I belong to an evangelical church with a fairly conservative tradition. Recently the Senior Leadership Team have been deliberating over the role of women in the church. At present, women are permitted to lead parts of the service, such as prayer, worship (music), the children’s slot, junior church, but they do so “under the authority” of the man who is leading the service itself. Women are not permitted to preach, lead communion or be a service leader.
As I understand the theological debate, the present position is based essentially on the Pauline doctrine espoused in 1 Timothy 2:12 “I allow no woman to teach or have authority over men”, but it seems that any argument from insistence on the literal interpretation of scripture falls to the charge of hypocrisy when one reads the second half of that same verse: “she is to remain in quietness and keep silence in religious assemblies”.
Whilst I concur that the bible is the inspired word of God, I would argue that it has to be substantially reinterpreted in recognition of the differences between the cultures in the first and twenty-first centuries AD. In his evangelism of the Roman empire and in light of the considerable Jewish heritage and makeup of the early Christian church, I can see perfectly well how Paul’s ever-practical approach ensured credibility in a hostile culture that equated women in ministry with temple prostitution. But do we really contend that those social norms hold today?
So, ultimately it comes down to a matter of interpretation – where you draw the line. But surely, the only correct response to the question “Where should we draw the line on gender discrimination?” is that we should not be drawing a line at all.