How To Be a Christian Woman (According To Men)

September 4th, 2019

Several weeks ago, a flyer from a Tennessee Church of Christ advertising a Wednesday night Fall lecture series called “The Christian Woman” circulated around social media. In the now-deleted flyer for the event, the lecture series covered the topics of The Christian Woman as “A Faithful Wife,” “A Loving Mother, and “A Bible Class Teacher,” in addition to exploring her response to the feminist movement and her role in the church. The problem though, as many saw it, was that every single one of these lectures was to be given by a man.

While many Churches of Christ tend to be conservative on gender issues, this seemed particularly egregious even for that position  a five-lecture series of only male preachers telling women how to be “Christian Women.” Given that these lectures are promoted for women, one might think that 1 Timothy 2:11-23 would not apply (“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”). Even following these verses still allows for women to teach other women or children, and the topic of “The Christian Woman as Bible Class Teacher” gives away that this particular church utilizes women as teachers in some capacity.

One might think that the expert on being a Christian woman would be other Christian women and that not including the perspective of even one woman seems particularly bad. While one woman’s experience might differ from another’s, the men lecturing on these aspects of being a Christian woman do not have any personal experience.

We're also seeing how this perspective defines womanhood in an extremely limiting way. Even conservative churches are attended by single women and women who are unable to give birth. Whether due to life circumstances, health issues, or personal choice, women who fall outside the categories of wife and mother are no less Christian than those who are wives and mothers. To idolize marriage and motherhood is to exclude those who are single or infertile in ways that are frequently hurtful, making the single or childless woman to feel as if she is incomplete rather than loved by God just as she is.

When I think of the models of Christian womanhood in my life to whom I look up, they are of many different molds. Some are wives and mothers, and some are single or without children. Some are teachers, some are clergy, and some are advocates for justice. There is no one correct way for a woman to be a Christian, just as there is no one way for a man.

A Christianity that idolizes the family structure of the 1950s also erases many of the Christian saints, those exemplars of our tradition, both ancient and modern. Saint Paul did not exactly settle down and provide economically for his wife and children but roamed the Mediterranean spreading the gospel and even getting arrested. The desert fathers and mothers pursued an ascetic lifestyle of prayer and fasting rather than marriage and procreation. Inspired by their faith convictions, other women started convents or ran hospitals that cared for the poor and the sick.

I do not anticipate that lecture series of this kind will go away any time soon in more conservative churches, but there are more faithful ways of promoting the varieties of Christian vocations as a woman, starting with letting women themselves talk about how their faith and gender intersect.

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