I’m a United Methodist, which means we meet a lot. One of our biggest meetings is annual conference which, as the name implies, is a yearly gathering. This past week, we met in Waco for three days, where we worshiped, heard reports, and deliberated on a number of important issues, including a constitutional amendment to fight discrimination against women and girls. I wore a snappy red shirt on Wednesday in support of it. So did a lot of my fellow preachers, including women.
We Methodists have been ordaining women since 1956. Even before that, John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement in 18th century England, allowed certain women to preach. In the early 1800s, a freed slave named Isabella Baumfree co-founded the Kingston Methodist Church in New York. Later she felt “called in the spirit” to become a traveling preacher.
In 1851, on the second day of a women’s rights convention in Ohio, some male clergy showed up to put the women in their place. Isabella happened to be there. The preachers argued that females were weak, males were intellectually superior to women, Jesus was a man, and it was Eve, not Adam, who first sinned (you might want to look up that story in Genesis 3. Adam was standing next to Eve while the snake was deceiving her. He didn’t make one peep of protest – I think that’s called “silent consent”).
Isabella stood up and declared, “And ain’t I a woman? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”
That’s pretty good preachin’, I’d say. In fact, by all accounts, the crowd jumped to their feet and applauded.
By the way, Isabella Baumfree eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
I know Christians who are vehemently opposed to women preachers. I recently saw a YouTube video where the narrator trotted out scriptures to prove his point, basically telling women that they needed to shut up in church, submit to their husbands, and if they couldn’t keep their mouths shut, then they should teach the Bible only to children and other women. I don’t understand why these people feel the need to attack women preachers. They would never go to their churches, anyway. Live and let live, I say – or preach and let preach, in this case.
The fact is, I know a lot of female preachers who can out-preach their male counterparts. They are faithful, studious, and compassionate. They have seminary degrees. They know their Bibles. They can go to your bedside and pray beautiful prayers over you, and they can spin a heart-touching yarn behind the pulpit.
Heck, I know some girl preachers who are just downright cool. One of them, Christie, has purple hair. One Sunday morning, a lay leader made the announcement that Christie had been reassigned to the church for another year. He was wearing a baseball cap as he spoke. When he finished, he removed the cap to reveal a headful of purple hair.
Christie’s husband is a preacher, too. He was also a Marine tank commander in the Gulf War, so you wouldn’t tell him that women can’t be preachers or you will hear Marine-like words that will melt your eyeballs in their sockets.
The fact is, women have been preaching for a long time. It’s in the Bible. Look up Judges 4. Deborah was a prophet way back in the B.C. era. She sat under a palm tree, preached, and ruled as a judge. She even told an Israelite commander to attack an enemy army, but he wouldn’t go without her. “Very well,” Deborah said. “I’ll go, but the victory will belong to me, a woman.”
So much for so-called biblical submission.
In the New Testament era, the Apostle Paul commissioned women as preachers and missionaries. He was always sending greetings and encouragement to them in his letters. He even hailed one woman, Junia, as “prominent among the apostles,” along with her husband, Andronicus (Romans 16:7). An apostle means “one who is sent out.” They traveled far distances to establish churches where there were none. Undoubtedly preaching was in their wheelhouse.
Even John Chrysostom, a bishop who was born around 349 AD, sung Junia’s praises: “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” I’m guessing most men of that era were chauvinistic (a wild guess, I know), so for Ol’ John to commend a woman for apostolic work is pretty remarkable.
I am not trying to convince you to accept women as preachers. You are certainly within your rights to think they shouldn’t be.
All I can tell you is, I know some awesome females who can preach strong and true. Some even rock purple hair while they’re doing it.