Women's Scriptural Status Again

by Mrs. T. P. Holman

(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 21 November 1888)

At odd moments during the present year Bro. Bunner and I have been sparing a little over the scriptural status of woman. But in the Advocate of October 10th Bro. Lipscomb takes up the cudgel in Bro. Bunners place and lays on the blows with an unsparing hand. Now while it does seem rather bad that two big brothers must fight one little sister, still, I am grateful for the implied compliment, and feel encouraged to continue.

Seriously though, this article would not have been written had not my position in some respects been misunderstood. For I am perfectly willing for my argument to remain beside Bro. Lipscombs, and stand or fall on its merits.

In the first place, I wish to say that nothing is more plainly taught in the scriptures, than that the man is the head of the woman, and should take the lead, most especially in the family relation. While it is too often true that women are compelled to assume, if not the nominal, at least the real headship, both in business matters, where through the incompetency or dissipated habits of the husbands, they are compelled to support the family, and in religious matters when their husbands are irreligious or indifferent, still, I have always maintained that such a state of affairs is both unscriptural and unnatural. In nothing I have written have I intended to convey the impression that I thought women should “usurp authority over man.” And I am truly sorry anyone should imagine that I did. But I believe that a learned Christian woman may expound the scriptures and urge obedience to them, to one hundred men and women at one time, as well as to one hundred, one at a time, and do much good, and no more violate a scriptural command in the one instance than the others, and that too without assuming to lead or abolish mans “headship” more in one case than the other. Brother Lipscomb emphasizes again and again the duty of women to marry and bring up children. Now if Paul in Timothy wills that women should marry and bring up children, in the seventh chapter of first Corinthians he gives them full permission to remain unmarried if they wish. In truth he rather commends such a course, for in the thirty-fourth verse he says, “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”

Now if a woman is married and has children, she owes them every possible care, and such a womans place is at home. No possible good that she might do elsewhere in religious or charitable work would be able to compensate for neglect of home duties. I would be glad to hear that doctrine thundered from every pulpit in the land, until fashionable women and bad women of every grade, and would-be good women are made to believe that their childrens immortal souls will be demanded of them at the last day, and no possible excuse will suffice for their neglect. Women should never marry until they have made up their minds to bear children. And I agree most heartily with Bro. Lipscomb in what he has said of the 19th century-womens distaste to motherhood. A sin by no means confined to New England, as he seems to think, but which is cropping up all over this country. And I can assure him most positively that while I have seen dozens of instances of it, not one was attributable to a desire for public life. I believe with Grace Greenwood that “for one woman whom the pursuits of literature, the ambition of authorship, and the love of fame, have rendered unfit for home life, a thousand have been made undomestic by poor social striving, the follies of fashion, and the intoxicating distinction which mere personal beauty confers.”

I believe a good woman will not neglect her children under any possible circumstances, and a bad one does not need an excuse to do so.

He speaks as if “a thirst for the publicity and applause of the rostrum,” were the guiding motive of those women who desire to preach the gospel. Is that the motive actuating men who preach the gospel? If not, then it were but charity to assume a better motive for women. Bro. Lipscomb accuses me of having given a one-sided view of Dr. Adam Clarkes teaching. To prove that I have not, I will quote a part of his comment on 1st Cor., xiv: 34, “let your women keep silence,” etc.

“But this by no means intimates that when a women received any particular influence from God, to enable her to teach, that she was not to obey that influence, on the contrary she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions in chapter eleven for regulating her personal appearance when thus employed. All the apostle opposes here is their questioning to find fault, etc., in the Christian church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues.”

He says it is not in the Bible that women spoke in public on the day of Pentecost. In Acts I: 14 we find that the women were with the apostles waiting for the spirit. In Bro. Creels little booklet, “Shall the sisters pray and speak in public.” on page 6 he says, “Our leading scholars, such men as Alexander Campbell, Moses E. Lard, Robert Milligau, and as far as I know, all the leading scholars, among the different denominations, say the entire one hundred and twenty disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts ii: 4 we read “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the spirit gave them utterance.” Peter then arose and explained to the assembled multitude that the time had come as prophesied in Joel when the spirit of the Lord should be poured out on all flesh; when men, and women should prophesy, etc., and this was a fulfilment of that prophesy. Now, perhaps the inspired writer did not mean ALL, when he said all. But then how does Bro. Lipscomb know that? He must have guessed it. For I am sure the Bible does not say so.

I beg Bro. Lipscombs pardon, but I certainly did not say that women who had no husbands or homes should teach, because tens of thousands of such women are unfit for teaching in every possible way. I only meant that when such a woman had a special talent for teaching, with a strong desire to proclaim the gospel, having no home duties to prevent, and being an earnest, conscientious, good woman, I believed and still believe there is no scriptural reason to prevent. He kindly accuses me of idolatry, of warping and torturing the scriptures, and of being blind. As to my idol (women preaching the gospel) I assure him that I have no idol that I know of, and that least of all. I have said before, and here repeat that I have neither talent, inclination nor opportunity, for any kind of public work. Every instinct of my nature clings to my home, my husband and my children. I abhor the very idea of a public life of either myself or my husband, for which I, at least, am totally unfitted. But that is no reason why I should object to other men and women who have a talent for public work, and a desire to engage in it, doing so.

He thinks it very strange that I cannot understand so plain language as “Let your women keep silence,” etc. Now I am ready to admit, that the language is as clear as the noonday sun. It is only those dozen or so other passages that seem to teach differently that have mystified me.

He has reiterated again and again the unfitness of woman to lead. The Bible nowhere intimates that the mind of woman is inferior to that of man (and it is the mind that makes the leader) or that it is because of womans inferiority or unfitness that man is to take the lead. In all partnership business there is a senior partner. In the marriage relation, the Lord, for good and sufficient reasons, has seen fit to say that the man shall be the head of the family, and no woman should marry a man who is her inferior, or who is incapable of taking the lead. But that women are unfit to lead in the family is disproved by everybodys observation every day of the world. No one who has ever seen a weak inefficient or worthless man, supported by a stirring energetic woman, who, in addition, has to bring up a family, and guide her household, will say that a woman is unfit to lead in the family, though it is rather an imposition for her to have it to do. Again, some of the best work that has been given to the world by man, owes its perfection to the guidance and inspiration of some woman. As to her unfitness to lead in public matters, history and even the Bible itself disproves that. The Holy Spirit does not say that after woman “shipwrecked the world” He could not trust the leadership to her any more, because the Lord did after that trust the leadership to a woman.

In Judges ii: 16 we read that “The Lord raised up judges which delivered them (Israel) out of the hands of those that spoiled them.” Among these judges was one Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth, who even led them to battle, Barak, refusing to go unless she went too. Under her leadership &8220;The land of the children of Israel prospered and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed him.” Judges xi: 24. The song of Deborah after the battle is one of the finest pieces of literature extant. And so wise was her reign that “Israel had rest forty years.” Judges v: 31.

In history which is full of examples of great women who led, the reign of Elizabeth shines like a ray of light in a dark place, and no country could be more prosperous than England at present under Victoria. In our own day in the great battle of the temperance hosts against the realm of king Alcohol, Frances E. Willard President of the National Women Christian Temperance Union, with the genius of a Napoleon, has led two hundred thousand women to battle with a success unattained as yet by any other department of the temperance army.

In science, in the art, in education, in literature, in journalism, in the professions, in finance, in business of every kind, woman has come to the front and proven her ability to cope with man, in anything she may undertake. Indeed it is impossible that it should be otherwise under the great law of heredity than that, mentally, woman should be mans equal in every possible respect.

But the unkindest cut of all is this, that because of the failure of Christian mothers to do their duty, “The gambling rooms, the whiskey shops, the whore house, theatres, the schools of crime and sin and shame, the penitentiaries and prisons are all manned and filled with sons of Christian Mothers.” Christian mothers know this is the end of their sons better than any one else; and this knowledge has sent thousands of mothers to premature graves. It is these houses of sin and shame, licensed and legalized and permitted to exist by the fathers in the land, that has tempted and led astray the sons of Christian mothers and landed them in the prisons and penitentiaries. Had Christian Mothers had a say so in the matter, no licensed saloon or other school of crime would stand with brazen front to entice their sons to ruin and eternal death. Tis this great wrong to woman that has cut into her heart like a great festering cancerous sore for ages; until in her great agony she was compelled to cry out, and beg the men and fathers to remove these stumbling blocks, that her effort to bring up her sons aright might not be in vain. This is what has brought woman into the temperance fight, where she will remain until no legalized saloon or other school of crime remains in the land.

I would like to say before closing that in bringing up the case of Mary of Bethany, whom the Saviour had said had chosen the better part, I only desired to show that at least under some circumstances, a woman might take interest in other than domestic affairs, and did not see in that instance authority for women to lead in public assemblies, as Brother L. intimates. I do not believe that in the early days of Christianity, there were nearly so many women engaged in the active work of the Gospel, as men. Nor in the nature of things is it possible that there will ever be so many. Neither do I believe that the Bible makes any distinction between public and private teaching, or preaching. If it is wrong to tell the story of the cross to one hundred men, it is wrong to repeat it to one. Outside of the Apostles, there are very few examples in the Bible of what we would call public preaching even by men. It simply says, they went every where teaching, but how, whether publicly or privately is not explained. I spoke of this more at length in an article answering Brother Bunner, preceding the one published, but which the editors failed to find room for in Advocate. While, I was sorry not to get all the argument before the people, and some of the best points I made were in that article, still I know that the articles have been long enough to try any editors patience. I would also like to say that if the silence of Scripture as to womans public work, admitting that it is silent, is reason sufficient to oppose it, then no woman should be allowed to sing in church, or partake of the Lords supper as there is not the faintest allusion in the Bible as to her having ever done either.

Fayetteville, Tenn. Oct. 15, 1888

(e-text: JoAnne Toews)

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