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Seeing is Believing

Beth Allison Barr had had no living memory of women in ministry as a woman in the 1980's. As a history professor, she knew women had a history of preaching. However not seeing women in teaching roles impacts the visions of young women for their future. And it's not only about preaching, pastoring, and teaching. Barr says that men restricting women reflects a whole different way of seeing half the world's population.

These ideas are from a recent presentation of Barr speaking at Northern Seminary. The video is here.

two people
Charlene and her pastor on Designing Women

She opens her talk by discussing TV episode that was created back in 1986 when women did have a living memory of women in ministry. When they knew that seeing women in ministry freed young girls and women to see themselves differently. Women (like Charlene in Designing Women) and some men were shocked that pastors voted against allowing #womeninministry Charlene told her pastor she would no longer be able to attend his church and explained the reason why. She says it's not God's wisdom to stop women from speaking, it's man's. She told her friends "It's a whole way of seeing half the world's population."

The TV episode aired shortly after the term Complementarian was coined as a Christian name for male hierarchy. In the year 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) rejected female preachers. In 2023, the SBC upheld its decision to expel any congregations that ordained women pastors. They say they are upholding the long-held traditions of the church supporting only men in pastoral roles.

Women who came of age in the '90s and 2000s were taught these restrictions were designed by God. Barr's book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, explains how men designed restrictions based on gender.

Beth Allison Barr
Dr Barr speaking at Northern Seminary

Unlike younger women, I have a living memory of female pastors in the '80s and '70s. I did not see this episode of Designing Women. I did not feel personally impacted by the decision of some churches to limit women in ministry. I was shocked when I realized just a few years ago how patriarchy had gained strength and credibility in evangelical Christian circles. Patriarchy is about more than leadership. It's about controlling the freedom of others.

It's over 30 years since that TV episode and the fruit of patriarchy has been harmful to individuals and maligned God's character. It disenfranchises women from the church. Barr carefully notes not all men are abusive, but the patriarchal structure at home and church allows abusive men to thrive. In her video, she says:

"Patriarchy is a social system that centres some men and privileges the power of those men... evangelical Christians have succumbed to the sin of patriarchy and become complicit in the oppression of women."

Barr closes her video with the story of Hagar. As a young Baptist, Barr was taught that Hagar was a slave and her descendants were not children of God's promise. Seeing Hagar through the eyes of a woman of colour, Barr learned to see Hagar as a powerless slave abused by an older, authoritarian man. But God saw Hagar, and Hagar is the first person in the Bible to give God a name: the God who sees me.

Listening to Dr. Beth Allison Barr speak encourages me to believe that my writing about biblical equality is important. It is a calling. For those who have believed the story that women were never called to preach, I have recently profiled women preachers in every century since Christ rose. Why? So that people can see how God has consistently gifted and called women and, despite restrictions, they have obeyed. My next novel, Because She Was Called, showcases women leaders of the early church.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

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