Men, Join the Women in Worship (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Julie Danley
Nov-Dec 2002

I don’t intend to offend or hurt in any way by the comparison between the women’s role in the church and the Civil Rights Movement.

I have been frustrated, however, for fifteen years and have used this illustration many times in my mind to help me understand a little better how I felt.

All my life I have been a member of a Church of Christ, and all my adult life I have been disillusioned with the church’s stance (predominant view) on the role of women in the public assembly. During the 1960s, I was a child and knew just a little of what was going on in the world around me. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and the progress they made was slow, scary, and cost many lives. They first had to get some white men to agree with them and stand by them and be willing to go with them. They could be very well-educated, well-read, eloquent, charismatic men but no one would listen until some prominent powerful white men backed them up. Is that what needs to happen in order for the women in the churches of Christ to have a voice? Is there a prominent minister out there who feels this is important enough to speak out about? How about an author? Are we all afraid of the repercussions? What would those be?

African Americans were told that they should be happy with what they had. Slavery was abolished and they were “free.” They were told they could ride the bus…just ride in the back. They could eat at a restaurant but first it had to be one that allowed “coloreds” and then they could only be seated in the colored section. They could drink from the water fountain but only if it was marked for them. They could buy a house but only in their section of town. You can get an education but only in the designated schools. We are a country about freedom but don’t expect fairness from our court system. Oh yes, they were free.

I know I could never feel even a small portion of what the African American community felt during that awful time but I do feel a kinship with them because of the similarities. In both cases people have used the Bible in order to oppress. They take whatever they can use as ammunition and use for their good. I beg them to look at the Bible as a whole and think about what Jesus wanted and intended for the church. I have been told that I should be happy with what I’m allowed to do in the church. I can sing as long as I am facing forward and a man is leading the song. I can read the Bible in the sanctuary if I do so silently as a man reads the scripture aloud. I can pass communion if I am just passing it to my neighbor and a male has already passed it to my pew…I cannot stand up and pass it to the row behind me. I cannot have a title such as deacon, minister, or elder but I can do the work that all of those involve. I might be asking for a title just for the title. Is that how those men who hold those titles felt before they received them? I should be happy with all the freedom I experience. I might as well worship from behind the curtain where you cannot view me. Did Jesus’ death on the cross and the tearing of the curtain in the temple not mean anything? I can enter the holy of holies, African Americans can enter the holy of holies, children can enter the holy of holies, unwed mothers can enter the holy of holies, drug addicts can enter the holy of holies, the mentally disabled, the disenfranchised. Need I go on. Women can enter the holy of holies. Maybe that seems too simplistic but maybe we have made it too complicated.

I am asking for conversation and some serious consideration on the role of women in the churches of Christ. I have tried conversation in my own congregation and it doesn’t get anywhere. Anger is aroused and words are spoken that are not easily taken back. Can we have this discussion in love and with the earnest desire to do what Jesus would do? Can we have this discussion as a church and not draw lines that will be hard to cross later?

My mother once said to me that having women participate in our worship would destroy the beauty of the service. I was crushed and disappointed. Can it not make it richer, fuller and more complete? Just as the Civil Rights Movement brought us a richer, fuller and more complete society. We are able to hear a little bit more of the human experience and are better equipped to move through the difficult moments. I am not asking for power but for the males in the churches of Christ to join hands with me and other women to make our family complete. I want to hear a female voice read a scripture with conviction and strength. I want an adolescent girl to pass communion to me as part of her family. I want to know what images come to mind when an elderly woman takes communion as she has all her life. I want to hear female voices in prayer…calling for healing, thanking for victories and asking for a clearer vision for the church of tomorrow. But I also want to see men and women joined in worship…a couple reading from the word, a family serving communion together, and when the youth group leads worship…I desire the whole youth group leading us in worship. I’m not asking for chaos or disruption. Just take my hand and travel with me; worship with me, pray with me, let the spirit move in our body as it has never moved before.

I know that there are many who will be angry to read these words but it is not the darkness of anger that I intend but the light of our Lord who offers freedom.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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