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.