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Women in Leadeship

Scripture Passage: Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”

In her recent book Quitting Church journalist Julia Duin interviewed people who have left the church and discovered that part of the recent decline in  church membership is due to women leaving because their gifts are not wanted. Accomplished women are tired of the church asking if they will staff the nursery without even thinking about asking them to chair a building campaign, even though they may be a CFO of their company and have no idea which end of a baby to diaper.  The old societal gender roles still oppress even though this is not really biblical.

Oh sure, we all know the key passages telling women to sit down and shut up, for they are only represented before God through their husbands (I Cor. 14:34-35, I Timothy 2:11-15).  But if you look at the Bible as a whole, women have always been in leadership under God’s rule, though they may have been oppressed under humanity’s.  (See Study below.) 

Jesus related to women with a scandalous egalitarianism.  He initiated a theological conversation with the woman at the well in a day that no man spoke to a woman in public, let alone about God!  This woman went on to become one of the first great evangelists.  Jesus taught Mary like a rabbinic student (much to Martha’s dismay who thought Mary’s place was in the kitchen).  It is to the women that the risen Christ first appears, much to the disbelief of the other disciples. 

The story of Pentecost is that of God’s Spirit finally being poured out on all flesh through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  This was seen as the fulfillment of the anticipated Day of the Lord in which both men and women prophesy, and the Holy Spirit breaks down societal distinctions (Joel 2).  God and God alone is Sovereign so that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

This egalitarian gospel was so socially radical that you can see the church backpedaling, probably in order to survive as a movement.  By time I Timothy was written (85-150), women were being told to be subject to their husbands in public.  The women may have cooperated as a temporary strategy to save their brothers and sisters, but their silence came to be required as normative by men who rose to power.  This is still the case in some places, depriving the church of many useful gifts for God’s transformation of the world through the Spirit of Christ.

Resurrection of Christ and women at the tomb by Fra Angelico

Read

Read the book of Luke and pay attention to the roles women play in Luke’s gospel and Jesus’ treatment of them.  OR Read John 4:7-42 and note Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. 

Study

Study passages on women’s leadership.  Cultural tradition often sees women’s leadership as problematic from the beginning with Eve’s disobedience, overlooking other passages where women act valiantly to save or lead the people: 

  • Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:8-20) saved Hebrew babies from being killed by Pharoah.  
  • Miriam (Exodus 15:21)  is considered a prophet along with Moses and Aaron (see Numbers 26:59; Michah 6:4).
  • Deborah is a powerful judge and commander, in addition to being a wife (see Judges 4).
  • Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20) is a prophetess the king consults after the book of Torah is found, helping to lead the Josiah reforms. 
  • Esther (see whole book) saves her people by speaking up on their behalf.
  • Many women exercise leadership in the New Testament, starting with Mary (Luke 1-3, John 2:1-2), the women who followed Jesus (Luke 8:1-3), the Samaritan woman (John 4:39), women evangelists like Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9), women who led house churches like Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4), and all the women leaders mentioned by Paul as apostles and co-laborers in the gospel in Romans 16, including Phoebe, Prisca, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Mary, Junia, and Persis.   

Pray

Scholars think that the earliest scripture we have is Miriam’s exultation of God in Ex. 15:21.   Pray with the women who “sing to the Lord” for all God has done.  In all your praying, don’t forget to flat-out praise!   

Mary’s Magnificat is a powerful exultation to the Almighty in that same tradition of praise for divine deliverance of the people of God.  Praise the Lord with Mary, the young God-guerilla in Luke 1:46-55.  Mary’s prayer recalls Hannah’s similar prayer in I Samuel 2:2-10.

Remember

Memorize the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55

Galatians 3:28

Live

Make it a point to invite and include women as equals in your considerations and deliberations of God’s will.  Women haven’t always learned how to access power in the same ways men have, so they may need encouragement and navigational help.  We may be equal in the eyes of God, but we’re not the same;  yet society’s tacit norms are mostly from a male perspective.   Ask: are the things we take for granted as normative conducive for the flourishing of women in the concrete specificities of their lives?  

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