Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church

I find it difficult to believe that discrimination on the basis of race has been declared immoral and illegal in Australia (and other western-style nations) only in my lifetime. Moreover, it is shocking to me that previous generations often used scripture to condone ignorant and hateful attitudes of racial prejudice and racial superiority. It is a tragedy that the western church has been rightly recognised in the past as being one of the most racist institutions. Thankfully, this situation is changing for the better, though progress is slow in some sectors of the church.

I also find it difficult to believe that in contemporary church life, women are still discriminated against on the basis of gender. Women are excluded from many ministries that involve public speaking, teaching or leadership. At best, women are seen as God’s second choice for ministry, men usually being preferred. It bothers me that some Christians use scripture to condone and support discrimination and prejudice against women in ministry. Sadly, this prejudice seems to be strengthening in some churches.

Today I was reading chapter 3 of Eugene A. Nida’s book entitled Customs and Culture: Anthropology and Christian Missions (Harper and Brothers: Pasadena, 1954). Although this book is dated in several respects, I was struck by the paragraph I’ve quoted below.

This quote is about people affected by racism; however, it could also be applicable to women adversely affected by the problem of gender discrimination in the church. I have copied Nida’s words and included my own in square brackets.

They [women] do not care for paternalistic pampering—sometimes more deeply resented than outright slurs—nor do they [women] want to be subjected to galling restrictions. If only people were accepted for what they are or could be, there would be no problem; but to know that something over which one has no control—namely, one’s biologically inherited appearance [or gender]—is forever a bar to the realization of an ideal, this is what hurts and hurts deeply. (p.71)

Hierarchical complementarians do not like it when Christian egalitarians (like myself) compare their views with racism, but I cannot help but see the similarities. The fact of the matter is that in many churches women are treated as second-class citizens, and men are regarded as their spiritual superiors and leaders.

Complementarians have failed to understand and embrace the complete and comprehensive equality and inclusiveness that the New Covenant has brought for all people (Gal. 3:28). Instead they focus on a very few verses which seem to disallow women from public speaking and teaching.

Complementarians insist that men and women are “equal but different”. I maintain that men and women are “different and equal—no buts!” There is a vital difference between these two ideologies. One binds women, the other frees women.

As I have stated many times before, I think Christians should be very cautious about restricting godly, capable and called women from any ministry. The gospel of Jesus will progress faster and more effectively if Christian men and women can work together as equals, sharing ministry responsibilities according to personal temperaments, talents and abilities, and not according to preconceived gender roles. Gifted men and women need to be encouraged in ministry, and not hindered or restricted.

Image Credit

is a photo of a finely dressed mother and daughter standing below a “Colored Entrance” sign at a bus station in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956. The photo was was taken by Gordon Parks, one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, Parks left behind a body of work that documents race relations, poverty, civil rights and urban life. Via BlackPast.org
In many churches, women and girls like this mother and daughter are still discriminated against simply because they are female.


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