I’m a Christian woman who thinks. Anyone else with me?

I’ve thought a lot lately about gender roles and what it means to be a woman in the Church.  This is a HUGE topic that I’m not really willing to write about in any great detail because it still feels rather overwhelming to me.  However, I was talking to Clay about something the other night that has bothered me for years.  It seems that it is a common thing in the church for people to make assumptions about the intellectual and theological depth of women that generally has nothing to do with individual abilities. 

I think I’m definitely more aware of this as a female with a seminary degree since my kind is a minority.  My feelings on this subject have also changed in the past couple of years, and as I look around I notice other people thinking the same things I used to think… and I see it a bit differently.  What I notice is that there tends to be an underlying prejudice against women in areas of intelligence and theological depth.  Men are considered to be deep and wise pillars of theological truth.  Women, on the other hand, well they generally like to be emotional and relational and more into the touchy-feely side of faith.  Which is fine, as long as their husbands keep them informed on the deep stuff. 

These fictitious stereotypes are more a crossover of cultural prejudices against women than biblical exegesis.  No distinction is made in the Bible concerning which sex receives certain spiritual gifts or intellectual capabilities.  Being a thinker doesn’t make a woman more masculine, and being relational doesn’t make a man more feminine.  Both attributes could be used to describe Jesus, in whose image we are all being formed.  So I’m a little pained when I find myself thrown into a category of stereotyped femininity that bears no resemblance to who I am and what my gifts are. 

I’ve noticed that men and women alike have a tendency to automatically assume that a man is more trustworthy and intelligent about certain matters… who would you rather teach you about the nature of the Trinity…The Gospel of Matthew…Old Testament prophecy?  A man or a woman?  Forget for a moment about any convictions you have regarding whether it is a woman’s role to publicly teach in church.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  A concept of roles should refer to position, not ability.  Do you really believe that a woman can have the same level of understanding and knowledge, the same wisdom, and the same ability to convey the the Gospel as a man?  When I asked myself this question I was shocked to learn that subconsciously over the years I had come to trust in males more than females.  Females are thought of as flighty and emotional, subject to their whims (after all, isn’t that why everyone says we shouldn’t have a women president? She’d be too emotional to do her job?).  Sure this might describe a woman here or there, an anecdote that we’ve heard.  But where is our justification for not seeing women as intellectual equals with men…particularly in areas of the church?

Everyone is different.  Some are more naturally “thinkers,” and some are “feelers.”  These refer to our personality traits, not abilities.  Women who naturally interpret their world through their senses and emotions have no fewer capacities for knowledge than a man who often finds himself pondering the deep questions of the universe.  I have a strong suspicion that too many women have never been challenged to really think deeply, to study theology, to be challenged in asking tough questions about God.  They’ve stuck with their label of “feelers,” (whether or not that’s a true personality distinction) and assumed that the men, the “thinkers,” will handle the rest.  In no way do I think that being a thinker is more valuable than a feeler… I’m still not even sure which one I am.  But I’m bothered that the church assumes women are not interested or capable, and women are never pressed to go deeper. 

Girls, we’re emotional, we cry, we raise kids, and we do the laundry.  But we also have the same intellectual capacity as a man.  I think we readily admit this when it comes to matters of career and academics.  But in spiritual and theological areas, there is still a tendency to think that men have a corner on the market.  Let’s challenge ourselves, let’s create a bigger imagination of our capacities, and let’s remember that we are created in the image of a God who made all of His children equal. 

*For a thorough theology on what it means to be feminine and created in the image of God as a woman, I highly reccomend checking-out Jonalyn Fincher’s Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home

How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home

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14 responses to “I’m a Christian woman who thinks. Anyone else with me?

  1. Great post Emily. I lament this reality and if men were truly the spiritual leaders in the church, then they would be the first to scorn the stereotype you’re commenting on here by way of calling for and working toward a stronger female contingent in terms of Christian leadership. If it’s any consolation, it won’t be as bad in Seattle – that is if you don’t go to you know where.

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  2. Emily,

    Thanks for this post. It is quite possibly my favorite you’ve written so far. The woman’s role in the church is something that I have struggled with and will continue to contemplate probably for the rest of my life. Being a feeler myself, I often tend to put “thinking” on the back burner, not challenging myself in knowledge. That’s something I’ve been working through the past few months. This post has given me even more encouragement. I think JR is right, you will love Seattle. Thanks!

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  3. Very well written and thought through. You speak well on the subject of women with intellectual gifts and I hope to get to hear more from you in that regard. Being a woman in seminary is a lonely experience (as you may or may not know), but being an intellectual woman in the church can be a much more lonely experience. I believe, no matter each of our views on women in the church, that we need to work to make church a safe place for all kinds of women to come and worship. I think we need to work a bit harder to welcome intellectually inclined woman so that when they don’t fit in the box that’s more publicly noticeable, they won’t take off and go elsewhere.

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  4. Great post. I don’t do “women’s Bible studies” or “women’s ministries” anymore because both are usually a half-step away from fluff – if that far. I’m also bored to death with the paradigm that crams Christian women into Genesis 2, Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 as if those are the ONLY portions of Holy Writ. What happened to the rest? *bored* with “church” these day.

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  5. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Marcel

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  6. I like your blog. I believe a woman can have the same level of understanding and knowledge, the same wisdom and the same ability to convey the Gospel. I was taught growing up to use my brain and think. I know that I am a “fellow heir of the grace of life”. In our Sun school class women get into great theological discussions w/men. I think women are intellectual equals w/ men. I’m in a Bible study where we think theologically and ask tough questions. I do believe the Bible says we have different roles. I teach women and I discuss w/ men. The Bible says we’re not to have authority over men. 1Tim.2:12 That doesn’t bother me b/c I can plead my case and argue respectively when I disagree and submit to the elders’ authority. That doesn’t diminish who I am. Christ was part of the Trinity, and He submitted to His Father. Phil. 2:6-8 I see women and men as co-equals w/ different roles. I thoroughly enjoy being a Christian women w/ the gifts of teaching and exhortation.

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  7. Thank you for your post. You have touched on a subject that I have to this date only contemplated in my mind, and not spoken about with others. But I like that you have given me some food for thought! Thanks!

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  8. I found this blog by googling “intelligent Christian women” because I was starting to feel like it was just a fictitious entity. I don’t want to be a pastor or teach adult Sunday school or anything. I just would really love to be involved in a Bible study, co-ed or just women, that really challenges the way I think. Every once in a while I come upon something that looks promising – but it usually turns out to be a blog for member of the “intellectual community”. You know – PhD or at least MS required. They might not say that but when I mention a movie or just life stuff like parenting and laundry they don’t get it because they live so much in the realm of philosophy etc. To make it worse, I dropped out of college after two years due to an emotional breakdown and it’s never worked out for me to return. So as my childhood friends go on to publish their research findings and are sought after as “experts” for speaking engagements, I am assumed to have no brain because I am a church secretary and the youth pastor’s wife. Anyway – good to know I’m not the only one!

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  9. Rebecca Trotter

    I’m a bit late on this one. However, I just had to comment. My hubby and I went on a bit of a tour of churches last year looking for a church home. We’ve been around the block enough to know not to sit on the sidelines and watch for very long, so we made a point after attending a couple of services to introduce ourselves and inquire about what their membership is like and how to get involved. I was taken aback over and over again at the fact that even when I was the person who approached the pastor or whoever, they were always much more interested in my husband than they were in me. They would ask about his spiritual gifts and experiences in churches. After a while, I asked my husband to start making a point of telling them that I had spiritual gifts of wisdom and teaching and had experience leading a house church and retreat teams. Because otherwise they would hardly pay attention to me beyond wanting to talk about their Sunday school program or something.

    Then again, we were hoping God would lead us to a place where we could serve, but God had already told me in prayer that I could look but what He had for me wasn’t ready. So, perhaps it was as much God refusing to go along with my plans as it was people refusing to see me. Anyhow, it’s an interesting topic. I hope it’s not something my daughters will have to deal with.

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  10. AMEN!! Excellent thoughts and interesting to read the comments. I am more of a thinker and have felt since a child that the Holy Spirit must have gotten my gender confused when He endowed me with spiritual gifts! Thank you for your post.

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  11. I think that the way the Church has treated women historically grieves Jesus. His life showed us the egalitarian nature of the Kingdom of God.

    Yet I would disagree with you when you say that this is a cultural crossover more than an exegetical issue. While I feel that their exegesis is deeply flawed, it is from their “Biblical” belief that women shouldn’t teach men that they derive a general belief that this has something to do with a lower intelligence level.

    It is a tragedy in the church that men are so desperate to hold power that they are unwilling to read the Bible within its cultural context.

    “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (TNIV)

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  12. Pingback: Blogging is a weird thing for me, but I’m back at it. | Let's be honest here…

  13. Thank you for this article! I am a girl that grew up in a very conservative Christian family, and while I believe that God is calling me to a career, I don’t want to forget all I have learned about how to be a virtuous woman. But I’ve often felt that intelligence isn’t considered to be entirely one of those virtues. I’ve been trying to find blogs or articles encouraging Christian women to intelligence as well.

    Also, thank you for not taking the extreme position of blaming the entire misunderstanding on men. You realized that it is a tendency in women as well to believe that men are more intelligent, at least in abstract thought. Blaming a group as a whole is rarely honest and usually sounds vindictive, thank you for not falling into that.

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  14. “Being a thinker doesn’t make a woman more masculine, and being relational doesn’t make a man more feminine.” Thank you! I’ve been saying this to many people who don’t seem to think they “fit in” with other Christians of the same gender, especially women. Why do we insist upon defining things so rigidly, especially if it’s not biblical? Why is the church the one upholding cultural constructs when we serve a God who reaches into every culture and asks us to come out of it? If God has created some of us uniquely different than the cultural norm, why would we tell him that he made a mistake, and that we’re going to choose culture over trusting in Him? What God created is good, and the gifts he has given us should be used to glorify him, not suppressed!

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