On Faith: Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?

The Washington Post hosts a forum called On Faith that poses this question: Women are not allowed to become clergy in many conservative religious groups. Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?

Here are the highlights of the contributors:

Brian D. McLaren:

I just talked to a leading conservative religious leader about this the other day. He believes that the New Testament texts regarding women only apply to the church and not the secular world. I find that line of interpretation very convenient for conservative churches, and impossible to justify theologically. My guess is that more and more of the daughters of today’s religious conservatives will decide to a) abandon their parent’s approach to interpreting the Bible, b) decide the “secular” world is a more hospitable place and spend more time there and less in the church, or c) change churches

Jane Dixon:

For Christians, ordained persons represent God. For those who hold sacred that only men can represent Jesus, the God made man, then the ordination of women is impossible. To add to that, some Christian traditions hold with St. Paul, who admonished the fledgling church in Ephesus, that women should be subject to their husbands, in fact the husband should be the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:21-23) My tradition, the Episcopal Church, decided to ordain women not so long ago, 32 years to be exact. We know that in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Southern Baptist Church women are still not ordained. That is church teaching, not a question of leadership.

Willis E. Elliott:

No, it is not “hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation.” Rather, it is ignorant. Ignorant of how to read the past in the light of the present. Ignorant of how the Bible, which emerged from and so reflects the past, anticipated the freeing of women from their historically assigned inferiority to men: “There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

John Shelby Spong:

Conservative evangelicals base their opposition to ordaining women on literal texts from the Bible. They seem not to notice that those literal texts also support slavery, suggest that women are the property of man, call for the execution of willfully disobedient children, adulterers and homosexuals. If we took those texts literally few would be left among the living.

It is time for the dated prejudices of human beings based primarily on the fear of being different, to cease receiving the dignity of a cover from either the Church or the Bible. We need to call those prejudices what they are – evil!

John Mark Reynolds:

A mother is no less a mother if she is also Queen! A woman can play the role of wife and the role of business leader or president. People are marvelously multi-faceted that way! The film Victoria and Albert has a wonderful scene where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are in an argument. Victoria is making a point, but Albert stops her to say that he is not talking to his Queen, but to his lady wife. As her subject he obeyed, but as the husband she acknowledged his role.

You might not like this distinction, but there is nothing new in it. Those who accuse traditionalists who vote for Palin of inconsistency are either ignorant of history or allowing the partisan fever of an election to swamp their judgment

Matt Maher:

No. It is not. A woman is more than capable of running the office of President of the United States with full faculties, and I might add, bringing a perspective that is unique to her genius as a woman. With that being said, I have to ask the question, since when did civic leadership and religious leadership become one and the same? I thought that we were trying to protect the separation from church and state, not compare one to the other. Yes, both are examples of leadership, but they are not the same thing, nor should they be. To compare civil office to spiritual leadership is to demean the very calling both have. Now I understand you can use corporate principles to govern the administrative side of the church, but the minute we completely abandon these distinctions is the minute we lose sight of the economy of God.

Richard Mouw:

As an evangelical advocate for the ordination of women I see some inconsistencies in the views of those–including, by the way, many conservative women–who oppose admitting women into the ranks of church leadership. Inconsistencies–but I hesitate to talk about hypocrisy. There is a lot of that on all sides of many theological and political issues, and none of us can really win the whose-the-real-hypocrite game.

If we are going to argue effectively with the opponents of women’s ordination, we have to address the way they read the Bible. And the fact is that the Bible offers examples of women who are gifted national leaders: Queen Esther, whom the Lord raised up “for such a time as this,” and Deborah, the only woman who served as a judge in ancient Israel. Many conservative scholars insist that God anoints women for leadership only when men have failed to provide the leadership, and that while this does happen in political contexts, it never–in the Bible–happens in a church setting. I personally am convinced that allowing women to serve as national leaders but not as congregational leaders is a hard viewpoint to defend. But, given the biblical data that the conservatives appeal to, it is better to push the argument in terms of coherence and consistency than to throw around labels like “hypocrisy.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr.:

Our confession of faith does not speak to the appropriateness of women serving in political office. It does speak to the priority of motherhood and responsibilities in the home, but it does not specify any public role that is closed to women. The reason for this is simple — the New Testament does not speak to this question in any direct sense.

The distinction is perfectly clear. Where the New Testament speaks, we are bound. Where it does not speak, believers are not bound. The structure of our confession of faith simply reflects this principle.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “On Faith: Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?

  1. As many of the contributors point out, it doesn’t seem inherently inconsistent to have different rules for the role of women in the church and in the secular realm, because these leadership positions are quite different. However, often people who support the view that women should not be ordained would list a number of reasons why this should be so. They might say things like, “Women, by their nature, aren’t designed for leadership,” or “Women should focus on their family and children.” Thus, it seems that the explanations given for this theological position would often be in conflict with also holding a view that a woman would make a good political leader.

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