Audio of religious leaders—including John MacArthur—making harsh statements about Beth Moore and against female preachers and those who advocate for them, all to laughs and applause from a church-conference audience, is receiving much attention in the Southern Baptist world (already under pressure to adjust its ban on female pastors) and in other religious circles.
The speakers say Beth Moore should “go home,” call her narcissistic, and compare her to a hawker of jewelry on TV. They say women can never preach and accuse those who otherwise of just wanting power, say the church is caving to women preachers, and warn that women want to be senators, in congress, president, and have executive positions in universities, too.
The audio is here.
Reaction has varied from it is about time that religious leaders took a firmer stand against Beth Moore and female preachers to disappointment to fury to unsurprised.
Beth Moore primarily travels in the Southern Baptist world, as do the speakers, but she cuts across denominational lines, as does John MacArthur. The question of female preachers has received attention in the Churches of Christ world recently, too.
A few comments relative to the Churches of Christ in light of this —
1. Churches of Christ — Extremists on This
The conversation around Beth Moore involves prohibiting women from preaching. The Southern Baptist Convention prohibits women from pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination (e.g., senior pastor and elder) only. It does not prohibit women from other worship-service roles. It is common, for example, for women to speak in the worship service and to lead singing.
The Churches of Christ, on the other hand, is extreme in this area: women are completely barred from speaking, leading, and serving in any way during the worship service in the vast majority of congregations (no leading singing, no helping with communion, etc.). Most others either do not bar in any way or only as to pastor or priest or specific ordained offices.
The Churches of Christ is nearly alone in this regard. Only an estimated less than about 4% of U.S. Christianity completely prohibits women from speaking and leading in the worship service and from teaching adults in Sunday School, and the lion’s share of that is the Churches of Christ.
2. Churches of Christ are Different
When comparing Churches of Christ with other kinds of churches in this regard, we are generally discussing apples and oranges, even if both are “complementarian.” That is, a Baptist congregation where women teach adult and middle school Sunday School, lead singing, serve as youth minister, etc., has a much different feel than a Church of Christ congregation that totally bans women from serving in such ways.
3. “Equal Value and Dignity” + Different Roles + Headship = Irrational
In conversations about Beth Moore, you will hear references to how complementarians consider women and men of “equal value and dignity” but that the sexes have different roles and men are to have headship.
To say the sexes are equal but one has permanent authority over the other is irrational, though.
The “equal but different roles and headship” assertion is a fog that obfuscates that what is happening is straightforward sex-discrimination. It is obviously not equal.
Calling it “equal” causes the hearer to think first that something good and God-ordained is happening, rather than to think first that it is harmful sex-discrimination and to ask themselves if it is justified. In other words, calling it “equal but different roles and headship” when it is obviously not equal obfuscates the harm done to women and young girls.
And did what MacArthur et al. had to say sound like “equal value and dignity” to you?
4. “Equal Value and Dignity” is Not What Churches of Christ Practice is Based On
This is to point out the following about the Churches of Christ practice: The kind of complementarianism it is practicing in the assembly is the kind practiced in the assembly for centuries, probably for around 300 AD – ~1800+ AD.
And during that time, “equal value and dignity” did not underlie the practice.
Instead, the underlying theology was awful. Church leaders interpreted scripture to say women should not teach in church or have authority over men because:
1) Women are inferior to men because (a) she was created second (Eve after Adam), reflecting inferiority and (b) women do not fully bear the image of God.
2) Eve (and by implication, all women) is to be blamed for all evil and death in the world, and women are more susceptible to sin, deception, and error than men, and thus their place is solely in the home and with the children and not in places of teaching or authority.
(See pp. 160-163 of Kevin Giles, “A Critique of the ‘Novel’ Contemporary Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Given in the Book, Women in the Church. Part I,”, Evangelical Quarterly 72:2 (2000))
You can see this reflected in what Churches of Christ foundational leaders said in the 1800s and early 1900s, the formative time of the Churches of Christ.
+ “Adam was first …, then Eve. … He is first and she is second. He is senior and she is junior. They are, therefore, neither equal in rank nor in age.”
+ “His lordship was earth wide, her queenship is naturally and rightfully only house wide.”
+ “It is in quite as good taste with us … to assign to women their task at home.”
+ “It is wrong for a woman to become a leader or public teacher of men in any place or on any occasion.”
+ “All the teaching of the Bible is against women speaking in public.”
+ God’s message to women (referencing Eve) is “I suffered you to take the lead once; your strong emotional nature led you to violate God’s word and to shipwreck a world, I cannot again trust you to lead.”
+ Women’s “unfitness to lead and teach arises from her strong emotional nature causing her to be easily deceived and to be ready to run after anything or body that might strike her fancy against reason and facts.”
The point: The vast majority of Churches of Christ today practice what is based on the above awful theology. It is not based on “equal value and dignity.” The foundation of the practice comprises female inequality and distrust of women.
We can say today that we now believe women are equal but have different roles, etc., but that is a recent invention, one done to defend and keep doing what we have done for a very long time—our tradition—which was based on the view that women are inferior, not trustworthy, and not equal.
5. The Churches of Christ Practice of Exclusion Harms Young Girls.
Forcing young girls to sit in the worship service and their Sunday School and watch themselves and their moms and their female friends and their friends’ moms be discriminated against Sunday after Sunday after Sunday for years and years harms many of those young girls.
And the practice teaches young boys and men that sex discrimination is ordained by God and gives them an example set by the church that, of course, stays with them when they go, which negatively impacts and harms many young girls and women outside the church, in the workplace, in education, etc., when that example inevitably impacts how many of those boys and men treat girls and women.
Studies have indicated that having all-male congregational leaders can cause long-term harm to girls, but did we need studies to know that?
If you listen to MacArthur et al. complain and warn that women want to be senators and have executive positions in universities —- well, yeah — it is easy to see why having female congregational leaders would matter to a young girl’s future and why not having one could harm her future, physically and mentally.
6. It’s a Heart Problem: We are Used to Doing This and It’s Awful
We have gotten used to sex discrimination and normalized it, so we don’t think about it much.
I think that is what was happening with MacCarthur et al. in that audio. Their world is one in which what they were expressing is normalized. What they were saying was natural and normal to them.
This is one of the main problems in the Churches of Christ, I think. It is a heart problem. We look at the young girls prohibited from praying in their Sunday School class and from reading scripture in the worship service while they watch their male peers do so, and we think “of course this is the way it should be,” rather than “Wow, this is awful, I better be sure about the scripture here.”
But sex discrimination is like race discrimination. What would your reaction to the prohibition of black persons from speaking be? Are you sure? Why isn’t your reaction to the prohibition of women and girls the same?
People once pointed to scripture to say God ordains that white people must have authority over black people, just like people point to scripture today to say God ordains that men must have authority over women.
If we paused to realize first that what we are practicing is straightforward sex discrimination that risks harming these girls spiritually and physically and that sets an awful example for boys and men that can harm women and girls inside and outside the walls of the church and then asked ourselves if we have done the ultra-extensive scriptural work that one would do before risking harming a little girl (if ever! the concept is abhorrent) to really see if such things have been ordained by God, then we might feel as if we are trying to obey scripture.
But I have yet to meet the church that has done this. Have you done this? How sure would you want to be before taking such a risk? Would you?
7. Conclusion: Time for the Practice of Exclusion to End
I don’t see how we continue supporting prohibiting girls and women from speaking in the worship service. It’s harmful, sinful, immoral, and cannot be justified.
And once folks spend some time studying the scripture, it is readily apparent that we have been following a tradition of man and not scripture. When the 2-3 sentences to which folks point to argue women should be barred are read in context instead of by themselves out of context, it is clear women are not barred.
It is long past time for the practice to come to an end.
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Sources & Notes
The referenced audio is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeNKHqpBcgc
Campbell: Steve Gardner, “Alexander Campbell, Church-of-Christ Denomination Progenitor: Women’s Domain “Rightfully Only House Wide,” AuthenticTheology.com (March 23, 2018).
Studies: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “Church of Christ Practice Harms Girls Long-Term, Suggests 2018 Study,” AuthenticTheology.com (November 28, 2018).
For a discussion regarding scripture on this issue, see Steve Gardner, “20 Passages Asking Women to Speak, Teach, Lead, and Have Authority Over Men, In the Assembly and Elsewhere,” AuthenticTheology.com (September 3, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 22, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15, see Steve Gardner, “Most Church of Christ Colleges No Longer Exclude Women From Leading in Worship Services: … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018).
For a discussion regarding 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).
For a discussion regarding female elders, see Steve Gardner, “10 Churches of Christ Where Women Speak in the Assembly: Female Elders (Part 2),” AuthenticTheology.com (April 3, 2019).
A list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ is maintained by Wiley Clarkson at Where the Spirit Leads.
I think it is about 4% of U.S. Christianity that completely excludes women from speaking and leading in the worship service, the lions share of which is the Churches of Christ. Most Amish and Primitive Baptist, some conservative Mennonite, a part of 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. The only religious group of size besides Churches of Christ that *completely* excludes women from speaking and leading in the worship service that I could find is Islam, and it is not a monolithic practice for Islam — it’s cultural. My understanding is that most of the Orthodox faith traditions allow women to read scripture in their worship service, for example. If you know of anything different or any to add or take away from this list, or have any comments on it, I would appreciate hearing from you. Please contact me via the Contact page. Thank you.
And people deny it is so, but, please, talk with people who have left the Churches of Christ, read the message boards of former Churches of Christ groups, read the comments made on articles like the ones I write, or just even think. Would you want your daughter discriminated against if you realized that was what is going to happen? People have woken up to this now. I’ve read dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds by now, of comments of people that say that the reason they do not go to a Church of Christ is the way it treats women or that they deliberately chose a church that will allow her to serve with her gifts or that they just gave up after trying for a long time or …..
Churches of Christ female preachers, recent attention: https://authentictheology.com/2019/09/17/one-of-largest-churches-of-christ-opens-preaching-role-to-women-and-some-questions/
Also, when other people are talking about equal value and dignity without those reasons expressed through the centuries, they are talking about a different practice of complementarianism than we are practicing.
Having women and young girls sit in a worship service in which they are told they cannot speak since they are female is a form of public humiliation. Part of the reason people say that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 mean that women and girls are barred from speaking is that those people say it is disgraceful for women and girls to speak in church (1 Cor 14:35) and the predecessor of those women and girls (Eve) was deceived (1 Tim 2). Public humiliation can be part of abuse. Many of those who explain that 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 do not mean that women are barred from speaking explain that 1 Cor 14:34-35 means that Paul asks the married women in Corinth not to ask disruptive (non-submissive) questions in the assembly because doing so is disgraceful and that Paul told Timothy that he does not let uneducated women engage in authoritative teaching of false doctrine in a domineering manner over men and reminded him of facts helpful to remind women in Ephesus, used to feeling superior in light of the goddess Artemis, that women are not superior over men.
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?
As an aside, see John MacArthur discussing and disagreeing with the orthodox Churches of Christ view of baptism and calling it outside of orthodox Christianity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKBdDFwn3U8.
Added: See Everett Ferguson speaking on women’s roles: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/summit-2012/id594614615
Update (10/20, 28): Non-substantive edits to make easier to read.