Let the Women Preach
An outspoken evangelical says that if a man is concerned about women preachers, he 'needs to be healed. He needs prayer.'
BY: Interview with Tony Campolo
Some evangelicals sincerely fear that women preaching and women’s ordination will muddle male-female roles and potentially drive men from the church. What’s your response to that?
If a man is so intimidated by a woman in a role of leadership, the man has a psychological problem that needs to be healed and cured. He needs counseling and he needs prayer. We can’t control women simply to cater to the insecurities of men who can’t handle this.
If a guy is intimidated by a woman in leadership, he has real problems with his own concepts of masculinity. That’s a harsh statement, but I believe it to be true.
When it comes to ordination, the Bible is clear that all Christians are ordained. The Book of Ephesians says that, when you are saved, you are saved for good works, which God has ordained for you from before the foundation of the Earth. Every Christian is ordained, not just men. I really go along with the great theologian, Elton Trueblood, who once said whether we’ve been theologically trained or whether or not we have vocations in the workaday world, all of us are ordained for ministry.
Many conservative evangelicals would say that throughout history men have usually been the leaders and preachers in the church. But in your book you say that evangelicalism has a heritage of women in ministry. Could you explain that?
The Salvation Army, from its very beginning in the early 1800s, had women in preaching roles. The wife of William Booth was very much a preacher. And in the community of the Salvation Army women are commonly preachers. The Assemblies of God have women preachers. They didn’t always, but they do now. If you were to get [Thomas] Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, you will find that, in the Middle Ages, women were often preachers and leaders of the contemporary church of that time. Monasteries and convents were not necessarily two separate entities. They were often in the same building and, very often, the head of the monastery/convent was a woman. [Revivalist] Charles Finney was the Billy Graham of the 1800s. When you came down the aisle and accepted Jesus as your personal savior at a Finney revival, he took you in the back room, where there were two tables, one table to sign up for the anti-slavery movement and the other for the feminist movement. When they took you in the back room, they didn’t give you a Gospel of John. You had to sign up for what he believed God was doing in the world at that time. And at that time, he saw that the great movements of God were the abolition of slavery and the liberation of women from their servitude.
The first meetings of the feminist movement, the Niagara Meetings, were held in northern New York. They were all held in churches under the influence of the Finney revivals.
We live in a strange day where we play word games. For instance, Billy Graham’s daughter, Mrs. Lotz, is a great preacher. Billy himself says she has the gift. She preaches to large groups, thousands of people, and men show up and get saved under her direction. But, because she’s in this fundamentalist community, she says, “Oh, I’m not preaching, I’m teaching.”
I can’t endure this kind of fine differentiation between preaching and teaching because, when I preach, I teach, and when I teach, I preach.
You’ve said that your mother had all the gifts of a preacher but wasn’t allowed to use them.
My mother was the greatest storyteller that’s every come down the pike. People often say, “Oh, you have such a gift for storytelling.” I learned it from my mother. My mother was an incredible communicator. In the last years of her life, she was hired by a Lutheran home for the elderly in New Jersey because she could get these elderly people together and enthrall [them] for hours as she told stories and talked about scripture.
The church was the poorer for having lost my mother’s gifts. The whole time my mother was growing up she constantly talked about the fact that, when she was a little girl, she wanted to go up and join the Pillar of Fire missionary movement. The Pillar of Fire was this little tiny denomination--hardly anybody’s ever heard of [it]. I could never understand why she wanted to do that, until I found out in her diary that she wanted to join the Pillar of Fire and leave the Baptist church because the Pillar of Fire allowed women to be preachers.
That hurt me, because I knew my mother wanted to be a preacher in addition to having the gifts. The Bible says that God gives gifts to people, and the Bible also makes it clear that we ought not to neglect the gift that is in us. If a woman has the gift of preaching, to neglect that gift is sinful. It’s as simple as that.