In Parts One and Two of this series, I engaged the cultural concerns of January’s Women’s March as Paul did the Athenian culture in Acts 17. Depending on exactly how you run the numbers, 3% of women in America physically showed up at a Women’s March site. That number is staggering when you think through the logistics of getting to one physically.
Women in America are particularly ripe with cultural concerns after this election season, and these women aren’t just showing up at the marches in staggering numbers. They are represented in our congregations as well.
Read Part One
I recently surveyed 450 women, 92% of whom said they were believers who attend church regularly. Sixty-three percent of these mostly church going women had a favorable or mixed reaction to the Women’s March, and 43% said they currently have questions about how the Bible treats women. These concerns, cultural and biblical, are interrelated, and when we pay attention to women’s questions about the Bible, I believe it equips us to engage cultural concerns demonstrated by the march as well.
The Questions and Concerns That Plague Christian Women
Many surveyed had questions and concerns you may be able to guess. They asked about women as ministry leaders and Paul’s New Testament instructions on women keeping silent in the church, but there were other questions as well. Here’s a sampling.
“How was it God’s plan for David’s ten concubines to be raped by Absolom and then be kept in confinement?”
“Why wasn’t sin against women (rape, multiple sexual partners, etc.) more severely punished?”
“I struggle with how women are shown as property in ancient times and that they are mentioned so little, often lumped in with children as a broad and unimportant category.”
“Why was polygamy not condemned more explicitly?”
“Why were women given as spoil in war? Does this mean God considers us property?”
“Why in the OT did the Lord not speak and act more decisively on injustices to women?”
I could go on and on with these types of comments since there were nearly 200 of them. But maybe these last two sum it up.
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Too many to list.”
There’s a reason you may not have heard these before.
Twenty-two percent of these women had sought out a pastor or ministry leader with their questions, but 27% hadn’t dealt with those questions at all. Sadly, 18% said that they did not feel safe asking their pastor or ministry leader their questions.
“I have only felt safe asking one pastor in fifty years.”
“In the past my pastor was fearful or uncomfortable with me asking questions.”
“It could keep me from leadership roles if I disagree with them.”
“I’m afraid if I bring up women’s issues, I’m going to be put in a box as being liberal.”
“I have no wish to be labeled one of those ‘difficult women.’”
“I’m afraid of being judged as ambitious or rebellious.”
“Don’t want to be perceived as a rebellious woman.”
“I generally feel misunderstood and patronized. They respond as if I am coming from a place of rebellion or radical feminism.”
I have experienced similar reactions by ministry leaders in my own life. I had questions that simply weren’t welcome by leaders, many of which I had to navigate completely on my own. For a season, I was in a church that was culturally cutting edge. For men. It reached across cultural barriers and brought men over to the other side in part by being very careful to separate what scripture did condemn from what it didn’t. But as it ministered to men across cultural lines, it often simultaneously pushed women away without similar care for precision with what scripture did and did not teach.
Women were caught up in the same culture as the men, but the implications were staggeringly different for the two sexes. Women were having to stand up and take responsibility in a secular culture where many men did not. The call to men to responsibility resulted in a seeming call to women to stop taking it. And women in the church were dealt a blow. Many responsible women, pushed to lead as unbelievers in their lives because dads, husbands, and boyfriends had abdicated, were labeled rebellious, ambitious, or difficult as they sought to assimilate into the Christian culture of our church.
The concerns many women raised in this survey are real in our churches and ministries. But most don’t want to be perceived as rebellious when asking questions over which they are genuinely struggling. So it’s possible, likely even, that pastors aren’t hearing them from their own congregations, not because women don’t have the questions, but because they don’t feel free to voice them.
Choose respect and care.
Conservatively speaking, three out of every five women in your congregation or ministry likely resonate with at least some part of the women’s march, and two out of five have questions with the Bible over its treatment of women.
At times, I have experienced warm pastoral care with my questions. And so have other women—there were encouraging responses in the survey as well.
“My pastor is very open to questions.”
“They are knowledgeable, listen well, and are compassionate.”
“If you have questions, they say ask. If you disagree, they welcome the discussion.”
This comment might be the most important though.
“Depends on the pastor.”
Pastor or ministry leader, you have a choice to make here. How will you shepherd the women in your congregation through such questions?
It starts with knowing where you stand now. What was your first reaction when you read the list of questions? Did you make assumptions about the women who asked them? Do you fear someone voicing similar concerns in your congregation? Do you feel equipped to engage such concerns? Do you have compassion on a woman struggling to understand the hard stories of scripture involving women? Do their concerns seem as important as those of men in your congregation?
Here is a second set of filters to think through as well. Do you teach and pastor to the core of your congregation but avoid its edges? Both are important, but often those with an evangelistic mindset don’t disciple the core well, and those discipling their core dismiss concerns among those on the edges, questioning the faith.
Read Part Two
When it comes to discipling women in your congregation, I encourage you to equip the core to apologetically reach the edges, not with dismissal, but with true engagement over their concerns. Teach them the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that established women as image-bearers of God created to be an ezer, a warrior, a helper in the image of the one true Ezer, God our Help. And then teach them the good news of Jesus that equips all of us to live in light of our creation in God’s image, not the Fall of Man that marred it all.
Engaging women’s concerns from scripture in our congregations equips us to also engage concerns from culture as Paul exemplified for us in Acts 17. No cultural concern by either gender can be deeply, truly addressed without an accurate understanding of how scripture speaks to and about both biological sexes, each created in the image of God to reflect noble things of his character.
 June 28, 2017–July 3, 2017: 461 respondents.
 These responses are slightly edited for readability.
 Because I could find no apologetic geared toward modern women, I wrote one myself, a ten-part study of the Bible and women, that may be helpful to you as you engage women in your church or ministry.
Cover image by Ben White.