Where does the belief that women must be subordinate to men come from? My distinct impression is that tradition is by far the primary reason for this belief. People use bible to support it, but they are using it to support their pre-existing belief. They are not going to the bible unbiased and coming away with this belief after careful study. One woman interviewed readily admitted that her primary reason for not thinking women should hold leadership positions was “I’ve been conditioned to think this way.” (Kathy MacKintosh, p. 88) Another commenter shared “how deeply ingrained gender inequality really is in churches. And how most women just think ‘that’s how it is supposed to be’ because it’s all they’ve been taught.” (p. 92) Another women said “I trusted that my church’s restrictions on women along with all their policies were based on clear teachings in the Bible. I assumed that churches which had women leaders must be ignoring what the Bible said because I hadn’t been exposed to their reasoning” (Helen Mildenhall, p. 144).
Of course just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right. But the belief persists in part because “in general, moderately conservative evangelical women aren’t thinking much about this.” (Jim Henderson, p. 90). I believe this is for a couple of reasons. First of all, as mentioned, when you’ve grown up in this context, it seems normal. Second, one gets the impression that a majority of women aren’t interested in senior leadership positions, though this may be in part because they don’t think about it being a possibility due to few or none being there presently. In other words, many women seem content with their place in church. However, just because most women seem content does not mean that it’s biblical and godly to keep all women out of leadership.
Ironically, a woman wanting to lead is likely to experience as much or more resistance from other women as from men. “It was women who spoke out most loudly and passionately against [having women as elders]” one commenter stated (p. 91). Leigh Gray shares that “while tall men instill confidence, tall women intimidate! A man can be confident and get away with it, but other women can’t handle a confident woman” (p. 43). Put in other terms, it’s possible many women prefer to follow the leading of a man rather than another woman. (I don’t know for sure about this, so I’m interested in hearing what you think.)
Besides this, women feel that men are more likely to attend and be involved in church if men are leading. Though as Henderson points out, “churches are led by men and yet women make up the majority of virtually every church in America” (p. 81). Also interesting is the fact that the only church which David Murrow (whose goal is for churches to be “man friendly”) has highlighted so far is lead by a female pastor (though he does believe that churches led by women statistically have a greater gender imbalance).
I am participating in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog hosted by Rachel Held Evans.