This week marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution— giving women the right to vote—passing in the U.S. Senate. In the decades before its passage and for some time after, leading voices in the Churches of Christ opposed women having the right to vote and opposed women exercising that right once they had it, asserting that it was all contrary to scripture and against God’s will.
Many of those voices held the view that the Bible teaches that God does not want women teaching or having authority over men in any public setting—not in public, not in government, not in the workplace, not in the worship service, not in public speaking, not in conventions, not in the military, not in …. — and God wants “women’s sphere” limited to the home and raising children.
Church of Christ college presidents, editors, owners, and contributors of and to the Gospel Advocate, preachers, women, Bible professors, … all asserted it is God’s will that women not have the right to vote and not participate in politics. A sampling of their statements:
+ “[E]vil would result from the after effects of woman suffrage. It is … the law of God … that the influence of woman must be exercised through man, and when she takes the reins in her own hands it works evil ….”
+ Put women “into the rugged field of politics, voting, office holding, with their … worldly excitement, and you at once start human society, morality, and even Christianity on a downward grade. ….”
+ “When women enter politics and hold office, they necessarily become no longer fit for wives and mothers. …”
+ “‘A woman who spends the whole day at a desk, in the law courts, or in a house of assembly … is no longer a woman, she cannot be a wife, she cannot be a mother.'”
+ “Should Christian women vote under any circumstances? … No.”
Effects and echoes of this view remain.
The vast majority of Churches of Christ today completely prohibit women women from speaking or actively serving in their worship services and from teaching males, in Sunday School or elsewhere, above the age of about 10. The Churches of Christ are nearly alone among Christian groups in doing this. Women are barred by the elders in the vast majority of congregations from reading scripture, leading singing, leading prayer, helping with communion, making communion remarks, preaching, making announcements, leading singing, or otherwise actively serving in the worship service and are barred from teaching any male above the age of about 10 or who has been baptized in Sunday School or Bible classes.
The view that women are not to teach or have authority over men anywhere at all in public (not just in the worship service) and that men are the God-ordained authority over women in all places also remains within various pockets of the Churches of Christ, and it is not spoken of often one way or another in most other pockets of the Churches of Christ, and the presence of this view and that it underlies some of the theology is unrealized by large swaths of the membership. It was the view advocated publicly by the Churches of Christ most influential persons through at least the early 1900s.
This is starting to change, as most colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ now allow women to speak in their chapel services and a small-but-growing number of congregations have women speak in their worship service.
Here are excerpts from 10 articles published in the early 20th century in the Gospel Advocate, the leading Church of Christ publication at the time, opposing women’s right to vote.
1. It is sinful for a woman to speak at a convention, and influence of a woman must be exercised through a man.
“It is a good work to close out saloons …; but it is productive of evil to do that work in an unscriptural way …. [M]ost of the speakers during the [anti-alcohol] convention were women. Paul says: “Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.” (1 Tim. 2: 11, 12.) … [A]n excellent and sensible woman … delivered a brilliant speech …. But the same Book that teaches the truths she presented [(the Bible)] condemns her for presenting them upon the platform. …” [(with men present)]
“[E]vil would result from the after effects of woman suffrage. It is the law of nature, and the law of God, that the influence of woman must be exercised through man, and when she takes the reins in her own hands it works evil to both man and woman by lifting her out of the sphere in which she was placed by the Creator. … God has not created her to take the lead or to occupy the platform in politics or religion.”
(James A. Allen, then Contributor, later Editor of the Gospel Advocate, “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union,” Gospel Advocate (Dec. 19, 1907), p. 812.)
2. Women must keep their place, otherwise they transgress God’s plan and will be punished.
“If I didn’t believe the Bible, I might accept this big perplexing question … as only another opportunity for woman to prove that no obstacle can stop her ….”
“When God created the world, he made a law to run it by …. To transgress this law is to be punished. God would not be supreme if we were allowed to add to and take from his original plan. …”
“So it is no small matter that we keep in our places … The suffrage question is, I believe, of far more importance than most people think. No doubt it will be a turning point in the history of our country. …”
[Citing the Titantic men putting “women and children first,] “Since [men] have proved by being put to the test that they will even give their lives for us, don’t you think we could trust them to make laws for us?”
(May Selley, “Is Equal Suffrage Worth the Fight? No! Thinks a Business Girl,” Gospel Advocate (Mar. 20, 1913), pp. 268-270.)
3. The Bible tells us whether women should vote—God knew when he created women where he wanted women to remain during their existence.
“[W]e have an infallible guide as to whether women shall vote or not vote; and that unerring guide is the Bible. … I am pleading earnestly for woman to build a happy home for her husband, children, and herself. And guided by that wonderful Book, … she will … have a glorious success.”
“… I call upon every man, woman, boy, and girl to contend earnestly for such a woman as the Bible describes; a woman content to labor in the sphere assigned her by divine wisdom. … [T]he great Father knew what he created every being … for; and where he wanted them to remain during their existence in this world.”
(Fannie S. Scobey, “Shall Women Vote?,” Gospel Advocate (March 27, 1913), p. 293 (the GA editor introduces the article as “timely” and “lucid”).)
4. If women go out of their sphere and start voting, etc., it puts morality and Christianity on a downward path and it brings evil to all connected.
“Faithful, godly women … are in a large measure the guardian angels for the wellbeing of the family and for the general good of human society. But take women in a measure out of that sphere and put them into the rugged field of politics, voting, office holding, with their trains of trouble and worldly excitement, and you at once start human society, morality, and even Christianity on a downward grade. ….”
“Let woman remain in the station in which the wisdom of God placed her. In that sphere she can be a wonderful blessing to the whole human race; out of it she may prove a great drawback.”
“None of God’s divine arrangements for the good of humanity can be changed without bringing evil instead of good to all connected with the change.”
(E.G. Sewell, Editor of the Gospel Advocate, “Questions About Billy Sunday and Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate (April 15, 1915), p. 362.)
5. Women seeking to enter politics is the greatest danger threatening America; they should stay where God placed them.
“Women dressing in a fashion to shock … and their seeking to enter into the slime and filth of politics constitutes, ‘to my mind, the greatest danger threatening American civilization. … If women could only appreciate the power with which God has invested them and use it as he has directed, they could lift this old sin-cursed world back to God. Let us pray for the dawning of the day when our women will in truth become queens, reigning over the circle in which God has placed them. … Sisters, let politics alone, and dress as becometh the daughters of the Lord, ….”
(F.W. Smith, “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate, (Oct. 23, 1913), pp. 1010-1011.)
6. The Devil tells women that not having equal rights with men is bad and, similar to Eve, women are listening and deceived, causing men to make women’s suffrage a law, which is contrary to God’s law.
“But, in the face of all these warnings and commands of our loving Heavenly Father, that same crafty serpent has stolen into our nearest approach to Eden, the home, and is destroying the sacredness of the hearthstone and rendering happy homes fewer and fewer by telling woman that she is persecuted and downtrodden because she is not permitted to have equal rights with man ….”
“[I]nstead of resisting the devil and forcing him to flee from her, she has stopped to listen to his arguments and is being deceived, and, just as she did on that unhappy day just prior to her expulsion from Eden, she is using her influence over man, and again he is blindly yielding, and has already made woman suffrage a law, even though it is directly opposed to God’s law.”
(Fannie Hurst, “Decries Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate (Aug. 28, 1919), pp. 830-831.)
7. A female working outside the home is no longer a woman, wife, or mother.
“‘A woman who spends the whole day at a desk, in the law courts, or in a house of assembly, may be a most honorable and most useful individual, but she is no longer a woman, she cannot be a wife, she cannot be a mother. In the conditions of our society the emancipation of women is in its very nature the negation of marriage.’ The experience of the human race has demonstrated the wisdom of God in ordaining that man should be the head of the woman, as Christ is the head of the church.”
(J.C. McQuiddy, “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate (July 22, 1920), p. 715.) (pivotal article)
8. The Bible is contrary to what woman-suffrage leaders want.
“The Bible is very much in the way of woman-suffrage leaders. In order to nullify the following scriptures and other similar passages, they repudiate the Bible: “Unto the woman he said, … and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Gen. 3:16.) “Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. … (1 Tim. 2: 11-15.).”
(J.C. McQuiddy, owner and business executive of the Gospel Advocate and prolific writer and publisher within the Churches of Christ, “Mrs. Catt and Woman-Suffrage Leaders Repudiate the Bible,” Gospel Advocate (Aug. 12, 1920), p. 788.)
9. Women in politics are not fit as wives or mothers. Women must keep to their proper sphere, including man’s dominion over women.
“It women could vote and go no further, there might not be so much objection to it. … But it is not simply the privilege of casting the vote that woman is seeking, but she is seeking equal political rights. … When women enter politics and hold office, they necessarily become no longer fit for wives and mothers. …”
“It is true that some women object to the teaching of the word of God and are ready to reject it because it does not conform to their ideas. They object to man’s dominion over woman, as recorded in 1 Tim. 2:11-16; but if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, which they are taught to do, there is no weight in this objection. … So long as women are kept in their proper sphere and so long as men do the work that God has ordained for them to do, we may expect the human race to grow purer and better and happier. How much better it is to follow the wisdom of God than to follow the wisdom of men!”
(J.C. McQuiddy, “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate (Oct. 28, 1920), p. 1049 (pivotal editorial).)
10. Christian women should not vote, even if they have the right to.
“Should Christian women vote under any circumstances? … No. Christian women have their greatest power and influence in the God-ordained sphere for Christian women; and this is not in politics.”
(H. Leo Boles, Ph.D., then President of Lipscomb College (and long-time head of the Bible department), “Query Department,” Gospel Advocate (Aug. 16, 1928), p. 782.)
First: (A) If your congregation existed 160 years ago ——
would your congregation view the Bible as commanding black people not to have authority over white people in Genesis 4:10-16 and 9:20-27 (often called the Curse of Ham and Cain) and as approving slavery of black persons, even though there is a mound of scripture contradicting this view? (These curses were relatively widely believed in the south in the 1800s and after.)
(B) Does scripture actually mean that black persons cannot have authority over white persons?
Second: (A) If your congregation existed about 100 years ago —–
would your congregation oppose giving women the right to vote because of the sphere God gave women and because of 1 Tim 2:12, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”? (Read again leading voices in the Churches of Christ said about 100 years ago.)
(B) Does scripture actually mean that women cannot vote or participate in politics?
Third: (A) If your congregation exists today —–
would your congregation oppose allowing women to speak or lead in any way in your worship service because it believes the Bible commands women not to have authority over men and not to speak in the assembly in 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35, even though nearly all of Christianity recognizes those passages do not have that meaning and there is an even bigger mound of scripture contradicting the view that women cannot speak or lead in the assembly?
(B) Does scripture actually mean that women cannot speak or lead in the worship assembly?
Most Important: (A) When
(1) there are lots and lots of scripture passages in which God asks women to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere, and
(2) Christ asks women to love (serve, worship, …) God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and to love (serve, …) others as themselves, …. then
is it a sin, unethical, and immoral for a congregation to block women from speaking to, teaching, leading, and having authority over men and for a congregation to block women in the worship service from serving God and serving others with their all and as they are treated?
(B) Is it spiritually, mentally, and physically healthy for young girls to be discriminated against for years and years and years by people in the church and to watch their moms and friends be discriminated against for years and years by people in the church, all while those people are communicating to those girls through their action and inaction that it is God’s will that those young girls be discriminated against?
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Sources and Notes
See Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: List and Links (Part 1),” AuthenticTheology.com (March 26, 2019); Steve Gardner, “Most Church-of-Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women from Leading in Chapel Worship Service: A List of Schools and Their Approach to Chapel” AuthenticTheology.com (May 9, 2018); and 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), and material cited therein.
For a discussion of 1 Timothy 2:12, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: 1 Timothy 2:12, “Teach or Usurp Authority” (Part 3),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 9, 2019).
Regarding Curse of Ham, etc., see, e.g., David Lipscomb, “Noah’s Curse Upon Ham, &c” Gospel Advocate (1868), pp. 460-462. Lipscomb responds to a letter asking about “Noah’s prophecy” in Genesis 9:25ff. Lipscomb refers to the curse as “a very abject and degrading servitude” (but also recognizes it “may mean literally, Shem shall serve Japheth and Canann shall serve Shem. A servant of a serving race.”). Ibid., 460-461. He then explains that the evils of this curse, like most all of God’s curses, continue only as long as the sinful course of behavior of the cursed family continues. What is that sinful course of behavior? He says he is unsure of the exact characteristics of Ham’s behavior, but that it was “probably the mere out-cropppings of an irreverential beastiality” (he was likely referring to beastiality in the sense of humans displaying the traits of beasts or something along those lines, not in the sense of humans having sex with animals). Ibid., 461. Lipscomb also says that such behavior “has marked [Ham’s] family since, and especially the family of Canaan.” Ibid. Lipscomb does say that Christians ought not be the ones to inflict evil. Ibid., 462.
Lipscomb says “The Churches of Christ, in every section where the colored people exist, ought to make an earnest and resolute effort to reach the colored people in their midst, and bring them under the purifying and elevating influence of the religion of the Son of God.” Ibid., 462. He goes on to say “And if they are still suffering from the curse of Noah, it is because they are still walking in the sins that brought the curse.”
He goes on to say that “The Gospel can deliver them from the sins, and thus deliver them from the curse that the sins bring. What a crown of joy at the last day, to have been God’s instrument in delivering a race from a curse hanging over them since the days of Noah.” Ibid., 462.
It what seems to be a dismissal or rejection of post-Civil War efforts or a post-Civil War complaint about the emancipation of slaves, Lipscomb says “It is vain, it is setting God at defiance to attempt violently to relieve from the curse while we leave them in the sins that produce the curse. Sometimes, in efforts to do this, the manner of inflicting the curse is changed, but the curse is never removed by such changes, almost universally rendered more dire and fearful. There is but one way to deliver our fellowmen from the curse of God–deliver them from the sin that calls down the curse, and then God will see that the curse is removed.” Ibid., 462.
It seems to me that since Lipscomb sees the Curse of Ham as removable, then if he views part of men having authority over women as part of the curse related to the fall — which he appears to, as he relates it to God telling women they can’t lead because of what Eve did, etc. — then it, too, is removable. See, for example, some discussion by Dr. Leonard here: https://baptistnews.com/article/twin-doctrines-of-slavery-and-complementarity-time-for-evangelicals-to-budge-on-biblical-interpretation/.
Also see Flavil Hall, “Don’t Beeloud the Christian Faith,” Gospel Advocate (June 16, 1921), p. 564 (“The sage should be careful how he reflects upon the divine inspiration of Moses, lest be, in this respect, make of himself what he sometimes calls others-a chimpanzee. Have not the men of knowledge and observation been beholding the fulfillment of the prophecy of Noah, recorded by Moses (Gen. 9:25-27), in all ages since the distinction of races became an established fact? Has not a curse rested upon the Hamitic nations? Have they not been cursed with abominable idolatries and vices? Have they not been “servants of servants,” abject servants to others. Think of Egypt and her ruins, and of Africa, the Dark Continent.”) (For more on Flavil Hall, see http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/georgia/hall,fj.htm.)
Also see H. Leo Boles, “Cain–Concluded,” Gospel Advocate (September 26, 1918), pp. 916-917 (“There are some sins that originated with the family of Cain which have cursed the human family for many generations. Noah had three sons–Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives were all that were saved from the flood. Many scholars have expressed it as their judgment that Ham married a descendant of Cain. One of Ham’s sons was named “Canaan.” Upon this son Noah pronounced the curse, and said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” (Gen. 9: 25.) The Canaanites came from Canaan. They represented. as wicked a race of people as have ever disgraced the earth. “Canaanite” is a synonym in biblical history for wickedness and corruption. Sin in every form, in its most gigantic proportions, has
been found among the Canaanitish people. If the conjecture be true that they are descendants of Cain, then Cain becomes the father of the most wicked race of people that ever lived.”).
Would a white person say to a black person that the black person is equal to them and has equal dignity but that God has ordained that the white person has permanent authority over the black person and is in headship over them? Sounds like the curse of Ham, right?
On to a different topic ….
I also spotted one statement that seemed to say women voting might be OK if she did it while staying in her sphere, but this was contradicted by later articles. See M.C. Kurfees, contributor and later associate editor of the Gospel Advocate, “Women Wearing Men’s Clothing, Smoking Cigarettes, and Bobbing Their Hair,” Gospel Advocate (April 15, 1926), p. 350 (“On the matter of voting, God does not give specific directions to either men or women. It is a civil matter to which, so far as mere rights are concerned, one has the same right as the other. Woman should never, in doing anything whatever, get out of the place to which God has assigned her. If she buys or sells a house, as surely she has a right to do, she should not go out of her proper sphere in conducting the transaction. She should observe the same principle when she goes on a shopping mission or any other mission; and if she goes and casts her vote as she goes to a store to shop, she has no more, if at all, transcended her sphere than man has transcended his in the same act. Of course, this point is involved in the Christian’s relation to, and dealings with, civil government; and where, in such matters, specific directions are not given to Christians, they are left to make their decision and to regulate their conduct on the general teaching of the Bible.”).
On McQuiddy, also see: https://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15138coll27/id/626
Do these articles express, suggest, or indicate that a reason women should not be given the right to vote or participate in politics is that no Christian (male or female) should vote or participate in politics? Of the 10 articles, eight do not seem to give any hint of this. Most all of them are such that if it was their view, you would have expected it to come up in their reasons. Many of them seemed to be firing all guns against woman suffrage. Two do. Neither say that Christian males should not vote, but seem to seek to dissuade them from doing so.
The first one, the James A. Allen article from ’07, is interesting in that it says the following: “But to manifest public sentiment in the laws made by Congress is a question for the world to consider. Christians have no time, and should have no inclination, to mix in the politics of a worldly government. They can do the greatest good to the government and the nation if they will sanctify the Lord God in their hearts and set themselves for the advancement of Christian principles…. The nation is thus benefited through association with the Christians living in it. He does the greatest good to the nation and to the world who consecrates all his energies wholly to God and who does the most to preach the gospel.”
Notice that it refers to a “greatest good” but does not express that greatest good as mutually exclusive of voting. It also refers to Christians having not having “time” and an “inclination,” rather than they shouldn’t, etc. Interestingly, its conclusion refers to the male pronoun in referring to “the Christians” and refers to “preach the gospel.” Allen had already expressed his view that 1 Tim 2:12 keeps women from speaking in public and that it’s the ” law of God, that the influence of woman must be exercised through man, and when she takes the reins in her own hands it works evil to both man and woman ….” So, it is possible that he had as an additional reason that Christians should not vote, but he doesn’t seem to refer to voting but to public political expression. It is not clear.
The last article, by H. Leo Boles in 1928, coming 8 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, is a lot stronger, though it also does not come right out and say that Christian men should not vote. It comes close. Boles is asked “Should Christians vote or take an active part in elections?” He does not answer with a yes or no (he answers other, similar questions with a yes or no). He says, instead, that “[t]he question of Christians’ voting is too complicated to be answered with a few lines ….” The Scriptures completely furnish the man of God unto every good work. (2 Tim. 3: 17.) We find no instruction in the New Testament concerning Christians’ voting and holding office. We do find that the kingdoms of this world, or human governments, belong to the prince of this world, which is the devil. The Lord’s people have been called out of the world; they have been separated from the world; and they have been given instruction to keep themselves “unspotted from the world.” They can best do this by following the Christ. Possibly many reforms are needed in the world, but God has ordained that his people should work in and through the church for the accomplishment of good. The Christian should want to work where he can accomplish the greatest good. The church is God’s ordained institution for accomplishing good in the world. A Christian is out of his spiritual element when he attempts to do good independent of Christ and the church, as much so as a fish is out of its natural element when on dry land or out of the water. There is as much reason for a Christian to try to do missionary work through a missionary society as there is for him to try to accomplish reforms or do good through political parties or human governments.”——- So he does not say Christians should not vote, but he seems to seek to dissuade them from doing so. Boles does not seem to connect this to his answer about women voting, referring to her sphere.
McQuiddy’s articles are notable in that they do not seem to use such a basis at all and emphasizes the woman’s sphere, scripture, etc., in strident terms. They are worth reading.
Isn’t a Christian opposing woman’s suffrage and the 19th amendment a Christian participating in politics?! Also, I’ll leave aside for the moment the problems with (a) using a belief that Christians should not vote or participate in politics to (b) opposing non-Christians (women) from having the right to vote.
Interesting map of the world showing dates women obtained the right to vote in each country: https://brilliantmaps.com/womens-suffrage-world/
Updated 11/6: Non-substantive edits for typos and clarity.