Contaminating the Pulpit

Disclaimer: The following post is based on information that’s come down a chain. Names have been omitted to protect those who should embarrassed.

Every year, several historically African American churches in Eastern Jefferson County, Kentucky, hold a community sunrise service to celebrate Resurrection Sunday morning (more commonly referred to as Easter).  Congregants from every church meet at one of the churches, have service and then have breakfast.  The pastor of one of the churches, not usually of the host church, preaches.  The service is slightly inter-denominational, combining Methodist, A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion and Baptist churches. It normally serves as a reminder that although our denominations vary, our belief in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection unites all Christians.

This year the pastors from two of the guest churches, one of whom was to preach, have refused to attend sunrise service.  A woman pastors the host church, and the pastor who was to preach won’t enter a pulpit where a woman has preached.  He’s going to host his own sunrise service at his church.

I had to check the calendar on my wall when my mom told me this.  Yep, it still says 2012.  But some traditionalists just won’t change with the times.

Banning women from preaching or teaching in the church is a long-standing practice.  Some men in church leadership—and the women who staunchly follow them, sometimes squelching the spiritual gifts God told them to use in order to be obedient to their teachers—usually justify the ban through the following scriptures:

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, NIV 1984)

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV 1984)

Those who believe there’s no place for that thinking in this century—and in some denominations, as far back as the 19th Century—contextualize the above scriptures.  They explain that in the cultures of the churches Paul advised in his letters, women couldn’t be educated and couldn’t confront men.  They could learn and ask questions in the newly formed Christian churches, but because they hadn’t had those opportunities before, their knowledge was limited.  Unknowledgeable people shouldn’t teach.  Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul states that women prayed and prophesied in public (although if you read through to verse 10, there are restrictions on that, too).

My mom knew all this last night when she asked, “Does he think she contaminated the pulpit or something?” (We had both heard that in some churches, women are allowed to preach but not stand in the pulpit.  They have to preach from the floor or another place where the men don’t stand.  This is also ludicrous and discriminatory but perhaps a millimeter step forward.  The other pastor doesn’t have to enter the pulpit at tomorrow’s service, so I guess he’s not going because the whole building has been … womanized.) But neither of us has ever been a member of a church that held up this tradition, so I guess she just wanted to understand why a grown minister is acting like a pulpit has girl cooties.

The pastor of First Baptist J-Town Pewee Valley decided the other two pastors are bull petty.  He declared he’s a Christian and doesn’t care who’s been in the pulpit.

I hate to bring this up on the day before arguably the most important CME (Christmas, Mothers Day, Easter) day brings CME Only churchgoers out and the regulars try to convince them to stay.  But I think that those of us who are regulars should recognize organized religion’s complications and flaws.  Not just because we should know what we believe and what we don’t believe and prepare ourselves for the arguments against either.  But also because this particular practice of silencing women isn’t relegated just to the church (black or otherwise).  It’s a form of inequality that’s normal in our society, and it’s not right.  And I believe in saying wrong is wrong.

An earlier version of this post said the pastor of First Baptist J-town attended the service anyway. It has been corrected, per my mother’s good catch, to First Baptist Pewee Valley.  I apologize for the mistake.

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