Essay

Why I Need Women in the Pulpit

By September 8, 2016 27 Comments
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by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

Like many Reformed Christians, I have been supportive of women in ecclesiastical office for as long as I can remember. I have heard and reheard the Scriptural case against it and I understand that there are a handful of discrete passages that would seem to prohibit female leadership. The more I have studied it, however, the more convinced I am that to read these texts in this way is to miss the larger canonical forest for the proof-texted trees—a forest defined not by spiritual stinginess and fenced pulpits, but by expansive grace and reconciled relationships. With the fullness of this Scriptural forest in view, the arguments against women in our church pulpits have always felt unconvincing; too flimsy to hold up the systems that exclude half of the covenant community from following their calls into ministry, from proclaiming the Word and holding out the Sacraments, and from exercising leadership in the Church.

And like most male Reformed Christians, I have kept this conviction largely to myself, explaining away my silence by convincing myself that there are others with more authority who should speak instead; others with more knowledge and expertise than me whose voices would be better for the cause. I’ve recently been convicted, however, that this rationalization is not unique to me. In fact, it is the story that most of us with the privilege to do so tell ourselves in order to protect ourselves; in order to keep from putting any real skin in the game.

So at the risk of losing my privilege of silence, what follows is an attempt to articulate why it is that I not only support women in our ecclesiastical offices and in our pulpits, but why I absolutely need them there.

They read and experience Scripture differently than me
One of the most beautiful things about Scripture is that it is infinitely rich and complex. People have dedicated their entire lives to it and the Church has been mining its depths for going on two millennia now, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what Scripture has to offer us. Why then, would we want to limit the number of voices at the interpretive table? Why would we want to limit the life experience, the perspectives, and the interpretive lenses that we as the church bring to bear on Scripture? Why would we want to limit the number of voices proclaiming God’s Word from our pulpits–each one shaped by unique experiences and with the power to illuminate the blind spots of others?

When we decide to refuse God’s gift of diverse exegesis and proclamation of his Word, we refuse to see the fullness of its beauty, its challenge, and its power for our lives and for the life of the world. The predictable result of limiting access to our pulpits is a limited proclamation of the gospel, riddled with blind spots and assumptions that we do not have the tools to see, much less analyze and deconstruct. When there is diversity in the pulpit, a more faithful and fully-orbed gospel is proclaimed in our churches.

It is an issue of justice
When we talk about “women in office” or the issue of whether women should be permitted to preach, it is easy to believe that it can be approached, analyzed, and debated as a purely ecclesial issue. That is to say, that it is an intra-church discussion and can be discussed as such. This position, however, betrays a misunderstanding about how the church exists in the world, and a naïveté about how power is exercised inside and outside the church. The Church, and those political animals that Aristotle called people who make up the Church, exists within a web of cultural, political, and social realities. This means that our discussions—even ones that we think are clearly “intra-church”—are indelibly shaped by the cultural and social forces of our broader world. Conversations about the role of women in preaching and in leading the church, then, cannot be separated from the deeper systemic forces of sexism and misogyny that are always already operating in our societies. No matter how hard we try, we cannot separate the fencing of the pulpit to women from the deeper cultural forces of marginalization which seek to fence women off in myriad other social and political ways as well.

I need female preachers because the alternative means that my church and I have been complicit in cultural systems of oppression and injustice. Systems that the church is called not to embrace, however unconsciously, but to expose and root out. By denying women access to the pulpit, the church is unwittingly colluding with the very forces of evil and injustice that its Savior died to undo.

My future daughters and sons need to see women in the pulpit
My wife and I don’t have kids yet, but we absolutely love them. Lord willing, we will have some in the future. When and if we do, they need to see women in the pulpit. My daughters need to see a woman living into her vocational call and leading the church of Christ. My sons need to have the cultural narrative of male supremacy and female disempowerment debunked in a variety of places, but especially in the church. If the church cannot give both my future sons and daughters the tools to question and oppose cultural systems of oppression, then it will have failed them.

I was 18 before I heard a woman preach for the first time. All I remember about the entire sermon was how I felt: utterly and completely anxious. I could assent intellectually to the proposition that a woman could, and even should, preach, but my body had never practiced it. My ears had never heard the gospel proclaimed in a register that high; my eyes had never seen a female body preach. It took years for my body to catch up with my mind and to finally be at ease receiving the proclaimed Word from a female mouth. I don’t want my children’s bodies to have to unlearn the way that mine did. My future children–daughters and sons–need female preachers in the pulpit.

When I sat down to write this, I had a moment of self-doubt. After all, I don’t consider myself a shining example of activism on the issue of women in office in general, and women in the pulpit in particular. I wholeheartedly support women in the pulpit and believe that their voices are not only welcome, but necessary, for the health and vitality of the Church. But I’ve largely kept these convictions to myself. I kept them to myself because I could. I kept them to myself because I never had the experience of someone I love questioning my call to ministry simply because of my gender. I kept them to myself because I never walked into a classroom at the seminary I attended and wondered how many of my classmates believed that I belonged there; that I could truly be their peer. I kept it to myself because, as a male in the Church, I could.

I have become convinced, however, that I can keep my silence no more. No more silence while my sisters in Christ continue to have their calls questioned and their vocations narrowed. No more colluding with systems of sexism and misogyny baptized to look like complementarianism or an honest difference of exegetical opinion. No more hiding behind my male privilege in order to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. No more missing out on the joy of partnering with my sisters in Christ in proclaiming the Word of our liberating and empowering God.

No more hiding. My skin is officially in the game. This issue is too important, the stakes are too high, and the gospel of justice and liberation demands too much to do anything else.

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap is guest posting for Kate Kooyman today. He is the National Organizer and Spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.) He’s a graduate of Calvin College (B.A. ’12) and Western Theological Seminary (M.Div. ’16). Before coming on staff at Y.E.C.A., Kyle served for four years as the Creation Care Coordinator at the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Kyle is married to Allison and resides in Ann Arbor, MI.

27 Comments

  • Monica Brands says:

    This is so excellent, Kyle. This paragraph, “All I remember about the entire sermon was how I felt: utterly and completely anxious. I could assent intellectually to the proposition that a woman could, and even should, preach, but my body had never practiced it. My ears had never heard the gospel proclaimed in a register that high; my eyes had never seen a female body preach. It took years for my body to catch up with my mind and to finally be at ease receiving the proclaimed Word from a female mouth. I don’t want my children’s bodies to have to unlearn the way that mine did.” The unlearning you’re describing of the discomfort of hearing God’s Word from a female body is one I had to do too — as a woman. The way you describe the forces of evil manipulating supposed “honest exegetical differences” rings very true to me.

  • Thank you, thank you! This is wonderful.

  • castaway5555 says:

    So well written … thank you.

    On Facebook, I’m moderator of a group called “Happy to be a Presbyterian” … and I’ve posted your article there, with some introductory comments.

    Keep up the good work …

    I’m fond of the RCA, for it was my church in childhood through college … I’m a grad of Western (’69) and ordained PCUSA, 1970 …

    There comes a time, as you say so well, when silence can no longer be defended …

  • Sarah says:

    This is delightful and so encouraging, Kyle. I’m going to print this and file it away for a rainy day, when I need to be reminded why I do what I do. Thanks for adding to the voices of welcome and encouragement for women in ministry!

  • Loved this: “If the church cannot give both my future sons and daughters the tools to question and oppose cultural systems of oppression, then it will have failed them.”

  • Jill C Fenske says:

    Dearest Kyle, by and through your words I feel both seen and heard – such occurances are still rare. You shall be called a blessing to God’s church and to all her sons and daughters !

  • Thank you, Kyle. Beautiful. And so, so true. No more silence.

  • Carol Bechtel says:

    Proud to know you, Kyle. Thanks.

  • Emily Holehan says:

    tov m’ode and toh dah, kyle.

  • Ken says:

    It is an appealing argument, but as I read this, the undertone and foundation of this article is “This is my right. I, and culture define what is best, and that then becomes truth.” There is no attempt to analyze the scripture, and submit our definitions of right and wrong to God’s Word.
    Like I said, this type of reasoning can be appealing and delightful and encouraging (and all the other words used to describe it in the comments above), but it is ultimately deadly.

    I’m not going to get into my personal beliefs here, but I do want to briefly address your three points:
    1. Keeping women out of church leadership is not shutting out women’s Biblical interpretation.
    2. It is not an issue of justice. It is an issue of God’s intended design for His church
    3. Do your children really need to see women in pulpits?

    God bless Kyle

    • Jacob says:

      Ken, I felt compelled to respond to a couple of your points…

      1. If “keeping women out of church leadership is not shutting out women’s Biblical interpretation”, as you say – when & where will their interpretive lense be given a platform? Is there a different place in the church you see for them to give their interpretation?

      2. “It is not an issue of justice. It is an issue of God’s intended design for His church” – If God’s intended design for His church is for both men and women to use the gifts He has given to further His kingdom, and women are prevented from living according to this God-given design, how is that not a justice issue?

      I would re-read Kyle’s first paragraph – this isn’t an issue of culture defining what’s best like you claim. Kyle is very clear that Scripture is what is informing his opinions. You can certainly feel free to disagree, but please don’t pull the “you’re throwing Scripture away and choosing what feels nice” argument – it is disingenuous as Christians, and I think we are better than that.

      We all need to avoid the “conplimentarians are patriarchal women haters with a misogynistic agenda” or “egalitarians are liberal with Scripture and don’t value God’s word” arguments in this conversation, as both are un-godly. Both camps have arrived at their opinions based on thorough study of God’s word, so to resort to arguments like that or undermine and cast doubt on a brother or sister’s devotion to God and Scripture is un-Christlike and frankly just immature.

      I love God and remain convinced that Scripture is clear on His intent for men and women to have partnership and exercise whatever leadership position He calls them to without restriction. I can respect someone who also deeply loves God and His word and has arrived at a different conclusion. We can dialogue how we arrived at different scriptural conclusions without accusing each other of not valuing the Bible.

      • Ken says:

        Thanks for the thoughts Jacob. In response to your points,
        1. Are you saying the only place the scripture is discussed and interpreted is in church on Sunday? Because that is the necessary conclusion from your argument.
        2. This gets into the heart of the issue, and this should be the discussion. I agree with what you said. There are also verses that are guidelines on women in church leadership Yes, there are different interpretations, and this needs to be the heart of the conversation. And again, restricting women from church leadership is not preventing them from using their gifts. Are pastors the only ones in this world who have a ministry?
        I just don’t see the analysis of scripture. His first and third points are based in human reason and feeling. The second point, starts to get into the heart of the matter, but doesn’t use or analyze scripture.
        You are accusing me of undermining Kyle and his devotion to scripture. Did I ever attack Kyle? No. Do not take my comments on his writing as statements of Kyle’s status as a Christian. I am simply stating that this is a topic that needs to be solely and carefully based in scripture.

        • I’m guessing the reason Kyle did not pursue a Scriptural/exegetical analysis here is that there have literally been hundreds of books written on this subject. It is important to consider that when adding one’s voice to a conversation what it is that you bring, and whether it is important to rehash arguments.
          Certainly Kyle could have gone to Scripture to rehash arguments. But that would have detracted from his ability to use this space and platform to elevate his reasons for why women in the pulpit are needed. If you are looking for books clearly outlining the reasoning for women in preaching ministry, I’m sure you could find several.

          • Kyle Meyaard-Schaap says:

            Ken,

            Thanks for engaging the post. And thank you Jacob and Jonathan for entering into the conversation as well. I’m grateful for each of your voices.

            To your point Ken, you are quite right that this piece is not a rigorous exploration of Scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis. As Rev. Jonathan rightly points out, that has been done many times over by theologians and biblical scholars much more knowledgeable than I. I have, of course, tried to immerse myself in this wealth of research to come to the best and most faithful conclusion about the topic as I could, and these conclusions are clearly discernible in my post. I also recognize and respect that others who are also seeking to be faithful engage this research and come to different conclusions. That’s okay.

            Rather than an exegetical or hermeneutical treatise, I intended this post to be much more of a personal offering. That is why I entitled it “Why *I* Need Women in the Pulpit.” I sought to share some of my heart and my own journey with regards to female leadership in the church, and to hopefully offer some encouragement along the way.

            For what it’s worth, I never felt attacked or belittled by your comments, Ken. I consider you a brother in Christ striving, as I am, to be as faithful to the gospel as you know how. For that, I am grateful.

  • Keith Moody says:

    Amen and amen!

  • Lorilyn Wiering says:

    Thank you, Kyle. I love your awareness and inclusion of how if felt in your body to hear a woman preach. Such an invitation, inadvertent though it may be, to pay attention to and bring a sense a curiosity to what what our bodies are communicating, facilitates the transformation our church and world needs.

  • Mark VanDyke says:

    I wonder if The Twelve would publish an article in favor\defense of the complementarian view. It is, after all, a permitted and widely accepted belief in the CRC (but not for long if this becomes a justice issue).

  • Karsten Voskuil says:

    Thanks, Kyle. This is not only an issue of justice, but also that of our wider witness to our world.

  • JohnM says:

    Thank you Kyle! I never realized how important it is for all Christians (not just the experts) to speak out against the social injustices that the church perpetuates until I was in ministry. We may have bought into the cultural lies about gender roles, but God does not discriminate in the outpouring of the gifts of his Spirit. “Your sons and daughters will prophesy … even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Prophesy away!

  • dougchu says:

    Kyle, this is stellar. Your words express so well what I have also long felt.

    I went through a similar awakening when I came to Calvin College at 17 — I grew up in a conservative Baptist church in Singapore, where women were not allowed to teach mixed groups of adults, preach, or be pastors. I also never heard a woman preach until I heard Pastor Mary preach during my freshman orientation. And then Pastor Joy Bonnema at Madison Square Church.

    These were some of the best sermons I’d ever heard. I realized that there was no difference between a man and a woman preaching.

    If we look at Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, we see his equal treatment of men and women. I know there are Scriptural arguments from certain theological contexts that state otherwise, but Christians that don’t hear preaching from their sisters… they are sorely missing out.

    • Kyle Meyaard-Schaap says:

      Doug,

      Thank you for sharing that. Joy Bonnema was the first woman I ever heard preach too, and is the person I refer to in the blog. She has blessed more people than she likely knows.

  • Lori says:

    As a female pastor, I say thank you!

  • Kathy says:

    This is very well written, Kyle. Thank you! But it is more than “well-written.” It has spirit and soul and authenticity. I cherish your love of Christian scripture and ability to hear the life-giving words.

  • Amy says:

    Yes, Tov, A resounding amen. For one called into the ministry of preaching as a woman, this is a gift. Praying that God opens the eyes of those who “text-proof” a female’s call to preach through a few select verses, (I’ve a few questions to ask Paul someday!) while limiting the scope of the “sons and daughters” prophesying, and those many marginalized throughout the Bible who shared the good news. (i.e. Samaritan woman at the well preaching to her whole town, or the hemorrhaging woman…she didn’t even want to share but Jesus wouldn’t go on until she gave her testimony to that crowd, or Mary on Easter morning.) What if we lived into the fullness that could be, by allowing all those who are called by God to bring the Word? Not everyone is called to preach, but for those who are…who are we to say no, if God by the power of the Holy Spirit, is sending out the Word through them? Thank you for using your voice for our daughters and sons, for ourselves, for the world…and above all for God’s glory…Go God…amaze us again…

  • Amy Schenkel says:

    Thank you, Kyle. Your words have blessed me…and encouraged me to keep on persevering in obedience to God’s call.

  • Peter Boeve says:

    How come so little reflection about Jesus …and women? He, and the Gospel writers, and Paul basically affirmed man and female equal.

  • Leanne says:

    This reasoning seems eerily familiar to the current cultural case for accepting homosexuality. No biblical basis, only feelings led by common sense, courtesy, and conviction; these will never be adequate lines to reason against God’s Word. Our reasoning must be based on Scripture, even when our feelings draw us another direction.

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