Sexism in Religion?
What could possibly be wrong with women serving as leaders in local churches? Can’t women serve as presbyters as capably as men can? American society increasingly favors the view that women should be able to perform any role or hold any position that a man can. Why not extend this thinking to religion also?
Many already have and their conclusion is that any church that denies women the opportunity to serve as a preacher or in authoritarian roles practices sexism. I recently heard a woman make this charge and so, as a member of such a church, I consulted a dictionary to check the definition of "sexism" and see if we are indeed guilty.
My dictionary offers two definitions of sexism. The first is that sexism is "prejudice or discrimination based on sex." Sexism is also defined as "behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex" (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Ed.).
It certainly sounds as though any church that refuses to accept a person as a preacher or bishop based on sex is guilty of sexism. Why would any group, in our present social environment, commit such a terrible social error? Could it be that such groups find solace in traditional and outdated social roles and refuse to change?
Or could it be that they are trying to respect the teaching of the apostle Paul? He wrote to Timothy, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11-12; see also 1 Corinthians 11:3).
Did Paul "discriminate" (make a distinction) between men and women when it came to holding positions of authority "over a man"? He certainly did and there is nothing in the context of 1 Timothy 2 that indicates he intended his instructions only for his generation or culture. In fact, he supported his teaching by referring to Adam and Eve, noting the order of creation and the fact that Eve was deceived by the serpent.
Identifying the apostle Paul as a sexist doesn’t bother some folks; they had already arrived at that conclusion! Throw Moses into that basket of bulrushes also. He wrote about the submission of the wife to the husband (Genesis 2:16). Feminists want to erase any distinction ("discrimination") between men and women. Jesus noted that God created two sexes, "male and female" (Matthew 19:4), rather than one sex. He perpetuated the early sexism of the Bible (in the opinion of some) by choosing only men to be apostles.
Fear not. There are individuals who are currently working to produce a translation of the Bible that is free from sexism. Surely God will not care if we "adjust" His word to fit our preferences or reflect social change (see Revelation 22:18-19 for the divine answer)? I can hardly wait for this new translation of the qualification of presbyters in 1 Timothy 3:2 – "husband of one wife"!