Who else has authority in the community?
by Kendra Hotz
are two important groups who always carry authority in Christian
churches, even when official doctrine and polity do not acknowledge
them: women and the wealthy.
have been active leaders since the beginning of the Christian faith.
Jesus violated social norms by conversing with and teaching women.
He included them among his innermost circle of followers. Many of
the most important turning points in his career were marked by interaction
with women. In the Gospel of John, he is first made known as messiah
to the woman at the well. In the Gospel of Mark, he begins his ministry
among the Gentiles after a woman argues with him.
all of the Gospel accounts it is women who first attest to the resurrection.
Other New Testament writings confirm that women continued to be
active in leading the early church. The apostle Paul mentions a
number of important women in his letters and even identifies one
of them, Junia, as an apostle.
the status of women in the New Testament is also mixed. In one place
women are admonished not to speak during worship, in other places
they are forbidden to teach, and in another they are taught to submit
to their husbands. Although these texts are difficult to square
with the others mentioned above and with the basic Pauline affirmation
that in Christ differences of status such as male and female have
been abolished, the ambiguity
about the status of women in the New Testament eventually led the
church, in conformity with its surrounding Greco-Roman culture,
to the conclusion that women are subordinate to men and may not
serve as leaders in the church.
Christian churches still forbid women to serve as clergy. The Roman
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, together with most Baptists
and independent/non-denominational churches, teach that women may
not hold ordained office. Other Protestant denominations, however,
permit and encourage women to serve in all areas of church leadership.
African-American churches were among the first to affirm the gifts
of women for ministry. The Methodists, most Episcopalians and Presbyterians,
the United Church of Christ, most Lutherans, and others followed.
in denominations and congregations where they are not permitted
to hold church office, however, women still carry a great deal of
authority. Sometimes that authority is acknowledged—when they
serve as Sunday School leaders for children, organize and volunteer
in church ministries, and so forth—and at other times it takes
the form of behind-the-scenes influence.
wealthy also carry a great deal of authority in Christian churches,
even though it violates deeply held Christian convictions to privilege
them. In spite of the church’s
best efforts to uphold the poor and to hold all as equal, Christians
have often succumbed to social and cultural pressures that favor
the wealthy and give them undue influence on the policies and practices
of a community.
is not uncommon to find that those who can afford to make the largest
financial contributions to a congregation are also those most likely
to be chosen for service as leaders. Their influence is also felt
when congregations deliberate on controversial matters because of
fear that an unpopular decision may threaten the financial stability
of a congregation if wealthy members decide to leave or to withhold
funds because of that decision.
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.