Role of Women in the Church Part I: The Question

Bird in Tree

Is the role of women in the church a secondary issue?

I read an article recently that rejected the idea that the role of women is a secondary issue for the church. I was disappointed in the article itself (due to my expectations, not any flaw of the article itself) as it basically just says that she was sad one time to hear a pastor say that it is and she was worried about the impact this statement would have on the young women and girls in her church. But the question itself has stayed in my head.

Brian and I believe that roles in the church are filled based on gifting, rather than gender. We believe that marriage is to be lived out as all Christian relationships are – with each person seeking the good of the other and submitting to one another, each humbly seeking the role of servant, as Jesus lived on Earth, and not that of Ruler, as Jesus is in Heaven. We reject the idea that Christian men are supposed to submit to everyone around them except their wives.

Is the role of women, whether they are limited in church involvement and meant to be the primary submitters in a marriage with their husbands taking a position of primary authority, or if they are full participants in church life and equal partners in a marriage, really a core issue of the church? Or is our role a secondary issue?

Previously, I have taken for granted that it is secondary. I have never gone to a church where women were treated as equals, and I know and love Jesus. So by definition, that makes it a secondary issue, right? Jesus, that He is God, that He died and rose again to save us from the penalty for our sins and to bring us to a right relationship with God in this life and after – that is the core, right? Everything else is secondary. Right?

But this question echoes in my mind, and I’m thinking.

We (Brian and I) have slowly come to realize that our family is materially limited in our participation in church, and in our benefit from it. I, the only woman in our family, have no aspirations to hold a position of authority in a church, and yet we are still limited. Three examples in particular come to mind. I will start small and work my way up to the largest problem we experience. I’m writing only of our personal experiences – but I know many other families that include women are in the same boat. Also, of course, these three examples are in no way meant to be an exhaustive list of the aspects of life that are affected by the Church’s view of men and women.

Is this series of blog posts useful to people who believe that church and family roles should be divided by gender? I hope so. This is not meant to persuade anyone to change views. It’s meant to share the experiences of my family, ones that I believe are common. I want to encourage thought. And we can all think, no matter what we already believe. We can all stand to review topics on which we know what we think, and make sure we’re not missing anything.

And for people who do believe that church roles should be determined by the gifting of the Holy Spirit? For you, I hope to encourage you to keep talking, keep loving, and keep working to bring Heaven to Earth in our churches. It’s important.

Also before we dive into things, I want to make something very clear: I love the Church. I love the wonderful churches I have been privileged to attend and worship with. I am by no means a “critic” of the Church or my churches. I do believe that like all people, the Bride of Christ is flawed, and she can always seek the will of Christ with greater fervency – she can always, always grow.

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

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