I have never known church without female leadership. Never. I had the luck to be born into a church that affirmed the role of women in the church way back when it was not just uncommon, but downright scandalous. And yet—it thrived. More than 50 years on, my church is still out there being the hands and feet of God in the world where it can. The ladies didn’t ruin it, lightning didn’t strike the bell tower during one of the many ordination services of women, and the people didn’t stop showing up because somebody with boobs under her robe was preaching the gospel. Thanks be to God.
This past week, a video has circulated the interwebs of a group of men mocking, belittling, and laughing at well-known Bible teacher, Beth Moore. Moore has spent decades teaching and mentoring and guiding and sharing the love of God. John MacArthur and other male faith leaders were gathered to celebrate MacArthur’s 50 years in ministry. Part of their celebrations included calling Moore a narcissist for daring to be a woman preaching God’s word. The men played a word association game and when Beth Moore’s name was said, MacArthur said, “Go home,” to uproarious laughter and applause. Just like Jesus would have—wait… As any man of God would—um… In a way that God wants us all to mock others—hmm...
MacArthur and his friends take umbrage with Moore because she has called out the church for its failure to protect and defend women from abuse within the church. You know—like Jesus told us to do. She has spoken out against racism and advocated for abuse victims—again, just like the Good Book says. She has made it clear that she knows good and godly men in the church that she is indebted to for their guidance and support over the years—she didn’t paint them all with the same brush when she said there is rotten fruit that needs clearing out. She just said, ‘Let’s clean this out; here—I’ll help.’
Unlike MacArthur, Moore didn’t demean or disparage someone by name; she didn’t discredit the work of an entire sex, and she didn’t name-call. Moore hasn’t even called for women to be ordained. I disagree with Moore on this, as well as her stance on LGBTQ inclusion in the church among other things. I’ve never done a Beth Moore Bible Study, I’ve never read anything she’s written—I’m not here to defend a hero of mine. This is where that whole thing about ‘being kind even to people you don’t agree with’ and ‘standing up for those that Jesus would stand up for’ stuff I’m trying to teach my kids comes in. I don’t have to agree with Moore on anything to see that she is a child of God and a couple of grown men acting more like the worst of the Pharisees went after her.
I am not going to lay out an argument for ordaining women; I am not going to engage in ‘Bible gotcha’ pitting this verse versus that verse to back up my belief that God calls people to serve regardless of their gender. My young children can list women of valor who preached and led and prophesied in the Bible off the top of their little heads—Biblical support for women being called to the ministry is not hard to find. You can also take to Google and find dissertations by the thousands written by scholars supporting that fact.
To be honest—I don’t feel qualified to play Biblical warfare over whether women should be allowed to serve in the church because it has never been a question in my mind. It’s not something I have struggled with or sought out evidence to support because I have never felt conflicted about it. The evidence I have is in the fruits of the labor of scores of women who have answered God’s call. And now I get to watch my daughters do the same.
A couple of weeks ago, my sainted mother-in-law had all four of my children for a Saturday night. She had told me to pack Sunday school clothes for church—but they ended up not needing them. They had their own service outside beside the lake at her house. The kids led the service. They roped a paddleboard paddle to a tree making a cross, draped a throw blanket over it as their paraments (and lamented that Gammy didn’t have a blanket in the correct color for the liturgical season), and wrote an order of worship on notebook paper. There was singing, praying, reading of scripture, a litany of praise, a sermon, and a benediction—the full meal deal. And my daughters wore black shirts over their dresses because they were the pastors, and, in their world, pastors wear robes.
After receiving pictures and videos from congregant Gammy, I forwarded them to my dear friend and pastor, Lesley. Lesley did not grow up with ordained female leadership in her church, but answered God’s call to ordination anyway—thanks be to God. I have no doubt in my mind that my life is richer for having Lesley pastor me and my family. I thank God every day that she didn’t ‘go home.’ She came home, to the church and to the people whose lives she touches every day in answer to God’s calling.
After looking at the pictures I texted her, Lesley texted back, “They will never question whether the word ‘Pastor’ belongs beside their names.” It struck me that a younger Lesley must have asked herself that question many times, but that my daughters won’t because she, and so many other amazing women, answered that question, ‘Yes.’
MacArthur might liken my girls dressing up as pastors to my son dressing up as a taco for Halloween—pure fantasy. And if his attitude on the video is any indication, he would do so with a level of smugness and entitlement unbecoming of anyone, much less someone with ‘Pastor’ before their name.
A very brief internet search tells me that MacArthur is known for calling other faith movements such as Hinduism and the Charismatic movement “the work of Satan,” he called Catholicism the “Kingdom of Satan” and called the Pope the anti-christ, and he thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to preach to men. I don’t know much else about the man; I wouldn’t presume to have a thorough understanding of the workings of his mind or a comprehensive knowledge of his ministry.
Just as I disagree with Beth Moore on many things she believes but give her the benefit of the doubt that she believes she is doing God’s work in sharing them—I’ll do the same for MacArthur. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he felt he was serving God in these pursuits—but I don’t have to agree with either of them on that. It’s up to God to judge our actions; but it’s up to all of us to call out injustice and abuses of power and just pure meanness—especially when it’s done in God’s name.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” Calling a woman a narcissist for daring to preach and telling her to go home while laughing and yukking it up with your buddies is not right, it is not just, and it is not true—or at the very least, not true to the spirit of Jesus.
That brief list of statements and publications of MacArthur’s tells me he has spent a great deal of time drawing lines around who’s in and who’s out as far as God’s welcome and the call to serve are concerned. It’s almost like he believes God’s love is like a pie, if I get more then you get less. And that is disheartening. It’s not a message I can let go by without calling it out as the heresy it is. God’s love just doesn’t work like that.
I have been blessed to be served by the most amazing pastors in my life—female and male. They are all the most beautiful servants of God and the only thing under their black robes that matter is their heart. God asked for it and they gave it to be used to show God’s love. I don’t know what drove MacArthur to stage such an unkind, unbiblical, and ungodly attack on a woman who has dedicated her life to serving the same God he does. But I do know God’s grace and God’s welcome are not pies. They don’t run out and they don’t have labels over them denoting one flavor for one group and a less sweet version for another group. There’s enough welcome in God’s love for every human on earth and that pie never runs out.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.