Women and Scripture

The rights now afforded to women by the church and the wider society would have been unthinkable only a century ago. We, in the Anglican church in the UK, are celebrating the recent vote to allow women to be bishops but we forget how much the church used to stand at the forefront of opposing even the very idea of women having rights or status in a male dominated world. If we deplore the attitude of some Muslims towards their women folk, we must not forget that in the 19th and early 20th century, the rights of women were virtually non-existent in Christian Europe and America.

In America, the National Woman Suffrage Association Convention was founded in 1885. One of the chief weapons used against this movement was, according to an early speaker Elizabeth Stanton, religion. She declared how the ‘Bible was hurled at us from every side’. In the next generation, in 1921, the power of religion was used to shut down Margaret Sanger’s public meeting in New York on birth control. The Equal Rights Amendment in the States was finally passed only in 1972. It had been presented to Congress for the first time in 1923 but had been bitterly opposed by congregations from Catholic, Mormon and Protestant groups. The Suffrage, the right to vote by women, was also long contested. The opposition to these ideas was in part sustained by the endless repetition of the familiar Pauline texts which appear to demand the silence and subjugation of women.

Two pioneers of the 19th century against the institution of slavery in America were two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Although they spoke only to audiences of women, the Congregational Church of Massachusetts sent out a letter in 1837 censuring them and declaring that they would ‘fall in shame and dishonour into the dust’. 300 men walked out of a meeting in New York in 1840 to protest the presence of one woman, Abby Kelly, on the committee of an anti-slavery group. In every case the participation of women was understood to be a ‘defiance of the New Testament’. A women’s rights convention in New York in 1853 brought out mobs of men, clergy and their supporters to sabotage the proceedings ‘with hisses, groans, stamping and ridiculing remarks’ bringing the proceedings to an end.

As a matter of record, it was women who were not members of organised religious groups who did the most to further the cause of women’s rights. A colleague of Elizabeth Stanton, Matilda Gage, wrote the influential Women Church and State. This owed little to religious ideas and she and her supporters would have been described as freethinkers. Another freethinker, Charlotte Gilman wrote: ‘one religion after another has accepted and perpetuated man’s original mistake in making a private servant of the mother of the race’.

I bring these various incidents of religious aggression against women before the reader to remind us all that attitudes on the part of Muslims towards women were part of our societies for a very long time. Not only were they endemic in the societies of 100 years ago, but the echo of the same attitudes is with us today. The open opposition to the concept of equal rights for women in society is not often articulated by religious groups but hidden misogyny still stalks congregations up and down the land. The basis for this opposition is to be found in the application of the identical Pauline texts that were thrown at the women’s rights pioneers. For the sake of tidiness I list them here. I Corinthians 11. 3, 8-9, I Corinthians 14. 34-35 and 1 Timothy 2.11-14. Whether Paul is the author of 1 Timothy is not here important because the writer is clearly following the Pauline tradition in this matter.

In my previous post I suggested that the way to deal with difficult texts is to apply the principle of seeking to establish the wider context. In the first place as a counter-balance we have the remarkable statement by Paul that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but all are one in Christ. This appears to be Paul speaking in a lyrical frame of mind, while the ‘anti-women’ passages seem to reflect a far more sober approach. Paul’s writing often seems to touch heights of inspired poetic grandeur while at other times he comes over as rather pedantic and legalistic. While this comment is subjective, I invite the reader to contrast the poetic power of Romans 8 and the dry argumentation of chapter 9. Still more important for our desire to qualify the Pauline sayings about women is a cursory glance at the attitude of Jesus himself. The gospels cannot but reveal an approach to women (and children) by Jesus which was revolutionary in the extreme. I have not read feminist readings of the Bible, but anyone interested will have no difficulty in locating all the occasions where Jesus turned upside down the conventional patriarchal attitudes to women that were part of all the cultures of the ancient world. Certainly it can be said that there is nothing about Jesus and his approach to women that gives the tiniest support or encouragement to the attitudes that Paul seems to possess in the ‘proof-text’ passages mentioned above.

The anti-women rhetoric of yesteryear has given way to hate-filled rhetoric against same-sex relationships. Uncomfortably for those who follow the line that ‘the Bible clearly states …’ , exactly the same type of arguments are used to make their points. In another hundred years time, I hope that we will be looking back to this age and saying: ‘How could the Christians of that time really have argued in this way?’ The Bible is a document to read in order to understand the mind of Christ, but let us always read it with care, sensitivity together with an awareness that we might be reading our own political and psychological issues into the text when they are not there.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

6 thoughts on “Women and Scripture

  1. Past societies clearly reflect an abusive attitude to women.
    Today in 2014 we have a very different society. Sometimes it is difficult for men to follow the changing tide. Germaine Greer spoke of women buying into their own oppression by supporting the fashion industry; I can see how that works.
    I have known women abused by men in the shepherding horror; they lost all personality and identity.

    For some reason modern men seem to associate women’s liberation with sex. The suffering that women go through here can hardly be exaggerated. The word ‘Love’ never seems to come into the discussion.
    Again love seems to be the way forward. I don’t speak of this often but I believe that women are suffering in this present society in ways that most men will never understand.
    One of the greatest statements on this issue was made by (Believe it or not), John Lennon. In his song “Women is the Nigger of the world”. Please just give it a listen on YouTube and note the words! Men who claim the name ‘Christian’ should really study that song, please?


  2. 1. When Women Were Priest by Karen Jo Torjesen
    2. 10 Lies The Church Tells Women and 10 Lies Men Believe by J. Lee Grady.
    3. Gatekeepers of his Glory Tape by Jill Austin April 16, 1998, addressing the good oil’ boy system in the church to women, EXCELLENT. The entire message was AWESOME, one of rare gems (only kept 7 msgs. In my entire life; that was one).
    Also, John Wimber did an great article about women in ministry etc., mailed it back to him and told him it was a lie because didn’t see that operating in his regime/movement/dynasty.
    Google: Troublemakers in the Church, June 2007 by David Wilkerson (he wrote that based on one woman; and he should have called it the world).

    Note: 10 Lies book was based on my former cult church=demonation ( not misspelled). I was there at Gatekeeper conference, which was major paradigm shift for myself; 2.5 minute word about being “violently killed in the church”, was true word about my life; unfortunately (tells you or exposes the heart condition of people). I can’t throw stones whatsoever at all.

  3. In Oklahoma City in 2014, I went to a Nigerian church several times. A so-called Nigerian prophet came there from Nigeria. Apparently, it was one of his church plants. He did nothing but make himself look good, pressure people to submit to him, take an offering two or more times a Sunday, and make people run errands to who knows where just to bring him the Nigerian foods he deserved to eat. I saw him as a charlatan and didn’t get involved in church while he was there; but he allowed people to ask questions or share their views while he was preaching, so one day when he said arrogantly that women can by no means be in any ministerial or pastoral positions, I raised my hand (still looking down at my phone which is how I busy myself when in the presence of nonsense).

    After pausing and breathing heavily for a few seconds, with pained expression on his face, this so-calledprophet who knew that I could see right through him gingerly raised a hand from an aching shoulder and pointed at me. I stood and told him that the Bible shows, even better than it says, that women can be ministers, leaders, pastors, etc. He tried to deny this with his reasoning again, but I’ve found that no minister can contradict the Bible without batting an eyelash when he is held to the Bible in the moment. I brought up women like Moses’s sister Miriam who is called a prophetess, Deborah (an apostle but better know as a prophetess), Huldah a prophetess (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22), Isaiah’s wife/an unnamed prophetess who bore his son (Isaiah 8:1–4), Anna who is called a prophetess in the NT (Luke 2:36–37), Priscilla (named before her husband in the NT, an uncommon custom in that culture), etc. As I repeated what the Bible says about female leaders, the people in the church, sitting quietly in the usual fearful manner, began to mumble in agreement with me, especially the women. When this so-called prophet saw that he was losing his hold over the people, he warned me that I would be punished and that I must shut up and sit.

    I did sit for humility’s sake, but by now what I’d said was spreading around the church, and people, especially women, were mumbling and strongly agreeing that women can be preachers and ministers. When the so-called prophet saw this, he ordered an usher to forcibly remove me from the church. That was when I called him a false prophet who came all the way from Nigeria to oppress his fellow Nigerians. Then the pastor attacked me and five of us rolled out into the parking lot, some trying to hold back the pastor while others tried to guide me ‘with a strong hand’ out of the church safely. Needless to say, I was kicked from the church because of the issue of women ministering. As with Caleb’s daughters (Joshua 15:16-19), Zelophehad’s daughters (Num. 26:33; 27:1-7; 36:1-12; 1 Chr. 7:15; Josh. 17:1-6), and Job’s daughters (Job 42:12-15), God will reinstall called and chosen female ministers in ministry again and give daughters an inheritance alongside of sons (Acts 2:17-18).

  4. ASHER: YOU DID RIGHT! WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE in so many of these false regimes (they’re NOT churches) standing up and saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and giving THE WORD, “IT IS WRITTEN”.

    SO tired of the namby pamby people sitting in churches and taking in LIES AS TRUTH=IDIOTS, BRAINWASHED IDIOTS that are celebrating LIARS. GET UP AND EXIT, DON’T TITHE, DON’T ATTEND. Like no one should be attending, tithing, throwing their hard earned money at all the Big Named Ministries that are prostituting and whoring the pulpit and the altar and being self-serving and lying where the money goes and who they help. Yes, the false-church is so Jezebeled out and Ahabed out WE NEED Jehu’s and Elijah types and yes they are coming with the SWORD OF THE LORD IN THEIR MOUTHS=FINALLY.

    Enough of Fake Preachers, Fake Churches=false, Fake Love, Fake Gospel! People need to read their Bibles and do rebuke, correction, judging righteous judgment instead of celebrating wolves, charlatans, snake oil salemen/women, hirelings. All these false are robbing the true. Pray for Armies of Jehu’s and Elijah’s. Pray the Word, pray that the deep, dark and hidden secret things be revealed. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

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