Does the Churches of Christ denomination inflict long-term harm on girls by prohibiting women from what many refer to as “leadership roles” in the congregation—by prohibiting women from speaking in the Sunday morning assembly, leading singing or prayer in the assembly, reading scripture for the assembly, etc.?
Yes, suggests a detailed study published in 2018 that surveyed multiple religious traditions.
The study by Dr. Benjamin Knoll of Centre College and Cammie Jo Bolin, a Ph.D. student at Georgetown University, published in their book She Preached the Word (Oxford University Press) found, for all types of religious congregations (combined):
For Women, Having All-Male Congregational Leaders While Growing Up Results in, On Average, …
… Lower Self-Esteem
Women who had a female congregational leader at least “some of the time” while growing up had, as adults, levels of self-esteem “consistently just as high as men’s.”
But women who never had a female congregational leader growing up had lower self-esteem than men as adults, on average.
Low self-esteem is associated with greater levels of depression and anxiety and “lower levels of relationship success, job satisfaction, and motivation for personal improvement.”
… Less Education
Women who had only male congregational leaders growing up had, on average, lower levels of education when compared to women who had influential female congregational leaders.
“[W]omen … whose most influential leader was a woman had gained, on average, a full additional year of education compared to those whose most influential leader was a man.”
… Higher Unemployment
“[T]he gap in full-time employment between men and women is present only among those whose most influential youth congregational leader was a man. Women whose most influential leader growing up was a woman are equally likely to be employed full-time as men.”
… Authoritarian/Judgmental View of God: Psychological-Emotional Health
Adult women who had only male congregational leaders growing up are more likely to think about God in “a more authoritarian/judgmental way” rather than in “more graceful/loving terms.”
One’s view of God has been linked to psychological and emotional health.
… Psychological and Economic Gender-Gap
For adult women, “the gender gap in psychological and economic empowerment is present only among those whose religious congregational leaders growing up were exclusively men.”
… Causation of Long-Term Comparative Harm to Girls in the Congregation
The study explained this is likely not just correlation. “[T]hese results held true even when controlling for a variety of other potential mitigating factors including demographics and individual/family socioeconomic background,” per the study.
Thus, this study found, having only male congregational leaders comparatively worsens, on average, future levels of education, employment, health, and psychological and economic empowerment of young women and girls in the congregation for the long-term.
Of U.S. adults who attended religious congregations growing up, nearly two out of three never had a female congregational leader.
The study did not indicate that no girls who grow up with only male congregational leaders become “successful” women.
It suggests instead that a girl who grows up with only male congregational leaders likely will have, as an effect of doing so, (1) lower self-esteem (associated with more depression and anxiety), (2) less education, (3) higher unemployment, and (4) more of an authoritarian and judgmental view of God (associated with negative psychological health), on average, than she would have had if she had grown up under the same conditions except having an influential female congregational leader, for example.
That is, the study suggests that even women who one might label “successful” were likely negatively impacted by having only male congregational leaders growing up.
In Church of Christ Congregations
Turning from the 2018 study’s results, which were based on data from multiple religious traditions and were for all types of congregations, to considering their implications for girls in the Churches of Christ denomination—
The Churches of Christ are on the extreme end of male congregational leadership. Even beyond being barred from serving as a preacher, women are barred from reading scripture to the worship assembly, leading the assembly in singing or prayer, making communion remarks, assisting at the communion table, and teaching adult (and even middle school and above) Sunday School in the vast majority of Churches of Christ. They are also barred from serving as an elder or deacon.
Absent for Children Over 10
In many Church of Christ congregations, girls and boys under 10 regularly see women in active congregational service as teachers in Sunday School.
But those over 10 generally see women (besides those in their family) in such service only on infrequent youth-trips, projects, or events or in the kitchen or the nursery because women are barred from teaching classes that include baptized males and because women are barred from speaking in the worship service.
Generally, for girls and boys 10 and over, in their church classrooms and worship services: Women become absent for them as religious teachers. Women are absent for them as readers and students of scripture. They do not hear women praying to God. Women are absent as showing joy in leading the congregation in song. They do not see women serving communion. Women are absent in the group assembling up front to lead the service. They do not hear women giving the communion address. Women are absent as being designated servants of the church, aka deacons. Women are absent from leading the congregation.
“Women’s Roles” and Discrimination Taught as OK
Children over 10 become aware of women going absent for them in active service in the classroom and of women’s absence from congregational leadership in the assembly. Indeed, in many Church of Christ congregations, almost everything touted as women’s roles (e.g., work with young children, tend nursery, teach “ladies classes,” cook meals for the sick, etc.), is not done for or is largely invisible to most children over the age of 10.
Particularly when those children become aware of such “women’s roles,” they also become aware that women and girls—-including their female friends in the youth group and their own mother and grandmother, and themselves if they are a girl—-are discriminated against in the church based on their sex, restricted from roles in their classrooms and the worship service while men and boys are not.
They are thereby taught by their congregation that sex discrimination is acceptable. This is taught Sunday after Sunday after Sunday by the actions of the entire congregation.
Didn’t Need a Survey
Did we need a survey to realize this prohibition is harmful to girls and young women?
Not only does scripture (like 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12) not require prohibiting women from doing so, scripture asks women to speak and actively serve, in the assembly and elsewhere, as discussed in the article at this link. Women in the Bible (for a start):
- told by Christ to speak to and tell assembled men about the risen Christ and to tell the assembled disciples what Christ wants them to do next (Matt 28:8-10; John 20:17-18)
- speaking before men and women, in the assembly and elsewhere (Luke 2:25-38; 1 Cor 11:5, 16; 1 Cor 14:5, 12-17, 23-25, 26, 27-33, 39; Acts 21:8-9; Acts 2:17-18)
- spoke and prayed before the whole church (1 Cor 14:5, 12-17, 26, 27-33; 1 Cor 11:5, 16)
- told to speak to and teach men and women via scripture and song (Eph 5:18-20; Col 3:16)
- told to use their gifts to serve others and to speak as if they speak the very words of God (1 Peter 4:10-11)
- prophets (Luke 2:25-38; Acts 21:8-9; Acts 2:17-18; Judges 4-5)
- taught assembled men about scripture and God’s message (2 Kings 22:11-20)
- taught men about the way of God (Acts 18:24-26)
- told to teach what is good to all, both men and women (Titus 2:3), especially to younger women (2:4-5)
- given authority over men (Judges 4-5; Ephesians 5:21)
- the first evangelist (John 4:1-42)
- deacon (Romans 16:1-2)
- apostle (Romans 16:7)
- risked their lives to help spread the Gospel (Romans 16:3-4)
Growing Number Ask Women to Speak in the Assembly
A growing number of Churches of Christ—after studying scripture, including realizing 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 do not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly—ask women to speak in the assembly, teach adult Sunday School, etc. A (incomplete) list of them, as well as links to scripture-study materials from some, are at the end of the Sources and Notes (below).
Most colleges affiliated with Churches of Christ, recognizing scripture does not bar it, also no longer prohibit women from speaking in worship chapel.
Conclusion: See the Mirror
These are probably the most important points—
Women are gifted by God, and God asks them to serve. And we block them. You will block what God has asked?
And, this study suggests, we inflict long-term harm on girls—we inflict long-term harm on our daughters and granddaughters, and we inflict long-term harm on the daughters and granddaughters of others in our church—by our inaction and silence on this issue and by our going along with the exclusion.
What, exactly, is worth harming these girls even one more day?
You Can Do Something About It Now
You can ask your elders and congregation to reconsider, and you can visibly support them as they do.
Or inaction, silence, and going along with it will continue, as will the harm to the people around you.
Part 2 of this article addresses several important points. Click for Part 2: here
Sources and Notes
Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, She Preached the Word, New York: Oxford University Press (2018). Pages 119-194 report the results of the study. Pages 195-218 provide Dr. Knoll and Ms. Bolin’s conclusions. Pages 219-235 describe further details of the study. The book is well done and dense with information, much more than is reported here and also on other, related topics.
The quotes in this article come from two articles by Dr. Knoll and Ms. Bolin based on their book and study: Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “It’s good for girls to have women in the pulpit,” Religion News (July 17, 2018), visited November 24, 2018; Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “Ten things to know about women’s ordination in the United States,” Oxford University Press Blog (June 2018), visited November 23, 2018.
Not only does scripture not require prohibiting women from doing so, scripture asks women to speak and actively serve, in the assembly and elsewhere.
For a discussion about relevant scripture, see Steve Gardner, “20 Scripture Passages Telling Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men in the Assembly and Elsewhere,”AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
A discussion regarding the Church of Christ college chapels is here: Most colleges affiliated with Churches of Christ, recognizing that scripture does not bar it, no longer prohibit women from speaking in worship chapel.
A (incomplete) list of some of the Churches asking women to speak in the assembly is here. Links to scripture-study materials from some of the Churches of Christ explaining why scripture does not prohibit women from actively serving in the assembly, etc.:
- Glenwood Church
- Providence Road Church of Christ
- Sycamore View Church of Christ
- Springfield Church of Christ
- Oak Hills Church
- Manhattan Church of Christ
- Fourth Avenue Church of Christ
- Southern Hills Church of Christ
- Meadowbrook Church of Christ
- “The Inclusion of Women in Worship: The Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas”
Quotes and information from the “2018 Study” section, “Lower Self Esteem,” “Less Education,” “Higher Unemployment,” “Psychological …” and the “Long-Term Harm” sections: Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “It’s good for girls to have women in the pulpit,” Religion News (July 17, 2018), visited November 24, 2018; except the two out of three (60.7%) statistic came from page 127 of She Preached the Word; and “Men … receive the same level …” came from page 135 of She Preached the Word.
“unemployment”: As it appears that the study’s survey sought employment information in this manner, this term is used in this article in the non-technical sense and is not limited to just those who meet the Department of Labor definition (seeking work recently, etc.). Here it includes those who are not employed whether or not they are seeking employment. Note on “Higher Unemployment” with this assumption: The study revealed 74% of men are employed full-time while 61% of women are employed full-time. She Preached the Word, page 135. This includes women of all ages, from young adult to elderly. See ibid., Data Appendix. This gap closes completely for women whose most influential religious leader growing up was female. Ibid., page 135. My observation is that given that women with children below school age make up only a small percentage of total U.S. adult women (of all ages) included in these numbers, it seems unlikely that any difference in the number of women with young children who decide not to work full-time while their children are below school-age (the study does not reveal if there is a difference in this between women who had all-male religious leaders and who had an influential female religious leader) accounts for a material part of the difference and that it is much more likely that the close of this gap is due to empowerment of the women via education, greater self-esteem, etc., since the “gap-close” data is for women of all ages and demographics, as a whole.
Note: “Women who said they never had a female religious leader growing up are … 30% less likely to ‘strongly’ agree” that they “‘have high self-esteem’” now as adults when “compared to women who had female clergy at least ‘some of the time.’ (In contrast, the same is not true for men. Men who had female congregational leaders frequently growing up have levels of self-esteem that are just as high as those who never had a female pastor or priest.)” Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “It’s good for girls to have women in the pulpit,” Religion News (July 17, 2018), visited November 24, 2018.
“Men … receive the same level of education regardless of the gender of their most influential religious leader.” Ibid.
Quotes and Information from “Authoritarian …” sections: Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “Ten things to know about women’s ordination in the United States,” Oxford University Press Blog (June 2018), visited November 23, 2018.
“U.S. Adults”: The study explains that its results are generalizable to 87% of the U.S. population, U.S. adults who attend religious services with some degree of frequency, even very low, excluding only those who said they “never” attend. She Preached, at 227.
Causation: The study authors explain: “[T]hese results held true even when controlling for a variety of other potential mitigating factors including demographics and individual/family socioeconomic background.” Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, “It’s good for girls to have women in the pulpit,” Religion News (July 17, 2018), visited November 24, 2018. How did the study control for self-selection in the form of a parent’s influence on their daughters’ self-esteem and the other factors noted (e.g., the affluence of and choices made by the parent), such that this is not simply correlation but not causation? The authors explain, “To perfectly assess this possibility would require running experiments in which we randomly assign children to parents and randomly assign families to congregations and then observe the levels of personal and economic empowerment that these children attain later as adults. While this is obviously impractical, we do our best to account for these alternative possibilities with the statistical controls described in the Data Appendix, which is a common approach in social science research. For example, we control for standard demographic indicators such as education and income. … [T]he two variables are highly correlated in contemporary American society …. The analyses of personal educational attainment and employment include controls for the level of education and employment status of the respondent’s mother during the respondent’s childhood, which correlates highly with gender ideology …. We can thus control to some extent for childhood socioeconomic context and parental gender ideology by using these proxy variables. … [We further control for the gender of the individual’s current religious congregational leader and whether the individual’s congregation allows for female congregational leaders. All in all, our various statistical controls significantly increase the likelihood that the relationships we describe here are due to the role model effect that we discuss and not simply a spurious case of correlation but not causation.” She Preached the Word, page 146, note 7.
“Long-Term Comparative Harm”: Note that the study is not asserting that the sex of a girl’s congregatinal leader is the sole cause of her future level of education, employment, etc., but is expressesing an observation that having only male congregational leaders comparatively worsens those future levels.
While the reported number of U.S. Churst of Christ congregations in which women actively serve in the assembly (speak, read scripture, serve communion, etc.) is growing, it is tiny, probably less than 90 and less than 1%.
Why are women absent from the roles mentioned? Sometimes, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, a passage referring to women being in submission and stating it is “disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” is cited, virtually always without explanation. (for an explanation why this passage does not have its plain meaning in many of the common English translations and does not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly, see here.)
Sometimes, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, a passage that also refers to women being in submission and referring to Eve, and not Adam, as the one who was deceived and became a sinner at the beginning of time, is cited, virtually always without explanation. (for an explanation why this passage does not have its plain meaning in many of the common English translations and does not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly, see here.)
Since the 2018 Study reports data across a wide range of U.S. religious traditions and the Churches of Christ are more restrictive than probably around 90% of U.S. Christianity relative to women’s participation in what many refer to as leadership roles—leading in the worship service (e.g., leading prayer, leading singing), being a deacon, etc.—it would be reasonable to hypothesize that the relative effect on girls’ self-esteem, view of God, full-time employment, education, etc., as an adult, is worse than the average reported by the study.
In other words, I suspect that many of the nearly two out of three U.S. adults who reported never having a female congregational leader (i.e., all male) growing up probably had preachers in mind and probably had more female congregational leadership before them (e.g., at least a song leader on occasion) than those growing up in Churches of Christ had and thus that the negative effect would be more pronounced. Again, this is a hypothesis on what the study’s data would have shown if these more detailed questions would have been asked. It would be interesting to see a study asking more detailed questions on this front.
The report asked “how often women served as the principal leader of their religious congregation” and whether the “most influential pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader you had when you were growing up” was male or female. She Preached the Word, at 127-128. I also suspect that the hearers of the questions interpreted principal leader question as not including Sunday School or religious education teachers when they were young. In other words, a congregational leader is one of the leaders of the whole congregation—depending on the religious tradition, the preacher, a song leader, a Sunday morning worship leader, an elder, a rabbi, etc.—whereas a teacher leads their classroom, not the whole congregation. I suspect that such a thought sustained into the second question about “most influential spiritual leader.” I think back about which school teachers I think influenced me most growing up and none of them are elementary school teachers. In fact, they are all high-school teachers. I am sure experience on this differs. My understanding is that the vast majority of Churches of Christ do not allow women to teach middle school age or above.
This study by Dr. Knoll and Ms. Bolin appears to be the first of its kind.
Did We Need … ? For some discussion on the importance of role models for girls, see She Preached the Word, pages 123-129.
1 Tim 3:11 may refer to female deacons or deacons’ wives, it is ambigious, per Everett Ferguson and many others.
(re probably around 90% …. 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.).
Picture: By dotigabrielf, from Pixabay.
Updated: Changed “2018 study, which included data” to “2018 study’s results, which were based on data … and were for all types of congregations” to make it clearer that the study addressed religious congregations as a whole, not one particular denomination; fixed some typos and formatting; added end; clarifications; added the “Successful” section; added sentence regarding elder and deacon and introduction sentence to that section; added some notes.
Also see Jennifer Hale Christy, “From Theology to Praxis: The Quest for the Full Inclusion of Women in Churches of Christ,” D. Min. Project, Lipscomb University (April 2015) (including descriptions of results from a survey and interviews of those involved with gender-inclusive Churches of Christ).
…so holding to what scriptures say is inflicting harm? That in itself is nonsense!
If nobody “rises to the occasion” to lead, it is the men–every single one of them–who is shirking their God-given responsibility–not(!) the women…but when someone wants to do something that scripture plainly teaches they must not, it is demeaning to refuse them that opportunity????? That is nonsense!
Christianity–true, unadulterated Christianity–is not a “smorgasbord”! It is full, total, unwavering pursuit–until our final breath–of a deeper relationship with God! If we ignore His will, any pursuit is counterfeit, and any agreement with Biblical teaching becomes accidental.
Too many have forgotten–or never contemplated the full meaning–of the words,
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation 2:10 ESV
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20 ESV
People–men and women alike–were holding to the true teachings of Jesus even under threat of imprisonment! …and 2000 years later, some expect us to do less?????
If someone is killed, only God has the power to make that person alive! The apostle Paul recognized this. He, in effect, became crucified to his own ideas for life and let God take over, instead. God expects nothing less of us today!!!!!
Hi Russ, Thank you for your comment and questions.
Scripture does not prohibit women from speaking and teaching in the assembly.
Yes, the common English translations say “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak …” and “I do not permit a woman to teach …” but everyone recognizes that those phrases do not have their plain meaning. Otherwise, women could not sing in the church (Paul says singing is speaking and teaching, see, e.g., Ephesians 5:18-20; Col 3:16), ask about baptism, to be prayed for, etc.
The question is: What ** kind ** of speaking and teaching is referred to in those scriptures? It is straightforward. The speaking referred to in 1 Cor 14:34-35 is disruptive (non-submissive) questions asked by wives (1 Cor 14:34-35). Once you understand that 1 Cor 14:34-35 doesn’t have its plain meaning, it is easy to see that (a) 1 Cor 14:1-33 tells the whole church, everyone, all, brothers and sisters, everybody to speak (remember that “brethren” / adelphoi there *means* men and women; even even conservative Bible translations that provide original ** meaning, ** as opposed to just form, like the NIV, NLT, CSB, NET, etc., translate it to mean “brothers and sisters”) and (b) “silence” in 1 Cor 14:26-40 always refers to the *particular kind* of speaking referenced (tongues, prophecy, questions).
And the teaching referred to in 1 Tim 2:12 is teaching of uninformed, false doctrine and that involves an exercise of seized power in a domineering way that creates conflict with a man, etc.. Paul says what kind of teaching he is talking about at the very beginning of his letter (see 1 Tim 1:3-7) and tells us he is talking about a particular kind of teaching in 1 Tim 2:12b, too (authentein — usurped, domineering, etc.).
We ought to hold to what the scriptures is actually telling us, not to a CoC tradition of excluding women. (I’ve inserted links to the first article in a series that looks deeper at both these passages — look at parts 2, 3, and 4).
Don’t you think that when your interpretation of scripture might inflict harm on a young girl, you should *** immediately *** stop and very, very carefully re-evaluate your interpretation of that scripture?
Don’t you think that when a congregation’s interpretation of scripture might inflict harm on a young girl, that congregation should *** immediately *** stop and very, very carefully re-evaluate its interpretation of that scripture?
Are you so confident in your interpretation?
The vast majority of folks, elders included, have never studied scripture on this issue closely. And the vast majority—elders and preachers included—have never listened to someone present the “other side” of the scriptural argument — they’ve just listened to someone reinforce what they already think, if they’ve studied the issue at all. I’m glad to discuss the “other side” anytime.
Don’t you think that these girls and women deserve a careful re-evaluation, looking not just at one side?
Here is a link to the article I mentioned: https://authentictheology.com/2018/05/16/part-2-most-church-of-christ-colleges-no-longer-exclude-women-from-leading-in-worship-services-scriptural-and-a-college-visit/
If you have any questions, let me know.
In 1990-1991, I was a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Pepperdine. I was on a one-year contract, but my division chair, a lovely progressive man named Michael Gose, wanted to keep me on for at least another year. The students liked me, and for many of them, I was the first female professor they had ever had. Dr. Gose taught film and he knew the power of optics. 😉
The decision was up to the dean, who called me in to have a chat with me. After a pleasant conversation, he got down to his real issue. He wanted to know why I hadn’t come to church on campus all year?
The practical reason was that I lived 45 minutes away. But I told him the truth: “I can’t be a part of a church that will not allow me to be a ‘public’ Christian.”
Unsurprisingly, my contract was not renewed. But I have never regretted my answer. (Pepperdine has long since moved to having women participate in worship on campus, I’m happy to note.)
The church was more than happy to take my money and to use my labor in other ways—but it would not so much as allow me to read a Bible verse or say a prayer in a worship service. It placed a barrier of male religious leaders between me and the worship of God with my community of faith.
And lest I be misunderstood, it wasn’t about getting to “show off” in church by being up front. It was being told that God only wanted to hear from me when there were no men to talk to.
I’m a lackadaisical Episcopalian now. Being “married to the church” did yet another number on my faith—but from Day 1, I was invited into worship there. I have read scripture, led prayers, and even preached on occasion. For many years, more than one person pushed me to consider entering the priesthood. (I knew better than that! I don’t suffer fools gladly, so I would have made a terrible parish priest. 😉)
I had a lot to offer, but the faith community of my childhood didn’t want it. So I found a community that did.
I’ll save my rant about all the years and study it took me to undo the spiritual damage that CoC theology did to me for another day. Suffice to say that damage was also deeply rooted in “spiritual misogyny.”
Thank you for relaying this. I am sorry you had to go through it. How disappointing. It is so important for people to hear these stories so that they can better understand the situation and the impact.
Best regards, Steve
Women play a major role in the church. If teaching classes, and serving as mentors is not imporant, then what is? I .am a fulfilled christian, and do not need to be in the forefront
Thank you for your comment.
Yes, women play a major role in the church. Teaching classing and serving as mentors are important. No one that I know of has said they are not.
I am glad that you are fulfilled Chrisitan despite being discriminated against based on your sex.
I am glad you feel fulfilled, but of course it is not all about you. If folks did nothing about how other human beings are being treated because they personally feel fine, we would all be in real trouble. I hope you can see how some women are being harmed by this practice and that it needs to stop.
Thanks much, Steve
Or… It may be the “public” institutional, hierarchical system itself where power over other Christians is the real problem whether male or female. Husbands are the head of/ to lead their own wives. Churches in the Bible met for a common meal in a home, prayed, sang, and read letters together. There was no treasury. It was nothing like today’s corporate “worship hour.”
As soon as a treasury is created, then a power struggle starts concerning whose going to control the elements of the superfluous entity, “positions” of power over other Christians are created, and the political struggle within the body begins which should have never been started (Matt. 20:26).
Women leaders is just the latest episode of that 2000 year struggle for power among and over other Christians in the institutionalized system.
As for me and my house…
Theology aside, I would like to review the study itself as the conclusions are not consistent with my experience in the Church of Christ nor in my experience in denominational churches. See, I come from denominational churches where women could do pretty much any and everything all the way up to the position of pastor. Education levels were equal at worst, or increased in the Church of Christ at best. Demographics and geography in both were fairly consistent as well. Women I know in the church of Christ are not monolithic. They range from stay at home moms to highly educated women to business owners and executives to women living in poverty on government assistance to women working 9 to 5 jobs. Obviously, this is my personal experience and is a small sample size that may not represent the population accurately.
I believe this study may be skewed unintentionally. Does it take into account that society is much less religious in general today?
This is especially true amongst men and women professionals and those who are highly educated? Does it take into account that highly educated church going professionals tend to congregate at more liberal churches or churches that have members of similar socioeconomic status? So women, as I have seen, often become more educated and either leave the church altogether or switch membership to a church with congregants of similar demographics leaving behind younger women who sorely need their influence.
I see the same thing happen in the black community. Often our best and brightest (myself included) leave our poverty stricken neighborhoods once we become more successful. While there is nothing sinful or inherently wrong with this it does exacerbate the issue by robbing the community and the youth of a positive influence and example. So just as their are lots of contributing factors to the poverty and underachievement and lack of self worth seen in urban communities, there are lots of contributing factors to why young women may be less educated and have lower self esteem in congregations where women cannot assume leadership roles. To site the practice as the sole reason or primary reason is not only misleading it also eliminates the dialogue necessary to discover and address all contributing factors.
Thank you for your comment.
(A) You say you would like to review the study. You should read it. Please read the article first. The very first sentence of the second section of the article, near the top, says “a study … published in their book She Preached the Word …” and provides a link to the book that you can buy and review the study. You mentioned other factors. If you read the article, you would also see that the study was a professional study that included controls. As the article states, the authors of the study explained, “these results held true even when controlling for a variety of other potential mitigating factors including demographics and individual/family socioeconomic background.”
A young girl is discriminated against based on her sex in her church —
and the young girl sees, in her church
+ her mom discriminated against based on her sex —
+ her grandmother discriminated against based on her sex –
+ her aunts discriminated against based on their sex—
+ the moms of her friends discriminated against based on their sex —
+ her female friends in her youth group discriminated against based on their sex ….
……. all of them barred because of their sex from doing things in her church that men and boys are allowed, even encouraged, to do ……….
AND this goes on for years and years and years and years, during her most formative time
AND this discrimination is carried out by people who say they love her
AND lots and lots of people participate in it and, instead of diving into the scripture themselves and spending real time sifting through it, just go along with the discrimination and declare it God’s will
AND they point to scripture (out of context) that says it is “disgraceful” for women to speak in the church and that Eve was deceived
AND the discrimination takes place in the church, a place that is supposed to represent a safe and encouraging environment for her.
HOW would her self-esteem NOT be negatively impacted relative to girls who were not discriminated against and who did not witness systematic discrimination against women they love for years and years and years and who had female congregational leaders as role models?!?!?
AND your response is not to say we need to bring an end to this practice to stop harming these girls or to closely re-examine scripture, but instead to indicate you doubt this girl is harmed?!!!?
It is impossible to justify continuing to discriminate against girls and women by barring them from speaking in the assembly or from teaching Sunday School to mixed classes or otherwise.
It is way past time to put a stop to it. Way past time.
Graduate, wife, mother of two, Christian, Public School Librarian and teacher. I have friends unhappy with their Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Mormon, Lutheran religions and even a community church. On a quest to find my way, I attended many other religious organizations and came back to the Church of Christ. I’ve never felt inferior and while I do not preach or lead singing, etc, I have many other roles. I minister to others, teach classes for children and women. I study the Bible with men and women. I evangelize and I’m an important member along with many other important members in the Church. I am a proud member of the Church of Christ. Maybe these women who have such a negative view of the Church had other issues in their life or they weren’t taught properly. God IS and will remain the final authority not men and their studies.
Thank you for your comment.
As to “these women” having “other issues in their life,” the study authors explain “[T]hese results held true even when controlling for a variety of other potential mitigating factors including demographics and individual/family socioeconomic background.”
As to “these women” not being “taught properly”—- these are surveys of women who grew up with all-male congregational leadership.
And I assume by “taught properly,” you mean taught that God wants women to be completely prohibited from speaking in the assembly.
Around 96-97% of Christianity does not completely prohibit women from speaking in the worship service.
The Churches of Christ are nearly alone in doing so in Christianity.
Islam also completely prohibits women from speaking in its worship service.
And, in the Bible, God asks women to speak to, have authority over, and teach men, in an assembly and elsewhere.
See this article that sets out 20+ passages in which God asks women to do so: https://authentictheology.com/2018/09/03/20-scripture-passages-telling-women-to-speak-teach-lead-and-have-authority-over-men-in-the-assembly-and-elsewhere/
I am glad for you that you are doing well, but I encourage you to listen and pay attention to young girls and other women, too, and not dismiss their plight.
Too often, sex discrimination in the church is something that has become normalized for women in the church (that is, they are used to it and it has become normal for them), so they do not, as you say, “feel” it, but it is there. Being desensitized to sex discrimination is itself a form of harm.
It seems blindingly obvious that a young girl who is subjected to years and years and years of sex discrimination—and also has to observe her mom and her female friends also being discriminated against for years and years and years—while being told that it is God that does not want her to speak at all in the assembly because doing so would be disgraceful— would be negatively impacted (harmed).
And it seems blindingly obvious that boys in the church being taught that sex discrimination is OK and even God-ordained would be a teaching that many of those boys would apply not just in church but outside of church, which increases the sex discrimination that our daughters face in education, in the workplace, and elsewhere —– Again, negatively impacting (harming) these girls.
And it seems blindingly obvious that doing this for years and years and years would desensitize boys or men watching or involved in it to sex discrimination, normalizing it for many.
And these things can happen without a person realizing it.
It’s way past time for this practice to end.
Amen Amen Amen!!! I’m a 63 year old woman born and raised in Church of christ and your article really reasonated with me! I found myself nodding and saying “yes” all through it! I finally dropped out and escaped at the age of 57.
Thank you for speaking to this issue and also sharing the scripture references! There are so many teachings for all (male and females) to teach, preach, share the good news but this one is the big one for me; “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, teaching them to observe all things”
There is no, only males…it is a general commission to all Christians!
Thank you Karla. I appreciate it. It was an encouragement to me.
I hope you found a new church home.
Some Church of Christ congregations no longer bar women in this way and many are engaged in church-wide studies on the issue, which will hopefully lead to change.
Many more would likely change if someone or someones ask their elders to take a hard look at the scripture—including looking at resources on both sides of the issue, not just material intended to defend what they already do—and to make a change.
This book is an excellent resource: https://www.amazon.com/Two-Views-Women-Ministry-Counterpoints/dp/031025437X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1DTKHDY68AA5E&keywords=women+in+ministry+two+view&qid=1552876698&s=gateway&sprefix=women+in+ministry+%2Caps%2C149&sr=8-1
It is way past time for this practice to end!
Steven, thank you so much for bringing light and awareness to what I consider to be an “elephant in the room” of the church of Christ. I have been raised in the church or Christ all my life and have a strong lineage of the C of C in my family. Most of the girls have grown into never questioning the strict and rigid gender roles in the church. I was taught that men and women are equal but have different roles. That may seem like a simple answer to some but the 10 year old girl in me wanted to know more. What are women’s roles in the church?
Women in the C of c are allowed to teach children and women. These are definitely important roles to fill but occasionally, you can see a man teaching a children’s class. I remember seeing a pamphlet for a women’s series with a picture of the teacher, a man, along with several other men leading the series. By the tender age of 10, I concluded that not only do we have different roles, women have a list of restrictions and men do not.
I remember one of My friends admitted when we were kids, that she wished she was a boy so she could lead one of her favorite songs. This made my heart sink with discouragement because I knew what she was experiencing. I remember when the older kids were getting baptized, it was a big deal because the boys were allowed to lead prayers and songs. The boys often bragged that they were allowed and the girls weren’t. If male privilege was earned through baptism, I certainly didn’t understand why. I genuinely believed I was worth less than the boys and it hurt me to the core. I didn’t believe a relationship with God was possible. “If he always chose men and boys, he must like them better”, so I thought. I believed the essence of being female automatically made me more distant from God than my male cohorts.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned about God through Christians of a different denomination. I studied the bible for myself and started to see my value in God’s eyes.
I am made to serve God and others, just like a man. I am made to nurture children and I am made to complement my husband. When God created me, he gave me the ability to empathize with others. Having emotions and thinking of others is not a weakness, it is a strength. God gave me the ability to carry a child in my womb. He did not create me with the physical strength of a man nor do I care to have the strength of a man.
When God formed my brain; he did not make me inferior in the ability to reason or to think intellectually. I am thankful for the way that God created me. I do not deny that I am different from a man. I have studied this for a long time. Before my studies, I pray to God beforehand. I pray that God’s word be revealed to me with an open mind, proper understanding and that emotions do not distort what He has said through His word. I have learned a lot and have concluded that men are to lead their households while wives are to be submissive, just like we all are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Qualifications for the elders and deacons are to be men. Preachers are also to be men. We have examples of that in the bible.
We We also have of examples of sons AND daughters prophesying. Why would Paul allow the daughters to prophesy in the church at Corinth and not allow women to wait on Lord’s table to serve communion today?
There are some practices in the church of Christ that are more so tradition than example. We have no specific examples for how songs are to be lead or who is to lead them. We have no specific examples of how we are supposed to serve communion
. Tradition has always given these roles to only men. However, if the bible provides no examples of serving communion or leading songs, how can we forbid women from serving in those roles? Are we to really believe that women played no part in serving the last supper to Jesus?
When we allow double standards for gender roles, placing more restrictions on one sex than the other, are we surprised that girls have a low self-esteem? When we only allow little boys to lead the prayer in bible class, are we surprised that girls see themselves as inferior?
Thank you for your comment.
I very much appreciate your sharing your experience. It is painful to hear about, but it is so helpful for folks to tell the stories to help Churches of Christ members understand the deep problems with discriminating against girls and women.
So many know only the Churches of Christ ways and such discrimination has become normalized.
I am glad that you experienced other denominations and became inspired to study scripture. Unfortunately, it has been my observation that the vast majority of Churches of Christ members have never studied the issue in any depth or have only studied the issue only with materials and persons designed to affirm and defend the Churches of Christ way.
I Amen much of what you said.
I do not view the Bible as requiring that men be the only ones to lead a household. Nor do I view the Bible as requiring men be the only ones to serve as elders, deacons, or preachers, and I’ve written about this elsewhere.
Major negative impact on young girls occurs when women are barred from those roles, per the study discussed in this article. In other words, those survey results in that study in the article mostly reflect those kinds of churches — the kinds that “allow” women to lead singing, lead prayer, etc., but bar them from preacher / deacon / elder roles. The Churches of Christ are the extremists in the survey group on this issue.
The Churches of Christ is nearly alone in barring women and girls from all speaking, leading, and actively serving in their worship assembly, with only around 1-2% of all of Christianity doing that, with the vast majority of that 1-2% being the Churches of Christ. Islam is the only other religious group of significant size that does so (Amish and a few very small denominations do).
Again, I am thankful for your comment.
Best regards, Steve
A corresponding elephant in the room is the utter lack of an appreciation for supernaturalism in the pro-scientismist culture of CoCs. We don’t have (unpaid – see the Didiache) prophets, male or female, calling out elders who practice economic injustice or (paid clergy) preachers (ministers) who amass the housing allowances, parsonages, and benefits of writing off much of the regalia and relics of religion. One can imagine that back in the day when slaves were owned and violated by their owners, prophets would have been a bit uncomfortable at Sunday meetings. || Prophets were also associated with harp songs — which Israelites used as an AK47 against evil spirits, demons, shedim, etc. (see Dead Sea Scrolls and Exorcism Psalms). It isn’t amazing that fellowships which trafficked in secret societies which adored their own so-called gods (early Christians associated demons / idols / territorial rebellious sons of El [Deut. 32:8 ff ; see Mike Heiser’s stuff]) such as Masons, the KKK, etc. disliked harped harp songs in assemblies of the “holy to” saints of Yahweh. #HistoryMatters #LearningFromTheChurchUniversalMatters