Women in the church
On Sunday, we will return to our series in 1 Timothy after a brief hiatus for baptisms and the fall retreat. David will preach on 1 Tim 2:8-15, where we encounter the challenging words of verse 12: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent." (Update: sermon available here.)
How does a church led by women make sense of these words?
It might surprise you to know that I didn't always believe that women could preach or pastor. I began following Jesus in college and worshiped in a church that taught strict gender roles. Women couldn't serve as ushers in that church, much less pray, read scripture, sing, or preach from the front. But that church was also formative to me as a new believer; it's where I learned how to pray, how to study the Bible, and what constitutes a good potluck dish. So I embraced its teachings on women without question.
But when I moved to DC in 2005, I met a woman who was in the ordination process in another denomination. Though I inwardly judged her aspirations as heretical, her life spoke otherwise. She was perhaps the most prayerful person I'd ever met. She lived sacrificially and simply, making do with less so that she could give generously to the poor. She spent time with unhoused people and survivors of domestic abuse. She knew, studied, and loved scripture. She was theologically orthodox, and she just really, truly, genuinely loved Jesus. She introduced me to the various debates around women's ordination, but also told me she wasn't much concerned with those; she simply wanted to be faithful to God's call on her life to preach good news to the poor. I was unconvinced, but curious.
During that time, I was also working for an international NGO that served persecuted minority faith groups around the world. Through this work, I visited remote East Asian villages where new followers of Jesus were provoking suspicion from their neighbors and local police. A common complaint against these new Christians? They treated women with newfound respect and equality, creating jealousy among non-Christian women and disrupting village norms. What was it about the teachings of Jesus that so radically changed their views of women? And why didn't I see the same kind of radical respect in American churches?
A few years later, I joined a church with a female associate pastor, and the strangest thing happened whenever she preached — the sky didn't fall. Not only that, but the gospel was proclaimed and the church was edified. I began to wonder why the Apostle Paul, who had such missionary zeal for the preaching of the gospel, would be opposed to this woman's ministry that was bearing evident fruit.
So I took a second look at the scriptures that I had accepted without question, and found the arguments against women pastors were not nearly as clear or persuasive as I'd assumed. I began a long journey from "unconvinced, but curious" to "convinced" to eventually pursuing ordination myself (you can read that story here) and, well, you all know how that ended up.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar place of "unconvinced, but curious." Reassessing previously held beliefs can feel unsettling, even scary, so I invite you to come talk to me (or Katie or David) with your questions, concerns, or wrestlings. I'd love to listen and pray, wherever you are and wherever you end up on your journey.
And I also wanted to share a few resources that I and others have found helpful. First, a few non-books:
This podcast interview with Jonathan and Tish Warren (both Anglican priests) manages to tackle a number of scriptures, issues, and nuances in a highly approachable, conversational format. They talk quite a bit about Sunday's text from 1 Timothy 2.
In 2017, the ACNA released this report from the Task Force on Holy Orders. It's long — 300+ pages — but does a comprehensive job of explaining the arguments for and against women's ordination from every perspective.
These books are helpful entry points to the conversation on women in the church:
Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership by Sarah Sumner (particularly helpful in addressing evangelical complementarian arguments against women's ordination)
Icons of Christ: A Biblical and Systematic Theology for Women’s Ordination by William Witt (particularly helpful in addressing Catholic or historic arguments against women's ordination)
And these books are helpful guides for reading Paul's writings on women:
Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Westfall
This list focuses on approachable resources, but if you really want to deep dive into more academic texts, I'm happy to share those as well. Better yet, let's grab coffee and discuss Augustine's views on women.
In other news
Small groups begin this week! Have you signed up yet?
We had a glorious (rainy) time at the fall retreat! Share your feedback on this short survey to help us make next year's even better.
Enjoy this beautiful reflection by Weber.
Atrium for ages 3-12 begins this Sunday at 9:30am. Read last week's letter on how we think about kids at Incarnation.
your female pastor who deeply loves the Apostle Paul,