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:
- 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.
- 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?
- Women are weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:7) meaning that they lack the stamina to do the work that is required in the church.
- 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.
- 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.