Jesus and a Woman’s “Place”

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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Jesus and Woman's Place

When I read the Gospels I can’t help but notice a significant disconnect between the life of Jesus and widespread Church practice today:

Jesus told a woman to spread the Good News of His resurrection, but we won’t let a woman preach that good news from the pulpit.

Jesus engaged in cross-gender discipleship, but we teach that this is somehow dangerous or overly tempting.

Jesus depended on the financial provision of women for the welfare of his ministry, but we learn that men are to be the sole providers in Christian communities.

Jesus used female examples in his teaching and spoke about women in his stories, but we hear that Christianity is supposed to have a “masculine feel”.

A young woman carried the body and blood of Jesus within her for 9 months, but we won’t let a woman serve communion.

Jesus denied that there was any hierarchy in His Kingdom, but we teach that there is a hierarchy between men and women and that women are to unilaterally submit to men.

I know that Paul wrote some things that have caused us to be overly concerned with a woman’s place, but if we are teaching and learning things that are inconsistent with the way Jesus lived His life, perhaps we have gotten it wrong.

I mean, if Jesus asked a woman to preach the Good News of His resurrection today would we listen, or would we condemn them both?

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Image Credit: “Women in the Church” by David Hayward. Used with permission.

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82 Comments

  • “A young woman carried the body and blood of Jesus within her for 9 months, but we won’t let a woman serve communion.” Wow! This is so profound. Reading this after going to church where the fathers baptize their children but never the moms.

  • This is my first post to The Junia Project. I am very excited to find this blog. There seem to be so few egalitarian blogs where ALL Christians are welcome. Not just women, but men also.
    Reading some of the responses made me really think how sad a lot of churches are. Sad that we, as women, are still having to fight for an equal position. A position that is rightfully ours, as given to us by The One and Only God who has the authority to give it, and did so from the beginning.
    I was raised United Methodist. And yes, the Methodist is probably one of the most forward -thinking denominations there are – BUT – they still have a long way to go. Yes, women serve communion, but when it is done in my local church – all the servers are women. When they ‘let’ women be ushers on a given Sunday – then all the ushers are women. That in itself is discrimination. It’s like saying ‘opps, we better let the women have a turn’. When my church had a marriage enrichment class I asked the pastor which position he was this class going to taught from – the egalitarian or complimentary. Sadly, he replied that it would be a ‘hybrid’. Seriously???? So even the most seemingly liberal and egalitarian denominations – really aren’t.
    We must stay alert and learn to ask the right questions. We must call in to question anything that even appears to look like hierarchy or discrimination. We must step forward and speak Christ’s words boldly and without fear.
    And I have learned to refute that lame ‘women are not have authority over a man’ excuse. It is correct that women should not have authority OVER a man, but they should have authority WITH a man, equal to man, and not LESS than a man. And man should not have authority OVER a woman either. But WITH a woman, equal to a woman and not LESS than a woman. I don’t understand why some men, like John Piper, are so afraid of women. Do they really believe that sharing gifts and leadership would make them LESS. It’s the NOT sharing that makes them less.

    • Not authority “over” but authority “with” – love that! Thanks so much for commenting Deborah!

  • To the editor, sorry for posting again, but safety first!
    Yes, we are free to do so much! We can even be safe in discipling men. Does it have any caution? This is an important job for everyone’s success!

    • Sorry, I did not know how this worked and thought all the other comments were rejected (a last fledgling attempt to help). Thanks for your concern for safety, too!

  • This helped me! Thanks! Sorry, I disagree on one point, but will not mention it. Thanks for being positive all of you- not even angry. That’s true womanhood!
    All should study carefully, and can agree (in time) that women can use all the gifts (but some disagree with where for the preacher/teacher). That would be so wonderful for everyone. Prayer can change things!
    I Corinthians was written to bring unity to a splintered church. The women were just given freedom (could attend church) and had tons of questions. They needed to limit…. like other gifts there’s not enough time for everyone to speak. Order is needed (why bulletins in many churches, planned out).
    The women were not targeted (as we can think, when reading it) but given loving advice to help them and others. They are not in trouble… Asking questions is good.. given a solution to help everyone. But there is a command, what is it (disagreements here)..we are willing to do anything/give anything for Jesus..His commands are not grievous. Does he know us, know men (gets after them a lot) but few times to women. We should feel honored/ included! (Feel free and loved.)
    Thanks for helping us realize our freedom and getting us more busy! Southern Baptists have women’s missionary groups (women teach, no men usually), visit, adults go to rescue missions, etc. The White fields are outside the church doors, not inside, too where all can use their gifts. Women are deaconesses, even if not given that title, they help the needy (like the deacons delivered food to the needy). Who cooks the food (fewer men chefs)? Many even deliver it. Anyone might see and need and let others know (part of the service job). God will reward every deed for Him. Cheer up! Sorry for those who cannot serve. In choir, your words are teaching (most have women). Sing a solo, duet, etc. you are serving! Do you write music for Jesus (might be teaching in multiple churches simultaneously). Rejoice and congratulate yourself (in a godly way)!
    Some are called, and many women have total freedom on the field, as there are no men who’ve been taught and no man to teach them. It’s exciting, encourage people to go, see God do more miracles!

    • Thanks so much for reading Ruth! You bring up many great points. I would love to hear which part you disagree with. I love constructive criticism 🙂
      Blessings to you!

  • Women Teach safety… some go with love and freedom, so excited they are unsafe (but are smart)…true stories could be told! Most Churches go to Rescue missions, etc!!! Learn from the opposite sex (men too). Women must be the teacher here! (Men leaders could be ignored or blamed as prejudiced.) Guard your heart, also be watchful/available if physical danger (any kind). Know the area, if witnessing (dangerous, then be more careful). Women/girls help the guys be safe from ‘strange’ girls, too.

  • Jesus and Paul. Let’s recall Gen. 1-3. Remember also God’s character, not sinful like us. God is the Creator of all, so loving to give all kinds of pets, flowers/plants, food, colors… and eyes to see color, etc. He is the perfect Head, and Jesus the perfect God-man. We must throw away all bad experiences, hurts and bad examples completely. The trinity acts in perfect unity, love and harmony.
    We are to be like it (family, Church, etc.) Jesus obeys the Father without a fight. The Holy Spirit is unrecognized, unseen, mostly felt, but those under the Father (had the plan for salvation God so loved..) are in position under (like vice-president, etc.) for a bigger plan.
    Adam and Eve are equal. If God gives one restriction, we’re like Adam and Eve. Adam is picked on the most and first. That is loving to the woman, freer as now second in position. Why? We made our choice in Adam, women in Eve too? Women are made so they can be mothers, loving, etc. (picture a mother with baby). Could this make her more susceptible to believing a lie (most in prison claim they are innocent. It can be easy to believe their story, without any other facts, and if loving may be inclined to want to defend them.) Firmness and love are needed. Is either wrong (firmness keeps a criminal from being free to kill, steal, etc., keeping other safe, too)? Should the one who believes all things (loving, but I Cor. love believes the truth) be the first responder in court, or more needed after repentance is gained. Can love poured out over sin, cause them to repeat the sin (love interrupting the good done by discipline)? Isn’t God wise? Does God know and have the right to say…what a man and woman should do? Is He loving, basing it on fact/us. (He made us,knows our thoughts.) Will we let God decide what to tell us, or do we know better/need to edit? (He has the right.) Can I see the Scripture from both perspectives, to help me love my brother? Great!
    Thanks for pointing out all the services allowed by Scripture! (According to it, there’s only one possible denial, and for a bigger purpose…We all agree that Jesus is worth it.)
    Maybe some are like me (new to this). Do we go with a whip or like a lamb to defend the Scripture in Church? My Dad was denied interim pastor and it was super, super hard (treated meanly, rejected by a few) to stay in that church to serve, but he did it, humbly, even preaching some (asked). God and others finally gave him the green light.
    We need to examine the Where, etc. (for the whip or like a lamb) Is it about commerce, loudness, etc. or a house of prayer (worshipping, praying, studying Scripture)?
    Women are given almost total freedom on the mission field- if no Christians or men missionaries, she must do it all! Where are the women teachers? Go… all as you are going make disciples…we all have tongues (not taken away from us). Disappointed: Women need to teach safety in discipling men (Much is safe at church already, if there are multiple staff!), so there’s no occasion to blame/dislike the fatherly (limiting my freedom). (It’s not getting safer and better, unless there’s a revival. Men know men and can give fatherly advice…to not ask/ignore can lead to harm, has). Mixed groups will go to Missions, etc. (from most churches)!!

  • I don’t know where you have got your teaching from.

    i) thousands of women now preach from the pulpit

    ii) well of course cross-gender discipleship carries threats – how does this affect women in church except through trying to protect them, and men, appropriately?

    iii) millions of Christian women work and share provision for the family

    iv) “masculine feel” – either you have been taught incorrectly or you have learned incorrectly through the feminist lens

    v) in my Anglican church women serve communion as in countless other churches.

    vi) yes, there is mutual hierarchy between men and women, to be conducted via the love of God.

    What do you mean by the remark “IF Jesus asked a woman to preach the Good News of His resurrection today would we listen?”? Are you saying Jesus doesn’t do that?

    • Hi, Nick. I’m not Kate, but this teaching is from the many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist denominations that believe in male-only leadership in the church, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention. Prominent leaders in that movement like John Piper, Tim Keller, and Mark Driscoll teach these beliefs.

      Yes, thankfully mainline denominations and many Wesleyan and Holiness groups as well as some Baptists (American Baptist, Cooperative Baptists, I believe) are much more inclusive of women in leadership, thankfully!

      Gordon-Conwell Seminary provides a pdf of the varying positions of denominations. Here is a link in case anyone is interested. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/mentored-ministry/documents/DENOMINATIONALCHART2011-2012.pdf

      • Gail, did you mean to say that Piper, Keller, and Driscoll are Southern Baptists? I do not think any of them are or ever were. Thank you for the G-C document link.

        • Oh no! Sorry for the confusion – I meant that they are prominent in the evangelical movement. Thanks for clearing that up!

      • Hi Gail and thank you for your reply.

        This blog has an international audience but as you suggest appears to be pitched locally. I, for example, am from England and recognise Kate’s view as being at least 20 years out of date (right-wing male-oriented churches notwithstanding).

        At several points Kate’s article says “we teach” (as though speaking for a church that has lost its way) and it is increasingly not the case as other correspondents have noted.

        I think Kate is well-positioned to undertake wonderful work, and I hope that she will stay ahead of the game – not behind it.

        Every blessing

        Nick

        • Hi Nick,
          Thank you so much for your comment. I am very encouraged by your view of the Church! I love hearing that women have a prominent place in many Christian circles. Yes, I am well aware that many parts of the Church teach mutuality and I am very thankful for that! I chose to say “we” and “us” and “the Church” mostly from a writer’s perspective to point out that, as a whole, the Church doesn’t quite agree on this yet, and we don’t have a united front for the equality between men and women. Especially here in the US, this idea of complementarianism is quite prominent in popular Church teaching. That is more what I was referring to, although I have come across similar ideas in other parts of the world (including South Africa, Uganda, and Korea).

          I apologize for portraying the idea that no one in the Church supports women. I appreciate you pointing that out to me. That was not my intention at all. Your feedback is much appreciated!

  • I am from Russia. Interesting to know the truth about Paul’s words about women. Paul could not contradict Christ, because Paul had a personal revelation from Christ. Thank you

  • As a woman pastor who first felt called into the ministry in high school but faced a lot of painful pushback from many friends and fellow campus ministry folks in and after college, I really really appreciate this. Continue to speak out boldly for all the women and girls who are told they are inferior and unworthy… Continue to shout out boldly – as Jesus did – that Jesus calls us, too! Thank you!

    • Thank you Rev. Emily! I am so encouraged by your story. Let’s walk forward boldly together!

  • You are no doubt speaking in general terms, but I have a daughter who is a United Methodist pastor. She is currently on a family leave, but her previous appointment had a membership of almost 1000. I’d say the church was giving her great responsibility. She recently preached in a Baptist church, something you would not have heard of a few years ago. I think that when you look at the current landscape you must say things are actually a little different then you have painted.

    • Well, you would have to be a female pastor to know that things are not different. Good news for your daughter but it just ain’t so for most, unfortunately.

    • Thank you for the encouraging story about your daughter Mary Beth! I love that! Yes, I was speaking mostly in general terms. I also know, as Shannon has pointed out above, that many female pastors still face much discrimination. I am thankful that your daughter doesn’t face that. It is encouraging for sure!

  • Excellent points! We, the Church, have wandered far afield from the walking, talking, loving example of Jesus. I shudder when I hear a lot of the hateful things said by anti-christians representing The Lord to the world. We need constant reminders (like this post) that the only ones Jesus tore down were the pious, holier-than-thou, church leaders. Be careful, Church, lest you (we) fall into that damned category!

    • Great point Bob! Thanks for reading!

  • I appreciate your message, however, most Protestant churches not only have female ministers but also bishops and other leaders. When you lump together faith group’s as the big C church, you also add those faith groups that are exclusive in ministry. It is very confusing to, and leaves a bad message to those who read your article who are unchurched. People of faith, and the unchurched need to know that theology and issues of inclusiveness differ from denomination to denomination. If you are from a denomination that does not practice inclusiveness and that is your experience, it would be best if you noted it. Again, coming from a church that is continually searching for ways to become more inclusive of all of God’s children, I totally support your message.

    • Sorry in line three, I meant “inclusive in ministry”

    • Good critique Rev. Greg! It was more of a literary choice of words than anything else 🙂

  • So should we listen to Paul, or should we listen and do what Jesus did?

    • I think we should re-examine our interpretation of Paul when it contradicts the rest of scripture. It probably means we got it wrong the first time.

      • Exactly, Kate. Thank you for this excellent article. Despite our human desire for “black and white” answers, the fact is the Bible has many examples of conflicting information — even the very beginning accounts of Creation in Genesis have points that can’t be easily reconciled!

        In the case of Paul, and his teachings, context is everything. It was a teaching for those people, at that time. What were the reasons the women were told by Paul not to preach? Was it because they were denied the opportunity to study and learn as males were? Was it because society as a whole disregarded the “testimony” of women?

        We DO know that Jesus called, empowered, and sent women to spread the gospel, to lead the church. And the short answer to whether we should listen to Paul, or listen to and do what Jesus did if in fact there is a conflict between the two, should be obvious.

        There are almost NO churches that require women to cover their head these days, a requirement of Paul, again born out of context.

        • Few errors there Alan. I think you will find that Paul, when clearly speaking the word of God used the term “The command of the Lord”. When he was speaking from his own opinion or to a specific situation he wouldn’t use this. Jesus absolutely used and empowered Women in meany ways and if he had wanted them to be Ministers he certainly would have made them Disciples, but he didn’t. The answer to this being for cultural reasons is not valid, because Jesus so often went against the current culture. My belief is that he had more important work for Women.

  • Well stated. The problem of women being placed as “less than” is a problem of the Fall. Let’s continue to fight the Fall. Thank you for this piece.

    • Thanks for reading Perry!

  • And, why do we bother with teaching women to read? They might read the Bible and “teach” it to men…!

  • This is just wonderful, Kate. Each point is powerful and spot on. And completely biblical.

    One day we won’t need to keep pressing on this issue . . . one day . . .

    • What a glorious day that will be Marg! Thanks 🙂

  • “A young woman carried the body and blood of Jesus within her for 9 months, but we won’t let a woman serve communion.”

    A woman served me communion last Sunday at my church, Our Lady of Mercy, Aurora, IL.

    • That’s encouraging Rob!

  • Kate, you hit the nail on the head again! What a powerful post, written so succinctly. Thanks again.

  • Which church are you referring to? Even the Catholic Church in NZ has women read the scriptures and help with communion. All churches I have attended in NZ have women who preach and most have women in leadership. Perhaps you are being church/culture-specific. I do think the Church at large should look more closely at what Jesus said rather than what church tradition dictates, though…

    • Hi Julie,
      That is very encouraging to hear! I was simply using the Church (big C) to refer to the global Church. I know that not all churches teach this, but we do not unanimously teach the equality of women and men either. That’s all I was getting at here. Good clarification.

      • Southern Baptists churches in the bible belt region of the US to this day do not allow women as leaders in the churches. They are not allowed to preach or be deacons. Unfortunately, the men to women ratio in all the congregations I attended as a child were roughly women 80% and men 20%. The only thing women could do was clean the church, tend to babies, and give $ to the church.

  • My pastor is a woman, she has led me to a deeper relationship w/ Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit is moving! As Jesus once said, “the spirit blows where it blows, you hear it, but you don’t know from where it comes or where it goes. That’s the way it is with people who are born again” I think too many people, men mostly, are “hard of heart” these days!

    • Thanks for reading David!

  • Who is “we”? My church values the role of women in ministry.

    • THE Church is a much larger entity than A church. While there are pockets of groups that value women and men as equals in ministry, the larger portion is struggling with this issue.

  • I really found the book “What Paul Really Said About Women” to be very educational.

    • Thanks for the recommendation Ann!

  • In the 70’s my husband and I belonged to a small group which called itself SSJA–the Society of St Junia the Apostle–it’s good to see the spirit of Junia lives!

  • This is a great observation.

    I would, however, like to hear more about bringing Jesus and Paul together. If both the writings about Jesus and the writings of Paul are equally inspired, they are not in conflict.

    I’m working on this formulation myself.

    • Hi Stephen,
      I completely agree that Jesus and Paul are not in conflict. I do think some interpretations of Paul lead to conflict with Jesus’ life and teaching. I’d love to hear what you learn as you continue to look into it!

    • Laurie, if you click on the text that is in blue it will take you right to the scripture references. Hope that helps!

  • As someone in the Anglican Church, where we’ve just celebrated 20 years of women in the ordained priesthood, I struggle to understand the mentality of those who continue to deny women’s ministry and place in the Church. I know even the CofE isn’t perfect and many of these women priests still experience difficulties, but it is getting better.

    This Sunday, my 16 year old daughter became the youngest ever administrant of Communion in my church. She is now licensed to assist at services. It was a humbling experience to be served the wine by her…

    • That is so amazing Graham! Thanks for sharing!

  • Totally agree with Denise’s comment. Denying women serving communion is so ridiculous.

    • Thanks for being such a wonderful advocate David! I love your stuff!

    • Thanks for reading Brian!

  • Great post! I really liked the part about Mary carrying the body and blood within her. I struggled against silly unwritten rules about women serving communion for years in my previous church. What nonsense.

    • Thanks Denise! That “rule” is just too much for me – I can’t take the illogical nature of it!

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