Professors discuss the role of women within the church

Early in her marriage, Holly Allen, the director of child and family studies at JBU, shared an experience with her husband that changed how she thought of women in the church.

They attended a service where the women of the church prayed together as part of the worship. Her husband turned to her with tears in his eyes and said it was a blessing to hear women pray and what a loss it was that he had not heard it before.

Allen said it was the first time she saw not only the possibilities within the church that women could potentially have, but she also saw what could be received by the men in the church.

“This congregation is not full of men,” said Tracy Balzer, the Director of Christian Formation. “I absolutely think women should be part of the decision making.”

“I really try to avoid making sweeping stereotypes, but women do generally have a very deep way of connecting with God and it is a blessing to the church,” said Balzer.

She said she appreciates working on a staff of men and women because of the greater diversity, especially in her close work with the campus chaplain, Rod Reed.

When she and her husband Carey first came to JBU 15 years ago, there were not any women in the Bible Department. The first woman to join the department was Robbie Castleman, who was voted “Rookie of the Year” for the 2002-03 academic school year.

Allen said she has felt very welcomed on campus, but she would like more women to hold administrative positions.

She also said the faculty at the university share a special fellowship together, not just in theory but also in practice. Once a year, they gather as ‘women in academia’ to talk about the pressure they face to publish, hold positions on committees, to perform highly as teachers and to perfectly balance all of this with their personal lives.

Allen wants fellow women faculty members and other women to realize while they can “have it all,” but they do not need to have it all at the same time.

The North Slope Apartments’ Resident Director Emily Burney said she believes one aspect of bringing restoration to the world is transforming the relationships between men and women to what they were before “the curse” in Genesis 3 while still acknowledging that the relationship has changed.

When she was still single, Burney was not comfortable with how women were viewed within marriage, but her mindset has changed since getting married.

“Every decision we make we discuss it, then whoever is more passionate about the decision, whether it is him or me, we ask to make the choice,” said Burney. Balzer expressed a similar idea in her marriage with a “mutual submission” between her and her husband.

David Vila said he and his wife are very egalitarian in their marriage.

“I think headship of the man means I submit to what my wife wants,” said Vila. He also said he is very open to women having positions of leadership in the church.

He said he and colleagues who disagree about women in leadership in the church disagree about the interpretation of scripture, but not on scripture’s role.

“I don’t reject scriptures in that view, I think it is within the bounds of Scripture,” said Vila. “If I thought it was not allowed in scriptures, I would not believe it was allowed.”

Vila was raised in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) denomination. This denomination does not approve of women holding official positions of authority in the church and Vila said certain branches of this denomination make the distinction between the roles of women and men.

PCA’s official ruling on the role of women in the church was decided in 1976 based on a strict interpretation of scripture.

The decision was made to make a clear distinction between elders and deacons, which women could become though they would be referred to as ‘deaconesses’.

“The area in which women may not have authority over men is that of ecclesiastical authority, which is authority invested in the elders,” states the PCA in the 1976 committee report.

While deciding women could not fulfill this role, the report said women could be full-voting members, missionaries, serve on committees and church boards. With careful consideration they can give testimonies.

“Apart from these structures of family and church, they are not by creational role subordinate to men,” said the report. “Women-in-general are not under the authority of men-in-general.”

Balzer believes it is up to each woman to work through what the denomination they are apart of believes about the role of women. Each tradition will have a different view.

She said the non-denominational church she attends in Siloam does not have any women in leadership roles.

“Preaching and decision-making is all male, which I think is unfortunate, but that’s not a hill I’m going to die on,” said Balzer.

Allen said her denomination also discourages women from positions of leadership.

She has gone to speak with her husband at different churches and events and been asked to sit down, but she is not personally offended because she understands it as a doctrinal issue.

Allen said she might feel differently if her calling was different and she did not have a voice at the University.

“I am very pleased to teach the women. I am very pleased to teach the children,” said Allen. “I do not view it as a lesser role.”

Vila said he has been surprised by the number of women students at JBU who oppose woman leadership, thought he thinks there is some difference “between theory and practice.”

Balzer said a person’s calling has much more to do with their gifts then their gender.

“I’m a campus minister,” said Balzer. “I just happen to be a woman.”

Allen and Burney also said they believe first and foremost that women must follow whatever calling God gives them, even if it is uncomfortable.

“Do not hold back,” said Balzer. “Do not let anything tell you to not continue to grow and flourish in God’s Kingdom.”