John Coulter: Women ministers are dedicated and professional - so what’s the problem lads?
My late father, Rev Dr Robert Coulter, was a Presbyterian minister. I, myself, am a communicant member of the Presbyterian Church.
Every year seems to see the usual ding-dong battle between evangelicals and liberals in one corner who mostly support the ordination of women elders and ministers, and hardline fundamentalists in the other who are vehemently opposed to women holding such posts in the church. Both camps will be feverishly searching the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to find suitable verses of scripture to justify their deeply held theological positions.
The chances of this row, which has rumbled on since the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man, reaching a successful conclusion are very slim. Indeed, there is probably a better chance of me as a Presbyterian being appointed the next pope as there is to the rival camps reaching an accommodation.
The problem for me personally is that no fundamentalist has been able to justify what their problem is with women elders or pastors. Even in the Catholic Church, nuns must play second fiddle to priests. Could a day ever come in Rome where we will see a female pope? I’m of a vintage when I still remember church functions where a man would announce – the ladies will now leave and serve the tea! Indeed, there are still supposed Christian denominations where women must wear skirts and hats during worship.
It seems that women are constantly being punished by men in the Christian Church as if they are persecuting women because it was Eve who got Adam to eat the apple given to her by Satan in the Garden of Eden. Theologically, that led to sin entering the world, sparking what is called The Fall of Man. But is the Christian Church generally of whatever denomination seriously saying in 2023 that the only roles for women in church life is serving tea at functions, looking after the babies in creche on Sundays, and baking cakes and tray bakes for church functions?
During my own spiritual journey in life, I have made numerous women elders and ministers. They have all fulfilled their roles with professionalism, dedication and caring – so what’s the problem, lads? Are male fundamentalists saying a woman cannot preach a good sermon, or as an elder, help with the running of the church?
Many denominations like to encourage women to join so-called ‘ladies fellowship’ groups. I sometimes believe such groups are a way of getting the women ‘out of the way’ in terms of running the church. So its okay for women to run a Sunday school, or a junior youth club, but if those women feel called by the Holy Spirit to preach a sermon from the pulpit, you’d think by the reaction from some male fundamentalists that those women had tried to burn the building down!
Many denominations still have an ongoing Biblical debate about same sex marriage and trans rights. Fundamentalists will argue that recognition by the Christian Church of these issues is moving radically away from Biblical teaching.
But the debate over women’s rights within the Christian Church has caused intense debate for generations. It is not a new issue. Has it become a debate about male dominance in the running of churches, or are males still fighting the Garden of Eden row and the role of Eve in the Fall of Man?
Here’s a fundamental question for the ‘anti-women preacher’ lobby; how many women have ditched their Christian faith because of persecution by dictatorial or puritanical males?
Was it not the Indian Hindu nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi who once said – I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Closer to home Biblically, what about the words of Jesus himself in the New Testament when the Pharisees challenged him about the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? He said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone! As a Christian community, we cannot say that all people are equal in the sight of God, and then discriminate against women having a front and centre role in the church because of their gender. To adopt such a fundamentalist or Puritan stance makes folk no better than the Biblical Pharisees who Christ faced.
What is the point in encouraging women to complete theology courses and then deny them the right to preach from our pulpits of whatever denomination? It’s not a case of diluting the Bible; it’s a case of recognising the genuine Christian role which women have played in the life of the church over the centuries. The message is simple – free them from the pews and give them the power of the pulpit.
• Dr John Coulter has been a journalist since 1978
• Owen Polley will return next week