When a Church of Christ published an ad for its lecture series on “The Christian Woman,” it was met with thousands of overwhelmingly negative comments on social media. The ad shows a group of men speaking on topics such as “Her Response to the Feminist Movement” and “Her Role in the Church.”
If They Only Knew the Churches of Christ’s Practice
Most of those criticizing railed on the organizers for having an all-male panel for such a series.
What most did not understand is that Churches of Christ are on the extreme end of prohibiting women and girls from roles and activities in the church.
If they knew the extent of the prohibitions, those criticizing the organizers would likely have seen the problem as much bigger than having an all-male panel.
Church of Christ Practice Prohibiting Women and Girls
Women are barred, for example, from reading scripture, leading in singing or prayer, making communion remarks, making announcements, preaching, assisting at the communion table, assisting in taking up offering, and speaking in the worship service, and from praying out loud in Sunday School, teaching adult Sunday School, teaching middle-school and high-school aged Sunday School, teaching a Bible class, teaching the youth group, and teaching a small-group class (when mixed) in most Churches of Christ. They are also barred from serving as a preacher, elder, or deacon.
This holds true for the young girls of the church, too. Young girls are not allowed to pray out loud in Sunday School or other mixed gatherings, read scripture before the congregation, or do other, similar things that the young boys are allowed to do in most Churches of Christ.
Some Church of Christ congregations deviate from this practice, but it is a relatively tiny percentage.
Harm to Young Girls by the Church of Christ Practice
A recent study found that having only male congregational-leaders causes long-term harm to the young girls in the congregation.
In another recent survey, an alarmingly high percentage of women in the Churches of Christ reported symptoms of trauma.
Having young girls watch their moms and their female friends and themselves be discriminated against Sunday after Sunday after Sunday for years and years and years would, of course, have a negative impact on those girls.
And — as the church hopes men and boys learn how to treat people by watching it modeled in the church — having men and boys watch young girls be discriminated against in the church would, of course, impact how those young girls are treated in the workforce by those men and boys.
Churches of Christ Virtually Alone In Christian World in Completely Prohibiting Women
Some folks cite 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 to justify the practice, but it is straightforward to see that those passages do not bar women from speaking in the worship service or teaching men by simply not reading those sentences in isolation and instead reading them in the context of the surrounding verses and historical context.
Indeed, the Churches of Christ are nearly alone in completely barring women from speaking and leading in the worship service and from teaching men in Sunday School.
My estimate is that less than around 4% of Christianity does this, with the Churches of Christ making up the lions share of it. Some denominations prohibit women from the office of senior pastor and priest (around half of U.S. Christianity), but even those denominations do not completely prohibit women from teaching, reading scripture in the worship service, leading singing, and the like.
Islam and some other non-Christian religious groups have major sectors that completely prohibit women from speaking and leading in their worship service (but Islam is not uniform in that practice), but it is a small minority in Christianity.
Completely Prohibiting Women This Way Contradicts Scripture
An increasing number of Churches of Christ have decided to study the scriptures on the issue. When they do, they discover that its traditional practice is wrong, and they have ended their prohibition.
They have seen that the practice of completely prohibiting women from speaking and teaching in the manner of the Churches of Christ contradicts the Bible. Here are, for example, 20 passages in which God asks women to speak to, lead, teach, or have authority over men, in an assembly or elsewhere.
Sin and Witness: Maybe Thinking About Racial Discrimination Will Help You See
Particularly once one sees that those few verses do not prohibit women from speaking, it becomes clear it is a sin and immoral to prohibit women and girls from speaking.
An explanation of how joining in a usual church worship-service in which women and girls are prohibited from speaking is different — morally — than joining in a worship service in which black people are prohibited from speaking is hard to come by.
Is it moral to join in a worship service where the congregants have decided to prohibit black people from speaking?
Is it moral to join in a worship service where the congregants have decided to prohibit women from speaking?
Not very long ago, lots of people interpreted the Bible to say black people should not have authority over white people and that racial segregation, even prohibition of marriages by people of different races, is Biblical. (e.g., the Curse of Ham, Genesis 9:20-27)
Engaging in such discriminatory activity—whether it is racial discrimination or sex discrimination—impacts the church’s witness. It impacts the church’s ability to speak of love and of treatment of others. It impacts the little girls in the congregation for life. It teaches little boys — and men — that discrimination against women is acceptable and impacts young girls for life that way, too.
And If We Only Knew: Prohibiting Women This Way is a Sin
If those of us in the Churches of Christ only knew that God asks women over and over and over again in the Bible to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere, and that we are blocking women from doing what God asks them to do by prohibiting them from speaking, teaching, leading, etc.
And that spending even an hour studying the 2-3 sentences that some folks claim completely prohibits women from speaking allows you to see that they do not.
And if those of us in the Churches of Christ only knew that Jesus asks women to fulfill the Greatest Commandment — to love (including worship) God with all their heart, soul, and mind and to love (including serve) others as themselves and that we are blocking women from doing what Jesus asks them to do by prohibiting them from worshiping God and serving others with their all in the worship service and in teaching.
And that it hurts young girls long-term for elders and deacons and members to discriminate against the young girls and to have them watch themselves and their mothers and their female friends be discriminated against Sunday after Sunday after Sunday for years and years and years and that we are harming young girls.
Then we could not help but act immediately. We would recognize it sex discrimination, as immoral and sin, and contrary to God’s word.
We would do something to put an end to this practice, for our daughters and granddaughters. And for the daughters and granddaughters of the people around us. And for half of the people made in God’s image. We would not let this continue another day. We would take action.
If we only knew.
Sources and Notes
On 20+ passages asking women to speak to, teach, lead, and have authority over men, in an assembly and elsewhere—
On 1 Tim 2:12 —
On 1 Cor 14:34-35–
On Female Elders–
On scripture discussions by 20+ Churches of Christ in Which Women Speak and Teach in the Assembly—
The picture is one I took of the church’s ad on Friday, August 23.
The church began deleting the comments on its page, but the rate of comments seemed to overtake its ability to delete them and the church eventually deleted its post.
The about 4% number is a U.S. number. I don’t have any reason to believe the number is very different outside, including because the Roman Catholic Church does not completely prohibit women from speaking, for example, but I could not find a way to estimate the number outside the U.S.
Updated: Edited for more clarity and shorter in places; revised conclusion; resized and centered picture 9/1, 3.
The Churches of Christ are the extremists, at least among groups of any size, in the Christian world on this issue.
The only religious groups of size I found that completely bar women from speaking / leading in their worship service are the Churches of Christ and much of Islam. And Islam is not uniform on this.
Most Amish and Primitive Baptist, some conservative Mennonite, some Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, and Plymouth Brethren do the same as the CoC, is my understanding, but they are tiny groups. A much larger portion of the IFB comes close but generally allows women to lead singing by singing solos or in small groups up front. If you or anyone knows of anything different or any to add or take away from this list, speak up.
My understanding is that about half of the Christian world does not restrict. And about half does. These are really rough numbers.
And in the half that does, the overwhelming majority have women up front leading singing, reading scripture, and/or otherwise speaking and they teach Bible classes for men and the like and many even preach or give homilies on occasion. But they are not ordained in the designated official offices (senior pastor, priest, elder, or the like).
In the half that does restrict, the vast majority is made up of the RCC and the SBC. The SBC had allowed for ordination of women and then reversed its position in the 80s in a fundamentalist take-over. There are winds of change blowing there now. See Beth Moore.
And in a tiny percentage of the Christian world (it looks to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% the lions share of which is the CoC), women are completely restricted from speaking and leading in the worship service. I think that if all or most all of the IFB was included in the same category as the Churches of Christ, the percentage would probably go up to around 8-9%. I base most of these numbers of data from Pew Research but have not gone through and done precise calculations or confirmed the practices of all of the various denominations. I invite anyone to contact me via my contact page if you know of a denomination who completely prohibits women from speaking in the worship assembly or if you think I got any of the above information about denominational practices wrong.
One of the major problems is that when a man speaks from the pulpit about loving your neighbor and how the congregation is such a loving congregation while there are young girls in his vision that are prohibited from praying before the congregation it can make for a hypocritical show.
I’m thinking one statistic may be missing, and that is the growth (or decline) that emerged during or following a switch to an egalitarian posture.
In my experience, when church leadership opts to make material policy changes on anything, the church quickly gets smaller.
This happened –serially– with the Monmouth, NJ church on the list. They dropped Sunday evening services and got smaller, added instruments and got smaller, added egalitarian practices, and got even smaller.
Same thing with the Manhattan, NY church.
And one wonders why churches are vanishing?
Now this might not really matter, but it might be helpful to disclose such information.
As a practical matter, I’ve noticed that when the church leaders and their followers operated as if the “main thing” at their church is the once-per-week worship service, the church shrinks no matter what the particular issue is. (Although, some issues may trigger faster feet to depart).
In addition, I don’t think your data characterizing egalitarian practices among other groups. In the example above, at least one elder, one deacon, and more left the Monmouth NJ church (of 25) to join a vibrant community church of 900 having very old fashioned sensibilities on this issue. Churches with clearly disclosed principles are growing, I’m thinking.
In any case, I’ll soon be adding in this and a few other practices to my database. People don’t like to be surprised.
Thank you for your comment.
There was a study published about 3 years ago that found that approximately 50% of Churches of Christ that made this change lost members and 50% held steady or gained members. And that of those that lost members the average loss was around 10%. You can find this study here: http://wineskins.org/2016/05/24/womens-roles-in-churches-of-christ-survey-2016/
Only less than 1% of Churches of Christ have made this change.
Meanwhile, Churches of Christ as a whole: Have lost more than 930 members a month and more than 5 congregations a month have dissolved over the past 18 years. That is each and every month.
That has accelerated over the last 3 years to more than 2000 members a month and more than 9 congregations a month dissolving. That is each and every month!
It appears to me that the CoC is the fastest-shrinking evangelical group. And this is while it is strongest in geographic areas of the country that are growing — Dallas, Nashville, etc.
This is while evangelical groups as a whole are staying relatively steady.
And evangelical groups that have women involved in all areas of ministry — like Assemblies of God — have seen significant growth over the last 20 years.
It isn’t all about numbers. But people aren’t going to and shouldn’t put up with sex discrimination.
This practice is contrary to scripture and harms the women and young girls of our congregations and needs to stop.
It is true that folks thought they were doing the right thing. Many were just following along with what the good folks before them were doing and taught.
But it’s time to shake off the pride, take a hard look at the scripture, shake off tradition, and make a change for the girls and women of the church.
Wow! This is spot on. Growing up as a girl and young woman in the Church of Christ, I was unable to pray or even sing by myself without a man leading me. When I was a teenager, there was one time some friends and I were singing and praising the Lord when one of the songs had a female “lead” but we the guys with us told me to go ahead and start the song because there weren’t enough guys to sing the male parts and my part too. I was the only Soprano in the group so I started singing. One of the older men heard me start the song and the entire youth group was banned from singing without “supervision” because of my indiscretion. According to them, I had “usurped the authority” of the males in the group, although they had told me to start the song. Once I was an adult and teaching Bible class (in other congregations), if a boy in my class got baptized, I was then pulled from teaching the class (even if the boy was only 8) and a male was sent in to teach so that I would not be usurping the boy’s authority and acting contrary to their understanding of scripture. I was never allowed to teach above the age of 9 even though I am a High School teacher by trade and have a gift for working with teenagers (they did allow me to “assist” with my husband as he taught the class).
Today, I struggle with having appropriate authority with my own pre-teen boys and with having my voice validated. Praise God that He is the One who heals all wounds and that His intent for me is good. He never intended for me to be silenced in that way. A thorough study of the Greek and the context of the “silence” passages reveals the truth and the truth will set you free!
Thank you for your comment.
I’m sorry you went through that. Your story is way too common. I’ve heard so many variations of it! The keep coming!
Praise God indeed!
I wrote some articles on that context you mentioned.
Here’s one relative to 1 Cor 14:34-35: https://authentictheology.com/2018/05/22/part-3-most-church-of-christ-colleges-no-longer-exclude-women-from-leading-in-worship-services-does-it-contradict-1-cor-1434-35-women-should-remain-silent/
And here are two relative to 1 Tim 2:12:
And here’s one on female elders:
And what’s especially sad to me is that the church will probably characterize what happened as “persecution of the church by the world,” and double down. If I were to make a prediction, I predict that they will utterly fail to see that they are, in fact, acting contrary to Scripture and hindering the Gospel. They will not get the message. 🙁
Steve – I did not read your article in its entirety. However, there is at least one other denomination that practices “barring” women from such activities: The Fundamental Independent Baptist. In fact, they are even more restrictive than the Church of Christ, as women must wear longer dresses.
Thank you for your comment.
Yes, my understanding is that the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Churches are very restrictive. I do not understand them to be more restrictive than the Churches of Christ, however. For example, it is my understanding that women are allowed to lead singing by singing solo and with small groups (of both all women and with mixed small groups) during the worship service in most IFB churches, which is not something that is allowed in the vast majority of Churches of Christ.
If my information is incorrect, and women are generally barred from singing solo, etc., during the worship service, please let me know.
I am told, too, that there are a substantial number of IFB churches in which women are not barred from doing things like making announcements, describing upcoming events, etc., from the front. Again, if my information is incorrect, please let me know.
Thanks much, Steve