(Artwork: “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well”—from Japan, unknown artist)
It was a significant moment and not in a good way.
On October 18, as part of a panel discussion at a “Truth Matters Conference” in Sun Valley, California, author and pastor John MacArthur was asked to share (in just a couple of words) his thoughts about author and preacher Beth Moore. MacArthur’s response was as stark as it was revelatory.
“Go home,” he said.
MacArthur went on to clarify his response: “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period. End of discussion.”
In his words from that Sun Valley platform, MacArthur successfully encapsulated what countless women who are called by God to ministry have heard from many within the Body of Christ:
No! Not you! You have obviously misheard God’s voice and misunderstood God’s call on your life. The Bible is clear: Women are not to have authority over men, and we refuse to believe that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have inaugurated a new worldview in which gender-based hierarchy no longer makes sense. Turn away from this unauthorized sense of call. This ministry is not for you. Go home!
Having watched the video of MacArthur’s comments, even more troubling to me than the comments themselves is the response of the audience. It was a response of laughter, loud and energized—a dehumanizing “amen” that felt less like church and more like a shared derision pointed toward Beth Moore, a sister in Christ who was not even present at the conference.
MacArthur’s words and the audience’s response to them immediately brought to my mind the faces of many women whose leadership, preaching, and teaching has shaped and nurtured me throughout my pilgrimage. If the women preachers have to go home, then so do I, since I would not be who and what I am without those female clergypersons whose ministry has been instrumental in making me more authentically human and more holistically Christian.
My female colleagues in ministry certainly do not need my defense, nor do they need my expressions of righteous anger (especially since, as a white male, my “righteous anger” can sometimes sound like little more than patronizing rhetoric or perhaps even a superficial assuagement of a highly privileged guilt). Still, I long to speak to the hearts of my sisters and to the heart of the church.
But what might I say?
Perhaps I will simply reframe MacArthur’s language so that the vocabulary of “home” might find its proper redemption. Here goes:
Sisters in ministry, please, for the sake of the Gospel we love, do not even think about going home. Instead, in the rhythms of our fallen church’s broken ministry, BE at home!
Yes. Maybe that is what I feel most led to say. Sisters in ministry…
…BE at home!
Be at home in a church that has often been anything but hospitable to you but that desperately needs your leadership and vision.
Be at home in a deeper reading of Scripture that refuses to weaponize texts but instead interprets them through the hermeneutical lens of the Living Word.
Be at home in a post-Pentecost reality in which both sons and daughters are called and equipped to proclaim and lead.
Be at home amid your broken church’s ongoing repentance to which I add my voice and heart—a repentance in which I name my complicity (often manifested in my silence) in maintaining gender-based hierarchies and inequities.
Be at home in the renewed commitment being made by many of your male colleagues (including this one) to identify and stand against misogyny in all of its expressions.
Be at home in your divine calling that cannot be stifled and micromanaged by the machinery of patriarchy; be at home in a righteous anger that many of your brothers carry with you; be at home in a stubborn refusal to accommodate false stories and weaponized Scripture.
Male colleagues, be at home in utilizing your voice and agency in prophetic ways to dismantle patterns and practices that are unjust or distorted and to advocate for female voices that desperately need to be heard.
Female colleagues, be at home where you already are—in the heart of the church’s ministry.
Most of all, be at home in Jesus Christ, who is always a trustworthy dwelling place, even when the institutional church is not.
Be at home.