Sexism in the Church – Bible Study by Rev. Leo H. McCrary II

Is there sexism in the Church?  Does the Bible teach sexism against the progress of women?  In this study, we’re going to take a look at something that has often been said about the Church.  You can watch or listen to this study below:

In this new season of our Bible studies, I offered all of you to suggest a topic for us to tackle in our studies – this topic was one of the first topics submitted! The submission was for clarification of why there aren’t many women preachers/pastors in the church today.

We live in a “modern” world and many people, especially women, feel the Church should “adopt” the ways of the modern world.  Before we start to dig into this study, let me first say that the ways of the world will never be adopted by the Church.  Some may think that is ignorant, but the way of the Church will always be to follow in the way (principles) of Christ.  The Church will not conform to the worldly wisdom and believers ought not to conform to the world as well (Romans 12:2).

Many people point to the church and ask, “why aren’t there any women preachers or pastors?”  It’s a very interesting question to me, mostly because I know a few women preachers and pastors and have listened to women preachers.  So, I know that there are certainly some women preachers, but why so few and why has it been frowned upon is certainly a topic that we can look into for studying.  However, there is scripture that speaks against women preachers.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul talks about the way a woman should dress, act, and even their role in the church! Let’s take a look at what Paul says:

9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.

1 Timothy 2:9, 10 NKJV

Paul, in the context of this scripture, is talking about dress for praying to and worshiping God – not anything else.  Women, back then, would dress to impress their gods.  They would sex themselves up for their gods as a means to get what they want.  Paul is saying that there is no need of a woman dressing herself up in such a manner when she prays or worships the Lord.  We don’t have to dress to impress God! 

How one dresses when they go to church is still a pretty big deal for many of the older churchgoers, but in all honesty, God is looking to save souls and not the clothes!  What you wear to church is not going to save you; it’s what’s in your heart that will save you.  Instead of wearing about clothes, we should worry about whether our soul is right in the Lord’s eyesight.

11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.

1 Timothy 2:11 NKJV

I believe this to be a good rule of thumb for anybody who is not teaching or preaching during service.  This is also a good rule of thumb for anyone who is not teaching anywhere.  We learn more and we can understand more when we aren’t arguing and shouting over each other.

Does this mean that women would keep up such noise during service?  Paul, I believe, was basing this thought off of the Gentile worshiping habits of pagan gods in ancient times.  I’ve certainly been in plenty of churches where shouting and even dancing is commonplace and hasn’t interrupted worship service or prohibited one from learning.  We should certainly look to learn with all acceptance and understanding – ask questions at a time when the preacher or teaching asks if anybody has questions or after service.  As a preacher, let me tell you that I enjoy when people have questions for me and I love being able to discuss/teach/preach the word.

Now Paul’s next thought is the most controversial of thoughts and it gets the most arguments today.

12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

1 Timothy 2:12 NKJV

This, I feel, is where our study really kicks it into gear.  Notice, once again, that Paul is still talking about something that takes place in a worship service (in church).  Paul says, “And ‘I’ do not permit” – I want you to keep that in mind.  Paul said that he would not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man in a church worshiping service.  What does he mean by authority? Is Paul sexist for saying this? 

Sexism:  prejudice or discrimination based on sex especially: discrimination against women

To many, Paul certainly sounds sexist, but we are going to look at why Paul would say this.

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

1 Timothy 2:13, 14 NKJV

For Paul, this was a spiritual matter, not a sexual matter.  Many of us have a habit of focusing more on our physical realities than our spiritual realities and we end up guiding our lives in such manner – we cannot tie Paul’s way of thinking into this way of thinking.  Paul does not say a woman can’t preach or pastor because of what makes her a woman; he speaks more along the lines of things that occurred in scripture and spiritually.

Paul goes back to the Lord’s creation of mankind for his way of thinking.  To understand Paul’s stance on this subject matter, we must also go back to Genesis.  Scripture is clear that the Lord formed man (male) of the dust before woman (Genesis 2:7).  The Lord gave man (Adam) dominion and authority over all things in the world and had Adam name everything.  God also planted Adam in the garden of Eden where he would tend and keep the garden (Genesis 2:19-20). 

I want you to pay close attention to the scripture here (Genesis 2:18) – Adam (man) needed a helper with such a large task so God created man not simply any kind of helper but created for Adam a suitable helper.

18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Genesis 2:18 NKJV

The Lord did not create a servant for Adam or someone that Adam could lord over.  The New King James Version describes the Lord creating for man someone of comparable help.  The New International Version goes with a suitable helper.  The King James Version calls Eve a help meet.  So, God created woman to be comparable (similar) to man.

Scripture clearly shows that God created woman to be comparable (similar) to man.  There’s another scripture in Genesis that I feel has often been mistreated and somewhat mistaught that I also want to take a look at.  In the first chapter of Genesis, we read:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26 NKJV

The first chapter of Genesis mentions the creation of mankind and in the second we see more details of our creation.  In the first chapter, we notice that the Lord says, “let us make man“.  Some teach that this is talking about Adam (because Adam was formed first) but I feel that this scripture is talking about mankind as a whole (that means everybody).  You see, I feel that God had always intended to create a partner for His first man so that man, like the fowl of the air, creatures of the sea, and the animals that walked the earth, could be fruitful and multiply as well.  With every other creature that God made, He created a female along with the male.

So God made mankind to have dominion over His creation; He created mankind in His own image and likeness.  I feel that this not only deals with our looks but also our mind – we have an intelligence that no other creature has in this world.  We have morals that just don’t exist anywhere else in nature.  That being said, the key here is the idea of dominion and authority.

The great difference that Paul points to when he talks about authority is who received the “dominion and authority” first.  I pointed out that, as a whole, mankind reigns over all life in this world – has authority.  However, scripture is very clear, the male received dominion and authority over all things first.  After the deception in the garden, we notice that the Lord spoke to Adam first because Adam was the leader (authority) in the garden.

And they heard the [c]sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9 NKJV

The man was the head – the woman was second in command because she joined in, as a mankind as a whole, to have dominion in the world. For me, scripture makes it clear that women have absolutely every right to help tend and keep the garden. 

Paul’s stance on women having authority in the church simply comes from a standpoint of what scripture shows in the garden.  Were there roles set for both man and woman in the garden?  Yes.  Man had the authority and this authority was spiritually given but clearly, the woman shares in this dominion and authority in the world as second in command – she is man’s helper, not his servant.  Both man and woman had a role of tending and keeping the garden.

The role of women in society

So, the question is, how do we get from that to a society where women are not seen as equals?  You see, I feel that scripture makes it clear that the woman is a helpmeet to man and that she is comparable to him.  When some man picks up the Bible, reads it, and comes away believing that he should lord over others – that man has misunderstood scripture.  Not only has that man misunderstood scripture, but he has applied scripture incorrectly – that’s our society in a nutshell.  People tried to use scripture to say that slavery was OK and that a certain race is superior to another – this was never God’s intentions.

Let’s take what we know from scripture and apply it to our world today.  Let’s say that the garden of today is both the local church and the society/household.  I want to focus on society first and then we will take a look at the church later.  The reason why I want to take a look at society first is because we try to take scripture and apply them to how women should act in our society.  We try to say what the role of women is in our society, but we don’t speak much about what the role of man is in our society.

The problem that we face in the garden today is not what women are doing in the garden but what men are not doing.  Man must take back (or get back to) his rightful place within the role that he should serve in the garden.  What I am saying is that man abandoned his place in the garden a long time ago.  Man left woman to attend to the garden all by herself – that was never the role intended for neither man or woman.

We know in our history how man thought of woman, how man treated woman and frankly, a lot of that still exists in our modern world today.  Many men like to cry out that women aren’t being “obedient” as the biggest problem in the relationship between the two.  The problem with this thought is that the type of obedience that many men look for is thought of as how we expect our children, or even our pets, to obey!  Again, God created woman to be man’s partner (helper), not to be man’s servant (or pet).

We think this authority and dominance that God gave to man has everything to do with “who wears the pants in the house”, but this has absolutely nothing to do with that.  Being the head of the house also has nothing to do with who makes the most money and who provides.  These are tropes (ways) that some men came up with to enforce their dominance long ago.

We have this problem with who is seen as the alpha (or the better).  For example, we enter into relationships with a mindset of one having dominance over the other.  Why can’t we be partners as the Lord intended for us to be?  We should work together with each other as man and woman – not hold or put each other down.  The woman should help her man just as the man should help his woman.  To believe otherwise and say, “it’s in the Bible” is completely wrong.

Scripture says:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 NKJV

Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:25), that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church.  Paul also says that women should submit (follow) their husbands.  However, I say to you that the woman ought not to follow her husband if his way is a way that would lead her to destruction.  God gave both man and woman the ability to be able to think for ourselves – use it!

This idea that the scripture is sexist and bias against women is unfair.  I say this, in part, because people go about with little study of scripture and make this statement.  Scripture is not bias against women because the Lord is not biased against women.  Everybody can take part in the Lord regardless of their gender, race, or economic classification (Galatians 3:28).

Is the church sexist?

Theology focuses on what Paul said when he was establishing the church.  I feel like we have already established that Paul when he was establishing the church, was not doing so from a sexist mindset.  I feel it is how scripture has been interpreted and executed where the problem comes in.  Scripture is often misunderstood and therefore it is poorly executed.

People view the role of preacher/pastor as a position of power.  There is just one major problem with that thought – the preacher/pastor of a local church is not a position of power – especially not as we think of power.  Our society has turned into a battle of the sexes – which sex (male or female) is the better.  We’ve determined that the person who “holds the position of power” is the better.  Then we take that mentality and we bring it inside of our local church congregations.  So, when people look at the church and see that there aren’t many women preachers, they are judged as not being part of the modern world of “equality”.

Firstly:  the pastor of a church serves in a role in which they should serve their members (the local church congregation).  Yes, the pastor has authority but that is a spiritual authority to lead the congregation in the gospel and in spirit. Pastors don’t run the church unless maybe they started the local church.  The local church is, or should be, a democracy – things are done by vote.  Also let us remember that Jesus taught His disciples that those who are seen as a “leader or greater” should serve (John 13:12-17).

Let’s get back to Paul and how he felt the church should be established.  The man, in Paul’s mind, was supposed to take up that position of spiritual authority (spiritual leader) – be the preachers and pastors.  He did not believe that the role of spiritual leadership fell onto the woman.  What is very interesting to me is that Paul does not necessarily mention a backup plan for if the man does not fill what’s supposed to be his spiritual obligation in spiritual leadership.

There are many women who serve in the local church today.  There are many women who preach and pastor at churches today.  There are women evangelists and women singers.  Are they in the wrong for serving in the local churches?

Men vacated the role of leading a flock – someone has to fill the role.  If the women weren’t preaching or being the pastor at some of these churches, who would?  Let’s remember that Paul’s exact words are “I” would not permit such – Paul, while he is an apostle, he is not God. It is not my place to tell a woman what she can or cannot do or what she is not capable of doing – that includes preaching.

Even Paul teaches that women were capable teachers.  He wrote that women should be reverent (respectful) in behavior and teachers of good things (Titus 2:3).  If a church is following scripture closely, and following theology according to Paul’s teaching, they are not being sexist.  However, we can also be honest here and say that some people are not necessarily following scripture and in those cases, they are being sexist.  Again, my own personal opinion is that I can’t prohibit someone from what they say is their calling.

My stance on this matter, the theology I follow is that of Gamaliel.  I want you to see what he said about a matter of the disciples spreading the gospel.

38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”

Acts 5:38 NKJV
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