When Sojourners released its most recent video, “7 Reasons Men Should Not Be Pastors,” we were not prepared for the overwhelming reaction. Three million people have watched the video, which satirizes the misguided reasons people say women shouldn’t lead in the church. We’ve received countless comments from women saying they’ve heard every single one of these used as a reason they shouldn’t be in leadership.
But not everyone was happy. Some have said this video simply presents a “giant straw-man” — that the real reasons for male-only leadership are grounded in scripture. Of course, I disagree — I’m married to one of the first women ordained in the Church of England. My wife, Joy Carroll, is well known in the U.K. as the Real Vicar of Dibley (after the hit television show in which she was the script consultant).
In fact, one of my favorite memories was of Joy celebrating the Eucharist for 25,000 British young people one summer at the Greenbelt Festival — an annual gathering for arts, faith, and justice where we had first met. My son, Luke, who was 4 years old at the time, was sitting in my lap, watching his mom on the stage leading the service. After a while Luke looked up at me and asked, “Dad, can men do that too?”
Women in ministry are changing the narrative in the church, in the society, and in our families. And thank God for that — we need them.
Sojourners created this video — featuring many of our own female leaders on staff — to be satirical, clearly. But there are strong theological reasons women belong in church leadership.
The Bible is full of female leaders. Deborah, for example, exercised complete authority over Israel — the people of God — and carried them through violence into a time of peace. Junia was named by Paul to be “outstanding among the apostles,” and was an example for the early church until a male medieval theologian changed her name to the male “Junias” to reconcile the text with church patriarchy.
And women played a central role in Jesus’ life — as disciples, financial supporters, and the first to see the risen Christ. From Mary and Martha to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus challenged his culture’s patriarchal assumptions and affirmed and empowered women for ministry. So why are we quick to dismiss the gifts and contributions of women whom Jesus radically valued?
In the midst of a sexist and even misogynist conservatism that calls itself “Christian,” and a secular left that too often discounts the value of faith in the public sphere, we desperately need women faith leaders. We need women who will preach good news to the poor and proclaim liberation to the oppressed. We need female clergy like Traci Blackmon, who courageously went into the streets of Ferguson and has served as a spiritual mentor to many young leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. Or Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who has been such a visionary denominational leader in the U.S. and globally. Or Sojourners’ very own Lisa Sharon Harper, who reminds me how the “very good gospel” offers God’s shalom to a broken creation.
The church simply cannot afford to erase its strong female leadership. In a world mired in xenophobia, racism, and gender violence, female clergy are often plotting the way forward. Shepherding houses of God all over the world, these women prove that a relentless and repressive patriarchy will not have the final word in God’s coming kingdom.
So, yes, we like to poke fun at regressive ideas of female gender roles. But our commitment is firm: We need women to lead in our churches, and we will advocate for our sisters in Christ — using biblical truth to guide our way.