The Worth of a Woman
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Authors Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher talk about the role of women in the church. Fitzpatrick reminds us that women typically comprise 50% or more of most congregations and to overlook their insights and spiritual giftings is to miss a great blessing.
Bob: It’s clear that most of the well-known characters in the Bible are men. Pastor Eric Schumacher says, when you start to read your Bible looking for what God says about the worth, and value, and dignity of women, you may find yourself surprised.
Eric: I started paying attention to where women showed up in the Bible. The first promise of the Messiah, “The seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head,”—it’s interesting that God says it’s the seed of the woman; He’s going to come from the woman. I’ve noticed, as I’ve reexamined the storyline of redemption, how many times there are bold, wise, strong, shrewd, brave, courageous women, who rescue the line of the seed.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 6th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick believe it’s time for us to take a second look—a long hard look—about what the Bible says about the worth of women. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m curious; have you, Ann, felt like a second-class Christian because you’re a woman?
Ann: That’s a good question.
Dave: Wow; that’s a loaded question.
Bob: It is a loaded question.
Dave: I can’t wait to hear her answer.
Ann: I started in the ministry in 1980. There were times that I felt very confused of my role: of my voice/where my place was in the church. I’m not sure I felt like a second-class citizen, because I knew who I was in Christ; but sometimes in the church—yes; yes, I think I did.
Bob: Have you observed that as her husband?
Dave: Oh, yes; I was wondering how honest she was going to be; yes, for sure.
Ann: Being a strong woman—that’s what made it really hard—I kept thinking: “Should I not be strong?” “Should I pretend that I’m not strong?” That’s where it could get tricky, because I’m not just a naturally submissive—[Laughter]—I’m very submissive to Dave!
Bob: We have a soulmate with you in the studio today, don’t we?
Ann: Yes! I’m so excited! [Laughter]
Bob: Elyse Fitzpatrick is joining us again on FamilyLife Today. Elyse, welcome.
Elyse: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: Along with Elyse, Eric Schumacher is here. Eric is a pastor from Iowa. Elyse is an author and a speaker, who lives in Southern California. The two of them have worked together on a book called Worthy that’s about the value of women/celebrating the value of women.
Eric, I should say welcome to you, as well.
Eric: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Bob: Elyse, I saw you nodding and moving in, like, “I have felt exactly how Ann has felt.”
Elyse: It’s funny because, in one sense, when I was first saved—I didn’t become a Christian until 1971—when I was first saved, I was in a church that ordained women to the pastorate. Although, I still felt there was something more important about getting men to affirm you than women.
After we left that church—I’ve been married for over 45 years—so Phil and I left that church and went to a more, let’s say, Reformed sort of a church; then I really felt it. It was not just that women couldn’t teach on a Sunday morning—something like that—it was that we needed to be quiet—going to 1 Peter 3—[speaking softly] this quiet tone.
Women, like us—[chuckling]—who have stronger personalities, who are louder—I sort of always felt like I didn’t fit in. Then, I started reading the old dead guys; you know? [Laughter] The things that they said about women were shocking to me. Yet, still, I don’t think I really took it to heart.
Ann: Give us an example of what some of the “old dead guys” shared.
Elyse: We can even talk about rabbis of old, who would say, “I thank You, God, that I was not born a pagan, and that I was not born woman.” And things that even people that I love and venerate—Luther and Calvin—the kinds of things they said about woman being the source of evil and the reason that the race has fallen—how she is, by nature, nothing other than emotional and a trap. Those kinds of things—they’re still there. I think that, probably subconsciously, those things have infiltrated into the life and doctrine of men, who read the old dead guys; so there’s a discounting of the voice of a woman.
Bob: We need to frame this conversation a little bit, I think, because you guys know FamilyLife®; we know you. We share common convictions that the Bible has things to say about proper role and function of men and women in the church and in the home. Not everybody agrees with this, but we look at this and say there are certain limited things that the Scriptures would say a woman in church ought not do these few things. A woman at home—there should be some deference/some submission to her husband’s leadership and authority. You affirm that as you write this book on the value of women, right?
Eric: That’s correct.
Bob: What we’re talking about, when we talk about how we ought to think rightly about women in the church and in the home, comes with those caveats in place. But sometimes, Eric, those caveats have so controlled the discussion as to go beyond the bounds of what Scripture is saying—and say: “Let’s push it down even more. Let’s silence women in places where the Scriptures…”—we go beyond what the Scriptures say here.
Eric: That’s right. I think any time our posture is “Something’s gone wrong in the church,” or “…wrong in the culture,” and “We need to recover what the Bible is saying about this,”—we can begin in a posture of recovery, or defense, or even going on the offense. We can begin to define everything we think about an issue, such as men and women, in terms of: “This is under attack; there’s a threat against this.”
One of the consequences of that is we begin to fence the law in the sense that the Bible might have these restrictions/instructions, and we draw boundaries around those so that we don’t get close to violating those. What ends up happening is we begin to say to women, “You can’t do this and this, because it might look like this.” We prevent them from doing things that God has called, equipped, and gifted them to do.
I think, on that note, we begin/you think about a woman with a strong personality or something to say—and we can begin to be suspicious of them/to automatically suspect: “She’s probably trying to usurp my authority,” or “…bring down men,” or something like that, which can be very unhealthy.
Dave: We have, obviously, many, many incredible women in our churches and in ministries all over. I think a lot of them have felt—I know my wife has felt—like: “I can’t use my gifts,” “I shouldn’t use my gifts,” “I should not even say something in this meeting because I’m strong.”
I’d love to hear your perspective; because we’ve got a man and a woman writing a book on women. Honestly, you’d think, “It’s going to be women writing this”; and Eric, you’re a part of this. Why is that, and what’s your perspective?
Eric: I’ve been a pastor for 17 years. I came into pastoring with a very strong complementarian theology, like Bob just described. I would affirm in my theology that men and women are ontologically equal: we’re equal in our value, and we’re equal in our worth.
But as I thought about the distinct roles God might have for men and women in the church and the home, I over-applied those in some ways that weren’t biblical. It took, for me, some strong women coming and saying, “Why aren’t we able to do this?” or “I don’t feel like our women are being given solid theological education,”—maybe all the training is for the men, and women are being overlooked. Or women coming and saying, “I’m confused about where I can speak and how I can have a voice.” Even noticing, in my own heart—sometimes there’s suspicion about a strong woman and her voice—and realizing, “I don’t know why that is, but it is.”
It’s been a journey for me to think afresh about what the Bible says about women and their role in the storyline of Scripture. For me, just a few years ago, thinking, “It’s been a long time since I’ve examined these issues and thought critically about them.”
Then, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, I think 20 years ago, as a young knee-jerk conservative—sometimes emphasis on “jerk”—[Laughter]—I would’ve written off the whole #MeToo movement just as: “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorned. These are women, who got hurt, and they’re angry and trying to burn everything down.” I decided, “I just need to listen; I need to listen to these stories.” As the #ChurchToo movement began to develop, thinking, “I need to listen to what these women are saying they’re experiencing in the church.”
I started paying attention to where women showed up in the Bible. That’s sort of the genesis of this book—is I tweeted out a series of women, who were the first humans to do certain things—it turned into an article. Elyse and I then have turned it into a book.
What I’ve noticed, as I’ve reexamined the Scriptures, looking for where women show up—that first promise of the Messiah: “The seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent,”—so often, I’ve looked at that passage and thought, “Oh, so we’re looking for the Son,”—which we are—“We’re looking for the Son that will crush the serpent’s head.”
It’s interesting that God says it’s the seed of the woman; He’s going to come from the woman. I’ve noticed, as I’ve reexamined the storyline of redemption, how many times there are bold, wise, strong, shrewd, brave, courageous women, who often take initiative to do brave and courageous things to save God’s people and sometimes preserve His deliverer alive.
Bob: Elyse, has this subject been a burden in your own heart from before reading Eric on social media?
Elyse: Sure; because as Ann said, as women, this is something we have experienced, even to the point that when I go into a congregation, and all I see is males leading—and again, we have to say this over and over again—we are not pushing against the ordination of males, who are qualified; we are not pushing against that. But we are saying, “Over half the congregation here is women; can we have some representation, somewhere?” Not only that, but when the sermon is being given, is it primarily sports illustrations? [Laughter]
Dave: Hey, wait; wait, wait.
Elyse: Sorry. [Laughter]
Dave: We just dove way outside the lines. [Laughter]
Bob: He’s going to throw a flag up and call a time out.
Dave: I don’t think I ever use sports illustrations, do I?
Ann: Maybe a few. [Laughter]
Elyse: The question is, am I, as a woman, even acknowledged? Is my gender even acknowledged? Quite honestly, I think, as women, we’ve learned to accommodate ourselves to that; so that I’m not shocked when I go into a congregation and see one gender represented and one gender being talked to and about. However, I think it would be a good thing if men would recognize the fact that more than half of their congregation is not male; and it’s more than half.
Bob: Here’s the tension that I’ve felt in the church world. Primarily, we want to apply this in marriage and family; because that’s who we’re talking to. But in the church world—because we’ve all been a part of the church world—I’ve felt a tension at watching men easily/naturally drift into passivity. We want to call men to active involvement in spiritual matters, because we know their default is to naturally disengage.
We’ve seen it happen that if women will say, “I’ll do that,” guys go: “Great; I’ll go home and watch the game. You do that.” All of a sudden, guys have checked out; and it goes badly for us. To overcorrect, what we’ve said is: “We’ve got to call men up.” Part of the way we call men up is by saying to women: “Just don’t get involved over here; because if you do, guys are going to go back home.” That’s a problem with guys; that’s not a problem with women.
At the same time, we are modeling to everyone in the congregation something that I think is not a good, healthy biblical model about what the practice of God’ people coming together in worship should look like: it’s men and women joining their voices together to worship God.
Eric: I think that’s exactly right. Some of that depends on what congregation you’re in and wise shepherding. I’m in the third church I’ve been pastoring. In one of those, I remember, we used to have an annual Thanksgiving meal and a service that followed afterwards. We’d have a time of getting up and sharing what blessings we’re thankful for over the past year.
My first year or two there, it was almost all women who got up and shared. The women in the church would complain that the men don’t seem very spiritually active. There were men who were. I started engaging the men more and inviting them to do more things. Within a few years, it was almost all men that were sharing at that prayer request time. Women were coming to me and saying, “This is such a wonderful thing, to hear the voices of men giving praise to God in the church.”
On the other hand, the congregation I’m in now—I’m responsible for—I’m an associate pastor; I’m responsible for organizing our services, leading our music, and those sorts of things. I’ve started with our liturgy readings/responsive readings; sometimes women will lead the leader parts of those. We alternate between men and women reading the Scripture reading in the service.
Women have commented on how great it is to hear a female voice in the service to the point, where they’ve said: “We were out of town. We visited a church, and it was striking to me that I didn’t hear a woman’s voice the entire time we were in church.” I think about the Apostle Paul and his instructions in 1 Corinthians, where he talks about head coverings. The context of it is he’s talking about a woman praying and prophesying in church. Paul seems to expect that, in a local church gathering, you’re going to hear a woman speaking at some point.
As I think about that—I’m a father of five; I have four boys and one girl—my daughter’s eleven now. Of course, my boys have all been into the Avengers and the Marvel superhero universe. I honestly hadn’t really noticed that my daughter hadn’t been interested in those movies. Then, I took her to see Captain Marvel. She absolutely loved it; we had to go out and buy a poster of Captain Marvel for her room afterwards. She comes home and she’s says, “I want to watch the rest of the Avengers movies.” I think it was because she saw a woman in that superhero role; all of a sudden, she realized, “I’m part of this story.”
I think that when young girls—or old women, or females in between; and men too—see a women participating in the corporate worship of their Lord and Savior on Sunday morning, and when they see women highlighted in the Scripture, not just as damsels in distress, but as active gifts of God, who carry the story forward—they begin to realize, “This is my story too,”—not in some radical, feminist sense that wants to crush men and put them down—but in the sense that God said: “It’s not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper for him.”
I always remind people that—when God says: “It’s not good for man to be alone. I’ll make a helper,” —the only implied deficiency there is in the one that needs help, not in the helper. You wouldn’t need a helper if there wasn’t something lacking, so it’s not good for the woman not to be present. She is a necessary ally in this great task that God has given us.
Dave: I know that—it’s been 30 years now/maybe 31—Ann won’t/maybe she’ll remember this—I remember I was going to preach on a Sunday at our church about marriage. I thought of that verse, “It’s not good for man to be alone”; “What am I doing, doing this alone? There’s so many women sitting out there; they’re not going to hear a woman’s perspective. They’re only going to hear me and my sports stories.” [Laughter]
Elyse: You’re not going to get over that, are you? [Laughter]
Dave: So I went to Ann—I don’t know if she’ll remember this—and I said, “You need to join me on this message.” She is like, “I don’t even know what you’re saying!” I go, “I don’t even care.” I honestly said that; do you remember this? I said: “Just speak whatever you want to say to what I’m saying. Of course, I want you to see the notes.” We should have prepared.
I felt that she needs to be up there to represent a woman’s perspective on this; because [otherwise] all the women are going to be like, “Okay; that’s great. I’m hearing from another husband.” Hopefully, it’s good; but that lack’s going to be there.
She comes up with me—I’ll never forget—we have a Saturday night service and then three or four on Sunday. Saturday night, she sat there, like, “I don’t even know what you’re going to do!” She’s a strong woman; she’s a little upset—like: “You could’ve at least told me on Tuesday instead of this morning.”
I can remember it like yesterday; it was the best marriage message we had ever given/I had ever given; because she did/she interrupted and said, “I actually disagree. Here’s how I would say this…” The women are like—it was like Captain Marvel—“I’m up there on that stage; I’m represented.”
I look back now on our legacy at our church—there is rarely a marriage/family message given without a man, saying, “My woman’s going to be with me on this.” It’s something you have modeled at our church; it’s sort of the DNA.
Ann: I think the walls were going to come down when I sat on the stool beside Dave. When we were talking about the woman being the helper, I said, “I thought, ‘Why do I have to be the helper? Where’s my helper?’” [Laughter] I think Dave was like, “Oh, no!”
Bob: “Now, I’m real trouble.” [Laughter]
Ann: I said: “I looked it up in the dictionary/in Webster’s dictionary. It says a helper is a subordinate; someone important tells them what to do. She’s a go-fer; she does the dirty work.” I said, “No wonder I hate this word!” “But then, when you go into the Hebrew, then”—that’s why we need to go deeper into the study of what God calls us, as women, because—“we are worthy.”
Bob: Yes; I can hear our listeners—some of them drafting the emails in their head that they’re getting ready to send to us—and that’s fine. I mean, it’s good for us to engage in this in a lively way and to be corrected when we need to be corrected. We’re all open to that.
I think the overarching theme of your book, Worthy, and of this conversation, is we have to recognize that half of the body of Christ needs to have more opportunity to engage in the life of the church, and in the life of the home, and in—
Ann: —to use our gifts.
Bob: Exactly. We will all benefit from that engagement. I think this is good for us to think about and to interact about. I’m grateful for the book you guys have written that gives us a chance to dive deep into this. The book is called Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women by Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The phone number to call to order a copy of the book, Worthy, is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about what the Bible means when it says a wife is to be a helper to her husband. Is that a term of value, and dignity, and worth? How should that idea be understood? Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher are going to join us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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