The reasons I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod were complex. Whether it was the science I was taught as a child not aligning with reality or the misogynistic and racist actions of pastors and those training to be the same, or any of a number of other issues I had, these all were contributing factors. Now, I am going to spend some time on perhaps the biggest reason I am no longer part of the LCMS, which is their views on women in the church and home. This is a deeply personal subject for me, and I have numerous personal stories related to it. Names and other details may be modified for privacy.
Points of Fracture: Women in the Church, Part 2
I wrote before about being confronted about the possibility of women being pastors when I was in college and dated a woman who wanted to be a pastor. I went straight to texts approved by the LCMS to try to prove that women could not be pastors. For a while, I was in a comfortable space thinking I was right, despite a few hiccups here and there. But one question that I’d never thought of before continued to plague me: why couldn’t women be pastors? It was one thing to read the texts a certain way and believe they excluded women from the ministry, but why would that be?
The answers I received when I asked LCMS pastors–who were plentiful at my school and the churches I attended in college–were unsatisfactory. With few exceptions, they boiled down to “Because God said so.” I could accept that. There were plenty of things I believed God had done or determined that I either couldn’t understand or hadn’t the information to even begin trying to comprehend them. But what bothered me more is that this didn’t seem to be the reason given until very recently. When I looked into why women were excluded from the ministry in older LCMS works or in church history, the answer continually came up that women had less ability to pastor. That is, they weren’t as smart, or they had some inferiority in them. Or, because of the curse from the fall, women had to submit to men. Another answer was a reading of 1 Timothy 2:14 (“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”) that claimed women were inherently more prone to being deceived.
These reasons, while they didn’t align with reality I observed, at least were reasons apart from “God said so.” As someone who was becoming increasingly interested in Christian Apologetics (a branch of theology in which people work to defend the Christian faith against objections and provide positive reasons for belief), I was especially sensitive to the “God did it” type of reasoning which many non-Christians accused Christians of appealing to when it came to questions of how the universe works. To me, having a reason why women shouldn’t be pastors, even if it was a poor and transparently misogynistic one, was better than having no reason other than a bare appeal to authority. But this reason didn’t stand up when I raised it to others. At one point, I recall even foolishly raising it to the young woman I was dating who wanted to be a pastor. She shot the reasoning down with all the scorn it deserved. After all, did I really, truly believe that men were any less inclined than women towards sinfulness? And didn’t the Lutheran confessions themselves teach that all people–men and women alike–are inherently sinful? How did men somehow get a free pass on this?
I realized that the reason I’d found didn’t work pretty quickly. Not only did it not match reality, but it also was blatantly misogynistic on a level with which I was uncomfortable despite the misogyny in my own background (see, for example, here). This left me adrift. I thought the Bible taught women couldn’t be pastors, but I could find no adequate as to why that should be the case. Then, one day, I walked into a Christian bookstore and came upon a book: Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip Payne.
The first few pages of the book had the author talking about how he affirmed inerrancy but believed that men and women were equally gifted to serve and lead in the church. Here was someone who claimed to believe as I did about the authority of the Bible while still affirming women in leadership. I bought the book and over the course of the vacation I was on I read it, underlining copiously, looking up Bible passages (“Does it really say that!?”), looking at my Greek New Testament, and more. Payne focused on the Pauline corpus related to women in the church, but as that’s where the most significant “clobber passages” were drawn from in my own tradition, that made it a nearly comprehensive study of the topic. And what I found is what I’d begun to suspect: the reading I had been taught was mistaken. Not only did it ignore the cultural context of the text, which I’d been taught was important for understanding the true meaning of the words, but the readings were simplistic on the highest level. They relied, often, on English translations by people already inclined to exclude women from ministry in order to make their points. Payne’s analysis was insightful and absolutely cut the core out of my own view.
I still wasn’t ready to accept women as pastors, but I realized I had massively oversimplified the biblical debate. Then, one day, push came to shove.
My girlfriend had changed her career path because of my objections to her chosen field. She’d decided to study psychology and possibly do some kind of family counseling. But then she came to me telling me that her sense of call from the Holy Spirit into the pastoral ministry hadn’t gone away. Indeed, in some ways it had strengthened. Could I accept what she felt called to do?
I prayed fervently that God would show me the way. I believed–and believe–that God answers prayer, and I dedicated most of my free time for over a week to ask God to guide me. Finally, I prayed one night something like, “God, I know I should not test you, but even your servant Gideon asked for a sign. Please, show me a sign.” I set my Bible on my bed, and flipped it open. It landed on 1 Corinthians 12. I started reading, and became greatly agitated. There it was, about as plain as it seemed it could be, 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” The verse showed that God put an order in the church. That order seemed to be a kind of authoritative or hierarchal order. First were the apostles, second the prophets, third the teachers, and then other gifts. But those first 3 were numbered in an order form first through third. And every understanding I’d seen of pastors in the Bible would say the word “teachers” could be applied to pastors. And, while Junia was an apostle in the Bible, I hadn’t yet read enough on that topic to realize how important she was or even acknowledge that fact. No, what mattered is that women were prophets in the Bible. Absolutely no one could deny that. But if that was the case, then women prophets were set above teachers in the church by God Himself.
It can’t be emphasized enough how much this verse shifted my understanding of the topic. I had been taught that men were suppose to have more authority than women. Indeed, the word “authority” was absolutely essential to an understanding of the topic of women in the ministry. Women just weren’t supposed to have authority over men, they were supposed to submit to them in everything. But here was a verse that plain as day stated that prophets ranked above teachers–the word I’d been assured was one of the biblical words for pastors. And because women prophets existed and no one denies that, that meant that women could be above pastors in whatever sense the verse meant.
It was a revelation, and one that had struck me at the very moment I’d been most fervently praying for a sign from God. There it was. What more could I do than acknowledge it? My mind had been changed, and not because I wanted it to be changed for the sake of my relationship. It hadn’t been changed by “the culture,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. It had instead been changed by prayerful consideration of the text and a strong adherence to carefully reading the same. My mind had been changed. Women could be pastors. I realized this was going to be a major life-changing event for me in a way that people outside some obscure theological debates might not be fully able to grasp. It truly was a paradigm-shifting moment in my life, and one about which I’d not yet realized the full implications and consequences that would follow.
 The book of Judges has been a longtime favorite of mine, ever since I was enthralled by the illustrated kids’ Bible in which the action hero nature of this book made it jump off the page. Gideon’s story can be found in Judges 6 and following. The part I was referencing was Judges 6:37-40.
 I realize some readers might be uncomfortable about thinking God works this way. So am I. I don’t think God typically works in such a fashion. I can only report what I experienced and my belief that, in the moment, God used a broken, mistaken understanding about how God works to bring me to a better understanding of the Bible.
 Obviously much more nuance is needed here, and I’ve since thought and read quite a bit about this issue. However, I’ve yet to see a complementarian answer about this specific verse that is able to read the words on the page without somehow subverting the order in the church as stated here.
Next: Women in the Church Part 3- I write about my experience within the LCMS on the other side of the issue of women in the church.
Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.
Leaving the LCMS/WELS– Not sure about whether to leave or thinking about leaving? Do you want to others who are thinking along the same lines? I created a group for those who are contemplating leaving these denominations, as well.
Why I left the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Links Hub– Want to follow the whole series? Here’s a hub post with links to all the posts as well as related topics.
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