It was highly frustrating. I wished I could help, but she could not hear me. A woman by the Internet nickname of Bigwow commented on a religious blog where female submission was preached by a male blogger. She said she struggles to believe in the God of the Bible, as God’s gender role instructions seem very unjust.
I wanted to help her get a more positive image of God. So I posted a message that said not all Christians agree on what submission mean, and it is totally possible to be a Christian while believing otherwise. I wanted her to rather focus on Christian communities without that particular view on submission. Female submission, I thought, was really not a central issue. Bringing BigWow closer to trusting God was more important.
But the blogger refused to publish my comment. I am a woman, contradicting him, a man. I, in his mind, should stay silent. I would have loved to tell Bigwow that the God of the gospel is just and could be trusted, but gender roles meant that I could not point her towards Him – I was not allowed to talk scripture on a blog where a man tries to teach scripture. Her view of God as unjust was a stumbling block in the way of her hearing the gospel. Silencing me was a second stumbling block.
Despite things like that, I often hear messages like:
But Retha, why do you promote egalitarianism? Rather just promote the gospel.
Why don’t you live the role God intended for you, instead of talking against gender roles?
Why do you talk about an issue that only builds up one sex?
Their questions are based on the assumption that women in ministry is a secondary issue. It is not important enough in their view to discuss, to change churches for, to fight to get women into (or out of) tasks where their message is heard. To compare it to another secondary issue: A church where everyone dresses up for church could function as well (or badly) as a church where people could come in old jeans, and in their mind a church with no female preacher could do as well (or badly) as one that does.
But the problem is bigger than they realize:
Women in ministry is an issue of calling. Just as God called prophetesses in both the Old and New Testament*, and they spoke to both genders, God could call women today. A woman who stays quiet when God calls her to speak is not following God’s calling. A man who fails to listen to the message of God, coming to him through a woman, is ignoring God and not a woman.
It is a travesty to make rules that prevent half the church from living out such callings. To use a complementarian word, women in ministry want to live out the “role” (calling) God gave them.
Women in ministry is a gospel issue. The gospel says that Jesus came to set us free from the curse, free to live for him, with His Spirit living inside us. In the long run we will even be free from the brokenness that sin brought to relationships and the world. Women not teaching is tied, in complementarian understanding, to sin (Eve being misled, according to 1 Timothy 2). But Christ sets free from sin, and the very Bible book, Timothy, that seemingly ties women’s silence to being deceived (not knowing she was doing wrong) and therefore sinning is also the book where Paul writes that God forgave him and made him a minister of the gospel – because he was ignorant (not knowing he was doing wrong – 1 Timothy 1:13) when he sinned.
By claiming that women can never teach men because of what a woman did very long ago, we say that some sin is too big for the blood of Jesus. It is so huge that generations later, half of the church is still too tainted to ever give a spiritual message to the other half. This sin is so indelible that the Holy Spirit living inside a woman can never work through her to teach a man.
Women in ministry is a practical issue. Simply put, if half of the church can never speak to the other half of humanity, the church reaches less people.
Jack and Sally gets converted. Both want to witness, and meets equally large numbers of people. Jack witnesses when with a man or men, woman or women, or mixed group. Sally witnesses only when with a woman or women. Jack witnesses 3 times as often, and thus have a three times as large effect. Here is a diagram with the people influenced by Jack marked with blue dots, and those influenced by Sally having pink dots (3 men and 5 women in this picture, as Sally would influence only women, while Jack influences both):
People affected by the witnessing of believers are likely to go to church. Notice that there will be more women (they could hear witness by both genders, men cannot) than men in church. At church, men can speak to women or men about God, women only to women. That means a man in this group of 8 can hear a Christian message from the two other men (represented by 2 blue dots) a women from all 3 men and the 4 other women. The women learn a lot more of God, from more sources.
Those that can learn the most can teach the least, which is crazy in practical terms. It is as much a men’s problem as a women’s problem, as men are less likely to hear Christian messages and likely to hear fewer Christian messages, affecting their spirituality negatively.
Claiming that women in ministry is a secondary issue, we should concentrate on the gospel, is like saying that tied up co-workers is secondary issue, the work is too important to stop and untie them. Because the work is important, we stop to untie our sisters, so they can work alongside our brothers. Because freedom from sin’s ties, and the Spirit of power inside us, is an essential part of the gospel message, we will contradict the gospel if we don’t free and empower our sisters.
*For example, Huldah in 2 Kings 22 taught king Josiah. And Anna in Luke 2 spoke to all who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem.