Are we silencing half the church?

My wife is a gifted woman. She has a passion for discipleship and a desire to see God’s word taught clearly and transformatively. My oldest daughter is creative, sharp as a tack, and has a Master’s in communication. My youngest daughters are both gifted in so many areas that I can’t even keep track. I am surrounded by amazing women and girls.

Are we silencing them?

I will never forget one experience that I had while visiting a church. We had just moved back from Scotland and we were really hoping that this church would be our new home.

After one service, I already had some questions. There were no women involved in visible ministry anywhere. Greeters, ushers, worship leader, preacher, even the person who gave announcements…all men.

Now, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. There could be lots of reasons for what was going on that Sunday. I’m certainly not going to judge a church on that basis alone.

Then we talked to the pastor.

It was painful. Through the entire conversation – it lasted about five minutes – the pastor never addressed my wife. Not once. Every time he spoke, he spoke to me. She was standing right next to me, but her presence didn’t seem to matter. For whatever reason, she barely registered on his radar.

But wait, it gets worse. My wife was the one asking all the questions. During the entire conversation, I actually said very little. He would turn to her while she asked the question, and then look straight at me while answering it. Every single time. He never spoke to her.

Message received. We haven’t been back.

Maybe it wasn’t fair. Maybe we rushed to judgment. Maybe we should have given it another chance. I don’t know. But, what we saw was enough to raise serious questions about whether this church was fully committed to supporting the giftedness of the whole people of God – not just the male half.

Are we silencing half the church?

That’s a question that we should all be concerned about. And, it’s the question that Carolyn Curtis James wants us to think through in her new book Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Vision for Women. And, even more, she wants us to recognize the whole range of issues (cultural, global, social, and economic) that often contribute to silencing half the church. According to the publisher’s description,

The Bible contains the highest possible view of women and invests women’s lives with cosmic significance regardless of their age, stage of life, social status, or culture. Carolyn Custis James unpacks three transformative themes the Bible presents to women that raise the bar for women and calls them to join their brothers in advancing God’s gracious kingdom on earth. These new images of what can be in Christ free women to embrace the life God gives them, no matter what happens. Carolyn encourages readers with a positive, kingdom approach to the changes, challenges, and opportunities facing women throughout the world today.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reflecting on some of these ideas to consider whether we really are silencing half the church. To that end, we’ll be hosting a couple of reviews on Half the Church from different perspectives. Todd Miles, Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary, will offer a review of the book from a complementarian perspective. And Brad Harper, Professor of Theology at Multnomah University, will engage the book from a more egalitarian perspective. Along the way, I’m hoping that we will all gain a better appreciation for how we can all, regardless of theological perspective, strive to encourage and support the ministries of all God’s people.

Stay tuned for more information and discussions on this subject.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on March 11, 2011, in Anthropology, The Church and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. That has happened to my wife and I. My wife is asking the questions, but the I am the recipient of the answers. So, I just turn away and ignore the answers, thus forcing the speaker to talk to my wife. I don’t make eye contact or speak in reply. The speaker then has to either end the conversation awkwardly (which is interesting to watch in public) or (just as awkwardly) talk to my wife.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I was kind of hoping that our experience was unusual. I probably should have known better.

  2. Marc- that is just plain rudeness taken to the extreme.

    That sounds like a good book to read – I have recently been pondering on the irony that the Jewish and traditional church mindset has taught the woman sinned first… and how it was women who met Christ first in his resurrected state…and thus it can be said women were the first to be saved under the new covenant.

    But then when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place…all genders, ages and nationalities were present.

    • Yes, I think these are questions that we all need to reflect on. I’m firmly convinced that this is something that transcends (or, should transcend) the usual complementarian/egalitiarian divide, though that will certainly nuance how you approach the issue.

  3. This should be a good review and very appropriate for our churches today. By the way, you have a daughter with a Master’s degree?

    • Yeah, that one always gets people’s attention. Sally became part of our family during my years in youth ministry – more than ten years ago now. But, she went to Bethel and still lives in St. Paul. So, she only makes it back here for visits now.

  4. I’ll be watching with interest. Oddly enough, in my house my wife expects women to be submissive and to let the man lead in the church. She’s opposed to female pastors and senior leadership. I’m the opposite. In spite of what Paul had to say to Timothy and in another spot or two, there are also numerous vivid accounts of prominent women in ministry roles, from prophetesses to queens. Not just Esther, either. Queen Salome was one of the best rulers Israel ever had, but she’s hardly mentioned in Jewish history. Several women were prominent in Paul’s ministry. It was to women that Jesus first appeared after the resurrection. There are nearly as many encounters between Jesus and women as there are between Jesus and men recorded in the gospels. This is just about the only area I can think of where she takes a more conservative position than me.

  5. Hello,

    This happens online as well. I was communicating with a Pastor and someone posted a negative comment about my interpretation/confusion over scripture. The gentlemen bypassed me and directed his complaint (that was about me) to the Pastor/owner of the blog. I found it arrogant and condescending……….I’m assuming that this was probably normal for him.

  6. It is an interesting fact to recognize that all false religions of the world have women as subserviant and there is a real hatred for women. It should not be so in Christianity, but in fact it is a reality that there is a spirit of hatred for women that manifests in the church, sometimes silently. I am a woman minister, and I have had to overcome much prejudice against me in the church. It was never “the church” that raised me up in the call of God on my life, and it was never “the church” supporting me and launching me out into the nations.I haven’t read the book yet “Half The Church”, but I was tuning into the church channel on TV and just happened to catch the author being interviewed by James Robinson. It caught my attention quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I have cried out to the Lord to reverse the injustices against women in the church, not to even mention the world injustices against women. We need to change the “good ole’ boys club” mentality in the church so we can be an example to the world, proclaiming that women have value, and worth, and to recognize that there is nothing a woman cannot do called by God!
    Rev. Charlene Poehler
    “BraveHeart Warrior Ministries”

  1. Pingback: Giving away Half the Church « scientia et sapientia

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