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Women and Theology

Dennis Bratcher

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The general topic of the role of women in Church and society, and especially the topic of women in ministry, has generated a great deal of debate in recent years.  It has come largely from fundamentalist Christians who have made the role of women in the church and society a primary issue because of what they see as an erosion of traditional Christian values.  Much of the debate has centered around a literalist interpretation of a few verses in Scripture that are taken out of context without much attempt at seeing them within the "whole tenor of Scripture." As such, they often become little more than proof texts for perspectives that are far more a reflection of cultural, societal, and religious norms, and even simple prejudice and bigotry, than they are a reflection of the teachings of Scripture understood holistically. That has resulted in many well intentioned Christians denying women much, if any, leadership role in the church.

The debate over women, especially in leadership roles in the Church, is not really new, since the role of women in the church has been restricted throughout much of its history on various grounds.  However, the changes brought to the Church by the Reformation as well as new intellectual and social currents that began to emerge in the latter 18th century in both England and Europe, as well as the nascent American Republic, began to challenge the traditional subjugation of women. While women such as Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Siena had been active in the medieval Church, with the changes brought by the collapse of medieval culture women began to emerge in new leadership roles and vocally to promote the equality of women in society and in the Church.

However, opposition to expanding roles for women was fierce.  The traditional male-only institutions in England and much of Europe, along with the antebellum culture of the USA, strongly resisted any changes in the status quo.  In spite of that, not only were there women who had the courage to speak out against the injustices of political, social, and religious systems that methodically excluded them, other women simply took up the task of leadership especially within the Church. Even in the middle 17th century Margaret Fell Fox worked alongside George Fox in the founding of the Society of Friends in England and wrote cogent arguments for the equality of women.  Catherine Booth worked tirelessly beside William Booth to establish and spread the ministry of the Salvation Army in England.  The Gremke sisters were passionate voices in the United States for the abolition of slavery and the responsibility of women to follow the call of God. Some women leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony and her coworker Elizabeth Cady Stanton, saw the Church as an impediment to the liberation of women.  Others, such as Abigail Roberts and Phoebe Palmer became part of the  renewal movements within the Church in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sadly, the opposition to women in the Church and to the equality of women in general has not totally disappeared.  Progress has been made in the larger society in the last century.  Yet the marginalization of women still exists in other more subtle ways in society, ranging from the inequity in job opportunities in some fields to the more mundane levels of the demeaning female sexuality of pop music and videos. In the Church, opposition to women is still overt and blatant in some quarters, as some traditions argue that God has decreed that women should fill a subservient role and that it is against the will of God for women to teach or have authority over men.

These are a series of articles that address various issues related to gender in theology and the Church, primarily the topic of women in ministry as well as other topics relating to women in the Church.  They are presented here as an ongoing call for the Church to live out the Gospel so that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28) would become more than words on a page, that it might become a characteristic of the Kingdom of God present among us now.

For a larger bibliography of online articles on other sites, as well as links to more extensive bibliographies see Online Resources and Bibliography for Women in Ministry.


Women's Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed by the Scriptures (Margaret Fell Fox, 1666)

An article by Margaret Fell Fox, co-founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), defending the right and responsibility of women to speak and teach in the Church. Edited into modern English. [editing is not yet completed]

Female Ministry; or, Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel (Catherine Booth)

An article by Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, defending the right and responsibility of women in ministry.

Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (Sarah Grimke, 1837)

(not yet available)

Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts (1837)

Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts, aimed primarily against Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their promotion of women's rights and Abolition."


Women and the Call of God

Reflections from a woman minister on the calling of God to women and the biblical basis for women in ministry.

Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene

An examination of some of the biblical passages used to exclude women from ministry, along with a brief historical survey of the ministry of women in the Church of the Nazarene.

A Position Statement on Women in the Ministry in The Wesleyan Church

A brief statement of the Wesleyan Church's historic position of ordaining women ministers, prepared by the Task Force on Women in the Ministry appointed by the General Board of The Wesleyan Church

Miriam: Standing Between Life and Death

Reflections of the role of Moses' sister Miriam in the life of Israel and the biblical traditions of the exodus.

Women Intercessors: Zipporah and Huldah

Reflections on the role of Moses' wife Zipporah and the prophetess Huldah as intercessors in Israel.

God Uses Harem Girls: Esther

The story of Queen Esther and her role in averting the extermination of Jews in Persia, noting the theological implications of the narrative.

The Samaritan Woman: John 4:1-42

Examination of the implications of the story of Samaritan woman at the well and her encounter with Jesus.

Mary and Martha - Sisters Who Served

Brief study of the roles of Mary and Martha in the Gospel traditions and the implications of how they are portrayed.

Apostle to the Apostles: The Women Disciples of Jesus

Reflections on the role of women, especially Mary Magdalene, in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus to his Disciples.

The Image of God and Sexuality

Brief thoughts on Purity Balls and Integrity Balls and what they imply about gender relationships, suggesting a more biblical approach.

Neo-fundamentalism: On Being Who We Are

An essay on the influence of Calvinistic neo-fundamentalist anti-women agendas in Wesleyan churches; the example of Focus on the Family's attack on the TNIV.

On-line Resources

Online Resources and Bibliography for Women in Ministry

Links to online articles dealing with the general topic of women in ministry.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2018, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
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