Growing up in a conservative, religious family, the values learned, lessons experienced and relationships made through my church are of utmost importance to me. This religious foundation helped form who I am—a caring, thoughtful, inquisitive, loving woman who values the traditions and lessons that come from my Christian faith.
However, one tradition has always irked me: In the church where I grew up, women are not allowed to hold leadership positions. A study by the Barna Group in 2009 found that only 10% of Protestant churches had a female senior pastor. Two scripture verses are frequently cited to explain this policy:
1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Timothy 2:11-13 God’s word to us says: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
What is missing from these often out-of-context verses is an important fact in God’s Word—men and women are created equal. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”
My dad raised three independent, strong-willed, young ladies. So when asked his opinion on these passages and our church’s policy on women and leadership positions, his ideas are thought-provoking. When women step into leadership roles in the church, it causes men to abdicate from being the spiritual leaders in their church and their families that they are called to be. In an effort to make sure that men are active participants in the church, he believes it is important that women’s leadership in the church does not preclude men’s involvement.
Women’s progress has always been viewed as a struggle for equality even as women have greatly progressed over the years. One example can be seen in college graduation rates. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, between 1970 and 2001, women went from being the minority to the majority of the U.S. undergraduate population, increasing their representation from 42 percent to 56 percent of undergraduates. Women’s representation in college classrooms continues to rise and men’s continues to drop. It appears that as women progress, men begin to step down.
This leads me to ask several questions. Is disallowing women to hold leadership positions necessary for ensuring men’s involvement? What does this teach men about achieving their best and women about achieving what they are capable of? How do the actions (or lack thereof) of men affect what women do or are allowed to do? Perhaps we need to address the issue at hand: How can society encourage men to lead, without disempowering women to do the same?
The church where I grew up has a respectable end goal—ensuring that men stay involved and remain leaders. But the means to achieve this goal need to be reviewed. Instead of marginalizing one group to encourage another, we should focus on what men and women can achieve together. Men should be asked to lead with women, and vice versa. Disallowing women to lead so that men feel empowered to do so, lowers the bar of achievement and expectation for both men and women. Together, men and women can make a larger impact than either gender can do on its own.