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Why I'm a Christian Feminist Pastor

Carl Ruby

For some, the word feminism evokes images that many don’t associate with a Christian pastor. Feminism is the belief that men and women are of equal value and should be treated as such. I’m a Christian Feminist Pastor because I believe this understanding of gender equality is rooted in creation and taught in the Bible.

My favorite podcast series is Kingdom Roots by Scot McKnight. While on a mini-sabbatical, I ran across one podcast called Evangelicals and Feminism that took me back to my formative years in the 1970s.

Back then, I was growing up in a slice of the church called fundamentalism, and one of its political distinctives was its fierce opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It was as hot an issue back then as abortion or LGBTQ+ issues are today. Most Evangelical churches and I assume all of the fundamentalist ones, were red hot in their opposition to the amendment, predicting that it would lead to unisex bathrooms, huge stacks of burning bras, and the demise of potluck dinners.

One of my favorite memories from that time was an account of a debate between a proponent of the amendment and a Pastor who was in a frenzy against it. The proponent asked the pastor if he had read the amendment, and the Pastor replied, “I’ve only read sections of it, but that was enough for me to know the church needs to fight to keep this amendment from ever being adopted!” 

The proponent asked which sections of the ERA the pastor had read, and the pastor wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “What difference does it make? I haven’t read all of it, but I’ve read enough to know that it’s filled with all kinds of stuff that goes against God’s will for the men and women of my church, so I’m against the whole package and all that it stands for.”

Knowing he was about to score a rhetorical point, the proponent smiled and replied, “I was just curious about which part you had read because the entire amendment is only two sentences long. I’d like to know which sentence you are against?”  

In its entirety, the amendment at that time read:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

I no longer refer to myself as an Evangelical for a host of reasons, one of which is its stance on women's equality within the church, especially as it relates to preaching and leadership.

How we treat women within the church raises another important issue. How do we use scripture? This has implications for a very wide range of issues. 

One approach is to treat the Bible like a handbook with clear answers, or at least principles, to nearly every issue we may face, which can be plucked out of their historical context and applied without change today. Under the Handbook Approach, whenever we face a problem, we need to find two or three verses that address it and obey them.

That may sound good on the surface, but it has a couple of major weaknesses. First, we face many important moral issues that scripture doesn’t directly address. Second, and of more importance, it causes many to misuse scripture by lifting it out of its Biblical and historical context.

I believe there is a better way to read and understand the Bible, sometimes called the Narrative Approach¹. The Narrative Approach assumes that instead of being a handbook where rules or principles can be lifted out of one Biblical and historical context and applied without change in a very different culture, a better approach is to treat the Bible like a story that has a unified theme from start to finish. Each rule or principle in the Bible must be understood in light of where it occurs in the story. The overarching theme of the Bible is God’s love for his creation and his plan for its complete redemption.  

When it comes to women in leadership, the Handbook Approach would look to verses like I Timothy 2:11-12 which reads, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;  she must be quiet,” and say “Look, here’s proof that women shouldn’t be given leadership or teaching positions in the church.”

One problem with the Handbook Approach is the lack of consistency by those who use it. While many use this approach to argue that women should be silent when it comes to leadership in the church, hardly anyone uses it to argue that we should kiss each person as they arrive for worship, that men must raise their hands while worshipping, that women should wear head coverings, that the folks in the praise band shouldn’t have tattoos, or that none of us should enjoy a good shrimp dinner, all of which are expressly forbidden by individual verses in the Bible.

When it comes to women in church leadership, the Narrative Approach would take into account the fact that the New Testament includes examples of women teaching, prophesying, and leading within the church.  It would also look to verses like Galatians 3:28, which reads, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Finally, it would also consider these passages in light of the arc of the Bible’s story, which shows God correcting injustices perpetrated against women and elevating them to a position of equality within the church and the Kingdom of Heaven.

We’ll discuss this further in a sermon on September 29 led by Suzanne Slagell and Pastor Elana Elmore. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out McKnight’s podcast on this topic.

¹ One form of the Narrative approach is called the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic (RMH). Hermeneutics are the approach one takes to understanding the Bible. The RMH stresses that the narrative of scripture leads to God’s ultimate redemption and that every story in the Bible needs to be understood in light of how it fits in God’s plan to restore all creation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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