“I have to strongly disagree with you on that,” a Harding University student responded to renowned Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig during his visit there when he said “it’s not because of discrimination” that theology is a male-dominated field.
During Dr. Craig’s meeting with the Harding University Bible and Theology Club in February 2018, the student explained “women … are excluded … because of sexism and discrimination,” but Dr. Craig replied “I don’t believe it.” He went on to say that the experience of such women “is either extraordinary or they are reading things through colored glasses ….”
The exchange, captured on video, suggests several things, including that Dr. Craig probably did not know that Harding University—affiliated with the Churches of Christ denomination—does not allow women even to read scripture out loud in its chapel worship assembly or to lead singing, much less preach. Women read scripture and preach in chapel regularly at over half of the colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but Harding is not one of them.
Dr. Craig also probably did not know that there are only a tiny number of employment opportunities for women with Church of Christ churches, Church of Christ colleges, and other entities affiliated with the Churches of Christ in a position that requires a Bible or theology degree. A growing number of Church of Christ congregations do not exclude women from preaching or teaching men in Sunday School, for example, but the vast majority of them do.
Dr. Craig answered questions from those attending the club meeting for about 45 minutes. The last questioner was called on as they began to run out of time:
Student (to Dr. Craig):
“[W]e were reading a lot of very insightful papers by you and your colleagues, and I cannot help but notice but most of them, pretty much all of them, are male.”
“So, from the horse’s mouth, is there room for female and minority voices in Christian philosophy or is that field still being excluded?”
“Of course, there’s room for it, but look at the room about you, my friend.”
“I mean how many minority and female persons are there in this room?”
“The fact of the matter is that philosophy and theology just tend to be very male-dominated fields, and it’s not because of discrimination.”
“On the contrary, departments are looking for hires of minority and women applicants.”
“But it’s just not a field that attracts … those scholars. …”
“I have to strongly disagree with you on that.”
“Yes. Because women I have spoken to who are interested in this field find that they are excluded from them because of sexism and discrimination. And …”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Their experience is either extraordinary or they are reading things through colored glasses because as someone working in the field, and in a department that is looking to hire a woman, for example, as a model and someone who can … I mean a role model … who can connect with our female students, …”
“It’s much easier for them in the profession.”
“And so, I think their experience is either extraordinary or they are looking at it through colored lenses because as someone in the field I can tell you it’s wide open to minorities and women if they will simply avail themselves of the opportunity.”
“We are …” —and the video ends.
Context, Context, Context
I admire Dr. Craig and have long appreciated his honesty and clarity. His answers normally display a complete grasp on the subject about which he is speaking. In this exchange, though, he displayed a lack of awareness, including of the context from which the question came.
Dr. Craig asking “how many … female persons are there in this room?”—referring to the Harding Bible and Theology club meeting—and asserting “it’s not because of discrimination” and adding “[i]t’s much easier” for women in the profession completely misses the mark when Harding bars women from actively serving on a regular basis in the chapel worship assembly and when there are very few Church of Christ congregations or other Church of Christ-affiliated entities that will hire a woman for a job that requires a Bible or theology degree.
I admire the Harding student who was brave enough to say to an internationally known visiting scholar: “I have to strongly disagree with you on that.”
Dr. Craig’s reaction—“I don’t believe that”—probably would have been different had he known of Church-of-Christ practices and realized that the women of which the student spoke were likely in the Churches of Christ denomination.
Throughout the discussion, he seemed to be thinking about his own university department and ones like it in an academic context and the Christian philosophy or theology practiced there, rather than the reality of the questioner’s context.
Dr. Craig’s statement that the field is “wide open” would come as a shock to Church of Christ women who have given up on the idea of seeking a Bible, theology, or related degree from a Church of Christ college because of unavailability of employment or who obtained such a degree but who are shut out of opportunities by their own denomination.
In many cases, though, it is now her former denomination, as fewer and fewer put up with such discrimination.
Yet, the damage is done—most all of those women have been diverted from a Bible or theology degree or are on a journey without denominational support, without substantial encouragement by her college or the church of her youth, without readily available mentors who have blazed such a path, and without an alumni network encouraging such pursuits.
Extraordinary are the women who pursue theological degrees, vocations, and employment in Church of Christ circles.
Extraordinary are the people who, when they see discrimination or hear assertions that it’s not because of discrimination, say “I have to strongly disagree with you on that.”
Postscript: The Video
This video shows the exchange recounted above and is worth watching (begins at about 44:20–the total time of the exchange is about 2.5 minutes).
Sources & Notes
The picture is one I took of a mocked-up invitation.
I inferred from watching the video and the setting that the person asking the question is a Harding student.
I have focused on gender in this article instead of race. I will note, though, that Dr. Craig commenting on the lack of minority students in the room might not take into account that only 4% of Harding students are black, 3% are Hispanic, and 1% are Asian. U.S. News & World Report’s Find the Best Colleges for You (2016 Edition), page D-7.
“Women read scripture and preach in chapel regularly at just over half of the colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but Harding University is not one of them.”: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women from Leading in Worship Services: A List of Schools and Their Approach to Chapel,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 9, 2018).
“A growing number of Church of Christ congregations do not exclude women from actively serving in this way, …”: WheretheSpiritLeads.com
That discrimination is connected to an interpretation of three verses in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12, and is perpetuated primarily by people assuming that those before them knew what they were doing, peer pressure, reinforcing and modeling the practice every Sunday (exclusion of women), and a “follow the plain meaning” view of the scripture as to this issue (even though virtually no church actually follows the plain meaning of those passages). Very few have actually studied these passages in any depth, but very many are in favor of or go along with excluding women in these ways. See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Essentials Do Not Include Male-Led Assemblies of Male Deacons, Implies Gospel Advocate,” AuthenticTheoloyg.com (July 18, 2018); Steve Gardner, “(Part 2) Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women from Leading in Worship Services: Scriptural? and a College Visit,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 16, 2018) (read this four-part series for a fuller view).
Dr. Craig says that such women’s experience must be “extraordinary or they are reading things through colored glasses.” It is indeed “extraordinary”—around 90% of U.S. Christianity is less restrictive on this issue than the Churches of Christ, which is nearly alone among U.S. denominations in wholly excluding women from all worship-assembly roles in the vast majority of its congregations. 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 generally as restrictive as the general Church of Christ (1.5%) approach. Notes and sources regarding the larger evangelical denominations are in the David Lipscomb article cited above.
The denomination is shrinking. See, e.g., Bobby Ross, Jr., “165,000 fewer souls in the pews: Five questions to consider,” The Christian Chronicle (March 2, 2015).
The Q&A shown in the video is otherwise highly educational and insightful and I encourage you to watch it.