My mom and my aunt tell me how when I was a very young boy I used to give passionate sermons to them both about how women need to submit to men, how men are leaders and women need to obey them. I was an impassioned fundamentalist of a child. 20 years later, the questions are still in mind.
In some churches where women are not permitted to have any kind of “authority” over men. This brings many questions to bear, one of which is what is authority? Wayne Grudem went to the trouble of listing 83 activities in 3 categories and drawing a hard line – everything underneath a woman may do, everything over the top women may not do. In category 1, he draws the line between items 9 and 10. In category 2, between items 10 and 11. In category 3, between items 1 and 2.
So Grudem would permit a woman to be chairperson of a committee, but not to be a leader of a fellowship meeting in a home. He would allow a woman to teach the bible to a high school age Sunday school class, but not to a college age Sunday school class. Finally, he would allow for a woman to be licensed to perform ministerial functions, but not be an ordained pastor.
So what’s the difference between high school age and college age Sunday school class? Why are women allowed to teach 17 year old men but not 18 year old men? What are the implications of telling women they can be trusted to instruct boys, but never adults? What are the implications of telling women that a woman may teach them the Bible – but telling men that a woman may never teach them the Bible? These are all questions Grudem and those who don’t permit women to teach have to answer for. Often though, the answer is merely, well that’s just the way it is.
In contexts where this is the way it is, we prefer to have young, inexperienced male teachers than thoroughly trained, well-equipped female teachers because it is seen as a grave error for any woman to have any authority over any man. While the theology may not be spelled out, this is often how it gets worked out – women are afraid of overstepping an imaginary line and getting in trouble. A moment I’ll think about for a long time occurred when young singles class needed a substitute teacher for the next week. The male teacher asked if anyone was willing to teach next week – the men stayed silent because no one wanted to. The women stayed silent because they knew they were disqualified. Finally, someone broke the silence with a joke – perhaps the teacher’s wife could come in and teach us how to give massages. Amidst the laughter the message was clear: women, no matter how educated, are useful to a group for physical service; only men can be trusted with scripture and the thoughtful (not physical) work of teaching males.
Where (if at all) do I draw the lines in Grudem’s categories?
In our church rules, who gets to draw the lines? Are women involved in deciding what they’re allowed to do?
Are the women around me uncomfortable for fear of crossing my “lines”?
How does my assigning church roles affirm or challenge the status quo?