Alexander Campbell is recognized as one of the progenitors (some would say co-founders) of the Churches of Christ and other Christian denominations that grew out of the Restoration Movement, a movement he co-led in the 1800s.
What did he think about women working outside the home? What did he think about women having civil rights (what he called “rights and wrongs”)?
Let’s let Mr. Campbell tell you. He published an article in his British Millennial Harbinger in 1854—likely in response to women seeking the right to vote and to work outside the home—setting out his views:
- “What says God’s grand institute of woman’s rights and wrongs? … Adam was first …, then Eve. … He is first and she is second. He is senior and she is junior. They are, therefore, neither equal in rank nor in age.”
- “Their office in the world is also unlike. He was Lord Adam, and she was Queen Eve.”
- “His lordship was earth wide, her queenship is naturally and rightfully only house wide.”
- “It is in quite as good taste with us … to assign to women their task at home.”
- Women’s “kingdom and their crown is not to figure in broils and battles in the forum, in the Senate, in the forests, or in the battle field.”
- The Apostle Paul would not tell women “that they had political or civil rights and duties, incompatible with” keeping house or obeying their husbands.
- Paul, who “would have women … wear long hair for a covering in Christian assemblies … could not have made it either a duty, a privilege, or an honor [for a woman] to claim the rights of a civil magistrate, a lawgiver, a legal adviser, a minister of state, a civil judge, or an envoy ….”
Campbell’s Views Were Highly Influential
His views of a woman’s place in society and her lack of civil rights—as well as his view on male supremacy—influenced Campbell’s interpretation of scripture.
His interpretations greatly influenced the Restoration Movement through the latter part of the 1800s, and then were propagated through doctrine adopted by many Restoration Movement churches.
Campbell died in 1866, shortly after the end of the Civil War (1861-1865).
Much of his doctrine became part of the “Tennessee Tradition,” advocated by the Gospel Advocate and other publications within the Restoration Movement.
The Tennessee Tradition “consistently excluded women from any public role—including speaking and leadership in both society and church.” It restricted “the reins of public leadership and power to masculine hands.”
Challenge on This Issue and Split, Mostly Over Other Issues
This exclusion was challenged in the late 1800s into the early 1900s by Selina Holman (in Tennessee but not part of the “Tennessee Tradition”), the Disciples of Christ, and others in the Restoration Movement.
The Restoration Movement churches split, beginning in the late 1860s and culminating in the early 1900s, with respect to a variety of issues. Other issues, such as post-war tension between those in the southern states and Union states, were the major factors in the split, but gender issues also played a role.
Those in the Tennessee Tradition went into the Churches of Christ denomination for the most part. The others who challenged the exclusion mostly went into the Disciples of Christ denomination.
But Campbell’s View is Not What the Bible Says
Campbell was far off with his view on women.
Campbell said: Man and woman are not “equal in rank.”
But God said: Man and woman are made “in the image of God.” (Gen 1:27). I will make man a helper “as his partner,” “as his counterpart,” “suitable.” (Gen. 2:18 (NRSV; YLT; NIV); also see Galatians 3:28)).
Campbell said: “His lordship was earth wide, her queenship is naturally and rightfully only house wide.”
But God said: Let both male and female have dominion over everything that creeps upon “the earth” and let both subdue “the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28).
Campbell said: Paul would not say that a woman has civil rights.
But God said: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
Campbell said: Paul “could not have made it … a privilege, or an honor [for a woman] to claim the rights of a civil magistrate, a lawgiver, a legal adviser, a minister of state, a civil judge, or an envoy ….”
But God said: Deborah, you should claim the rights of a civil magistrate, lawgiver, minister of state, civil judge, and envoy, and you should speak for me as a prophet. (Judges 4-5).
How could Campbell have come to the view that a woman’s role should be so restricted?
It is hard to know. The depth of Biblical interpretative material available now as compared to the 1800s is staggering. He, of course, was not alone in his view.
Remember, he said it is in “good taste … to assign to women their task at home.”
Also, he had 14 children.
(Portrait of Alexander Campbell from Library of Congress site, copyright expired — http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507868/)
Sources & Notes
“known as the ‘Tennessee Tradition’ ….” and after (including the quotes): The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History, Edited by D. Newell Williams et al., St. Louis: Chalice Press (2013), 89, 92-93, 151-152. Also see 76-81 (“Sectional and sociological differences” in the post-war era between those in the southern states and those in the Union states rose to prominence. Financial matters, including what some in the south perceived as extravagant spending on church buildings and organs in the north when the south was impoverished in post-war times, added to the negative feelings. These found their way into issues such as instrumental music in the worship service, support of institutions, paying a resident and educated preacher, and others. Issues like the use of choirs in worship, supporting missionary societies, raising money outside the Sunday contribution played a major role. The Tennessee Tradition’s negative view of women speaking on missions contributed to the split.)
See generally Lesly F. Massey, “Alexander Campbell and the Status of Women: A Case Study in Ambivalence,” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/alexander-campbell-and-status-women