One of the things to come out of Annual Conference this year was the “Resolution Concerning the Equality of Women”. You can find the full resolution HERE, but this is an excerpt of what it says,
“[We] affirm that both women and men are created in the image of God and are of equal worth, we affirm the ordination of women, we affirm open itinerancy, and affirm the equality and calling of women both in our own region and throughout the world.”
This comes shortly after the Alabama West Florida Conference was one of the few conferences to vote no to Amendment I from the last General conference. (For the non-methodist people who stumble upon this blog, annual conference is a yearly gathering of local churches that is almost like state governments creating laws and bills and reporting. General Conference is the national scale, similar to the US senate.)
While there is one sentence about the gender of God that likely inhibited the amendment from passing, both were about gender equality and affirming that women belong in ministry and are of equal value in the eye of God.
The fact that the AWF conference passed this resolution, as well as general conference proposing Amendment I, brings a whole bag of mixed emotions for me. I am thrilled that the resolution passed, I wish the amendment would have passed as well but I understand some of the reservations that people have expressed. But it saddens me that we even have to create these amendments and resolutions in the first place.
The United Methodist Church has ordained women for over half a century, which is more than some denominations but not as long as others. But if you ask some of our female pastors if they have ever felt like they have been discriminated against because of their gender I’d imagine every single one of them would say yes. At my last church, our associate pastor wasn’t even allowed to speak from the pulpit at a community gathering because she was a girl. In college, the best student we had in the theology and ministry department was a girl from a baptist church who felt called by God but had no place to go in her own denomination because of her gender.
So much of this discrimination of women in ministry comes from three passages found in the New Testament.
Titus 1:6 If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
It is easy to see why someone would point to these scriptures and come to the conclusion that women aren’t qualified to be pastors or to preach. However, the Bible has a whole lot more to say about women in churches than just these three verses. And even these three verses don’t necessarily mean what we see on the surface in the English language.
I should begin by saying that all three of these passages were written by Paul. He also wrote in Ephesians 4 that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service”. It is odd to me then to try to limit these “positions” to only men when Paul himself made mention of women in each of these positions. Junia was one of the apostles mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7. Philip had four daughters who were prophets (Acts 21:9). Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3), Phoebe and Priscilla (Romans 16:1-5), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), and Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11) are all mentioned by Paul as well to be important leaders in churches.
I know there are some scholars who say that we can’t prove that these women were actual pastors or THE leader of a church, and while being exegetically easy isn’t a guarantee that it’s correct, it’s easier to say that these women were indeed church leaders and that Paul meant something very different in the three verses above than how we read them in American English. We can even come up with very easy and sensible things that we think he meant in those verses. But for far too many women, especially outside of our denomination, they still have to fight just for a seat at the table. They have to not only preach as good as a man, but do so while making sure they look nice but not attractive (because it might be distracting to men if a good looking women is in front of them), they have to be friendly and personable but can’t show emotion because it will make them look weak, be firm and confident but not be a word I can’t say in a church blog. I could go on and on about how we judge women on a completely different scale than we do men, but I think you get the idea.
And it’s for all of these reasons and more that even though we’ve been under the impression that men and women have been treated equally we still felt the need to make an official statement about it. Because even though some of us feel like we are there, we haven’t arrived yet. We are far from being equal, and now our conference has made a resolution to protect the dignity of all people made in God’s image. But a resolution means nothing unless people actually follow what it says.