We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).
Why would a woman espouse an ideology that consigns her to a less-than status? Howell and Duncan surveyed 72 women to explore the rationale behind women’s beliefs in the subordination of women to the authority of men.
Embracing a fully egalitarian perspective was a long twelve-year process. When all was said and done, there was one final hurdle to overcome. By the time I began pastoring in 2008, I already understood that God gifted both women and men with “speech” gifts such as prophecy. I also believed women were allowed to teach and preach, even with men present.
Join me, for a moment, in a thought experiment: does it seem to you that women are equally, or nearly equally, represented in the ministries of your church? Think especially about activities with high visibility, such as preaching, reading, serving communion, leading worship, teaching Sunday school classes, and participating on boards or leadership teams.
In studying the Old Testament, we uncover the unmistakable narratives of women who took leadership and teaching roles among God’s people. Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah stand out as impressive examples of these OT women leaders. Similarly in the earliest days of the Christian church, women were teaching and proclaiming Christian doctrine to men. Anna, Priscilla, and Mary were listed as outstanding among the apostles (Junia). Women even prophesied before the congregation of God’s people (the daughters of Phillip).
This article originated as a paper that I presented at the Pacific Coast Region/Society of Biblical Literature meeting, New Testament Epistles and Apocalypse Section, at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, in March 2002. I wish to focus here on the distinctive theology of Hebrews and how it relates to gender equality.