women’s equality

Why I Defend Women Preachers

My friend Abby Olufeyemi is one of my favorite pastors. She’s a Nigerian living in England, so her British/African accent makes her sermons all the more fascinating to listen to. Besides her obvious anointing as a preacher, she’s also a model of Christian integrity. She’s been tested through serious trials—including the loss of her husband, Alfred, who died in a plane crash—so she leads with grace and compassion.

Thankfully, Abby finds support from her denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the largest indigenous church network in Nigeria, and one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal groups in the world. But when I tell people that I work alongside women pastors I get puzzled looks. Many Christians who love God and the Bible believe women are not allowed to serve in pastoral roles.

This is especially obvious whenever Charisma publishes an article on the topic. Three weeks ago, my column, “Six Gender Myths in the Church,” sparked a firestorm of protest. But I don’t argue with people in online forums because (1) I respect anyone’s right to his opinions, and (2) I can’t spend all my time answering critics when there are souls to be reached for Christ—and so many women who want to reach them.

But being with Abby in London made me realize that many Americans oppose women leaders because they just haven’t seen very many examples. At the risk of sounding simplistic I will list the reasons why I believe we need more women on the front lines of ministry today:

1. The Bible endorses women in leadership. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy seems to limit women’s roles in leadership (see 1 Tim. 2:12). Yet Paul also gushed with praise for the women who served with him as co-laborers—women such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Priscilla, who helped lay foundations in the early church (see 1 Cor. 16:19). In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul expresses solidarity with two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. And he refers to other women who obviously led churches, such as Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and Nympha (Col. 4:15), and he does not try to silence or restrict them.

Traditionalists who insist on barring women from leadership positions always refer to 1 Tim. 2:12 as an ironclad rule—yet they ignore the women who served with Paul. The obvious question is: Why did Paul tell Timothy to clamp down on the women in Ephesus when he allowed Priscilla to teach? The most sensible interpretation is that the Ephesian women were teaching heresy. They had no business teaching the Bible or leading the church, yet Paul encouraged faithful women.

2. Churches need women’s gifts and perspectives. God created both male and female, and His nature is revealed through both genders (see Gen. 1:26-28). This is why the biblical definition of a family is a father and a mother. If a child needs both parents to learn the ways of God (see Prov. 1:8-9), then surely we need instruction from both men and women in the church. If only men are allowed to function in leadership or teaching roles, the church itself will be male-dominant—and this can lead to issues of control, abuse or sexual sin (the problem of child abuse in the Catholic Church is just one obvious example).

3. We can’t address women’s problems without empowering women to address them. In the 1800s women were not allowed to go to medical school. Some men believed the female brain was smaller than a male’s (!), and that women had no business being doctors. What happened when women entered the medical profession? Suddenly there were breakthroughs in medical care, including improvements in gynecology and obstetrics. Women began addressing problems that had been ignored by a male-dominated medical establishment.

Take a look at the world today and you will see millions of girls and women suffering because of sex trafficking, forced child marriage, gang rape, genital mutilation, domestic violence, eating disorders, depression and denial of education. What might happen if we opened the doors wider to empower women in their spiritual gifts? Do women hold a key to solving these problems? I believe we could see social change on an unimaginable scale if we remove gender limitations in ministry.

4. Women leaders don’t hinder men, they help them. Many Christian men I know seem to fear women’s influence. Some gripe about the “feminization” of the church, and they threaten to ban flowers from altars to make the sanctuary look more like a man cave. That’s goofy. My Bible says God made flowers as well as antlers and rawhide. He also created women, and He made them to do more than bake cookies and nurse babies. He gave women intelligence, discernment, prophetic insight, gifts of mercy and compassion, leadership abilities and spiritual authority.

When I listen to Abby Olufeyemi preach, or when I see how she shepherds her growing congregation, I receive truth from the Holy Ghost and learn valuable lessons about leadership. She doesn’t threaten me; she encourages me. Strong men are not intimidated by gifted women. And strong, gifted women who have Christian character would never try to compete with men or undermine them.

We are all called to be partners and co-heirs in God’s kingdom. Let’s grow up and embrace biblical equality.

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The Shameful Secret of ‘Christian’ Domestic Abuse

Last Saturday, police responded to a call from a home in the tranquil Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. Inside they found that Lyuba Savenok, a 23-year-old mother of two small children, had been stabbed multiple times. She was pregnant with her third child. Both died that morning.

Later, Lyuba’s husband, Yeveginy (“Eugene”), confessed that he had killed his wife and fled the house with his kids. They are now in the custody of family members while he awaits trial.

This cute couple with the adorable son and daughter attended a large evangelical church. It was later reported that Lyuba had filed for police protection from her husband when they lived in the Chicago area. She told authorities that Eugene hit her repeatedly, gave her a bloody nose, pulled her hair and once broke a window in a fit of rage.

Police were called to the Savenok home last August, where they learned that Eugene had hit his wife so hard on the back that bruises were evident. He was supposed to answer for that crime in court this week. Now he will be tried for murder.

We all know domestic violence goes on behind closed doors in this country, even in the suburbs. But what is tragic is that it goes on in Christian homes—and this sin is rarely addressed from our pulpits.

Because I have many friends in Russian-speaking churches in this country, I was horrified to hear of the case of Lyuba Savenok—who was from an Estonian heritage. But when I talked to some of my Slavic friends, I learned that domestic abuse is a shameful secret that people only whisper about at church. It is seldom confronted.

“My sister was raped, drugged and hit for 17 years,” one Slavic woman from a midwestern state told me. “I have witnessed emotional abuse, physical abuse and a lot of sexual domination—even the use of drugs—to control women. I think there should be a wide investigation into abuse in the Slavic community.”

One woman from Florida said when her friend sought help from a pastor after being in an abusive marriage for 20 years, she was told to submit to the cruelty. “They told her to become a better wife, and that might change his behavior,” she said.

Some of the people interviewed for this article were even worried about using their names because it is considered inappropriate to talk about abuse in the Slavic church.

“When abuse is brought to light, it is swept under the rug because religious practices have priority,” said one Slavic Christian woman from California. “Unfortunately, church leaders are not equipped to deal with this issue.”

Research shows that domestic violence is rampant in Russian families. And many Slavic women are afraid to even report abuse because their husbands have threatened to hurt them if they do. Tanya Levchyk, who started a Facebook group for Slavic Christian women, said it is past time for Slavic pastors to deal with the elephant in the room.

“Many times Slavic women are afraid to voice their fears because of the great emphasis that is made on reputation in our community,” she said. “They feel they will be ridiculed instead of protected, and it will always be their fault simply because they are female.” Levchyk’s Facebook group now reaches 14,000 women.

My Slavic friend Paul Muzichuk, 31, who has done missions work in eight countries, said he believes the death of Lyuba Savenok should serve as a wake-up call to church leaders—both in the Slavic community and in the wider body of Christ.

“My heart is broken for Slavic women who hide in abusive relationships and hidden pain,” he said. “Fear, religious pride and the Slavic ‘macho’ attitude needs to be confronted so Slavic women can be set free from years of abuse.”

Stephan Karnauch, who grew up in a Slavic home in New York, said it’s past time to expose the painful truth of abuse and to teach men how to treat women with respect. “By exposing this truth we will finally be able to protect families and we will equip our children how to be godly spouses, parents and lovers of Christ,” Karnauch said.

We need to face the fact that Lyuba’s murder doesn’t just represent an issue among Slavic believers. For years American pastors have been telling women to “just submit” to abusive husbands without realizing that such advice can actually provoke more abuse.

Instead of misusing Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord”) to put women at risk, we should be using the Bible properly to warn abusers that God strongly opposes men who view their wives as inferior. First Peter 3:7 warns a husband that his prayers will be hindered if he does not honor his wife “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

Let’s have the courage to pull the rug back. Let’s confront abuse, heal its victims and stop twisting Scripture to protect abusers.

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