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Church History

Today, advocates and activists from around the US will gather at the For Such A Time As This Rally in Dallas, Texas. The rally—led by abuse advocates and faith leaders such as Ashley Easter, Gricel Medina, and Mary DeMuth—will lament and challenge the Southern Baptist Convention’s inadequate response to sexual abuse and poor treatment of women. Leaders are urging SBC leadership to: Honor and respect women in the church. Create an SBC clergy sex offender database. Train all pastors and seminaries on abuse and sexual assault. The gathering was certainly spurred by recent events surrounding SBC giant Paige Patterson. But for many Christian women and especially Southern Baptist women, it’s so much bigger than that. It’s a biblical response t... Read more
If I asked you to imagine the Middle Ages, what would come to mind? Most of us think of the Middle Ages as a time of ignorance and violence—the dark middle period between the glories of Rome and the light of the Renaissance. And like every historical era, the Middle Ages has its share of dark moments. But many remarkable people, including remarkable and influential women, lived during this period. There were some spaces in the medieval Western church where women were free to write theology and have spiritual influence. Women were barred from the priesthood and the great universities that produced scholastic theology. But many women became well-known, admired, and influential in monastic life and through mystic theology. For women’s history month, here are six medieval women... Read more
Recently on Arise, Jeff Miller wrote about the long history of women in the church, dispelling the idea that egalitarians are merely adopting current cultural ideas about women. He rightfully points out that women have served and led in the church for centuries. As a corollary to this, we should also acknowledge that patriarchy and the oppression of women have also played large roles in both culture and the church for centuries. In fact, far from being countercultural, many complementarian claims about men and women are echoed outside the church. Today, I’m looking in particular at the claim that women are biologically disposed towards emotion and relationships and thus not as well suited for fields based in logic (like science and technology) or for leadership positions. We can fi... Read more
History is, quite obviously, a story. And like any story, it at times prioritizes the experiences of certain characters over others. If we try to do too much with one story, we obstruct our own efforts. Thus, good historians are wise and fair synthesizers of data, but they accept that no one story can include everyone and everything.  And yet, some stories are more than just garden-variety incomplete. From a distance, broken things can appear whole. To the untrained eye, a sloppily-patched quilt might appear cohesive; a cracked window, smooth; and a rigged game, fair. But the quilt's pattern is disrupted, faithlessly altered. The fractured glass is no longer capable of withstanding a storm. And the outcome of the game has already been decided.  Similarly, history is comprom... Read more
In recent years, we American evangelicals have struggled more than ever to manage our “image.” In 2016 alone, significant numbers of abused women and children have exposed one prominent evangelical leader after another. These evangelical leaders have betrayed the trust of thousands who invested in their theology and leadership, leaving a trail of victims in their wake.[1] And instead of denouncing this abuse and giving victims a voice, evangelicals have consistently allowed perpetrators to resume their positions of prominence as speakers and leaders on evangelical platforms. Religious patriarchy has fueled the devaluation, marginalization, and abuse of girls and women globally.[2] For too long, we evangelical Christians have colluded with the powerful and failed to challenge... Read more
She didn’t mean to be a feminist. She probably had no idea she was one. She was just focused on Jesus Christ. But in following Jesus, she defied society’s expectations for women and secured an important place in history. Vibia Perpetua was a young woman in the North African city of Carthage. Around 203 AD, a government crackdown on Christianity put the (around) twenty-one year-old Perpetua, a new mother, and four other new believers in prison. Like thousands of Christians in the Roman Empire, Perpetua and her companions were given the choice to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods or die. All five, along with their mentor who later joined them, chose to give up the temporary for the eternal. Unlike most others though, Perpetua left behind a firsthand account of her time in... Read more
Today, virtually all evangelicals including complementarians believe that the Bible in no way approves of or endorses slavery. It is an evil and Christians should oppose slavery. They find it hard to believe that, for eighteen centuries, Christians accepted slavery like they did other cultural realities. In fact, most Christians find it unfathomable that the best theologians in America in the nineteenth century argued that God instituted slavery and approved of it. Indeed, no complementarian today is willing to admit that, with Bible in hand, leading evangelical and Reformed theologians argued that slavery was instituted by God and approved by him. If they did, they might have to re-examine their argument that God has permanently subordinated women to men. Neither the editors, John P... Read more
Complementarians are absolutely convinced that what they teach on the man-woman relationship is what the Bible teaches. To reject their teaching is to reject the Bible, and because the Bible is literally God's words, to reject that teaching is to disobey God himself. After giving a lecture outlining CBE's position, one Sydney theologian told me publicly, "You reject what Scripture plainly teaches. Those who disobey God go to hell." When faced with such weighty opposition, it is helpful to note that we find exactly the same dogmatic, vehement opinion voiced by the best of Reformed theologians in support of slavery in the 19th century and Apartheid in the 20th century. They too appealed to the Bible with enormous confidence, claiming that it unambiguously supported slave... Read more
Women participated significantly in the modern mission movement, serving as leaders in what was perhaps the greatest missionary impulse the world has ever known. Phoebe Palmer Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) was called the “Mother of the Holiness Movement.” She was one of the most prominent women in the Methodist tradition in the 19th century. She was also a sought-after speaker during the revival meetings that swept the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Europe. Palmer began her ministry in her home, hosting the original meetings for the promotion of holiness with her husband. Palmer viewed her home meetings as representative of Pentecost and therefore a model of heaven. These small inter-denominational meetings served as a prototype for worldwide holiness revivals. Palmer... Read more
“Then let us [women] have our liberty again, And challenge to yourselves [men] no sovereignty. You came not in the world without our pain, Make that a bar against your cruelty; Your fault being greater, why should you disdain Our being your equals, free from tyranny?”[1] The poet Aemilia Lanyer (sometimes spelled Emilia Lanier) wrote the lines above in 1611 in her book of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews). Much of the poetry in her volume recounts the passion of Christ, but Lanyer includes about a hundred lines of verse in defense of Eve. In this section, “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” Lanyer argues that women are not more to blame than men for the fall, and that in fact, Adam might have been more at fault tha... Read more