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Volume 19, Issue 1: Presbyterion

Masculinity in the Pulpit

Douglas Wilson

The vocation of preaching is not just a simple act of communication; it is also a symbolic act. So not only must the preaching be biblical and good, but the symbolism must also be biblical and good. And our failures in this regard are why we are having such trouble today with the question of the ordination of women.

The reason the evangelical church feels the pressure to ordain women (despite clear texts) is that the standards used to evaluate the occupant of the pulpit (for well over a century now) have been the standards of feminine piety. This means that clergymen have been trying to live up to their reputation as the "third sex." Put another way, we have insisted upon effeminacy in the pulpit, and we are now being pressed with the next logical step. If that is your standard, what possible basis could you have for excluding women, who can do what we are currently doing better than we are currently doing it? This is quite accurate, but the real question here should be whether or not we should repent of what we are currently doing. If we are going to have pretty boys in the pulpit, it would be much nicer to have pretty girls. I confess it. But should we have pretty boys?
The texts on this are so clear, and the pressure to disregard them so massive, the only way to account for it is through identifying another kind of disobedience—a global disobedience. We have been seeing the Scriptures (all of Scripture) in such a skewed fashion for so long that it necessitates that the words barring women from the pulpit be seen through the grid of creative theology.
"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (1 Tim. 2:11-15). So okay, here it is, right in the Bible. Of course there are arguments for setting this aside. And there are far more compelling arguments that make the set-asiders a laughingstock. But the question really ought to be, "Why are we even talking about this?"
This kind of creative exegesis is usually found only in authoritative texts—Scripture, Constitutions, Books of Church Order, and so on. Someone is bound by that authority to behave in a way that is consistent with the authority, but said someone doesn't really want to be obedient. Because they have to keep up appearances, they engage in some amazing circumlogicalities. "The Constitution is a living document," said the legal scholar. "It can stretch as far as you want, but only to the left."
"In an ancient Ugaritic text that somebody found, a word that means servant looks kind of like the Hebrew word for warrior-princess after it is back-translated into Greek. I think. And this has enormous ramifications for our church polity today," said the Rev. Xena.
Nobody has to deal with people who interpret newspaper articles this way. No one interprets the writing on the side of your paper cup from Arby's like this. And when it comes to works of literature, we have to deal with such people sometimes, but usually to the extent that the work of literature has entered into the canon and has hence become somewhate authoritative. So, for example, Pride and Prejudice can be discovered to be a feminist manifesto, but this is only because the text speaks with more authority than the unsubmissive can stand.
It is not surprising that lack of submission to the text is an issue when we are talking about texts that require submission. And this brings us to the true irony. The masculine preacher can only be this way if he learns to submit himself. Masculine preachers are not those who demand submission from others; masculine preachers are those who submit themselves.
True masculinity is submissive. Right, submissive. Effeminacy in the pulpit is disobedient and rebellious. God tells the preacher to go and speak as the very oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11). He might not feel like it. He worries that people will think he is getting above himself. He wonders if he is really called to the ministry. When tackling any lofty scriptural subject, far above him, he is frequently as disappointed with his performance as the farmer's wife was when she asked the sow to fold the linen. But how he feels does not matter. He is told what to do, and he is under authority. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
We are frequently told that feminists don't like masculinist bravado and bluster in the pulpit. It is fine if they don't like it; no one should. But the real cause of the genuine conflict is this: masculine preachers (not maschismo preachers) are models of respectful submission. Men who preach with masculine authority are modeling obedience, and this is the one thing that rebels cannot abide.

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