Right now, many conservative Christian churches still don't allow women to preach in their pulpit or participate in governmental leadership. Most Conservative Christians believe that God has ordained the roles of men and women to be different in the Church.
On September 18, 2008, Gospel Magazine (the most widely distributed urban Christian publication in the country) was pulled off the shelves of more than 100 LifeWay Bookstore across America. The bookstores' owner, the Southern Baptist Convention, said the problem was that the five smiling women on the cover are women church pastors! Other churches still don't allow women leaders either - i.e. the Catholic Church and several evangelical groups (such as the Presbyterian Church in America still don't ordain women.
For years, I attended a church that would NOT allow me to speak at a public meeting, preach to a group in my home, teach a Sunday School class to adult men and women, take an offering, introduce a song, or say a public prayer. They were nice people - doing what they believed was right - that "Biblical order" demands that men alone were chosen to lead in Church government authority, and they alone should run the show!
It's odd that it seems okay to many of these same Conservative Christian types to support Governor Sarah Palin as potential Vice President -- when most of them don't even think that a woman should exercise co-leadership in her marriage, let alone lead her country!
Whether she wins or not, the question is why are people willing to vote for her as Vice President and still think that a woman is not qualified to serve as pastor of their church?
We must ask, IF the Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, is supposed to be "UNDER" her husband and to be submissive to him (as so many theologians claim), then how can she independently lead America? Will her husband actually be making all the decisions? Will McCain be her "covering?" Will she just be some "man's" puppet or figure-head? Or, maybe her husband will relinquish his authority "over" her, so that she can do her job. Or, perhaps she is well able to stand firmly in her right to serve fully to her capacity?
With almost multiple personalities, the extreme Christian Right seemed ecstatic when Sarah Palin was invited to be on the McCain ticket. That was because she is a Christian! But how can she go along with their expectation to remain subservient, compliant, accommodating, submissive, and deferential to all men -- and still fulfill this assignment of Vice President of this great country?
This continued gender bias is a PRIORITY question for all of Christianity. I know! I write this as a woman pastor who has fought a career-long battle to shatter the "Stained Glass Ceiling" for gender equality. I've surveyed hundreds of churches to determine their use of women in leadership - and even though some say that it is okay, they usually don't implement it. OF course there are numerous pastors who champion women's rights to lead, but statistically they are few and far between.
And of course, during the last decades, there has been a great rise in successful female pastors, evangelists, Bishops, etc. They have endured in spite of it all.
Hierarchical tradition has long maintained that "Women should keep in their proper place," or as Martin Luther coined, "A woman's place is in the home." OF course, that saying isn’t anywhere in the Scripture; it's just a quote from Luther! Then there was Calvin, who taught that a woman was created in the image of God... "Though in the second degree."i Calvin was certain that women had absolutely no place of impact in society. Earlier Augustine wrote his theory in De Genesi ad Litteram IX.5, cfVII.3,1 that said the woman was only to be a helper for childbearing, but in every other case another man would be a better help.
Limiting and prejudicial ideas against women in leadership have endured in various forms for centuries.
We can no longer ignore the fact that thousands upon thousands of educated people flatly reject the Gospel because they refuse to accept these ridiculous kinds of preconceived, prejudicial ideas that barrier abilities and squelch potential of another human being.
In this era of heightened gender awareness and sexual revolution, the church must address this issue of discrimination. That's why we must re-examine Church history that ledgers continuous biased bigotry and closed mindedness against women in leadership.
Praise God! This truly is a cultural, political, social, and theological dilemma! This issue of equality has not been fully addressed for way too long. Sure, some of us women are labeled "exceptions," but we still don't get invited to play golf with the guys!
The doors of full opportunity within the Church have been generally closed to most women. Often, a woman can have ten times the capability as a man, and not be given full recognition. Trust me when I say that even slightly egalitarian ideas are often labeled by many as feminist or a "Jezebel spirit!" If a woman should happen to have ministry success, it is usually met with condescending disapproval and even hostility. Secret subterfuge. Indifference. Or, at best, nuances of patronization.
Thankfully, Jesus was the ultimate rebel! He defended women, revealed truths to them that He had not told another, and appeared to them first after He died. The way He valued women was a concept that shook that culture to the heart. Paul insisted in Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." This is a core-essential emphasis. No human being is excluded from service to God.2
The question is, can women make independent Church Leadership decisions regardless of their reproductive organs?
Win or not, Governor Sarah confronts the Church with a great predicament! We are being forced to confront long held standards. Church leaders at large must re-evaluate their staunch posturing against sincere and capable women leading.
If Sarah Palin is elected Vice President, will she (as a Christian leader and a political leader) be able to preach in a Southern Baptist pulpit? Or, in your church? WHAT? Are you open to women preaching in the pulpit? Leading governmentally?
Palin could potentially become President of the United States of America - and have authority over EVERY SINGLE PERSON in America (male and female). Does that mean that God can equally use both women and men in society, church, and home?
Lord God, we excitedly enjoy watching this unfolding reformation of change.
1 Calvin, "Commentaries on the First Book of Moses called Genesis" 1.2.18, vol. I, trans. John King (Grand Rapids, MI): Eerdmans, 1963.
2 See my book, "From Enmity to Equality" for a detailed theological study of what the Bible actually says about women.