The top-selling book for teen girls from the Gospel Advocate, a leading seller of books for classes in the Churches of Christ, is God’s Girls: Secrets of Leadership for Young Women by Teresa Hampton.
God’s Girls is endorsed by Roy and Brenda Johnson of Lads to Leaders / Leaderettes, the largest youth-training program used by Churches of Christ. The book has been promoted by that program for at least 6 years, including at its annual convention and online as one of only two books specifically for girls among the program’s offerings.
The vast majority of Church of Christ congregations prohibit girls and women from serving or speaking in a worship service in which a man is present, except for singing along with the congregation—girls and women cannot lead prayer, read scripture out loud for the assembly, lead singing, serve at the communion table, or make announcements, much less preach.
It surprises some to learn:
- The Churches of Christ denomination is nearly alone among U.S. denominations and Christianity in completely prohibiting women from all public worship roles.
- Much scripture indicates women, just like men, are encouraged by God to speak, serve as leader, pray, prophesy, and teach to men and women, in the church or any other setting.
- A growing number of Church of Christ congregations, universities, and scholars, taking into account such Biblical principles, do not exclude women from all public worship roles.
What does God’s Girls: Secrets of Leadership for Young Women tell teen girls about women’s roles in the church?
1. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
The first secret of leadership told to teen girls by God’s Girls is that God does not want them in “the more visible leadership positions.”
The opening paragraphs of the first chapter inform the girls that God intends men to have those positions.
Nor does God want them in “the spiritual” leadership positions in the home, the church, or worship, the book tells them.
Why not? No explanation is offered, but a promise is made: “we’ll learn about it in the next chapter.”
2. Is Your Husband Home?
The next chapter—“obedience” in its title—begins by discussing Adam and Eve.
Before Eve was created, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden on penalty of death.
The Bible does not say how Eve knew she was not supposed to eat from the tree.
God or Adam might have told Eve. The Bible does not say.
God’s Girls, though, tells the teen girls that Adam told Eve, mentioning no other possibility.
Why did God’s Girls do this?
Some argue Adam (man) is Eve’s (woman’s) superior. They say God gave Adam orders, and Adam gave those orders to Eve.
Sure enough, God’s Girls soon tells the girls that God established a “chain of command” before the Fall, with Adam over Eve.
3. Obey and Submit to … Me.
The obedience chapter continues by emphasizing that young girls must obey and submit to “legitimate authority.”
Six make the book’s list of legitimate authority: God, parents, husbands, laws of the land, and … teachers and spiritual leaders.
It is almost certainly a teacher or spiritual leader that is sitting with the teen girls going over the instructions in God’s Girls during a church class.
So, those doing the instructing in a church setting are emphasizing the importance of the teen girls obeying them and submitting to them.
This matters particularly for what comes next.
4. Psychology 101.
The girls are told “all must submit to God” and the alternative is “pay dire consequences.” Driving the threat home, God’s Girls puts the girls’ going to heaven on the line: “if you desire an eternal reward you must obey God.”
Connecting the threat to a woman’s role in the church and home, the book then asks the teen girls a loaded question:
“Why is it so hard to understand and accept the roles of authority that God has placed in the church and in marriage? Scripture plainly teaches that from the beginning—before the fall of Adam and Eve—God established positions of authority, a chain of command in the physical home and in His spiritual family.”
Any decent lawyer would object to this question.
Loaded questions attempt to cause their target to accept the premise without questioning it.
The premise here includes that it is God (and not tradition) that requires compliance with sex-based “roles of authority”—such as excluding women and girls from the “more visible” and “spiritual leadership” roles, as God’s Girls asserts in its first chapter.
Questions like this also attempt to convince the target—here, teen girls and younger, probably mostly 11 – 15 —that something is wrong with them if they do not understand and accept the premise, here including that God ordered a chain of command, in the home and in the church, with men having authority over women.
The scripture God’s Girls claims “plainly teaches” God ordered such a chain of command is 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which is part of a letter Paul (or someone writing in his name) wrote to Timothy about 2000 years ago.
Why did God order such a chain of command?
“Male Leadership: God’s Reasons” titles a section in God’s Girls listing these reasons God wants women and girls excluded from the “more visible” and “spiritual leadership” roles, per God’s Girls:
- “Adam was made first (1 Tim 2:13).
- Eve was made second (2:13).
- Adam was not the one tricked by the devil (2:14).
- Women should learn in quietness and full submission—he did not “permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (2:12).
- God designated men as elders and deacons to oversee and care for the work of the church (Acts 20:28; Heb 13:17).”
Do those make sense as reasons God would exclude all women for all time from leading singing in a church? … as reasons God would exclude teenage girls from reading scripture in church? … as reasons God would exclude a widowed woman with cancer who served the church for years from leading the church in prayer on a Sunday morning?
Maybe this is a clue that a misinterpretation of 1 Timothy is involved.
6. Is This a Bad Time to Bring This Up?
God’s Girls says “God designated men as … deacons.”
But the Apostle Paul says “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon …, ” in Romans 16:1-2.
God’s Girls says “he did not ‘permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man’ ([1 Timothy] 2:12).”
But God and the Apostle Paul ask and permit women to teach men and to have authority over men throughout the Bible ….. in Acts 18:24-26; 2 Kings 22:11-20; Luke 2:36-38; Matt 28:8-10; Acts 2:15-21; 1 Cor 14:5-33; Col 3:16; Eph 5:19; Judges 4-5; Romans 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:21; and lots and lots of other passages.
Most everyone recognizes that a plain reading of common English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12, like that quoted by God’s Girls, does not capture its meaning (a woman cannot teach a man?!). But that is all God’s Girls gives the girls.
And Paul uses a rare word authentein to indicate the kind of authority to which he was referring in 2:12 (it is the only time it is used in the New Testament).
Indeed, many English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12 do not say women are not to “have authority” over men, but instead say they should not …
“assume authority” (NIV) “usurp authority” (KJV)
“instigate conflict” (ISV) “have dominion” (ASV, ERV)
… over men.
And if you flip one page in the Bible, Paul says what kind of teaching and authority about which he is writing to Timothy in 1 Tim in the opening paragraph of the letter: the kind that involves a person disturbing the peace by acting like they are a “teacher of the law” (teaching was often treated above the scripture then) while they do not know what they are talking about. (1 Tim 1:2-8)
That is, many view Paul, in 1 Tim 2:12, to simply ask women not to engage in the kind of teaching / authority in which they would wrongly grab authority to domineer over men and engage in that kind of teaching and authority, which of course normal, peaceful preaching, leading singing, reading scripture, etc., would not be.
Does God’s Girls mention any of this? No.
Instead, God’s Girls does things like inform the girls that “your husband will be the authority figure to whom you submit” while quoting Ephesians 5:22-28 (wives submit to your husbands and husbands love your wives).
Does God’s Girls quote the opening verse to that passage, Ephesians 5:21, that comes before the verses on wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving wives?:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
7. Plainly Something.
God’s Girls tells teen girls that the scripture “plainly teaches.”
“One of the most difficult passages to understand in the New Testament” is what a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and editor-in-chief of Zondervan Publishing calls 1 Timothy 2:12-15 (the passage from which the verses cited in God’s Girls comes).
Most—more than 90%—of U.S. Christian denominations interpret 1 Timothy differently than God’s Girls.
Yet, God’s Girls tells the teen girls that the scripture “plainly teaches”?!
8. Can It Get Worse? Yes, It Can.
God’s Girls includes fill-in-the-blank sections throughout the book in which the teen-girl reader is asked questions about scripture.
Up to page 32 (the page telling the girls that scripture “plainly teaches” a chain of command), these fill-in-the-blank sections give the reader book, chapter, and verse—a clear scripture cite—for the scripture needed to fill in the blanks.
Up to page 32, the book tells the reader what verse to turn to. The reader can flip to the verses cited and then fill in the blanks.
Now, at page 32, for the first time, God’s Girls asks the girls to find scripture without providing even a hint about where to find the scripture—- it gives no scripture cite.
It asks the girls in a section titled “Female Leadership: God’s Reasons.”
This is awful, frankly.
God’s Girls gives the teen girls this to fill out at page 32:
“In the previous verses, the Bible teaches that women are not to have authority over men in spiritual matters, such as teaching, preaching, and visible leadership roles in worship. Now find scriptures that command women to be public leaders in worship.
God’s Girls asks them to “find scriptures that command women to be public leaders in worship” —– even though many fundamentalists assert there is no scripture “that command women to be public leaders in worship.”
Did God’s Girls intend for the young girls to go spend time searching the Bible in vain unguided in order to try to frustrate them and to teach them a lesson?
9. Teacher’s Manual.
Here are scriptures that command women to be public leaders in the worship of God, by the way (the way the book uses those terms):
- “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor 14:26)
- “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:5a)
- “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” (1 Cor 14:39)
- “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10-11a)
- “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (1 Cor 12:6-8)
There are many more examples in which God asks women to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly, in public, and elsewhere.
10. Are You …. In Doc Trinate? The Pliable are Here.
The chapter’s closing section is titled “The Time is Now!” and tells the girls:
“If you do not study and understand the truths about submission when you are young and pliable, you may be tempted to drift into the worldly pattern of female domination and leadership.”
Please re-read that.
And then it ends with warnings to the teen girls about what will happen if they ignore the rules of women’s roles articulated by God’s Girls as God-given:
- “Satan will lead you close to the edge of sin’s cliff. How close can you get without falling over?”
- “Ignoring the rules is sometimes daring and alluring. … Too late you will learn the real cost of disobedience.”
- “[P]eople surrender to the folly of sin. … It may condemn their souls and the souls of others. Think about it!”
“The Time is Now!” to look up the definitions of veiled threat and indoctrinate.
Lots of well-meaning people selected God’s Girls for use in teaching teen girls, gave it as a present to their daughters and granddaughters, and otherwise promoted the book.
Most probably did not give the book much thought, relying on the Gospel Advocate, endorsements, Lads to Leaders / Leaderettes, and tradition.
But a disturbing foundation is laid for the girls in the first two chapters that permeates the book and ought not be built on.
The teen girls probably learn more from being excluded and seeing their mothers and friends excluded Sunday after Sunday after Sunday by the preacher, elders, and church members around them than the girls learn from such books anyway. Which is more disturbing?
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(The picture is one I took of my copy of God’s Girls.)
Sources and Notes
Teresa Hampton, God’s Girls: Secrets of Leadership for Young Women, Huntsville, Alabama: Publishing Designs (2011, Second Printing 2015).
Best-selling …: http://stores.gospeladvocate.com/teens/?sort=bestselling: Search done April 29, 2018— GospelAdvocate.com – Click on Store – Click on Teens (in left-hand column) – In “Sort By,” select Bestselling. God’s Girls was the fifth book listed overall and the first one specifically for girls.
Lads to …: Lads to Leaders web site, http://l2l.mybigcommerce.com/curriculum/ (visited April 29, 2018); Lads to Leaders / Leaderettes 2012 National Convention Program, Page 16.
used to teach teen girls: See, e.g., http://carycoc.org/connect/lib/catalog.php?sub=Girls (Cary Church of Christ library holding); http://www.lapeercoc.com/events/event/37/teens—girls-devotional-at-the-sornigs-/2013-06-11 (“Girls grades 7-12 are invited to come to a devotional every Tuesday evening at the Sornig’s home. We will be studying “God’s Girls, Secrets of Leadership for Young Women” by Teresa Hampton.”); http://www.lakesidechurchofchristspringfieldil.com/community–1.html (“Our teen and tween girls have been studying the book God’s Girls by Teresa Hampton. As part of our service, we made blessing bags for the homeless”); http://www.northsidecofc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06-12-2016.pdf (“Sunday AM Bible Classes … · God’s Girls by Theresa Hampton—Teenage Girls Classroom. …”); http://life.gacoc.org/uploads/8/1/9/9/8199054/bulletin0.pdf (“The class is currently hosting a special series on “God’s Girls: Secrets of Leadership for Young Women” Open to ages: 13-17 Join us this afternoon at 5 PM in Room 117.”); http://churchofchristwomenauthors.blogspot.com/2015/07/gods-girls-by-teresa-hampton.html.
“Many Church of Christ congregations have stopped this prohibition …”: Where the Spirit Leads web site includes a list of some such congregations, though there are more.
Also see: Steve Gardner, “Excluding Women from Church Roles: Introduction to Problems With Citing Scripture to Do So,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 17, 2017) (listing resources in the notes).
“… nearly alone among U.S. denominations in generally excluding women from all public worship roles.”: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “David Lipscomb, Church of Christ Foundational Leader: ‘All the Teaching of the Bible is Against Women Speaking in Public’ (It Gets Worse),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 12, 2018) (discussing evangelical denominations in the main body and in the notes); Pew Research’s religious landscape study, http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ (includes percentages reflected by various denominations). It appears that, of the sizeable evangelical denominations, only three others (the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (1.1%), Presbyterian Church in America (0.4%), and Independent Baptist (2.5%)) are in the direction of being as restrictive as the general Church of Christ (1.5%) approach, but it appears that most of them are not as restrictive. Notes and sources regarding the larger evangelical denominations are in the David Lipscomb article cited above.
“A growing number of Church of Christ … universities”: See, e.g., Abilene Christian University; Lipscomb University; Pepperdine University; Lubbock Christian University; Rochester College; York College.
“Many women …”: See, e.g., sources noted above for congregations and universities. Also see Steve Gardner, “Excluding Women from Church Roles: Introduction to Problems With Citing Scripture to Do So,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 17, 2017) (discussing some CoC churches in the main body and listing resources in the sources/notes section).
“The Bible does not say …” (re Adam and Eve): See, e.g., Genesis 2-3.
“Some who argue … insist that God spoke only to Adam before the Fall …”: See, e.g., Matt Slick, “Genesis 2, Adam and Eve, and Authority,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, https://carm.org/genesis-2-adam-and-eve-and-authority (explaining that to answer the objection that “Nothing in Genesis shows authority before the fall,” one should say “This is simply not true. We clearly see God has demonstrated authority over his creation in bringing it into existence…. God gave instructions to Adam, and Adam gave God’s instructions to Eve. We know this because in Genesis 3 we see where Satan tempts Eve, and Eve repeats the instructions God gave to Adam in Gen. 2:16. This means that Adam transmitted the instructions of God to Eve, and Eve repeated them to Satan. Adam served as God’s authoritative representative to Eve.”).
“Loaded questions …”: https://www.psychologistworld.com/memory/leading-questions-eyewitness-testimony (“the respondent is expected to share the assumed fact with the interviewer without questioning it”).
“Many English translations …”: http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/2-12.htm (I changed this from “most” to “many” after publication because it struck me as an impossible thing to say (“most English translations”) as I do not know how many such translations are out there.)
I’m using “authority” here as those arguing for hierarchy use it; I don’t think of speaking in the worship assembly as “‘authority” but as service.
“one of the most difficult …”: Stanley N. Gundry, “From Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Preachers to Woman Be Free: My Story,” in How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership (page number unknown, this link is to the page with the quote).
“… 90% …”: See, e.g., sources discussed above relative to “… nearly alone ….”
A periodical with which the author of God’s Girls is indirectly associated: “is it only by the emphasis on the work of men that we would conclude that women are not to be public leaders in the church of Christ? No, the Scriptures very clearly say ….” Indeed, a fundamentalist tract explains “Women are not suited to be … public leaders in the worship of God.”
“Many fundamentalists …”: Indeed, a periodical with which the author of God’s Girls is indirectly associated says “is it only by the emphasis on the work of men that we would conclude that women are not to be public leaders in the church of Christ? No, the Scriptures very clearly say by inspiration, [quoting 1 Timothy 2:14]. The reason given in this passage shows that the prohibition was not a cultural thing but a law made by God’s direction.” Voice of Truth, Vol. 57, page 42, http://www.gospelgazette.com/library/voice%20of%20truth/vot_057.pdf
Church of Christ “tract … ‘Women are not suited to be … public leaders in the worship of God.’”: http://www.seektheoldpaths.com/stop115.htm
“Most everyone …”: See, e.g., Everett Ferguson, Women in the Church, Second ed., Abilene, Texas: Desert Willow Publishing (2015), pages 20-21, 28-29, 46, 118 (e.g., determining “kinds” of speaking he views as prohibited under 1 Cor 14:34-35 and other kinds (like singing, reciting scripture with the congregation, and translation) that are not; looking outside 1 Tim 2, for example, for his view that it is limited to the worship assembly).
God’s Girls quotes / material:
Section 1: God’s Girls, page 14; also see pages 32-33 (“women are not to have authority over men in spiritual matters, such as teaching, preaching, and visible leadership roles in worship”).
2: pages 23-24, 25 (out of its way; asks), 32 (“chain of command”).
3: pages 27-28.
4: page 32.
5: page 32.
6: page 32, 33 (husband, Eph. 5:22-24). Also see Song of Songs 6:3 (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine ….”).
7: page 32.
8-9: page 32-33 (first time (side bars on pages 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31 all provide the scripture)) (emphasis added).
10: pages 33-34.
[Update] This worthwhile article came to my attention after original publication: Anessa Westbrook, “The Perceived Need for Spiritual Development among Church of Christ Undergraduate Women at Harding University,” Discernment, Volume 2, Issue 1, Article 4 (2016); fixed picture; edited for clarity in places, edited notes, added links, etc.
A good place to begin understanding both sides of the argument is Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan). The leading recent book from a Church of Christ scholar arguing for exclusion is Everett Ferguson’s Women in the Church, and a leading one from a Church of Christ scholar arguing against exclusion is Carol Osborn’s Women in the Church. If I were going to buy just one, it would be the Two Views book because it contains arguments on both sides of the issue. I briefly describe and list some resources, including those analyzing scripture, relative to Church of Christ congregations in which women regularly serve in the worship services in the main text and (more) in the “Sources and Notes” section of a recent blog post. I set out scripture that asks women and girls to speak to, teach, have authority over, and lead men, in an assembly and elsewhere, in this article.
All scripture quoted is from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise indicated.