Kelly Ladd Bishop

Exploring issues of faith, culture, and spirituality with a focus on women in the church and world

When Women are Excluded in the Name of Unity

When Women are Excluded in the Name of Unity

Unity. Agree to disagree. Learn to work together. Put secondary things aside.

I hear these phrases all the time.

I’ve had numerous meetings, conversations, and exchanges with male pastors regarding women in church leadership. These pastors have been allies, men who have supported me and other women in ministry, made changes to the bi-laws in their own churches to allow women to lead, and proudly claimed the title egalitarian. I so appreciate that they have given their pulpits to women, and helped create space for us in their churches.

But when it comes to speaking out for women outside of their churches, the support usually stops.

I was recently involved with a research project regarding patriarchal church planting organizations, and how they affect women in local congregations. I met with male egalitarian church leaders to get their perspective on the situation, and to see if they thought the influx of patriarchal churches would be detrimental to women called to ministry. Almost without exception, the men said over and over again that these churches are our partners, these pastors are our brothers, and it is more important to focus on what unifies us. None of them was particularly concerned with these churches spreading a gospel message that’s inextricably tied to the authority of men, and subjugation of women. And each egalitarian pastor was afraid of “stirring up trouble” or “causing dissention.”

Unity. Agree to disagree.

Here’s the problem.

I don’t want to stir up trouble or cause dissention either. I genuinely don’t enjoy conflict, and have no interest in alienating my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also want to focus on the gospel that unites us. However, if the gospel they are teaching hinges on the fact that men are spiritual authorities over women, then that is not the gospel that unites us. That’s some other gospel that’s not in my Bible.

Also, as a woman in ministry, I don’t have the luxury of “unity” that these male pastors have. I don’t have the option of learning to work together, because they won’t work with me. I’m not invited to the table, and my voice doesn’t count.

So, if I’m not invited to the table, who will speak for me?

Who will question their gospel of male headship?

Who will speak up for the women who are gifted and called?

Who will make a way for us among local clergy?

Who will open the doors for the women in those congregations?

Who will speak truth to the women and girls who have been told they can never be all they were designed to be?

The church will always have to agree to disagree on certain issues until Jesus returns and makes it all clear. But male pastors have the luxury of agreeing to disagree on the place of women in church leadership in a way that women don’t. And if those male pastors simply agree to disagree because they don’t want to stir up dissent, then women pastors will never be invited to the discussion.

It’s convenient for male pastors to consider women’s leadership a “secondary issue,” but that’s not an option for female pastors.

I’ve said this to many male pastors, and I’m saying it again. You may have the luxury of maintaining “unity” that ignores the exclusion of women from leadership, but I do not. Because I am not invited into that “unity.”

If you will not speak up for us, who will?

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6 thoughts on “When Women are Excluded in the Name of Unity

  1. You should listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, the first episode titled “The Lady Vanishes;” it’s all about the concept of moral license. Perhaps these egalitarian pastors, because they support women’s ordination in their own denominations, feel they have moral license to be passive when it comes to dealing with patriarchal church planters in their communities. Gladwell traces the idea through several episodes in history, firstly with the story of a brilliant woman painter who wowed the London art scene in the 19th century, and later with the story of how Germans tolerated a handful of Jewish intellectuals in their society, which gave them a sense of “moral license”, allowing them to morally justify exterminating the rest of the ordinary Jewish population. It’s a very compelling podcast. It puts to shame any excuses these pastors are making.

    1. Thanks for pointing out this podcast! I think this idea definitely comes into play with at least some of these pastors.

  2. I too have come across this viewpoint from good, godly guys who sincerely want to see women lead… but not at the expense of unity… well, unity with the other guys, that is… not unity with their female colleagues. It’s tiring… it’s idiotic… it’s time it was a thing of the past, just like the context it came from.

  3. You KNOW that this hits me directly, Kelly, and I am SO grateful, once again, for your proclaiming the truth, clearly and succinctly!

  4. This is a tough one. I think that most of us egalitarians would agree that complementarian theology can be harmful, however, they do have a tiny leg to stand on. Interpretations can vary and some verses seem to conflict. So I believe that men and women have a choice to pursue meeting together with those who share the same interpretation. Advocating for those who don’t seem to want to shift their thinking is a waste of energy. However, if your church is a light, and example of women and men working well together then perhaps that could be the best witness for their change.

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