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Discrimination against women

Discrimination against women at
Christian educational institutions

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Theological justification for discrimination on the basis of gender in seminary:

Much of the conservative Christian justification for sexual discrimination against women is derived from passages in those books in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) that describe Paul as their author. Some people see a conflict between:

bullet Paul's actions, which often appear to accept women in teaching roles, and positions of authority, and
bullet His apparent writings -- which sometimes appear to require that Christians discriminate against women in these same roles.

One example of a lack of sexual discrimination by Paul is his reference in Romans 16:7 to a female apostle, Lunia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (NIV) . It is difficult to visualize an apostle who was not also a teacher.

The passage most often used to exclude women from positions of teaching and authority in conservative Christian denominations, churches, and academic posts is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The King James Version translates these verses as:

"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."

Christians typically resolve the conflict between Paul's actions and words in the following ways:

bullet Conservative theologians date this pastoral epistle as having being written prior to 65 CE the approximate date of Paul's execution by the Romans. On the basis of the first two verses in 1 Timothy:

"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord."

they assign its authorship to Paul. When considering the allowable roles for women in churches and church institutions, they give great weight to the passage at 1 Timothy 2:11-15, because it deals very precisely with the topic by forbidding women to teach men or be in a position of authority over men. Conservative Protestants generally consider the Bible to be inerrant, and believe that God inspired its authors to record the "Word of God" accurately. Thus, this very specific passage rules in cases of women teaching and exercising authority in church.

The "Junia" passage is generally regarded as a typo in the original Greek. After the 13th century, the reference to Junia was often changed Junias, a non-existent man's name, to make her appear to be male.

Christian conservatives interpret this passage in different ways.

bullet Some allow women to teach boys, but not men, as in children's Sunday school classes.
bullet Some allow women to hold the position of assistant pastor where she is permitted to work in communication, counseling, and similar non-preaching roles.
bullet Some, like the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary under its previous president, apparently allowed women to teach courses as long as they had little theological content.
bullet Some feel that the many references in the Christian Scriptures to sexual equality between men and women allow the 1 Timothy 2 passage to be overridden. They interpret such phrases as:

Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

as implying the equality of men and women.

  • Liberal theologians generally believe that 1 Timothy was written by an unknown author during the first half of the second century -- about 35 to 85 years after St. Paul's execution. They reach this conclusion partly on the basis of the topics covered in the book. They often deal with concerns of the developing church in the early second century. If this dating is accurate, the epistle's passages reflecting female discrimination can reflect a gradual reinstatement of patriarchal authority by the early Church, and the denigration of the contribution of women to the Christian movement. The book is thus an indication of historical developments in the early Christian movement as they departed from the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Thus, its contents should not be interpreted as valid moral and ethical teaching.

    Liberals generally regard discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. to be contrary to the will of God. They thus ignore biblical passages that specify discrimination and oppression on these bases. The passages are rejected on the basis that they reflect the culture at the time that the books were written and do not apply to the present era.
  • Authors personal note: Regardless of who the author of 1 Timothy is, he or she wrote "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Perhaps he/she is merely indicating his own personal prefernce, and then justifying it by a reference to Adam and Eve. One might ask whether the author considered his writing to be binding on others. One might further ask whether it reflects God's will. It might only be the belief and sexist behavior of a misogynist who was deviating from the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth, Paul and others of the first century CE.
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    Secular standard on employment:

    U.S. federal law, at SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703] discusses unlawful employment practices:

    (a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer:

    1. to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
    2. to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 1

    (Emphasis ours).

    Barring women from employment on the basis of their gender is unacceptable to the vast majority of American adults. Yet fundamentalist Christian denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention,  feel that they are commanded to discriminate because of 1 Timothy. Fortunately for the latter, and unfortunately for women, various federal and state laws that outlaw discrimination in employment do not apply to religious institutions. Forbidding religious groups from sexual discrimination in hiring would constitute "excessive entanglement" between religion and government. That is forbidden by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    It seems obvious that a policy of sexual discrimination will impede the Southern Baptist in their responsibility to follow the great commission: to go into all the world and save the lost. It will prove to be increasingly difficult to persuade non-Christians and liberal to moderate Christians to become associated with a denomination that discriminates against persons on the basis of their gender.

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    Reference used:

    1. "2000e–2. Unlawful employment practices," U.S. Code collection, Cornell Law School, at:

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    Copyright 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
    Originally written: 2000-MAR-8
    Latest update: 2007-FEB-14
    Author: B.A. Robinson

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