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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

on pastors and women and books and wanting more for the Church

**this post has been a long time in the making.  it wasn't something i just quickly threw together.  hope that you can take an equal amount of time to think about it.  :)  **

About a month ago I was looking at church websites and came across a few with reading recommendations.  Awesome.  I love to read.  Especially about theology.  But as I browsed, I noticed a trend:  the books were written by men.

"Surely they weren't ALL written by men?"  You ask.  And you would be correct.  Each list contained exactly one woman author who wrote on women/family issues.  These weren't short lists - one had nine categories with well over a hundred books in all.  But only one woman author.

If this was an isolated situation, perhaps it wouldn't have bothered me so much.  But unfortunately I have seen many cases where women are brushed aside for any sort of leadership position in the religious realm (including colleges and universities) simply because of their sex.

These are the questions I ask:

1.  What kind of message is this sending?

It's sending the message that, as a woman, my experience with God will never be enough.  That I will always be inferior to men simply because of my sex.  I've been in conservative circles for many years so I KNOW all of the arguments.  I know that complementarians say over and over again how much they value women and how the roles are simply different.  And for a long time, I held these views myself.  It has been through careful, long study that I have changed my views.

While I personally disagree, I accept that some churches don't believe that women should be pastors.  Like many issues in the Bible, I believe that we can think differently without despising or demonizing the other side.  But this is where I draw the line.

To the little girl sitting in a pew at Church, she sees that she can never be a pastor because she's a woman.  She can never have a leadership role in Church because she's a woman.  She can never pray from the pulpit because she's a woman.  She can't even pass the offering plate because she's a woman.  And now...she can't even write a book that will be accepted by pastors because she's a woman??  (Although Her.menutics recently posted a thoughtful piece on what happens when churches only allow women to teach indirectly...I really liked their take on it, but I'm just asking for pastors and laity to take the first step and start reading books by women if they aren't already!) 

When my husband was home for lunch today, we were discussing it and I explained it to him like this:  "If you write a book on theology, it is accepted for that and only scrutinized on the basis of whether or not it is theologically correct.  If I write a book on theology, every page is analyzed through the lens of having a woman writer."  My husband would tell you that I have taken more theology classes (and gotten better grades ;) than he has and I do far more reading and studying on these issues.  Yet he will always be more readily accepted in theological circles.

2.  Why aren't our pastors reading books by women?

As I considered these church websites and the lack of women writers, I noticed something else troubling.  One of the pastors wrote book reviews and I noticed that the book written by a women was reviewed.  I went to check it out.  Turns out, he hadn't read the book.  Instead he gave it to his wife to read.  I understand that the book was for women so I don't necessarily have a problem with him asking a woman to review it.  However, he never listed her qualifications to review this book.  It was as if the sole reason she was "worthy" of reviewing the book was based on her sex.  Would he give a theology book to just any man and trust the opinion given?  I doubt it.  Perhaps his wife does have a theological background  - that would be great!  But since that wasn't listed in the introduction to the review, it gave the impression that she was qualified to report on this book because she was a woman.

This pastor was well-read.  It was clear that he cared deeply about theology and was very selective with the books he listed and I appreciated many of his reviews.  But by not reviewing (and not recommending) books by women, it seems as though he thinks he can learn nothing from them.  There are many women writers from all different background (e.g. if he wanted to find a woman to support his view that women shouldn't be pastors, there are still several women authors he could read!).  There are many gifted writers from a variety of backgrounds including Sister Joan Chittister, Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa, Edith Schaeffer, Rachel Held Evans, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Lauren Winner, Elisabeth Elliot, Carolyn Custis James, Beth Moore or Madeleine L'Engle (those are just the ones who quickly came to mind).

I want to give this pastor the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps he did this unconsciously.  But why hasn't someone called him out?  Why is it that it is perfectly acceptable for pastors to only read books written by men?  Shouldn't they be called out on that?

Before I end, I want to clarify a few things.  While I was referring to a specific Church and pastor here, this is a trend I see in many, many Church and Christian organizations.  I truly am not trying to pull out one rare example and get hung up on it.  Also, it isn't that I don't like this type of church.  On the contrary, many other things about this specific church appealed to me.  That's why the covert sexism bothered me so much.  It wasn't like these churches were Westboro Baptists, on an extreme fringe of religion!  

I suppose that I want more for (and from) the Church.  I want it to be a place where women are appreciated and encouraged to use their gifts (even if those gifts are teaching and leadership).  Many people grew up in churches where women were restricted.  I'm not saying that you have to immediately make the leap to having a women as the main teaching pastor.  But could you please just pick up a book written by a women??  :)  You'll learn something.  I promise!


  1. i'm giving this a thumbs up.

  2. Amen sister! It feels like those of us women with leadership and teaching gifts end up stuffed into a small box marked "women's ministry" and placed on a dusty, forgotten shelf. The time to blow the lid off is long overdue! Women gifted for leadership and teaching need to stop being treated as spiritual anomalies, as if the Word suggests gender specific gifts. I appreciate your thoughtful approach, thank you!

  3. Thanks for commenting, Aleah, and for your kind words! I totally agree that women can work outside of women's ministry (and children's ministry and meals ministry!) ;)

  4. I was just wondering if you get a chance...would you mind recommending some reading that you found on women's roles in the church? I had always grown up with the more complementarian view, or whatever that's called, but now that we're members of a Brethren in Christ church, I'm seeing women in a lot of positions I wouldn't have expected. I mean, we're an Anabaptist denomination, so we're not exactly sprinting towards the liberal end of the spectrum or anything, yet apparently we've supported women pastors and bishops for some time. It's not that I'm against it. It's just a completely foreign concept to me, and I've only been able to learn so much through our doctrinal statements. I guess I'm just hoping to get a more tangible way to understand it all? :)

  5. Nikki, off the top of my head, here's what I would recommend. :)

    Rachel Held Evans wrote a book called "The Year of Biblical Womanhood" which is an easy read. She combines wit, humor and theology together so it is interesting and personal. Personally, however, I'm not sure that that book alone would have convinced me, but it would be a good starting point.

    If you're looking for a more academic read, William Webb wrote a book called "Slaves, Women and Homosexuals". He really goes into the hermeneutics which is great, but it's not an easy read (I still haven't gotten through).

    Rebecca Groothuis' "Good News For Women" is one that we used at CU with Dr. Fagan in SIGI. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember liking it at the time. Also, "Half the Church" by Carolyn Custis James.

    Finally, "How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership" (Alan Johnson) is one that I haven't read, but I have heard it mentioned many times.

    Hope that those help! :) please let me know if you read any and what you think!! :)

  6. Thanks, Callie! I'll have to see which ones are available in our library system. We're driving out to Glacier National Park next month, so I'm anticipating quite a bit of reading time in the car. :)


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