How Faith Mission Pioneers Understood Women’s Roles -- By: Ruth A. Tucker

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 10:2 (Spring 1996)
Article: How Faith Mission Pioneers Understood Women’s Roles
Author: Ruth A. Tucker

How Faith Mission Pioneers Understood Women’s Roles

Ruth A. Tucker

A church historian (PhD., Northern Illinois University), Ruth Tucker teaches at Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music. She is a visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and at Moffat College of the Bible, Kijabe, Kenya, Dr. Tucker was a plenary speaker at the CBE 1991 National Conference in Colorado, and her books are available through the CBE Book Service. This article was first printed in Evangelical Missions Quarterly. April 1988, and is reprinted by permission of the author.

It is often assumed that opportunities for women in ministry have expanded over the past century, and that Christian leaders have relaxed their once tight restrictions on women assuming leadership roles in the church at home and abroad. This assumption is well-founded in most mainline churches. Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and some Lutheran bodies have opened wide the doors of ministry on all levels to women. In previous generations these denominations systematically barred women from leadership roles, but, spurred by the feminist movement, they have legislated equality of opportunity for women in recent decades.

Interestingly, an almost opposite trend has occurred over the past century in most sectarian evangelical bodies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women in these newly formed denominations enjoyed unprecedented opportunities for ministry in every level of church outreach. This has been recently documented in a book by Janette Hassey, No time for Silence: Evangelical Women m Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century (available from the CBE Book service).

The book opens with an illustration that shows the shift in thinking toward women in evangelical circles over the past several decades:

In 1927, the Moody Bible Institute Alumni News proudly published a letter containing an astounding personal account of the ministry of Mabel C. Thomas, a 1913 MBI graduate. Thomas, called to the pastorate in a Kansas church, had preached, taught weekly Bible classes, and baptized dozens of converts. She concluded her letter with praise, since she “could not have met the many and varied opportunities for service without the training of MBI.

Today, because of gender, female students at MBI and other evangelical institutions are barred from pastoral training courses. Why has such an enormous shift occurred since the turn of the century? Why do many evangelical groups who used women as pastors and preachers then now prohibit or discourage such ministry?1

The shift in attitudes toward women has occurred partly because of the institutionaliza...

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