Moving Beyond The Biblical Debate

8 comments Written on November 4th, 2014     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
IMG_0041Jo Ann Deasy is a Covenant pastor who has served in a variety of ministerial roles including Youth Intern, Minister of Christian Education, Dean of Students, and Solo Pastor.  She is currently serving as Director, Institutional Initiatives and Student Research at the Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh.


How do I begin to write this blog post?  I’m afraid that after the first few words you’ll stop reading, deem me a heretic, assume that I am just not biblically literate enough.  But here goes…  I don’t feel the need to prove that women can be pastors to anyone who asks.  I probably could prove biblically that I believe women can be pastors, but it would take some work.  To be honest, my head isn’t filled with those few passages that appear to deny women the right to preach and bear rule in the church.  I know roughly where they are.  I know their content.  I know the basic arguments located in each of them.  But I am not an expert on those passages.  I can’t quote all the latest scholarship.  I don’t spend hours studying them.  I don’t have debates and positions memorized and ready to whip out on a moments notice to any stranger or student who challenges my role.  To be honest, I just don’t have time for it.  There are so many other things to think about, to argue about, to be concerned about.

Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t care what the Bible says.  I care deeply about the scripture.  It is the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.  It is the authority that guides my life and my work.  I wouldn’t be a woman pastor if I didn’t feel it was biblical.  I struggled for many years with my call to ministry.  I came to faith in a fairly conservative church and went to a seminary that was deeply divided over the issue.  I spent the early years of my faith in communities that endlessly debated the role of women in the family, in society, in the church.  I spent my early years being presented with amazingly brilliant biblical scholars proving points that were in exact opposition to one another, not just about women, but about a myriad of topics.  How could I, as a relatively new Christian, ever hope to prove my own position when those I respected could not agree on anything?

But that was not my only reason for stepping out of the biblical debate.  Two more reasons emerged over my years in ministry.  First, I came to understand that often it didn’t matter.  I could prove my point.  Make a solid case for women pastors.  And it wouldn’t make any difference.  If someone was firm in their position, my arguments were not going to change their mind.  More importantly my arguments were not going to change their position.  We evangelicals often think that if we just prove things to people, make them believe the right things, then the right actions will follow.  But I found that was rarely the case.  People were often more convinced about women clergy by seeing effective women pastors than by biblical arguments.  And even when someone changed their view of women clergy on the basis of a scriptural argument, they often still remained quite entrenched in a patriarchal worldview that did not allow for the full flourishing of women.

And that leads me to my final reason for stepping out of the biblical debate about women clergy.  In order for women clergy to flourish in ministry, we need to talk about so much more than whether or not it is biblically possible.  We need to talk about issues of leadership and shared authority, about the abuse and sexualization of women, about the stained glass ceiling, about how our masculine images of God shape the self-images and projected images of women.  There is so much more to talk about and yet we never seem to get to it.  We have spent close to 40 years in our denomination debating women in ministry.  Could we just get passed it?  I am not even suggesting we all need to agree on the same position, though that would be nice.  But seriously, could we just deepen the discussion a little bit?  Would we all admit that there is so much more to consider if we ever want to fully live into the position of our denomination, a position that fully advocates for women in all roles of leadership in the church?

And so, I’ve made it my mission to focus on all that other stuff.  The history of women clergy, sociological studies of congregations, women’s developmental theory, leadership theory, what it means for women to be created in the image of God.  I am grateful for those men and women who have spent their lives studying the scriptures around the issue of women clergy.  I just am not one of them.

For those women who are reading this post, if you are seeking biblical proof, I hope you’ll head to the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality website and all the resources present there.  But I would ask you to consider why you are looking for such proof.  You don’t need to become a biblical scholar to become a woman pastor…  at least not any more so than a male pastor.  And you don’t need to learn the biblical arguments for women in ministry to make your case to anyone else.  Go to passages on women in ministry not to prepare for battle, but to listen to God.

You do not need to carry this debate alone.  This is a matter for the church, for denominations, for biblical scholars.  They have done the work.  They can carry the battle.  You simply must live into the call that God has placed on your life.


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8 comments “Moving Beyond The Biblical Debate”

Jo Ann, Thank you for your post. I’ve been in the same place in recent years regarding the “debate.” I realized that it was so easy to get stuck feeling like I always had to be ready to justify my call to ministry with perfectly-ordered, exegetical arguments that closed every rhetorical gap. I could make a fine case if I had a few days to freshen up with some really large reference books from the library, but I’m not called to be a scholar, I’m called to be a pastor. I know the tools and texts that I can point others to when they have questions, but I’m not going to get bogged down in debate. There’s such important ministry to focus on, stories to hear, healing to pray for, sermons to attentively craft…

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Thank you, Jo Ann, for sharing your story. I loved reading about your journey. And I agree that there is no need to prove the point, particularly in the academy and the ministerium. But in the world I move in, there is still need to help lay persons understand–but you’ve rightly said that the change of mind and heart won’t come by argument or well-crafted debate. Usually,it comes by encountering a delightful, capable woman pastor–someone “with skin on”–who serves well. 

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thanks for your comments. I realize this is still a living debate in many places, that many people have never heard a biblical argument for women pastors, and that the scriptures do have the power to effect change. I am grateful for those who have the grace, patience, and passion to teach about the biblical support of women clergy. I mourn the lost opportunity we had as a denomination to educate our congregations when we voted to ordain women in 1976. What a different conversation we might be having today!

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Thanks Jo Ann for this post. I too preaching on justice issues, leadership and lifting the voices of the oppressed from scripture, especially the women. I believe it offers others a chance to become familiar with the diverse roles to which women have always been called. As I am personally called to go first into many places of service, I have found each new experience teaches me about the lack of experience and depth of relationship men who lead have had with women leaders. Women leaders who walk confidently, speak boldly, and lead decisively are rarely affirmed, included or welcomed into close collegial relationships. Women leaders have also learned from mistakes. We too have experienced God’s forgiveness. We too have been broken, isolated and rejected through which we’ve experienced God’s grace. We too have an informed voice about the many issues that affect lives. Thanks for the encouraging reminder to resist being pigeon-holed, limited or restricted to silos.

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Jo Ann: I like it! This a different voice, again I like it!

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Well done.

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I really loved your post…recognizing who you are, your calling, your giftedness.  We all have our unique role in the body of Christ.  At times it seems the church tends to want to cast us all into the same size, shape, thought and action as everyone else.  Thank you for reminding us that we do not have to work so hard to “change peoples’ minds.” Transformation is God’s work.

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Amen, Jo Ann! Well said. Thank you. 

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