Sunday, 2 December 2012

Supporting women teachers in the Church

I am today announcing that I am coming out in favour of women ministers in the Church.

We attended a meeting last week led by those who voted against the motion in the Synod. They believe that women bishops will become a reality, but they want provisions for those who do not agree. 

No woman spoke at this meeting - until I did.  Possibly, any woman who spoke feared being seen as a "non-biblical feminist"? 

I stated that I agree with those who teach what the Bible teaches : which is the "complimentarity" of the sexes. Theologically, male and female are equal - but clearly not "the same".  

I said that the difficulty is that Church has reached an impasse due to failing to give wise, highly trained, reformed theological women an equal space in the Church in which to operate to express and develop their God-given wisdom and deep Biblical understanding. Male dominance of the Church has driven some women to want positions of imagined power to drive for complete equality (uniformity). Church politics is one thing: my view is that it is simply not "Biblical" to sideline precious wise, reformed women or tell theologically- gifted women to “make the tea”. "The workers are few" and the church needs them all.

In response, the vicar slipped in a phrase almost subliminally, as if everyone agreed on it, about “the authority of male teaching” - as if St Paul taught only this. 

I hold that the Bible is the Word of God and this is why I attend meetings of those who hold the same view. But there is a real risk when claiming "the authority of God's Word" that one "proof-texts" which means taking one text and absolutising it.  "Absolutising" means not balancing one Bible text with other equally valid Bible texts on the same subject (in this case, "gender and teaching") which broaden and refine one's understanding and prevent rigidity which creates a narrowness of vision unfaithful to the Bible. The Bible is divinely inspired wisdom, freedom and enlightenment, for both men and women.

Hence I do not agree with absolutising any of St Paul’s teaching. Certainly, there are passages in St Paul's Epistles about the man being the "head" of the woman (his wife) just as Christ is the "head" of the man, not in authority, but in care and love. Incidentally, St Paul gives unmarried women no "head" except Christ. However, there are also Pauline passages saying that "older women should teach younger women". Should we absolutise those passages too?  Well, no. I do not support a ban on men teaching younger women - alongside women teaching them. But since women are now taking over the world (we are informed), if we “absolutise” these texts, then women ministers and Bishops only should teach the majority of the Church which is female.   

A number of men in the room did not agree with the Rector's position. Many men recognise that over the centuries the different, distinctive role of woman has been played down and that valuable female theologians have been underused. After all, it was a Roman who said of the early Christians "What (wonderful) women they have among them". 

The male-dominated Church should have always reflected Scripture by creating roles for women equal to those for the male clergy, filled by salaried and trained women of calibre, who teach women. 

Women have been the backbone of the Church down the centuries but they have been told to take "the back seat".  Before the Church is established (no salaries and pensions), women play equal roles with men, in its mission. 

The Reformation in England would not have happened without courageous, theological and scholarly females and patrons of the church, some of whom died for their reformed faith, like Queen Jane Grey. Some of them were highly trained theological writers who could read Greek and Hebrew, like Mary Sidney (see link below). In the first centuries AD, before the Church became a wealthy institution, its leadership was full of impressive, active women. There is a mosaic arch in a 6th century Roman church in Istria which entirely celebrates Roman Christian women saints.  I cannot imagine that being built now!  

I myself have updated and published the book of a Victorian female theologian (Priscilla Maurice) about illness and suffering, which is far more perceptive and faithful to the Bible's teaching than anything any man has written (I have checked that fact out at length in the British Library!). In 1850, she had to publish her best seller anonymously for fear of men in the church thinking she was claiming any authority.

I would like to see, first, the complimentarity of the sexes, as taught by the Bible, fully upheld by the Church. I am not very comfortable with women dressing exactly like men, or trying to ape them. They should be their own people and explore how being a woman theologian can be expressed, equally, in a Christian setting.

Second, I want to see women being given right of access to reformed, Biblically faithful, wise, cutting edge, "PhD"level, orthodox women not just to women who promote "submission" or the "role of wife and mother" to other women and/or whose intellectual skills and education cannot compete with those of trained ordained men. If some men do not want a female teaching them, so be it. We must, however, cater for the right of younger women to be taught, in public, by female preachers/female teachers faithful to the Bible - as taught by St Paul. Women's teaching would be sensitive to the distinctive "difference" and life experience of women, as well as to their growing responsibilities in the public arena.

I wish respect to all those who have, in my view, unconsciously "absolutised" the teaching of Paul regarding male "headship". By the way, any "authority" is borrowed from the Authority of Christ - a truth which applies to both men and to women who teach women.

In response - and having learnt from the Synod's "train crash", I would not absolutise his teaching about "women teaching younger women".....

Women of the Reformation
These include Luther's wife (and others on the Continent) and aristocratic women, namely, Margeurite of Navarre, Renee de France, Queen Anne Boleyn, Anne Askew, Queen Lady Jane Grey, Queen Katharine Parr, Mary Sidney and Queen Elizabeth 1st. They were key to embedding The Protestant Reformation in England (although Elizabeth 1st's Settlement diluted the spirituality of the earlier women). See here

Women of the European Reformation
Women and the Reformation gathers historical accounts to provide a comprehensive and accessible look at the status and contributions of women as leaders in the 16th century Protestant world.


  1. Some may reply that there are "women's ministry" teaching groups in the church but I would reply that they is not sufficient. Usually, they are run by women's of insufficient intellectual stature or calible to equal the ordained men so serious women lay people prefer the teaching of the men. Often, these women are employed to focus on women being "mothers and wives". I am saying that leading female minds should teach serious-minded women laity whose demands in the public space are now heavy. Since no career has been open to them in the Church, they have tended to go into worldly professions instead.We need more going into the Church.

  2. If women of this calibre outlined above were integrated into the evangelical church but still not invited to preach alongside men (to preserve men from "female teaching"), I would be happy to see separate Worship Services under female preaching, within the evangelical church.