Whoa what a topic! In the last week alone I have had at least four conversations about this. Over the years I have held several different stances on this issue, but as I have grown in my spiritual walk, I have learned to be more balanced. That is not to say that sometimes I still don’t really struggle with either keeping my opinion to myself or being kind in my words. On that note, before I unpack anything on this topic, I desire to go about everything and every opinion in love, kindness, and self-control.
Often as modern day Christians, we seem to forget the fact that there will always be a barrier between us and the context of the Bible. The Holy Spirit helps us understand what God has for us to learn, despite this barrier, but on a very basic understanding level…we will never know what it was like to be alive at that time. I will never know what it was like to be a woman in the days of the Bible. We must approach all Biblical context with respect for the difference in history. Women’s roles then and now are very different.
Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, God uses women as some of his greatest followers, leaders and examples. Most of us know the stories of Rahab, Ruth and Esther (to name a few) who God used to bring about the salvation of His people. These women helped save God’s people from physical destruction, and also some of them brought about the line of David, from which Jesus would be born. These women are listed in New Testament genealogies and to be listed (as a woman) in a genealogy means that they were important, that the historian did not want history to forget about them.
We also see examples of actively-engaged women in the New Testament. Mary (actually many named Mary!), Lydia and many more. In some cases, we see that the house churches were held in women’s homes. This is probably because they were wealthy enough to own a home that could hold a meeting of believers. There were also women who would have otherwise been condemned, that shared intimate moments with Christ himself. I’m thinking of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Women were marginalized, and Jesus came to the marginalized and unwanted. He used women as His example of grace and the inclusion of all peoples into the once-exclusive covenant of God.
You are probably thinking, “Well that is all great and wonderful, but what about now?” What a multi-faceted question, and I do not claim to have all the answers, nor will I discuss in detail on that now. However, I will say that because of feminist movements, the eyes of society are glued to the rights of women (among other minority rights), and the church is not the exception to this rule. The world often watches how we deal with women’s issues. It is important to educate our congregations, small groups, etc. on these secular issues but also the Bible’s response to such things.
Just because we don’t pay attention does not mean the issues are not still there. There are many women who I have had discussions with who feel the heavy weight of prejudice in their church because they are gifted for areas that their gender will not allow service. I am not claiming this to be every church or every woman…by far. But I am saying that it is happening.
I can say from personal experience that, as I was one of only two women from my alma mater who graduated with a religion degree in 2013, I was often laughed at when asked what is my major. The normal response was, “You’re a woman, what will you do with that?” When faced with that social stigma, it is not an easy thing to deal with.
My spiritual gifts might be considered masculine in their nature, such as teaching, and I have encountered hard conversations because of this as well. Of course, I am not saying that I would like to be a pastor. However, I am saying that women are often called to help in leading and enlightening the Body of Christ, and that this is Biblical. If we are desiring to reach non-believers and draw them to Christ, we must acknowledge and be prepared with answers for the issue/baggage of feminist movements and previous judgments upon the church.