Reasons Women Should Not Pursue Theological Education, According to Some African Pastors

Continuing on with my posts on African women in theological education, I want to look at some of the biblical basis given by pastors who argue that women should not pursue theological education. At first, it is easy to simply reject their opinions, but on closer examination, they believe what they are saying and believe that it is biblical. Note that these individuals argue assuming that any woman who goes to seminary is seeking to become a pastor or hold a significant leadership position in the church. The issue in this post is not whether women can become pastors but whether this line of reasoning is valid. If you are thinking, “Since they are so obviously wrong in their take on things, why even discuss them?” Well, without knowledge, people perish. I am finding that as I take time to explain these texts to the brothers, many come to accept that they have been wrong and with that comes change in their understanding of women in ministry. So, in asking how they can support such views biblically, they give the following reasons:

  1. Women are easily deceived and therefore cannot be taken seriously. According to Genesis 3, they argue, Eve is the one who was deceived and she in turn deceived her husband to sin. They say that Paul even sees it this way when he says, “… and Adam was not, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:14). They argue that this text shows that women are easily deceived and it would be dangerous to have them trained and leading in the church.
  2. Paul clearly teaches that a woman cannot teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). Therefore why should women pursue theological education when it is clear they cannot teach or exercise authority in the church?
  3. Women are weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:7) meaning that they lack the stamina to do the work that is required in the church.
  4. Paul clearly teaches that women are to be silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11). In light of this text, it would be wrong to allow women to hold positions in the church that allow them to speak. A female student in a recent class, after listening to the men give these reasons, came to me after class. She said that in her church, she has no voice. She has been to seminary but cannot say a word in the church because of this passage.
  5. Women need periods of purification and therefore it hinders them from carrying out ministry without interruption. This argument came to me in a class in Romania. They argued that according to the OT, when a woman gives birth, she needs 40 days of purification before she can come back to church. It follows that a woman who pursues theological education and becomes a leader in the church will obviously be hindered by this. In the same class, there were a couple of ladies and each time they spoke, they would end by saying, “I am only a woman.”

As ridiculous as these reasons may sound to us, the reality is that they impact beliefs and lives. Pastors and church leaders who make such arguments will continue to do so unless they are shown otherwise. Women who are under the leadership of such pastors will continue to be oppressed in their desire to exercise the gifts God has given them for the good of the body.

What is the way forward? As odd as it may sound, the way to free women both to pursue theological education in greater numbers and to be part of building up the body of Christ, is by debunking the wrong interpretations that have led the men to get in their way. All of the above passages were read out of context. This is why we at TLI take seriously the training of pastors to have good skills in biblical interpretation and a greater understanding of biblical theology so that they will see and understand texts in context.

Finally, in the next post, I will explain what role I see for women in the African church.

Reasons for Encouraging Women to Pursue Theological Education

In this post, I am not expressing my view on the role of women in ministry. I say this in an attempt to head off wrong conclusions. My desire here is simply to present some cultural observations from several African settings which lead me to argue that a strong part of our missionary endeavor should be to actively encourage and support women to pursue theological education. It will impact society and help preserve the purity of the gospel in the life of the African church.

  1. Women are the main teachers for children and young people in African families. Paul’s statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” may be seen as odd in the West, but it comes across as normal to me (and I am sure to many African men and women). The early stages of a child in the village are spent with his or her mother. This is true even in families where the parents are educated. Until the age of about 12, in most family settings, the child has spent most of life with the mother. These are formative years and the faith of the mother will have a direct impact on the spiritual formation of the child. Not only in the home, but in church, women are often the ones left with the task to minister to children. When we encourage women to get theological training, and they in turn invest in teaching women in the church all that Jesus commanded, future mothers will have much to give to their children in nurturing their faith from very early on. But, why must only women teach women in this case? Read on.
  2. Women often miss out on opportunities to learn in the local church. A typical village church and even city churches are filled with mostly women. During meetings and teaching events, when food needs to be prepared and work done, often it is the women who are called on to do it. How many conferences I have gone to where teaching is going on, and the women are in the kitchens cooking. Then during break, they serve everyone else and as the teachings resume, they are occupied cleaning up. In other instances, most of what women get from their pastors are his sermons on Sundays and any little teaching that may take place during the Christian meetings once a week. Pastors miss out on opportunities to speak directly to women on issues that are important to them. For example, what does it mean to be a wife or a single mother in the church or a civil servant? Most are left to figure out for themselves what role there is to serve in the church. Without intending to do so, a lot of pastors end up not providing the kind of teaching that women need. Yet, women are the ones who are better organized, attend meetings, run social groups in the church, and show interest in the things of the gospel. Given this gap in the teaching of women in the local church by men, it can be taken up by women who are theologically trained. They can get to the heart of the issues facing women, helping them to understand those issues biblically. The majority of people in the African church are women. Taking up such a ministry is not a light task. The advantage to educating women that they will not only live lives that are better informed by Scripture, but they will also take the message to the women’s groups in their towns and villages. They will teach it to their children and help them to develop a strong faith from early on. In some cases, they will help their extended families to know more about who God is and why it is important to be loyal to him in all of life.
  3. They cannot effectively fight for themselves. Every year I would ask my new classes (men and women), “Are women equal to men?” You can guess who answered first and what they said. The men answered first and obviously, said that men are better and cannot be equal with women. When asked, is that a cultural or biblical answer, culture wins. You would expect the women in the class to fight but they stayed quiet. Is it because they do not have an opinion on the issue? Not really, but they do not have a biblical argument to make in their own defense, and culturally they are reluctant to disagree with the men.

In addition to the above reasons, there are proof text biblical passages that pastors use to argue that women should not be educated and should not have a role to play in the church. This, too, is wrong. What are some of these passages?  Next post!

Theological Education for Women in Africa

Several years ago, while teaching at a seminary in Africa, this question often came up: Should women be pastors? If not, why are they in seminary? Some pastors took this to another level, and one Sunday a pastor preached against women seeking admission into seminaries. They are not to do so because it is for men. While this may sound ridiculous, it is important for the African church to address.

There are two recent events that lead me to say this. First of all, I was teaching in Cameroon a few weeks ago and in my class were a few women who are seeking to be involved in Christian ministry. During the course of the class, some of the men raised the question whether it is proper for women to be in seminary. Second, I met a respected Christian lady who declared to me that she has a problem with the Bible because it is against women. It encourages men to take advantage of women and not allow them to hold positions of power. Two things stand out: There are some pastors who do not see the need for women to seek any theological education, and there is a growing number of young educated women in Africa who are increasingly becoming unhappy with the Bible because they are being taught that it is against women.

I agree that we ought and must give women in Africa the best theological education possible. Here I provide a few biblical reasons why African women should pursue theological education in preparation for Christian ministry.

First, according to Genesis 1:26-28, man as male and female is created in the image of God. This means that man and woman are equal before God in the sense that both bear the image of God. Both were given the command to rule over creation, and if it is important for men to be educated to rule, so too it is for women.

Second, the great commission is for men as well as women. The commission is to “make disciples of all nations” and the means to making disciples is by baptizing and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. Carrying out of the Great Commission necessarily includes teaching people to obey the things that Jesus commanded. If then women are to teach in obedience to the Great Commission and the content of their teaching is what Jesus had commanded (as we find in the Bible), it would be foolish to argue that women should not get the best theological education possible to prepare them for such an honorable task. Therefore, seminaries should prepare women and men in the best way possible for service in the progress of the Great Commission. We train both men and women to bring glory to God by faithfully and effectively making disciples by baptizing and teaching.

Third, we will look in vain for information on Jesus excluding women in his teaching ministry. From the account in Luke 8:1-3, we cannot say that each time Jesus was teaching the twelve, women were excluded. The evidence seems to suggest that even though the 12 are mentioned in particular, women were also present when Jesus was traveling and teaching. Yet, it is important to note that the 12 in particular had a more unique task, a task which not everyone (man or woman) shared. It also becomes clear to us that in his teaching ministry, Jesus taught women (a counter-cultural practice) not for the purpose of them getting a particular job and not because they had received a particular call but simply for education’s sake.  Two examples of Jesus not discriminating in his teaching are the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-45) and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). In the case of the Samaritan woman, we see that Jesus was engaged in providing a Samaritan woman a good theological education. She had wrong views on theological matters and Jesus corrected them. He taught her well and treated her with respect. Her questions were answered well. The results of this work were immediate. Was she not in her response carrying out the Great Commission just as the twelve and the 70 and the 72 had done? But she needed to have the right beliefs in order to do the work well.

So, from the ministry of Jesus, we can see that he taught both men and women. There is no indication that he thought of women as not deserving of theological education. He gave his full attention to teaching them, though his actions were counter-cultural. We are indeed following in the footsteps of Jesus as we continue to provide quality theological education for women today for the purpose of good Christian ministry.

While these are some reasons from the Bible why we should continue to provide solid theological education for women in Africa, there is also a pressing and potentially very destructive reason that should cause us to push this issue even harder. It is the women-empowerment movements that are not only addressing social issues among women in Africa, but that go further to tell them that the root cause of their oppression is the Bible.