Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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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.

Explore more

Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Gender Division Divides the Church
Does “Role” Mean “Rank” in Complementarianism?
Partnering Together: Jesus and Women

8 thoughts on “Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church

  1. If they would take their statements about women and replace the ‘feminine’ words with race, faith, ethic, etc, they would find it would sound racist. That should be their first clue something is wrong. They ignore that, and get upset when someone points it out?

    It’s sad they don’t step back and pray on it. It’s arrogance, pride, and male ego that stops them from truly seeing the situation for what it is.

    I pray for them of course, but I also have been confronting this as well. When you read the stories in the Bible about the women it’s strange how they had more freedoms within the faith circles then compared to the additional restrictions that men can come up with today for women.

    Its strange how they can say the stories in the Bible are wrong with inclusion of women, and we have now corrected that. Seriously. How prideful.

  2. Judging by the actions of some women in the Bible, it does seem as though they had more freedoms than many women in the Church nowadays; but I can’t see how that can be correct.

    I think exceptional women in Bible times were allowed to be exceptional.

  3. On the slave and ethnic verses, I think many believers just skip past the exegetical step and go right to the application step, which is a mistake. Yes, the slave verses APPLY today to employees, but this in an application, not an exegesis of the original meaning. They feel justified in doing this today, since slavery is illegal (I know I did) and since otherwise these would be challenging verses to handle. So I dodged and covered it over with love, but is this not what we fear liberals do?

    The best serious treatment I have seen of the slavery verses is by William Webb in his book “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals”, not that I agree with everything he writes, but that he at least takes the challenge seriously and does not paper over it with the modern application.

  4. I haven’t read Webb’s book yet. But one day I will.

    Present-day Christians reject slavery even though the New Testament doesn’t reject it explicitly. However, many modern Christians still accept the subordination of women, even though there are plenty of verses which show that all believers are equal and that class systems and divisions are detrimental to the unity of the body

    1. ya to a great extend I do agree with you that still up to to day and it will continue in the present church that all people are equal.

  5. Okay, I’m venting here!

    I skipped church tonight because it is business meeting night. Women are not allowed to speak at business meetings. If we want to bring something up at a business meeting, we have to ask our owners (husbands) at least a week in advance. If our husbands like the idea, the men in charge will present it to the church. If our husbands don’t like the idea, too bad.

    I’m beginning to wonder why women are even allowed to be members in Southern Baptist churches! We aren’t really fully-fledged members, anyway.

    If you really want to take scripture out of context, the Apostle Paul said, “And if they want to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” So, are we really meant to attend church, since we aren’t supposed to learn anything except from our husbands at home?

    1. Nancy, that is awful – just awful.

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