By Cierra Duncan
There is perhaps no issue more hotly debated in the history of the church than that of women serving as leaders and pastors.
The Ensemble Theatre tackles the debate in its 2014-2015 season opener, Women in the Pit, by Joyce Sylvester and Directed by Eileen J. Morris. At Mount Zion Baptist Church two deacons and two elders are told to find a new pastor and quickly become at odds with one another when it’s clear the most qualified candidate is a woman.
Many opponents of female clergy and as church leaders cite I Timothy 2:12 as their biblical reference. The scripture says “and I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (NKJV)”
Ministers have long taught that scriptures should be studied in context with the time period they were written. Societal norms at the time, such as women not receiving the same education as men, being silent in church and covering their heads, should be taken into consideration.
“I think all of those things have merit and that all things in the scripture are for our benefit,” said Rev. Jan Courtney Stephens, associate pastor of Christian Education at New Faith Church.
“However, I think we need to understand that some things should be assessed in context and ask ‘what was God saying at that time.”
Stephens theorizes that when the Apostle Paul wrote I Timothy, a letter to the pastor at the church in Ephesus, he may have noticed the Greek women were being loud, interruptive and even ostentatious while in worship services.
“I think much of that is just being taken literally opposed to in the context of what was happening in the culture,” she said. “Women really could be stoned for not obeying their husbands.”
“A person’s cultural experience informs them tremendously,” said Rev. Lekesha Barnett, minister of young adults and singles at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. “My interpretation, based on what I believe to be true to the context and the cultural experience, is that women did not have the same benefit of education as men so they were less equipped to be teachers. You would not want someone who is not informed to teach.”
Barnett also noted I Corinthians where the Apostle Paul writes “let your women keep silent” but in the same letter he also writes “if she prophecies let her prophecy with her head covered.”
“When we get through all the layers of how one can understand those texts it’s still going to come down to the fact that there are still people who are going to believe what they are going to believe and stand where they stand because of their own biases, faith perspectives, traditions and comfort,” she continued.
Church leadership titles are not gender specific, according to Barnett and Stephens. Therefore, they cannot be solely designated to men.
“The word ‘pastor’ means to shepherd, to guide, to nurture,” Barnett said. “To pastor means you’re feeding, teaching, leading and guiding people. All of those things are something a woman can do.”
“Bishop means to oversee, as one who takes charge,” Stephens said. “If I am able to take that just by itself and go back to the way God used Deborah (a prophetess and judge) and Huldah (a temple prophet), I say it can be very possible.”
When reading the Bible in totality, it is evident that God has used some out of the ordinary people and those deemed of lesser significance to accomplish His will. And although there are those who do not agree with women in church leadership, it should be evident to every Bible believer that women have played an active role in doing God’s work.
“When you bring all scripture together it is clear that God will use whom he chooses and there is evidence of that in the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Stephens said. “It is evident that God has used women, not only to teach women but to judge and administrate even in the affairs of men.”
Barnett echoed Stephen’s sentiments.
“Where God calls and equips, He will sustain and provide the space and the opportunity for that which He has placed in a person to do and to benefit the Body of Christ,” she said.