Gender and Justice

If you walk into a Church of Christ, there are certain things you are likely to find. The singing will be a cappella. At some point in the worship, they will offer the Lord’s supper. The person who presents the sermon will be a man. In a recent survey conducted by The Christian Chronicle, male leadership was cited by many as a distinctive of Churches of Christ ( ). Although every church is autonomous and unique, these characteristics have been the norm in Churches of Christ for many years, and they continue to be the norm in the vast majority of congregations.

Recently, there has been a push among a small minority in Churches of Christ to allow women to do everything men do within a congregation, including preach and serve as elders. I will not examine the nuances of that debate in this article. However, I would like to say something about the nature of the debate so that no one is misunderstood and everyone is treated fairly.

The question of women leadership within the church is being framed by some as a justice issue. They seek what they call “gender justice.” This is a serious claim and one that must be addressed before ever looking at the relevant passages related to the role of men and women. When the one side says this is a justice issue; they are doing more than simply accusing the other side of misinterpreting the text. They are charging them with wrongdoing. They are saying they are guilty of injustice by oppressing women. The accusation of injustice is a serious one, and it should not be taken lightly.

If a person or group of people purposefully limited the rights of women because they believed they were inferior or they wanted power over them, then this would be an injustice. It would be a terrible thing that must be condemned, but that is not what is going on in this particular situation. Those who believe God has given certain duties to men and certain duties to women, also profess that men and women are equals. They think that a woman could be president of the United States and that women should earn equal pay for doing the same job as a man. This is not a debate about the superiority or inferiority of a specific gender. It is about something else.

If this debate is not about justice, then what is it about? It is about what the Bible says. The people convinced that a passage like 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids a woman from preaching in the assembly would allow a woman to preach in the assembly if that passage said the opposite of what it does. The same could be said of a passage like 1 Timothy 3:2 which says an elder must be “the husband of one wife.” The debate is not about justice. It is not about gender. It is about what is written in Scripture, and this is what the discussion needs to be about. How does one understand these passages, and what do they teach?

When one makes this discussion out to be a justice issue, they misunderstand and wrongly accuse the other side of something for which they are not guilty. I know many women within Churches of Christ who would not stand in the pulpit and deliver a sermon next Sunday if the elders and their congregation permitted them to do so. Why? It is because they believe the Bible forbids them to do so. They believe God has blessed them and given them marvelous things to do within the body of Christ, but preaching is not one of them. You might disagree with the position these women hold, but they are faithfully dedicated to following God in all that they do, and it is wrong to say they are guilty of an injustice.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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