Women Missing in Church History: Filling Out the Historical Record – Week 8

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Based on Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski/Stasson
(Used by permission: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021)

A Taste of Chapter 6: Women Preachers in America
By Rebecca Hopkins www.rebeccahopkins.org

Aimee Semple McPherson wanted to preach the Gospel in a setting where men and women, blacks and whites, rich and poor worshipped together.[1]

And people listened.

In fact, so many people listened that not only did she form a denomination—Foursquare—and pioneered radio use for evangelism, she was also America’s first megachurch pastor.[2]

With her success, though, came criticism. She was too emotional, Los Angeles political leaders said. This may have been because she preached about servanthood and about the church as the bride of Christ—a softer focus than what male preachers taught. Others said she’d been married too many times. Her first husband died when they were missionaries in China. Her second one said she shouldn’t be in ministry and divorced her. A third man divorced her when she didn’t give him enough money or allow him a big role in the church.[3]

Other female preachers are called “Jezebels.” Criticism was normal for female preachers in 18th, 19th and early 20th century America, wrote professor Leanne Dzubinski and historian Anneke Stasson in their new book, “Women in Missions.” And so was an eventual commitment to their calling no matter the cost, they wrote.[4]

“When nineteenth-century women experienced the call to preach, nearly all of them ‘quenched the Spirit’ for a time because of fear, uncertainty or maternal obligations,” they wrote. “Ultimately, however, the precedent of women’s leadership in Scripture and the continual prodding of the Spirit in their hearts convinced them to fulfill God’s call to preach.”[5]

Dzubinski and Stasson hope to introduce modern Christians to the little-known part that women have played in the church.

Opportunities for female preachers opened up in the midst of religious awakenings in the United States—and they ended up shaping these movements, too. In fact, more than 100 women became preachers in the States from 1740 to 1845, the authors wrote.[6]

The movement of American women preachers began with the Puritans. They weren’t supposed to teach in church, but could at home. This gave women an education in the Scriptures, which opened their eyes to spiritual equality. Soon, they found ways to preach from home.[7]

Anne Hutchinson—a Puritan preacher—confronted the legalistic teachings of the church. Confronting wrongs is a common theme for female preachers who come at the Scriptures with different viewpoints than their male counterparts, the authors wrote.[8]

Women soon found opportunities to be teachers in the Quaker church, as Strict Congregationalists, and as Baptists. But when these denominations grew into successful denominations, women lost their ability to preach and lead as a result of these denominations desiring to become for socially acceptable, the authors wrote.[9]

“In a pattern that would appear over and over again in American history, evangelical women lost their public voice as a struggling, marginal sect matured into a prosperous denomination with all the trapping of respectability, including a well-educated male clergy,” they wrote. [10]

But in the second Great Awakening, women found denominations—especially in the north where slavery was prohibited—that allowed them to lead. The Methodists, for example, embraced female leadership, largely due to John Wesley’s advocacy for women. Churches that de-emphasized class and gender distinctions also became places welcome to female leadership. [11]

“The emphasis on religious experience and the movement of the Holy Spirit tended to relativize distinctions of race, class and gender and to create opportunities for those on the margins to gain religious authority,” they wrote. [12]

[1]  Leanne Dzubinski, Anneke Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 141.

[2]  Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 140.

[3]  Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 141-142.

[4] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 133.

[5] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 144.

[6] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 127.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 129.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 131.

[12] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 144.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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