Churches urging “unity” while maintaining restrictions on women’s service in the church can harm parts of the congregation that go unnoticed or neglected.

This can occur when deciding not to consider lifting prohibitions on women’s service in the church.  It can occur when deciding to lift some restrictions but to continue to bar women from serving as an elder and from preaching.  It can also occur when deciding to delay studying the issue.

Such decisions, in effect, are decisions to continue sex discrimination against women and girls in a congregation.  Urging “unity” of a congregation in relation to such decisions gives rise to serious spiritual, moral, psychological, and physical costs, often borne by the young girls of the congregation.

This is the second part of a two-part article introducing how “unity” emphasized by many Churches of Christ congregations in “women’s roles” discussions is unbiblical.

“Unity” Can Be Dangerous and Harmful

Three major problems that can arise relative to urging unity at the close of a process resulting in a decision to continue restricting women and girls in some way, for example, are these:

1)       Christian adults place the cost of the decision on the backs of little girls in the church.

Sex discrimination, like racial discrimination, is inherently harmful and can impact a young girl for the long-term.  A 2018 study found significant comparative negative long-term impacts on young girls with all-male congregational leaders.

And it does not take a study to know that it negatively impacts young girls for them to see their moms and their female friends and themselves discriminated against.  It also negatively impacts girls for boys to be taught in the church that sex discrimination is God’s and God’s people’s way of doing things.

To focus on “unity” around a decision that involves sex discrimination against women and girls translates into some young girls paying the price while people around them unify in a way that supports the idea of discrimination against them.  How awful.

The encouragement of unity can cause the ones who are paying the price to go unseen and unheard.

Jesus explains,

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 18:5-10)

Yet, adults make and support decisions to discriminate that impact young girls in the church, impacts that can stay with them for life—decisions to discriminate against their moms, for example, by barring women from preaching and from being an elder.  And then Christian adults declare “unity” around that decision.

2)  What are the morals of participating in sex discrimination that one does not think is scripturally sanctioned?

Participating in sex discrimination that one does not believe is scripturally required raises pointed moral issues.

For example, an elder or member who does not believe that scripture requires women be prohibited from leading singing, leading prayer, etc., might view supporting prohibiting women and girls anyway as an unmitigated act of sex discrimination—-as an immoral and sinful act.

So, the concept of emphasizing unity around such a decision when some might realize it is supporting sex discrimination knowing it is not God ordained is worthy of pause.

3)      “Unity” can shut off discussion, silence dissenters, and discourage people from saying it hurts them and their kids.

Some view prohibiting women and girls in the worship assembly as blocking them from loving (worshiping) God with all their heart, mind, and soul, as Jesus asked.  And from loving (serving) others, as Jesus asked.  And from exercising their gifts for God, as God asks them to do.

And some view it as harming women and girls psychologically, spiritually, physically, and otherwise.

Asking for “unity” can discourage women and men from expressing harm, lament, and pain over these grave matters  — and can make it even worse.  And discouraging this  can result in church leaders and church members remaining unaware (or being in denial about) the pain and harm they caused and continue to cause.

Sex discrimination can injure in a variety of ways—it hurts people, young girls in particular, and not all have the words to express it well.   Calls for “unity” can discourage those girls and their moms and dads from saying so when it hurts and curtails the time, space, and support needed.

Sex Discrimination Contradicts the Golden Rule and “Unity”

Jesus asks, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12)  Luke likewise quotes Jesus: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  (Luke 6:31)  As the NASB and NLT translations put it “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” and “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”  This is sometimes called the “Golden Rule.”

If you wish to be allowed to serve God and your neighbor by speaking and leading in the assembly, then allow others to do so.  If you wish to be allowed to serve God and your neighbor the way God calls you to do, then allow others to do so.

If you wish for your children or grandchildren to be allowed to serve God and their neighbor by speaking in the assembly or praying before others in Sunday School, then allow the children and grandchildren of others to do so.

If you prefer not to be discriminated against based on an immutable characteristic, like sex or race, unrelated to merit, then do not discriminate against others based on an immutable characteristic, like sex or race.  If you do not wish to be told to sit down, shut up, and never speak in the sanctuary, then do not tell others to sit down, shut up, and never speak in the sanctuary.

Sex Discrimination is Not Love to Women and Girls

Indeed, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”  (John 13:34).  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Sex discrimination is not love.  Harming a woman, harming a little girl, via sex discrimination is not love.

And the love is supposed to extend not just to the current members of the congregation and their families, but to those outside the congregation, including future believers outside the congregation.

Calling for “unity” while and after continuing to discriminate against women and girls — the type that encompasses these three effects — misses this mark.

Scripture on “Unity” Misused

The Apostle Peter writes, “all of you, be like-minded ….” (1 Peter 3:8)  Similarly, the Apostle Paul writes, “all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  (1 Cor 1:10)

Verses like these are sometimes used to make Christians who disagree with the status quo seem as if they are acting contrary to scripture.  The verses are also used not to take any action, to delay continuously, and to assert that raising any issue with which some might disagree is “causing division.”  But to do so is to take the verses out of context and to misuse them.

What the Apostle Peter actually said, for example, was “all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8) He is not encouraging like-mindedness in all things, but in particular things—being sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble (vv. 9-22).  And when Paul says he wants “no divisions,” he goes on to say, “what I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; …  still another, “I follow Christ.””  That is, he identifies the subject about which he wants no divisions: following Christ.  (vv. 10-31).

Such passages are not reasons to demand adherence to the status quo, to delay, or to avoid raising difficult issues.

Conclusion:  Scripture, Including that on “Unity,” Urges Lifting All Prohibitions on Women and Girls

The three types of issues described that could arise with the urging of unity at the close of a process that leaves some discrimination in place are not the only types of issues arise with an overemphasis on “unity” or with the adoption of the wrong type of “unity,” but serve as examples of what can happen.

Hopefully, the “unity” desired — by any church in any situation, including situations involving consideration of women’s roles — is not the three kinds of unity outlined above that can happen as a cost, but is a unity around the gospel that brings eternal life and having love for one another and a unity around the love of Christ and a unity around meeting what Jesus asks of us.  Such a love would leave much room and provide much love for the people mentioned above and their needs, burdens, and concerns.

If we follow Jesus’s example, follow scripture, and seek unity that does not such cause such harm, then complete elimination of prohibitions against women and girls in the church is necessary.

Any form of sex discrimination in the church presents a danger of harm to girls and women, should not be taken lightly, and should be eliminated.  The unity urged by scripture is one that eliminates all prohibitions for women and girls.

Any form of sex discrimination in the church gives rise to these dangers and harms and impairs what Jesus prays for, the unity of those future believers and for the world to “know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 20:20, 23)


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Sources & Notes

For the first article in this series of two, see Steve Gardner, “Unbiblical “Unity” on “Women’s Roles” in Churches of Christ: Jesus’s Prayer (Part 1),Authentic Theology (November 28, 2019).

(for more on scripture, see sources in Sources & Notes)