jump to navigation

Church buildings oppress women June 2, 2005

Posted by fajita in Uncategorized.

But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. I Corinthians 11:5

In many Christian denominations, women are not allowed to do as much as men are. And to be fair, under certain interpretations of the Bible, there is an apparent justification for that. I do not agree with these a-contextual, a-cultural, ethnocentric readings of the Bible, but nonetheless, there is an argument to be made.

Of the many contributors that complicate gender and religion, church buildings play a larger role than one might think.

Let’s take prayer for example. Although there are some hyper-strict religious people who would say that a woman cannot utter a prayer in front of any Christian male, including her husband, I am not going to give them a vote here. Yes, I have met some women who have never prayed out loud in front of a man.

In my fellowship, a woman cannot pray in the large Sunday morning assembly. In the “liberal” congregations, a woman can pray in a Bible class that has men in it. Usually though, women are grouped in a women’s only class that then allows for this kind of public prayer.

Now let’s muddy the waters. Can a woman pray in a house church in my fellowship? Usually the answer is yes, especially if it is her house where the church is meeting. She probably won’t because she has been trained to feel uncomfortable with this form of worship.

OK, let’s bust this thing wide open. In my fellowship, women cannot pray, lead worship in song, read scripture, share a message from the Bible, serve communion, give a testimony – heck, I have never even seen a woman make a public announcement.

However, I have seen women do all of these things in house churches.

Why does the place people meet and the number of people gathered change the theology as it relates to how women function in the church? This question is not rhetorical. I want answers.



1. Matt - June 2, 2005


I continue to read this blog with great interest. I hope we get a chance to meet some day, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you while you were in Abilene.

You have hit on the very issue that finally blew open the whole women’s role thing for me.

Here, in short, is the problem: The two Pauline texts that restrict women’s ability to participate in worship are clearly designed to address house church situations. The “church” versus “small group” versus “bible class” distinctions just didn’t exist then. The only thing that we can say is that our “small groups” – where women can participate freely – are the closest thing to what the NT worship assemblies were like.

If we are going to honor the Pauline texts, we have to do it everywhere that we pray/worship, including bible classes, house churches, small groups, etc. Even when women meet with women or with children, we ought to what he says, if he REALLY meant it as some type of universal, absolute prohibition.

But the interpretation that our tradition has placed on this entire thing is totally half, well… lets say “half baked” to avoid being crude about it.

If you’ve ever listened to someone attempt it, the hermeneuitc gymnastics necessary to create all of the exceptions for women being with women, women being with children, women in their homes, etc. are really amazing.

Even Paul expects women to pray in public, or he wouldn’t talk about the head covering issue in the text that you quote. Whatever his restrictive texts are talking about, and don’t get me wrong – they are puzzling, they don’t seem to be universal prohibitions against women participating in worship.

Finally, remember in Acts 2 – Peter makes it clear that the coming of the Kingdom is accompanied by the pouring out of the spirit on ALL PEOPLE, and the text he quotes from Joel specifically references women. How can women’s gifts in prayer, prophecy, and teaching then not be one of the signs of the arrival of the Kingdom, reversing the male-dominated order established after the fall?

2. Tally - June 2, 2005

I heard a great debate featuring Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He affirms what you affirm and that’s Women’s proper role in ministry. I encourage you to take 20 minutes and listen… I think you’ll like it.

[audio src="http://www.marshillchurch.org/audio/driscoll_spu_debate.mp3" /]

3. Keith Brenton - June 2, 2005

Titus 2 is not restrictive. It encourages older women to teach younger, but it does not forbid anything.

I Timothy 2 is the statement of an opinion: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I (Paul) do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.” It’s the last in a series of opinions, including one about how women should dress.

It says nothing about public worship.

What, to me, appears to be happening is that women in Ephesus (where Timothy was) were getting out-of-hand in thinking that they were not only the equal of men, but that they were somehow better. They were teaching – and possibly teaching error (see chapter 1) that they had heard from “certain men”. I wonder if they were the same men who, in II Timothy, were “worming their way into homes and gaining control over weak-willed women.”

If that’s so, it’s a little more understandable why Paul doesn’t want them to teach error and to learn the truth quietly at home first.

(And I’ve got to wonder if pre-Gnostic or even full-blown Gnostic teachings are being referred to here. See the Nag Hammadi codices to understand all of the female-superiority and endless genealogy stuff that comprises them.

The two are personal letters, addressed only to Timothy at Ephesus. There’s no evidence that they were intended to instruct beyond that. Some other letters (like Revelation or Galatians) were obviously shared widely; others like I and II Corinthians were written to churches with specific problems.

I think we’d go off the deep end in the other direction to insist from these that men are superior to women, rather than equal – or that Paul’s instruction goes beyond a response to Timothy or carries more weight than advice about what to do in Ephesus.

(Otherwise, if he thought women were inferior, he would not want them praying at all, serving as deaconesses, or prophesying whether their heads were covered or not … right?)

4. David U - June 2, 2005

Dude, don’t you know the church building auditorium is a holy place, and the houses aren’t? Where have you been? That’s why you can play music in the family life center, but not the auditorium. God won’t listen to prayers there, but he will in our houses.

Get with it man, get your head out of the sand!

Keep em coming Chris!


5. Fajita - June 2, 2005

I love to get comments on my blog, but I ahve to confess that my favorite commeter is David U.

Awesome comments by everyone, BTW. I listened to the Driscoll talk and it is worth a listen. Thanks Tally.

6. Steve - June 2, 2005

I Cor 11:10 is interesting where it says

“For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.”

I once read somewhere, and it makes some sense to me, that Paul is referring here to I Enoch 6:1-2

1 And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto 2 them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them . . .

What angels are purported to have done in this 2nd century BC text should have little bearing on what we do today, in my opinion. Great as he was, Paul was writing from his cultural situation and it is our duty to be discerning about it.


7. pegc - June 2, 2005

I recommend you read Thomas Robinson’s sermon on “A Community Without Barriers: Women in the NT and the Church Today. It can be found at the following site:

This article changed my whole thinking and understanding of the women’s role in the church. I was raised that a woman should not ever teach a baptized believer male.

Thanks for your thoughts about this and other topics. I enjoy reading your blogs.

8. judy thomas - June 2, 2005

This post has been removed by the author.

9. judy thomas - June 2, 2005

Our tradition’s “interpretation” is half-baked, plain wrong, fatally flawed, unChristian, unGodly, and laughable. I am sure God laughs at it everytime he smiles at Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Teresa of Avila, Marion Wright Edelman, Amy Carmichael,
Barbara Brown Taylor, Madeleine L’Engle, Fanny Crosby, Corrie Ten Boom, Christina Rossetti, Evelyn Underhill, Anne Hutchinson, Kathleen Norris,Susanna Wesley, Catherine Booth, His own mother…”Blessed are you among women.” “Blessed are you/ woman of passion/rooted deep/standing tall/touching all you reach/transforming/the heart of/the universe.” Margaret Cessna

10. Fajita - June 2, 2005

So, this is not the first time some of you have thought about this? 🙂

11. john alan turner - June 2, 2005

Short answer: because we are far more Catholic than we want to admit.

12. laura - June 2, 2005

Because church buildings don’t oppress women; Satan does.

The envious wrath of the fallen Lucifer (once called the most glorious of God’s creatures) falls most heavily on Eve – the crown of God’s creation.

The most important context in which to read “difficult texts” like these is the context of CHRIST’S LOVE and His life.

Anything less, and we become vessels of evil rather than Children of the Light.

It’s sickening to see church leaders worship the “Letter of the Law” more than the Author. A simple (not to be confused with easy) solution is: When in doubt, ask Jesus.

“Lord, should we disallow this obviously competent woman from leading our congregation in prayer based solely on her gender?”

“This ministry she’s begun in her home seems to really be setting people free, Lord; would you like to see us support it or ostracize her because she is, after all, teaching men?”

Aw, Jesus, release these people from their blindness. And if this is willful oppression on their part, Lord, smack ’em upside the head! Amen.


13. Chad Nall - June 2, 2005

I’m not sure I’d want my wife in the pulpit. Just read her columns. She’s scare me to no end. She is more likely to speak her mind than I.

14. Gabe - June 2, 2005

Quick answer: It doesn’t.

It appears to because of comfort levels and the false distinction of ‘corporate worship.’ It’s not theology driving the decisions, but ‘keeping the peace’ and ‘keeping people happy’ with a ‘safe’ feeling.

How we ‘do church’ now is so contrary to the biblical notion/idea it’s funny, or wait it’s really not funny.

As I’m sure you know, there are notable exceptions within our fellowship that allow women more freedom in worship. Some of these churches are well known (Highland, Woodmont Hills, Preston Road, Cahaba Valley, etc.) and some are hardly known at all.

While I know some shudder at the diversity within Churches of Christ and the greater Stone-Campbell tradition, I find it refreshing and it is honestly one of reasons I stay.

15. James - June 3, 2005

John Alan Turner, that’s word for word the first thought that went through my head.

16. Steve Jr. - June 3, 2005

Yeah, here’s a prime example of our hypocrisy:
The church I used to attend hired a co-youth minister who was a female. Big step for these elders, lemme tell ya. She began to step fully into her role as youth minister, speaking in mixed classes, at devos, etc. This made several of the parents “uncomfortable”, so the elders wrote the “Edict of What Our Female Co-Youth Minister Can and Can’t Do…and When” or something like that.

Basically, Beth (I changed her name) could speak and make announcements in boys/girls classes on Wednesday nights only, but not in the sacred Sunday morning class. Any meeting away from the building, in homes or at parks, for instance, were fair game for Beth to speak.

How twisted is that?

I’m so thankful to be a part of a larger fellowship and a house church network for whom this issue is a non-issue. I think we forget Ephesians 4 sometimes in these discussions:

11He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, 13until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

“As each part does its work…”

17. David U - June 3, 2005

I guess it is a “DUH” to ask if you listened to Mike’s sermon about this issue from back in January. As always, he knocks it out of the park. One point he made that will ALWAYS stick with me is that we are fine with women being in any role they choose….judges, teachers, secretary of defense, coaches, doctors, lawyers, etc…..for 167 hours a week, but not the one hour on Sunday in our “worship service”. How ludicrous is that?
And YES, I concur with JAT that we are WAY MORE Catholic that we would ever want to admit.

Thanks Chris for being the catalyst for this conversation we need to be involved in.

Bring it, brother!


18. Fajita - June 3, 2005

Oh crap, I’m catholic? JAT, you’re killing me.

I love the house church/small group/organic/simple – (all) movement. I don’t think it is the ONE BEST WAY, but I do think so much of the baggage of the church evaporates in them. I know that problems happen in house churches, but lots os the program/institutional/big church problems do go away with them.

19. judy thomas - June 3, 2005

P. S. Just wanted to say, it’s not the BUILDING, it’s the INTERPRETATION. Got it?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: