A study published by Oxford University Press indicates that a Church of Christ practice—having only male congregational leaders—causes long-term harm to the girls in the congregation.
I recently published an article describing the study, which reported that adult women who had only male congregational leaders growing up had, as an effect, (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 men and than women who had influential female congregational leaders growing up.
The Churches of Christ denomination is on the extreme end of male congregational leadership—women are generally barred from reading scripture, leading singing or prayer, assisting at the communion table, or preaching in the worship assembly and from teaching adult (and even middle and high school) Sunday School, for example. 90%+ of Christianity is less restrictive.
Some Church of Christ readers objected to the study and others said they experienced what the study reported.
This article briefly describes the seven most frequent reader objections and my thoughts on them, beginning with the most disturbing one.
1. “While the Bible might not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly, some people in our church might get upset and leave if women speak, so let’s keep things as they are.”
One, you will cause harm to and discriminate against girls in your congregation to keep some adults happy?
Please repeat that to yourself a couple of times slowly. You will cause harm to girls in your congregation and discriminate against those girls to keep some adults happy. You will harm girls to keep some adults happy.
Now go let each of your friends in the congregation know you will harm their daughters and discriminate against those girls to not risk attendance going down.
Now go look those girls in the eye and tell them.
Two, you are willing to block what God asks? Not only does God not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly, God asks women to speak and teach, in the assembly and elsewhere. There are 20+ scripture passages set out here that do so.
Also, Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Prohibiting women and girls from fully serving in the assembly blocks them from what God asks them to do. Prohibiting her blocks her from loving—worshiping—the Lord her God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind, as Christ asks her to do. And it blocks her from fully loving her neighbors—her congregation—in the assembly as herself.
Prohibiting her is immoral and a sin.
Prohibiting her from speaking to keep happy some adults who might leave is sacrificing the spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being of your daughters and granddaughters and those of people you call friend for the presence of a few adults who should be looking out for those girls. You should be looking out for those girls.
Three, holding on to such a tradition even one more day cannot be justified.
Recall Jesus calling Pharisees hypocrites for saying they honor God while following human traditions instead. Jesus told them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! … [Y]ou nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” (Mark 7:1-13) How is what you are doing any different from what Christ called hypocritical and nullifying the word of God?
Be brave. Lead. Speak up. If those adults you are worried about are people of good-will and place value on scripture, then they will want to do the right thing and you will be able to show them it is appropriate not to prohibit women and they should stay.
Don’t wait. There is no better day to right a wrong than today. And silence and delay simply keeps blocking what God asks and causes more harm to the daughters and granddaughters of the congregation every Sunday. This Sunday.
2. “If we allow women to speak, there will be little to distinguish us from the denominations.”
Our distinguishing factor is we discriminate against and harm our daughters and the daughters of our friends?
(“If we stop sacrificing our virgin daughters in the volcano, there will be little to distinguish us from the other tribes.”)
If you want to make our distinguishing factor that we carefully follow scripture, then you ought to demand that we allow women to speak in the assembly as loads of scripture asks women to speak, lead, and teach, in the assembly and elsewhere.
Much better distinguishing factors are that we follow the whole scripture; we are not too proud to acknowledge we were wrong; and we lift up our daughters and granddaughters and our wives and all the women and girls in our church in their service to God and others.
3. “Women in our congregation aren’t asking for change, so we should not change.”
To put a burden on the people who are being discriminated against and to expect a woman in the congregation to come forward and risk being perceived as “demanding” for herself, “wanting the spot-light,” “seeking attention,” or “the one who wants to chase people away for her own wants” is unrealistic, outrageous, and unfair.
4. “I do not feel discriminated against. I don’t want to speak in the assembly anyway.”
You and the girls and women around you, including your daughters and those of your friends, are barred from doing major things while males are not whether you feel for yourself or them or not. It is textbook sex discrimination. Some perceive it as mandated or excused by scripture but it is sex discrimination nevertheless.
That some do not want to speak is not surprising since speaking in front of people is one of life’s top fears—and since women were discriminated against as children in such churches, many were never encouraged or trained to speak, unlike their youth-group male friends. Many women were trained as a child (see this book) that God forbids them from speaking, whether they remember the specific training or not.
And a common coping mechanism is to tell yourself that you do not want or need what is kept from you and to avoid thinking about what could have been.
5. “I know Churches of Christ women and neither they nor I were negatively impacted.”
First, how do you know that neither they nor you were negatively impacted? Just because one attained a level of success does not mean one was not negatively impacted. It seems obvious that having women congregational leaders during a girl’s youth might have shown her some possibilities and inspired her in ways you cannot know.
Second, selfishness permeates this kind of “I wasn’t” comment. A focus on “my” self-esteem and the impact on “me” and “I do not feel” and “there are other things for women to do,” display a lack of care for other women and girls. Can you see that others have been and are negatively impacted?
Third, please focus in on the fact that you—by your actions every Sunday—are also teaching boys and men that God ordains sex discrimination. You can’t see that by doing so you are harming your daughter by increasing the likelihood and magnitude of sex discrimination she will face outside of church—in the workplace, in school, in life? Boys and men often carry what they are taught in church to their thinking and actions outside of church. You are training men and boys to discriminate against—harm—your daughter and other women.
6. “Scripture bars women from speaking in church.”
When did you study those passages in-depth, including closely considering reasons why they do not bar women from a source besides one trying to justify barring women? When did you ask someone who views the scripture as not barring women about the reasons you think scripture does bar women to help you sort out whether you are analyzing correctly?
The answer from 99%+ of Church of Christ members has been either they never have or silence. You are comfortable doing this to your daughters and other girls and women on that basis?
When one studies these passages and the rest of the Bible in context, it is clear that not only does scripture not bar women from speaking, but God asks women to speak and teach, in the assembly and elsewhere. This is why Churches of Christ who have actually studied the scripture on the issue, rather than simply relying on tradition or trying to justify what they do, have changed to not bar women from speaking in the assembly (see below).
And if such a practice harms young girls for the long-term, doesn’t that suggest your interpretation of the scripture is wrong? Doesn’t that suggest you and your congregation ought to take a hard look at this immediately?
7. “Girls spend only a few hours a week at church, so this practice isn’t that big of a deal and would not have that much impact on their self-esteem or life. Her home life and what her parents teach her are what really matters.”
What would you say to a girl whose trusted coach abuses her for an hour a week but others in her life treat her well?
What if he abuses her every single Sunday?
For years and years and years and years?
What if her assistant coach, her coach’s wife, her assistant coach’s wife, the scorekeeper, the trainer, the other assistant coaches, their wives, the parents and grandparents of her teammates, …
… all know about it but go along with it, not speaking up or doing anything about it, even though they know it was wrong, should know, or have that nagging feeling …. ?
What if those folks, by their actions and failure to say anything different for all those years, indicate the abuse is the way God wants it to be?
You would say to the girl whose trusted coach abuses her weekly—and whose trusted extended family goes along with it and implicitly teaches her it is right and God-ordained—that the one hour of abuse a week should not have much of an impact on her life and self-esteem?
What, exactly, is worth harming these girls even one more day?
It is way past time for this prohibition to end.
You can ask your elders and congregation to reconsider today, and you can visibly support them as they do.
Your inaction, silence, and going along with it harms people around you, in many cases the people closest to you, and blocks people from what God asks them to do.
For a discussion of relevant scripture, see “20 Scripture Passages Telling Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men in the Assembly and Elsewhere,”AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018), and articles linked there.
A list of some Churches of Christ asking women to speak in the assembly is here. Most Churches of Christ colleges changed and now ask women to speak (preach, read scripture, etc.) in chapel, as discussed here.
Links to scripture-study materials from some Churches of Christ explaining why scripture does not prohibit women from speaking in the assembly, etc.:
- Sycamore View Church of Christ
- Springfield Church of Christ
- Providence Road Church of Christ
- Southern Hills Church of Christ
- Glenwood Church
- Manhattan Church of Christ
- Oak Hills Church
- Fourth Avenue Church of Christ
- Meadowbrook Church of Christ
- Highland Church of Christ
Way past time.
[If you found this article worthwhile, please click the Share button below to share on Facebook.]
Part 1 and notes on sources: Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Practice Harms Girls Long-Term, Suggests 2018 Study,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 28, 2018).
Part 1 noted the Churches of Christ denomination is on the extreme end of male congregational leadership—women are generally barred from reading scripture, leading singing or prayer, assisting at the communion table, or preaching in the worship assembly and from teaching adult (and even middle and high school) Sunday School. (Update: Included this in the main text and moved the 90%+ indicate to accompany it for clarity.)
The study: Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, She Preached the Word, New York: Oxford University Press (2018).
Quotes 1-7 are paraphrases and combinations of multiple, similar comments.
I think it is immoral and a sin to block women from speaking in the worship service. Blocking women from doing so is blocking women from what Christ asked, it is failing to follow the example Christ gave us, and it is not following God’s word.
(1) God asks women to speak to, teach, and lead men, in the assembly and elsewhere. Here are 20+ scripture passages, for example, where God asks. Prohibiting women from doing what God asks is immoral and a sin.https://authentictheology.com/…/20-scripture-passages…/
(2) And Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Prohibiting women and girls from fully serving in the assembly blocks them from what God asks them to do. Prohibiting her blocks her from loving—worshiping—the Lord her God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind, as Christ asks her to do. And it blocks her from fully loving her neighbors—her congregation—in the assembly as herself. Blocking her is immoral and a sin.
(3) Sex discrimination is immoral and a sin. (4) Stopping little girls from praying out loud in Sunday School in front of boys is immoral and a sin. (5) ….. it goes on and on and on ……
Some additional rough thoughts on harm for future further consideration:
It appears to me that barring girls and women from speaking and teaching as most Churches of Christ do (in the worship service, etc.) causes long-term harm to many of them. I am curious how you see it? Does it harm them? Do you think it is helpful to them? What am I missing? Here are some of my thoughts about it:
1. Having young girls sit in the pews and watch themselves and their moms and their females friends be discriminated against every Sunday for years and years is psychologically harmful (for example to their understanding of God and God’s view of women, to their perception of their abilities relative to boys and men, to their perception of their power relative to males, …), spiritually harmful (some of same reasons), and physically harmful (there are biological, physiological reactions that go along with sex discrimination and these other impacts, potential careers in ministry are discouraged, ….).
2. The church carrying out such things provides an example of sex discrimination to young boys and men that they can’t help by mimic and be influenced by outside of church —- so it negatively impacts and harms young girls and women in the workplace, at school, in society, etc., too.
3. Blocking young girls from speaking in the worship service blocks them from doing what Jesus asks them to do in the Greatest Commandment — blocks them from loving (e.g., worshiping and serving) God with *all* their heart, mind, and soul. And it blocks them from loving (serving) their neighbor. Setting aside that I view blocking them from doing what Jesus asks as a sin, it seems that blocking them from doing what Jesus asks is harming them. By definition, by being prohibited, they are blocked from loving God with their *all* and from loving others *as themselves*.
4. I don’t think it takes long to have a material negative impact on a young girl and to have it “set in” for long term. For example, she only has to raise her hand 2-3 times in Sunday School early on to volunteer to pray and get passed over for her to learn that girls can’t pray in front of boys. And she only has to hear “it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:35) once or twice, combined with people she loves reinforcing it by keeping all women from speaking in the church, to have it impact her forever.
5. I am disturbed that we do this and disturbed and embarrassed that I participated in it for years without giving its impact much or any thought.
6. It seems like the practice itself is sex discrimination. Thus, automatically, all the harm that comes with sex discrimination comes to the young girls subjected to it—— I gave some examples of the kinds of harm that comes with it above. So it seems like one of the questions on harm is whether other stuff overcomes that harm that comes with it. Some argue one can communicate to them clearly that they are valued in other ways. So it seems that one would have to argue that the harm caused by that sex discrimination can be overcome by this clear communication of value to them in other ways. It doesn’t seem like that would be possible, all while continuing to discriminate against them by prohibiting them from speaking/teaching and continuing to interpret and teach them that 1 Cor 14:34-35 says they can’t speak b/c it is a disgrace or a shame for them to speak in the church and that 1 Tim 2 means they can’t teach men at all in the church because their prototype Eve was deceived while the boys’ prototype Adam wasn’t etc. It seems like, regardless of such an attempt to convince them they are valued through such words, prohibiting young girls the way the CoC does it seems to result in harm to young girls.
7. It seems like that it is a big giant flag that we’ve got the interpretation wrong. In other words, it seems to signal that 1 Cor 14;34-35 and 1 Tim 2 do not mean that women are to be prohibited from speaking, teaching, etc. And that boat-load of verses that tell women to speak, teach, lead, and have authority over men were trying to tell us something.
8. Some see clear instructions in those passages, but there is a boat-load of clear instructions telling women to speak, lead, teach, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere, in many other passages and there are those ~3 sentences to which people point to claim the contrary. And I think a quick look at those sentences makes one think that oh, it’s clear instructions that women can’t speak. But a slightly longer look makes one think, wait, this makes no sense (if silence in the church, they can’t sing…. If they should ask their husbands at home, they can’t ask questions in Sunday School or in the hallway …. Saved through childbearing, but what about John 3:16 …. Etc.). But when one spends some time looking at those in context, it turns out that those ~3 sentences don’t mean women can’t speak/lead/teach in the assembly. There’s lots of “clear instructions” that when one pauses and thinks about it and looks at other verses and in context that one realizes, oh, they don’t mean what it looks like when just the sentence is read alone. Like these:
+ Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26)
+ And he said “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) …
+ “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not …. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31)
9. Examples of men who are uneducated, are poor speakers, talk too long, etc., as people elders prohibit from speaking are not analogous examples. It’s not an immutable characteristic (like race and sex), it’s one re merit, not one that is at the core of their being and identity, etc.
10. What evidence would cause you to believe that barring girls and women from speaking and teaching as most Churches of Christ do (in the worship service, etc.) causes harm to many of them?
11. Saying that some women have never felt devalued does not tell you that barring women from speaking does not harm some women, by the way. Of course, some women have no desire to speak or teach, so they feel neutral about it, for example.
12. Do you think that barring black people from speaking, etc., would not cause harm to them and would not be inherently devaluing? It’s the same concept, discriminating based on an immutable characteristic.
13. The practice itself can be considered abuse from the viewpoint of the girl and women (even if not intended by those doing the prohibiting). It is inappropriate to point to the “attitude” of the women and girls about being subjected to discrimination as something that discounts or is the actual cause of any harm or to decide that their “perceived harm” is no harm at all.
14. Some women who now express no desire to preach or speak might have had a desire to preach (or even read scripture or lead prayer or even lead singing ….) at some point, but that is part of the point that those kinds of desires are “put down” / indoctrinated out of young girls by this form of practice and is part of the harm to young girls.
15. Part of my pausing on this issue and part of what I think is missing is this:
a. It seems to me that it is the little girls and the young girls that suffer most of the harm I outlined, being subjected to it during their formative and impressionable years and are impacted long-term. b. They don’t have a choice. c. The parents and the women who are comfortable do not realize the harm issue, I think. Would they be comfortable if they knew that this was harmful to other people, young girls in particular? Of course probably not to all. But to many. And I don’t think one could pick out which young girls will and will not be harmed by it in advance.
16. There are plenty of women who were raised without female church leaders who are confident and well-adjusted women. That many women are confident and well-adjusted after being completely prohibited from speaking and leading in the worship service and after watching other females be prohibited from speaking, reading scripture, leading singing, praying out loud, etc., in front of boys and men because of their sex for all those years growing up doesn’t tell us whether many other young girls are harmed by it. It doesn’t even tell us whether those confident and well-adjusted women were harmed by it, as their confidence and well-adjustment might have been hard-earned through some work to overcome some struggles between those years and now, for example, or their confidence, education, etc., might have been even greater, or ….. In other words, that person X is confident and well-adjusted doesn’t tell us that persons Y and Z were not harmed by the practice. It doesn’t even tell us that person X was not harmed by the practice. This is part of the reason the testimony of women who explain yes, that experience as a young girl had a negative impact on me and here is how and why matters. And why the professional study like the one described matters. And why the inherent harm of sex discrimination matters.
17. Here, the practice is harmful to: those discriminated against (the young girls in particular), those who go without the benefit of the gifts of half those made in God’s image, those who carry out the discrimination, those who watch the discrimination being carried out as they then mimic it, those who are discriminated against by those mimicking the churches’ discrimination teaching, the witness of the church as a whole, those who are repelled by the discrimination, non-Christians who are repulsed by the presence of discrimination, …..
18. Plenty of women do not feel harmed, but I don’t think that negates the girls, women, men, and boys who are, those who do feel harmed, etc.
19. My subsidiary point, after pointing out the harm the interpretation and resulting practice causes, is that, to me, the harm is a big red flag that we, as a religious body as a whole, ought to take it as a signal that we highly likely have the interpretation wrong & ought to take a very hard look at it now.
20. I think that having women in elder and deacon roles would increase safety in that regard, too, between some girls feeling more comfortable talking with a female leader about such things, role models, awareness, etc.
21. People can tell girls they are equally valued, etc., but doing that while continuing to carry out the action of discriminating against them and their moms by prohibiting them from speaking/teaching and by continuing to interpret and teach them that 1 Cor 14:34-35 says they can’t speak b/c it is a disgrace or a shame for them to speak in the church and that 1 Tim 2 means they can’t have authority or teach men at all in the church because their prototype Eve was deceived while the boys’ prototype Adam wasn’t etc., there is a disconnect between actions/words and the conclusion part. These girls pick up on that. The action of discrimination and the interpretation that God thinks it is a disgrace / shame for women to speak in the church, etc., is harmful to those girls.
22. Sex discrimination, like race discrimination, is inherently harmful. Here, it is harmful to those discriminated against, those who go without the benefit of the gifts of half those made in God’s image, those who carry out the discrimination, those who watch the discrimination being carried out, the witness of the church as a whole, those who are repelled from the church by the presence of the discrimination, ……
23. Our feelings — including love for others, fear of God, desire to bear the burdens of others, desire to serve others, …. — is one of the things that guides us as we approach God’s words and truths.
24. We are called to consider how our actions impact others in everything we do. In taking an action or inaction — any action or any inaction — we are called (many would say commanded) to consider others and the impact of our possible action or inaction on them, and to not only love them as ourselves, but carry out the even higher standard of loving others as Christ loved others and to bear other’s burdens. (See, e.g., John 13:15, 34-35; Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:28-34). So, of course, approaching God’s word, including taking the action of interpretation, involves approaching God’s word and reading holy scripture with and employing this realization and calling. I would say, too, that taking the inaction of not re-visiting this interpretation with due care when such harm to little girls has been identified deviates from what Christ has called (many say commands) us to do.
25. Part of interpretation involves making a decision among a range of possible meanings. When one of those possible meanings harms people (not love); conflicts with such things as the fundamental nature, teachings, examples of Christ; places burdens on others; etc., then the very calling we are given suggests that that possible meaning is highly unlikely — virtually certainly not –the correct meaning. A couple of examples:
+ Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26)
+ “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not …. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:29-31)
26. Here, the practice employed by the CoC generally harms young girls, conflicts with the fundamental nature, teachings, and examples of Christ, places burdens on young girls, etc. So, the very calling we are given suggests that that possible meaning is highly unlikely – virtually certainly not – the correct meaning. When — as here, relative to 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 — there is a reasonable interpretation of the text that does not harm people or conflict with such things, that is more likely the correct meaning. One can go further in considering the competing interpretations and their reasonableness, etc.
27. I rejoice that people —- like the women who are speaking up about the harm this practice does, researchers who conduct studies like the one noted in the article, scientists who tell us about the negative physiological effects of discrimination, etc. —- bring to our attention discoveries, deeper understandings, new revelations, etc., that allow us to know that a practice is harmful. This allows us to better understand ourselves and our world and better understand scripture. Our — human species — understanding of the meaning of a passage will change as time goes by. (See the Reformation!) New discoveries, deeper understandings, more information, time, etc. give us the opportunity to better understanding scripture. Our eyes are opened wider. We discover the Earth is not fixed at the center of the universe and the sun does not revolve around the Earth. Does this change our interpretation of scripture? Yes. It should. We should be glad we can better know God’s revelation to us. Here, while it is painful to learn of the harm I caused by supporting this interpretation for years, it seems like the better course is to be glad to learn of things like this rather than have it stay hidden from us, as it gives us an opportunity to better understand scripture, to apologize and change and stop causing harm.
28. Could the carrying out of the CoC interpretation that girls and women must be completely barred from speaking, leading, etc., be right, but something else in the application of it is off and causing all the harm. No, the something else might cause more harm, but the carrying out of the interpretation is sex discrimination. Sex discrimination, like race discrimination, is inherently harmful. I outlined some of those ways above. Its harm is something that is evident in just thinking about it. It’s been known for a long time that discrimination based on an immutable characteristic is inherently harmful.
29. Is completely barring black people from speaking, etc., when white people are present in the church would not cause harm to them and would not be inherently harmful and devaluing, but the problem could just be in the follow-through? It’s the same concept, discriminating based on an immutable characteristic is inherently harmful.
30. That discrimination based on an immutable characteristic is inherently harmful has been known for a long time. The central point of Brown v. Board of education, for example, in finding “separate but equal” schools for black people unconstitutional was that such discrimination in inherently harmful. The Court asked whether even if “the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal,” are the “children of the minority group” harmed (there, in the form of being deprived of equal educational opportunities)? The Court explained that, even with all else equal, “To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” The Court, quoting a lower court, explained “‘Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.'”
31. Referring to the CoC view as “complementarian” overstates the view. There is a giant gap between the Churches of Christ interpretation of scripture and the vast majority of those referred to as complementarians (a misnomer, btw). Even the vast majority of complementarians — Southern Baptist, etc. — do not interpret scripture the way the CoC does and do not completely prohibit women from speaking and leading in the worship assembly, etc. The extent of the sex discrimination embodied in the CoC’s interpretation is the most discriminatory or close to it among all of Christianity among groups of size, in the U.S. at least. Only somewhere around 1-4% of Christianity completely bars women from speaking and leading in the worship service, and the CoC makes up the lions share of that. Parts of IFB comes close. Islam completely bars women from speaking and leading in the worship service, but it is not monolithic about it — it is cultural. In other words, the the CoC-type interpretation of the scripture is a very small universe, so saying “complementarians” when talking about the CoC interpretation overstates the team and overstates who is responsible for the interpretation and its continuing impact and for making changes.
32. God discriminated. God was discriminating relative to priests, but many misdescribe the point of discrimination — God did not simply prohibit women from being priests. It was not discrimination against “Jewish women.” The requirements for priests were Levite, direct (blood) descendant of Aaron, male, healthy, not disabled or with a handicap, not unclean, right age, etc. The scope of the qualifications for priests were quite narrow. And, of course, God declared all Christians — regardless of from whom they descend, male and female, healthy or not, clean or unclean, young or old, etc., priests now — a royal priesthood, the universal priesthood. (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9)
Regardless, the comparison is inapposite. That God does something does not give human beings license or permission to do it. God killed children, the first-born of the Egyptians. God had an entire group of people (children, women, men, etc.) killed. God stands by and lets genocide occur. God is sovereign and can kill, harm, wipe us all out, … or discriminate. It does not give *us* license to kill, harm, wipe people out, … or discriminate.
33. As to emphasizing that we put too much emphasis on the worship service and that those who serve in the worship service are not greater than or superior to others, just performing a different role: First, do you think, then, that a person reading scripture, leading singing, preaching, leading prayer, etc., in the worship service is not exercising authority over the people sitting in the pew? I think they are not and are instead serving, but the general Churches of Christ interpretation holds that they are exercising authority and prohibits women from doing those things under 1 Tim 2:12. Second, Sex discrimination, like race discrimination, is inherently harmful, even when, for example, the person being discriminated against is not being discriminated against relative to a “superior” situation but is instead being discriminated against relative to an ”equal” or lateral situation, btw. Third, here, we are talking about service that women feel called to do by God, for example, and that they are asked to do by God, so the service is viewed as “superior” to the person called, regardless.
34. Should ministers continue to be in the Churches of Christ congregations that discriminate based on sex? Most of the talk is around ethics, Christ-centered ministry, impact on the minister’s ethics and ability to minister (tendency to reconstruct our personal ethics to fit our personal needs vs. doing it too quickly and never having an impact), and self-care. If you can ethically stay in and stay healthy doing so while advocating for change, it seems like it. But there is a very serious ethical problem. If you are not advocating for change while young girls continue to be harmed, what are the ethics and morality and sin in that? And it can have a serious impact on our self-care (can negatively impact our own health) and our personal long-term ethics (can erode our ethics).
35. Some of the ethical issues that can come into play for a minister re women’s roles are (a) lying — e.g., the minister lying and/or being deceptive about his view on the matter or his knowledge relative to other views on the matter, (b) breach of fiduciary or fiduciary-like duties or love — e.g., the minister putting his interest (his income and status) ahead of the interest of the young girls in the congregation, (c) negligence — e.g., not acting while knowing that barring women/girls can harm people while having a duty to act or while knowing that people want to do the right thing, and (d) dereliction of duties – e.g., if the minister is paid, then part of what they are paid to do is to tell the truth, raise matters that those for whom the congregation is “home” cannot, etc. There are more.
36. For me, I think that if one can avoid (a) — not lie / be deceptive — then (b) – (d) are solvable ethically if one is making genuine and diligent efforts towards giving women a voice and ending the discrimination. That’s a big if. Taking to long or doing very little, etc., is not a genuine and diligent effort. E.g., if one has a plan and is working that plan to the end of ending discrimination against girls and women. You can make much more of a difference on the inside than the outside. I’ve found it helpful to think about it analytically in this regard. My take is that excuses, like not having a plan with a reasonable time-line, or doing little, or just putting it off for a couple of years, or talk of a “congregation not being ready” (essentially, blaming the congregation) when it is full of people who have been Christians for 20+ years, giving up, etc., or thinking that if I am fired it’s a major factor in the congregation (like someone else can’t do it), etc., doesn’t sufficiently solve (b) – (d).
37. It is a whole lot less riskier to not have a plan and have no time-line, do little, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that ethically going about this involves meaningful risk to your job and status and reputation within the CoC in most places. The need to feed one’s family complicates all this and feeds the ethical equation.
38. And your mental, spiritual, and physical health is super important. Seeing those young girls sitting in the pews can have a negative physical impact on the minister who knows the problems, as well as a mental and spiritual one. So, if you know or realize it is something that is going to have such a negative impact on your health, then you probably ought to give it second and third thoughts about staying in, or figure out if you can manage that, too. A therapist can help; exercise can help; seeing that you are helping to make progress can help; …. But it’s vitally important and you shouldn’t neglect it. ……. And staying in ethically questionable situations long-term can impact one’s personal ethics if you have to compromise and make excuses, etc., in that it wears those down and is not healthy, either. It normalizes situations and erodes your sense of right/wrong. These are all things that would need attention when staying in.
39. Additional sources regarding impacts on women and girls of sex discrimination:
https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/discrimination (“Experiences of discrimination based on gender have been shown to have negative health impacts for women. One study found that after adjusting for other influences, levels of unhappiness, loneliness, and depression are about 30% higher for women who reported experiencing recent discrimination compared to those who did not. Additionally, in a national sample of U.S. women ages 18 to 55, perceived discrimination was associated with lower likelihood of self-reported excellent/very good health. Another study with a sample of U.S. women found that reports of discrimination due to physical appearance or gender were strongly related to reduced self-reported receipt of Pap smears, mammography, and clinical breast exams. These findings suggest that perceived discrimination may be related to reduced utilization of health care services and worse self-reported health for women.“)
40. Lots of folks opposed to prohibitions on women and girls have a point of view along these lines:
a. Complementarianism itself is violence and/or physical abuse against women and girls.
This is in part because action involved is directed at the physical bodies of women and girls.
For example, it can involve men exerting force directed towards and on the physical bodies of women and girls to meet the objectives of those men relative to the physical bodies of those women and girls (e.g., to require them to remain seated, not get up to lead, not speak, not preach, remain silent, etc.). It is the physical bodies of women and girls that is the subject of physical control, that is the recipient of such force, etc.
The force exerted towards the end of controlling their physical bodies might be physical, it might be psychological, some combination, or other Physical force exerted towards those physical bodies to meet those ends may not be “hands on,” but might be things like standing up in the pulpit and preaching, the physical exertion of acting in a manner that provides an example of excluding women and girls from various functions, the physical action of walking into a meeting and telling the person typing up the worship assignments an all-male line-up, speaking in support of excluding women, ….), etc. Psychological force is exerted, too, often more directly on their bodies.
b. So complementarian action is closely akin to domestic violence or domestic physical abuse, as this referenced perceived violence / physical abuse is typically towards the physical bodies of women and girls who are very close to the perceived perpetrator (towards women and girls in their congregation), from such a point of view.
c. And so a complementarian referring to themselves as “soft” “or not as strict” or something along those lines might mean to them something akin to “less strict domestic violence perpetrator” or “less strict domestic physical abuser.” In other words, it might mean to them applying less force towards and on women and girl’s bodies but still continuing to do it.
41. There is also much out there on complementarianism’s contribution to domestic violence (see, e.g., even Al Mohler’s comments — https://www.christianpost.com/news/al-mohler-complementarian-theology-can-and-has-led-to-the-abuse-of-women-in-the-church.html).
42. See, e.g., https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/ (domestic violence, abuse description, National Domestic Violence Hotline)
43. Physical abuse definition — some use / define the physical part as the effect on the person or the result (e.g., their physical body is harmed) and some define the physical part as the activity of the person doing the abusing (they use physical force) in combination with the result (e.g, physical harm) and some define the physical part as the force that impacts the person (e.g., there is “hands on” or other physical contact between the two people).
Similar with violence — some emphasize what kind of force is used (physical) by the person in combination with a result (e.g., harm or abuse) ; some emphasize the physical result (e.g., treatment or usage of a person that results in physical harm or physical interference with the person); some emphasize a physical force used that makes physical contact; some emphasize action or conduct characterized by any of these things.
See, e.g, https://www.oed.com/oed2/00277885 (“1. a. The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom. b. In the phr. to do violence to, unto (or with indirect object): To inflict harm or injury upon; to outrage or violate. †Also to make violence. ….”)
44. On body-control — that leaders who teach, reinforce, facilitate, etc., prohibiting women and girls from speaking, leading, etc., in the church are thereby seeking to control the bodies of the women and girls in the church does not seem disputable.
Control includes “to exercise restraining or directing influence over : REGULATE.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/control
Those church leaders are seeking to do so relative to female bodies —- to sit, not speak, or not lead in the church, for example. That hierarchical complementarianism involves seeking to control the bodies of women and girls in the church seems straightforward to me.
45. As to domestic violence in the home — Even Al Mohler acknowledge that complementarianism “can be, and … sometimes is” “a cause of the abuse of women and girls” (see Christian Post 10/20/19 article to see more, and he, as you might expect, expresses it as charitably and as favorably to complementarianism as one can). See https://www.christianpost.com/news/al-mohler-complementarian-theology-can-and-has-led-to-the-abuse-of-women-in-the-church.html.
46. On spiritual abuse and related matters: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/march/spiritual-abuse-definition-uk-churches-timmis-fletcher-ccpa.html
47. On describing such things as benevolent sexism. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/benevolent-sexism
48. Ambivalent sexism discussion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambivalent_sexism
49. More on benevolent sexism: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psysociety/benevolent-sexism/
50. On benevolent sexism in the church:
51. As abuse
52. Also see
53. Lots of people who engage in abuse are “people of conviction,” “are following their convictions,” “trying to follow scripture,” etc. — they believe at the time that what they are doing is right and true. That the person engaged in the action thinks it is right or good, etc., however, does not make their actions not abuse.
Pointing out that something is abuse or that a person is engaged in abuse is not, by itself, an assignment of motive, bad or good. A person can abuse with a good motive, a bad motive, negligence, etc. That they engage in abuse with a good motive or via negligence, for example, doesn’t make their actions not abuse. Well-intentioned or unknowing people can abuse and can promulgate and support a system that promotes abuse, just like bad-intentioned people can.
54. On spiritual growth for women: https://kingdomupgrowth.com/2019/05/11/helping-women-grow-spiritually-with-dr-anessa-westbrook/
55. See Davis, C. A. (1996). Patriarchal leadership and african-american women’s self-concept and well-being (Order No. 9713072). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304342259) (addresses Churches of Christ)
56. Johnson, L. K. (2011). Keeping women silent: A study of female leadership in faith-based institutions (Order No. 3465391). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (883589308). (addresses Churches of Christ colleges)
57. For relevant comments by many Churches of Christ women across the country, see https://www.facebook.com/tufftaffy/posts/10101959843006411.
58. Melissa De Witte, “Who people believe rules in heaven influences their beliefs about who rules on Earth, Stanford scholars find,” Stanford News (Jan. 31, 2020), https://news.stanford.edu/2020/01/31/consequences-perceiving-god-white-man (“The researchers, led by Stanford psychologist Steven O. Roberts, conducted a series of studies with U.S. Christians and found that when people conceptualize God as a white man, they are more likely to perceive white male job candidates as more fit for leadership than black and female applicants, Stanford research has found.”)
59. Testimony of many Churches of Christ women regarding its treatment relative to their sex.
Picture by Greyer Baby. https://pixabay.com/en/users/greyerbaby-2323/