kingdom Women

Women cannot…

A recent fascinating article describes an advertising campaign put out by UN Women (a branch of the U.N.) that demonstrates that sexism and gender bias flourish in today’s world. The ad shows four faces of women with some of the most popular Google search terms. For example, on the search term,  “women cannot…” the most popular search terms were “drive, be bishops, be trusted, speak in church.”

So I thought I’d check this out. Scarily, it’s true. When I Googled “women cannot,” the popular searches (each search page has eight of the most popular searches for each term towards the bottom of the page) include “be priests, speak in church, teach the Bible, be pastors.” In this search, 50 percent of the issues mentioned were church related. In contrast, the corresponding search for “men cannot” had only one that is church related–man cannot live on bread alone;  that is hardly gender specific.

What’s with this?

I find myself almost without words to express my indignation that the church, the beautiful feminine bride of Christ, portrays herself to the world at large in this way.

What a turn-off for not-yet-believing women thinking about Christianity.

Jesus came to set people free. The one place above all, where people should fight against injustice is the church. And yet gender bias is accepted there. (And yes, I know some of you will point to the two Scriptures that apparently limit women, but they not only stand against the trend of the Bible as a whole, they can, with integrity, be interpreted differently.)

How can we change the world’s perception of the role of women in the church?

What do you think?

13 replies on “Women cannot…”

“How can we change the world’s perception of the role of women in the church?”

I think we first of all have to be sure that the “traditional” view of the role of women is wrong”. The general way this is attempted is to interpret the Bible, or more specifically the NT, differently, in a way that emphasises the passages that speak of equality and re-interpreting the more obvious passages on the submission and limitations paced on women.

Now I am not entirely convinced by these “new” interpretations. I am left with the feeling that people knew the answer they were looking for, and went out and found an interpretation that gave them the answer they wanted. If I think this, while sympathetic and supportive of equality, I imagine those less sympathetic will be even more suspicious.

I believe (and have said here before) that we need a new understanding of the Bible and of authority, not because it will be a better way of getting to where we both want to go, but because I believe this is the way the Spirit of God is leading us today.

If many of us are praying about tis issue and are looking to find a new view of women in Scripture, this suggests to me that the Holy Spirit is putting that aspiration there. If that is so, then we should recognise that this is a “better” way of approaching the Bible – allowing the Spirit to lead praying people together to new understandings

This approach implies a few other things which many may not find easy to come to, but which I believe are heading more in the right direction:

1. Recognising that there is variation, apparent contradiction, and certainly growth in understanding, within the Bible. OT gives way to NT (Luke 16:16), within the OT we see major growth and development i understanding God, and we even see it in the short time span of the NT. So not all applies equally, and certainly not all applies legalistically to us today.

2. The Bible is not an inerrant set of rules we much follow strictly (it doesn’t claim to be and it doesn’t appear to be), but a source of inspired writings which the Spirit can and will use to bring truth to us – but not always the same truth or a literal reading. If you study <a href=" Jesus and the NT authors used the OT, you find it was like this – less pedantic and literal than we might expect, more fluid and unexpected.

3. If this is true, then learning God’s will on any matter is no longer “just” a matter of finding some proof texts, nor “just” learning Greek meanings and cultural context, important as those things are. It also means praying, coming to consensus across the whole body, learning to hear from the Spirit, respecting the gifts of prophecy and insight. All of these are needed.

I believe the Spirit is leading us into a more equal treatment of women (and many other new things besides), and I believe we can see evidence of this. But we need to be willing to embrace Scripture and Spirit as co-revealers of truth, and trust the body of believers, using the gists properly, to discern the new truths.

This would be massive change, especially to the US evangelical establishment, and will probably only happen as the present generation of more traditional leaders retire or die. Then some of God’s new leaders – people like you guys and innovators like (to name a few at random) Peter Enns, NT Wright, Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Mike Frost & Alan Hirsch – will be seen to be “prophets of God’s new thing”. All that list, and others too, may not get everything right, but I believe you are all pointing somewhat in the new direction.


I agree with you that one of the main things going on at the moment is that the Holy Spirit is leading people to reconsider this issue. There are an increasing number of books coming out, there are women’s leadership tracks at conferences–the whole issue is becoming a popular one of debate.

I like your first point–that of progressive revelation through the Scriptures, and while they remain the principles on which we base what we do, the Lord continues to reveal fresh truth today. Think, for example, of the issue of slavery which was accepted and “scriptural” for centuries and now is discarded by everyone.

I hope you get to post the other half of your comments. These are valuable!

Felicity, I wrote a longer comment, and it only accepted half. I’ll try to remember and rep[eat the rest, and finish off what appears there.

I believe we should just continue to do what we do best and ignore such gender bias. You see I was raised by a grandmother and aunt who believed in equality of the sexes and never even thought it was worthy of debate. My grandmother, being the eldest and only girl in a large family of boys, had to leave school early in order to look after her brothers. She could have resented this, or she could have submitted to the inevitable and become just a nanny, but she chose another course. She studied with a voracious mental appetite, especially languages, history and geography, was a very independent thinker, and many men chose to include her in their conversations because she had an intelligent mind. She brought up her three daughters to be like her – all leaders in different areas – and I followed in their footsteps. I joined in everything that my brother and male cousins did – in fact they encouraged me! I was never interested in ‘women’s rights’, and was stunned when I started to read about the history of women’s emancipation, the suffragette movement, and the fact that some churches frowned on women in leadership positions. I had no idea they needed to be ’emancipated’, although as an adult I grew to understand that throughout history there had been a bias against women, from which they needed to be set free. Now my own children, adults themselves, are very well aware that they can never tell their mother, “It can’t be done”! That word is not in my vocabulary.

I’m just starting to appreciate that, Felicity. For most of my life I’ve been pitied because my mother died in childbirth a couple of days after my fourth birthday, I went to live with my grandmother and aunt (my father couldn’t cope), and then to boarding school from the age of seven. But now I realize how God has indeed worked it all for good (as he does) and, through it all, has given me strengths I would not otherwise have had. And yes, although not Christian, she was a strong positive influence in my life. It’s interesting, in the light of what you have just said, that only two days ago I posted a new board on Pinterest, entitled ‘My Heritage’. Here’s the link if you’re interested:

Love the Pinterest page. We spent the first 15 years of our marriage very close to the Tower of London (where some of my ancestors played a less than salubrious role) and lived in a house like the one in Islington for many years. Small world…

When I went through a divorce I wanted to get remarried but Christians told me I could not marry another woman based upon their interpretation of scripture so I studied the deal and by the time I got to the end of figuring it out I had no confirming answer so I took some folks suggestions and three times I tried to get my ex wife to remarry me and she said no way so finally I told The Lord ok your in control of my life by your in dwelling presence and your place at gods throne as my high priest so you decide about my marital status and here it is eight years later I’m still be it.instead of the church relying on its different interpretations of the bible it would be better to just commit it over to the spirit instead of the bible and just let be whatever comes…he knows best and will work all issues out for his glory.

Kenneth, I appreciate your desire to follow God in every aspect of your life. A good example in a difficult area.

I believe that the issue is not just the role of women in church. Look at the comparative attendance of men and women. The statistics show that twice as many women attend than men.
To me the issue is far more about leadership itself. The very idea of the hierarchical leadership we see in most churches is pagan (as most people here would understand). Yet we argue whether women should lead it?

Come on saints, surely we should dump this debate and conduct church as a place where Jesus Christ can lead and we all, both men and women are conduits of his spirit and ministry.

My honest opinion? I totally object to women being appointed to lead me!
However I also object to the falsehood of men being appointed above me! I have no mediator between me and God other than the man Jesus Christ. It is that man and only that man who is over me.
In practicality, I am mutually submitted to several women whom I have great spiritual respect for, including my beloved wife.

Despite what scripture tells us, we love to appoint special men to stand at the front of church and conduct meetings as if it is theatre, or a schoolroom. This merely guarantees the attendance of twice as many women as men. “Such church really is for wusses……….and women!”
Passive church is a dead system and should be abandoned as dead. Even when everyone is dragged to their feet to sing or respond to that special leader, it is still passive church and as such, a system created by Satan to ensure men go to sleep. Those in attendance have little clue of how to engage with their spirit man, as you can do that sort of church without it.
To me, the argument about women in church leadership is irrelevant. It only speaks about a system that is defunct anyway. Who cares, if they want to lead that sort of church, let them have it all.
Until we value the spirit of every man woman and child when we gather together, church will be of little value in changing society.

Frances, As you know, I totally agree with what you’ve said here. The way we do church traditionally is hardly what Jesus died for. And maybe there’s nothing we can do to change the world’s perception of church. It will take a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit.


2. The Bible is not an inerrant set of rules we much follow strictly (it doesn’t claim to be and it doesn’t appear to be), but a source of inspired writings which the Spirit can and will use to bring truth to us – but not always the same truth or a literal reading. If you study how Jesus and the NT authors quote and use the OT, you find it wasn’t nearly as literal and straightforward as we might expect, but more fluid and unexpected.

3. When we seek God’s truth on any matter, it is not enough to gather a few isolated proof texts, it is not even enough to learn Greek usage or cultural context, valuable though these are. We need also to hear from the Holy Spirit. We need to pray together, discern the Spirit’s guidance across the wider body of believers, especially via people with gifts of prophecy and insight, and so allow the Spirit of God to show us how God wants us to understand the Scriptures and his will for us today.

4. Thus the Scriptures and the Spirit work together to guide us and lead us into new truths, about women, and about many other issues. And the uneasy feeling we all have about this and other matters that we haven’t presently got it right, and the intuition we feel that there is a better way, can be tested and (I believe) seen to be from God.

But this is unlikely to happen within US evangelicalism, because powerful leaders have too much invested in the status quo or (more charitably) their own understanding of authority and truth, and change will only come when many present leaders retire. But in the meantime, a new bunch of “prophetic” leaders has already arisen, and will begin to take their place more and more – people like you guys, Shane Claiborne, NT Wright, Peter Enns, Rob Bell, Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch (to name just a few). I don’t think everything that everyone in that group teaches is correct, but I believe you are all heading in new and generally Spirit-led directions.

Keep believing, keep working for the new way, keep praying!! 🙂

Thanks for completing these thoughts, UnkleE. It’s interesting to have an outside perspective on US evangelicalism. I totally agree with what you’ve said about discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading.

Leave a Reply