- Awareness of different Christian views on the roles of men and women.
- Understanding different Christian views concerning women priests.
- Awareness of modern Christians who have worked to oppose gender prejudice, and Jesus’ treatment of women.
- Reflect upon perceived differences in the relative abilities and shortcomings of men and women.
- Reflect upon historic attitudes towards the difference between men and women, comparing them with attitudes today.
- Analyse articles demonstrating different Christian perspectives on the role of women in church.
- Reflect upon the argument that the early Christian church was a positive force for affirming and liberating women.
- Prepare a speech for a debate on the impact of Christian faith on the role of women.
Supporting Values Education:
The values of tolerance and respect are based on the belief that humans are created equal and are of equal worth. This lesson encourages students to consider how Christians reconcile this belief with their understanding of the differences between men and women in the church.
Write two headings up on the board ‘Men can’t…’ and ‘Women can’t…’. Ask students to suggest things that each gender cannot do. Write up all the suggestions, regardless of whether some students disagree. You will probably find that the exercise quickly turns into each sex competing to be more dismissive and belittling to the other. If you teach in a single-sex school, you may have to play devil’s advocate for the unrepresented sex, whether you are male or female yourself.
Once you have generated sufficient suggestions for both genders, look back over the list and ask people to justify some of their contributions, or to challenge any suggestions that they disagree with. Encourage the students to provide evidence and reasonable argument to support their views, rather than just dismissing either gender as being rubbish at the task concerned.
Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about how the differences between men and women influence the things they can or can’t do, particularly with reference to their respective roles in the Christian church.
Introduce the clip from the film The Imitation Game (StudioCanal, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Explain that Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruiting a team of code-breakers to help him crack the Enigma code and thereby turn the course of World War Two in favour of the British. To that end he has placed a puzzle in the newspaper and invited anyone who solved it to attend an examination. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the difficulties that Joan (Keira Knightley) has in gaining admission to the test.
- Start time: 0.28.01 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.30.44
- Clip length: 2 minutes and 43 seconds
The clip starts with Menzies (Mark Strong) asking, ‘So, who are they?’. It ends with Joan saying, ‘You said to do it in under six.’
Ask the students why the doorkeeper was reluctant to let Joan in. Why do they think he doubted that she had really solved the puzzle herself? Would they expect a similar situation to occur if such an examination were to be held today? Why might things go differently in a 21st Century context?
The clip demonstrated an old-fashioned point of view that regarded women as intellectually inferior to men. In 2014, the Church of England appointed its first woman Bishop. Some Christians believe that the church’s resistance to the idea of allowing women to carry out the same roles in church leadership as men was another example of old-fashioned prejudice, while others believe that it recognises a fundamental difference between men and women. It is worth pointing out that, generally speaking, those members of the Christian church who are opposed to women carrying out particular tasks of leadership or preaching do not base their objection on an idea that women wouldn’t be good at those tasks. Rather, they point to a fundamental difference between men and women and argue that men and women were created for different roles.
Give out copies of the following articles. If you have internet access during the lesson, you could give the URLs to the students and let them look up the articles themselves. Both articles are written by women from the evangelical tradition of the Church of England, although they take different sides on this particular issue. Working in small groups, for each article ask the students to answer the following questions:
- What does the writer say that women should be allowed to do in the life of a church?
- What reasons are given to support their position?
- What does the writer say that women should not be allowed to do in the life of a church?
- What reasons are given to support their position?
- What Bible passages are used to support the argument?
- To what extent do you find the argument a convincing one?
Here are the URLs for the articles:
http://reform.org.uk/resources/media-downloads/src/publication/54/title/truth-matters-the-role-of-women-in-the-local-church# This article displays on the right hand side of the page, and is available to be printed or as a downloadable pdf.
This is an issue that divides Christians from all traditions, not just evangelicals or members of the Church of England. The webpage listed below provides an outline of traditional Roman Catholic opposition to women joining the priesthood, as well as a brief response which offers the opposite view. It is worth noting that despite spending more time explaining the traditional view, the website as a whole does not support this position.
Bring the students back together and let them feed their findings back to the class. Lead the students in a discussion of the two articles, and the different perspectives on women’s ministry that each of them present.
It may be worth reminding the students that both of the writers are women, and that each of them implies that their understanding of this issue is one which enables women to be affirmed and fulfilled as partners in the work of the church. Neither would feel that their point of view would relegate women to a lesser role than that of men.
It may be helpful to point out that many people consider both Jesus, and (a more controversial view) Paul to have been radicals in the area of the treatment of women. It has been said that no other figure in the ancient world came close to affording the level of respect and honour that Jesus had for women. In a culture where women were frequently seen as being the property of either their father or their husband, Jesus treated them as individuals. Careful reading of the Gospel accounts makes it clear that a number of Jesus’ friends and followers were women, and his creative response when confronted by a group of men who claimed to have caught a woman in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11) shows his concern with allowing the unfortunate woman to maintain some sense of dignity. The account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) shows that unlike many of his contemporaries, Jesus felt that women should be just as interested as men in receiving spiritual instruction from religious teachers.
Although Paul is often painted as an opponent of women, and even a misogynist, due to Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (where he says that he does not permit a woman to speak in church) it should be noted that culturally he was actually suggesting something groundbreakingly feminist. It would have been common in his culture for women to sit in a separate part of the building during worship, and there would have been no expectation that they would engage with the teaching. Paul’s words, while seeming harsh and dismissive to 21st Century ears, should be commended for the assumption that women would participate in learning while attending worship. The fact that Paul needed to write on the subject of how women took part in such meetings shows that the early church was a liberating movement with regard to women. Similarly, in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, there are numerous references to women who appear to carry out important roles in the life of the church. For example, reading through Romans 16 Paul mentions the following women by name: Phoebe (v1); Priscilla (v3 nb she is mentioned ahead of the male Aquila); Mary (v6); Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (v12).
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask students to prepare a speech for a debate on the following motion: ‘This house believes that Christianity has been a liberating force for women’. Their speeches should address the issue of the role of women in church, but also a wider perspective of how Christian faith has changed the way women are perceived and treated. Students should feel free to either support or oppose the motion. You could use a subsequent lesson to actually hold the debate.
YOU WILL NEED:
- A copy of film The Imitation Game. Click here to buy the DVD online.
- Print outs of articles concerning the role of women in the church.