Posted by: monicaholtz | September 15, 2016

Leadership and the Bible

Several years ago, I was struggling with feminism and whether or not I considered myself a “feminist.” I was hesitant because that word had acquired a negative connotation, and was used negatively by some of the people I surrounded myself with. During this time, I came across a tweet that read “it was God’s intention for men to be leaders, so women should just step back and let them lead.” This rubbed me the wrong way. For starters, we as a society have come such a far way with women’s rights and leadership since biblical times, and women have done splendidly in leadership roles across organizations and fields. Why are we still saying, when we’ve had such successful women leaders, that it’s not their place to lead and that they should just let men do it? As we’ve learned in class, women can often offer a different perspective or new ideas on how to lead that help to improve organizations. Secondly, there are so many strong women leaders in the bible such as Esther, Mary, Miriam, and many others who have shown that leadership was not strictly intended for men.

In researching why people might believe it was God’s “intention” for men to be leaders and not women, I came across 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which says: “11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”  I came across an article that argued that this passage, written by Paul, was clearly written in a “patriarchal culture” and this passage should be seen as an exception to the rest of the bible. Throughout the bible, God praises women for their leadership and there are even several bible verses that say men and women are seen as equal to God. One in particular is Galatians 3:28 and it says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So why do people still believe it is not a women’s place to lead? As a society, we’ve become less based around religion over the past few decades, but there are still people who believe men were intended to be leaders. Has this thinking affected women’s leadership at all?


  1. I find all of that very funny. I think it is humorous when someone says one thing and then someone else is able to show them wrong. Why would someone tweet about God not wanting women leaders when there are so many women leaders in the bible?? Just because God or Jesus isn’t a female doesn’t mean that there aren’t other leaders? People interpret the bible anyway that will suit them. For example saying what sins count and which ones don’t matter or how the bible views gay couples. I find it funny that he tweeted that with all of the female leaders in the bible like he doesn’t know what he is talking about. I found this a very interesting perspective!!

    • What’s even funnier (or maybe sadder) is that it was tweeted by a female. It’s sad to me that she hasn’t seen or read about all of the great women leaders in the bible, and doesn’t have them as role models for her life. She’s convinced that as a woman, it’s her job to sit back while men do all of the leading because she hasn’t been taught about the great women in the bible, and someone along the way taught her that God only wants men to be leaders

  2. Growing up in a household where religion, specifically Christianity was talked about a lot, I think its super interesting that you bring this up, because I would bring it up all the time! I think one thing that you bring up about our culture being based around religion, such as Christianity and the bible, is really important in how women are thought of as leaders compared to men. For a long time, the bible was the only source of media for many people, whether if they could read it or not, or if they were hearing the interpretation from priests, pastors, the clergy, etc.

    But I think this brings up the question again of did the egg come before the chicken, or did the chicken come first. Did the bible shape culture or did culture help to shape the bible? I don’t mean to get into a religious discussion if what is written in the bible is what God himself said, but more bring up the question if when those who wrote each book and chapter, also changed some of the interpretation to represent the culture of the time. If woman were subservient to men during the time period and only men were leaders, or considered leaders, so people believed that God made this happen, gave women and men places in this world.

    However, regardless of the culture and who wrote the bible, I think you bring up some excellent points that there are many strong women in the bible, but when people couldn’t read and were going to church, could priests and pastors interpreted the bible in a way that they wanted? Forgetting to tell the congregation about these women because they didn’t want to empower women, because that wasn’t in their culture then.

    The bible has always been a strong media tool, and since many cultures, including ours, still is shaped a lot by religion, Christianity, and Bible, maybe these verses and the stories of these women should be more focused on in schools which allow religious teachings and church services/sermons, should include these verses!

  3. I really like how you start this post by opening up about your own struggles to identify with the word “feminist”. The word does carry negative connotations in a lot of contexts, and it reminds me of the discussion we frequently return to in class about there being enough “pie”. The questions in your post are centered around change, and as we saw in the Heifetz reading, fear of change is often really fear of loss.

    I think the idea of leadership as a masculine role and something that is not a woman’s “place” is very much about fear of loss. Loss of the traditional patriarchial society that is relfected in the Bible, and loss of a masculine identity. Using this perspective, the question then becomes how can we change the way people think about women’s leadership? How can we convince them that there is enough pie to go around? Or even if there really is.

  4. I do believe our western culture has definite roots in Christianity and those values have permeated throughout our culture even today. There are so many amazing women in leadership roles that are praised throughout the Bible. Women who were even prophets such as Deborah which were high leadership roles within the religion. So what the passage is saying here is that women are not to be devalued or seen to be any less than. But what they are describing in 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 are the differences in the roles of both men and women. These verses are usually used to portray how unequal women are in comparison to men in Christianity but what it really is showing is how different the roles serve for good purposes. The Bible describes these clear differences but not in a way that devalues the other or discriminates the other gender. Prior to 1 Timothy in Ephesians 5:25 it says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” This kind of love is a love that highly values and deeply believes in sacrifice so therefore what is being said is that men and women are just as equally valued even in their differences.

  5. 1 Timothy and Galatians were written by the Apostle Paul, a human scholar who followed Jesus, the human form of God. The seemingly sexist phrase was the thought of a mere man. If one is a Christian they would value the words of Jesus Christ over the claims of His apostles. Jesus is known for spending much time with widows, prostitutes, and other impoverished women. He treated them with respect, which was unusual for that era, and empowered them to become teachers and/or leaders. Jesus is a feminist.

  6. I also come from a Christan household and I also noticed this sentiment in the Bible. I’ll also hear this viewpoint from a lot of older Christians. But like in the post above I also think that Jesus actions in how he treated women are feminist because he cared for all no matter what. But there is also proof of strong women in the Bible. There is Deborah who was a prophet, fighter, and a judge, she was an incredibly strong woman who had a man and could be successful without him. Naomi also did well on her own, Rebbeca shaped the destiny of Isreal by helping her son Jacob take the birthright of his brother. The Queen of Sheba, Mary Madgeline, Mary and let’s not forget Esther were also powerful women who were made an impact. We also have bad women in the bible like Queen Jezebel, Potiphar’s wife, and Delilah, but they are still known for making a significant shaping in how tings played out. So while passages say that many are in older testament passages which contain a lot of law that was specific to the day in time, there is plenty of proof that the bible supports strong women. And in the definition of a strong woman in Psalms 31, while attributed to being a wife in the domestic sphere she is depicted as wise, efficient and capable of running a successful house on her own. So while it does say “obey your husbands”, like in one of the above comment it is clear that interdependence and support are more important and that a man should be just as devoted to his wife, and that women can be their own people.

  7. I’m so glad you posted this–I was going to write about it too, and I’m glad other people had the same thought! There have been many times where I have sat in church and struggled with how I feel about feminism and in general women in Christianity. During a Bible study, we were studying Ephesians 5, which has the whole “Wives, submit to your husbands” thing. As someone who struggles with submission to authority sometimes, I wondered what this would mean for women in leadership. If women are told to submit to their husbands, can they be leaders? As my mentor pointed out, though, it specifically says “submit to YOUR HUSBANDS.” As in, someone is called, as a married woman, to work with and submit to her own husband–not anybody else’s. And just before Paul talks about that, he says, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” So it’s not just a one-sided, “do what I say because I am a man” kind of deal. It’s a two way street. And I feel like that is a good summary of how Christian women are called to lead. They are called to submit to other people not just because they are women, but because Christians in general (man or woman) are commanded to be humble and kind. I don’t think in this case that “submit” means “obey,” or that it necessitates giving up all authority. I think it means to think of others above yourself, not in terms of position, but in terms of “hey, I’m going to serve this person and lift them up, help raise them to higher levels of self-awareness and actualization,” which sounds suspiciously like a mix of transformational and servant leadership to me. I don’t believe that women are called to sit down and not lead, because if that were the case, why would God give women gifts for leadership? Teaching? Why would he make us mothers, who lead their children? It just doesn’t make sense for God to build some women to be excellent leaders and then command for them to disregard their gifts. In fact, I think to do so would be dishonoring to God–He gave us these leadership gifts for a reason, so I feel like it’s an act of disobedience not to use them as He wants us to.

  8. I love your honesty and your questions! What the Bible says about women is not really cohesive with the tweet you saw a few years ago. As others — including yourself — have noted, there are several powerful women talked about in scriptures. I think the reason why you saw that tweet and the reason why there are so many people who believe that men are the only one’s called to leadership is Christian CULTURE. I grew up in the Bible-belt and there were just a lot of people who questioned my ambitions and passions due to the fact that I was a woman. People undermined my abilities and desires to create significant positive change because they thought my main focus should be finding a husband and raising a family. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of being married and raising a family sounds beautiful and I long for this, but I also long to be a leader and a person who pursues crazy dreams. Growing up, and as I studied the Christian Bible for myself, I realized that leading, pursuing my dreams, and being assertive is not in conflict with what Bible says at all. The people who were undermining me in the name of Christianity were putting their personal convictions and preferences on me while disregarding the fact that he Bible calls Christians (male or female) to be leaders. According to the Bible, men and women do have distinct differences but not in a way that puts women in a position less than men. Different is not the same as less than.

  9. Perplexity at it’s finest! It is a continual struggle to balance the difference between religion and my beliefs on gender equality. More often than not, I find a drastic difference in how the Bible, and other religious materials condone the highly sexist classifications.

    In fact, this past week I was reading a book titled, “For Women Only”, in which the author illustrates the differences between men and women, and how ultimately if you understand where men are coming from you are more likely to have a successful and content relationship. This book would be classified as dealing with relationships with a religious undertone. Moreover, the author proceeds to explaining how you should never disrespect your husband, and how being respectful of men relates to countless passages from the Bible to further prove her point.

    I would argue that when a verse states the importance of women as “submissive” it is also indirectly hinting that women are not as competent to lead and be leaders. I think this bring sup a great point, and also shines light on the fact that everything (including religion) has flaws!

  10. I’m really glad you wrote about this. As a Christian and a feminist, this is something that I think about often. I find myself getting caught up in the teachings of the bible and some of what Paul says. But if you pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, he does not talk specifically about women being lower than men. Jesus talks about how in Him, there is no separation or distinction- Christians are called to be of one body. The Bible talks about how God is not partial to anyone and that He does not show favor.

    I think this misconception that women are not supposed to be leaders stems from Christian culture. I think that the sections in the bible where it talks about women being “submissive” or not being in leadership roles are context-specific and need to be researched further before people base their opinions of women in leadership on it.

  11. There have been so many people, in the past and today still, who have taken the bible completely out of context and sometimes even simply just misunderstand the message when it comes to the role that women play. Paul is often considered a “woman hater” so to speak, in that he often writes in a tone that implies negative connotations regarding women. But if you read the Bible from Genesis, it’s very clear that women have a place alongside men. We are created to work together, to build off of each other and accomplish things collaboratively. And it’s not a sameness of men and women- we were created with different attributes and different purposes. Every individual has God given gifts that can be used to contribute to society. Women and men were created to work in partnership- to balance each other. The Lord uses women throughout the Bible (and still today) just as much as He uses men. There is no favoritism in Gods eyes.

  12. This post is really interesting for me because I am a Christian and I have always struggled with whether feminism was Biblical and whether or not I was disobeying God by believing that women were equal to men. In my searching, I have found that God does not favor a gender. I believe the Lord is sovereign and we are all equal in His eyes. Therefore, I believe that in the times of the Bible, we were in a completely different time socially than we are now. Now, more than ever, is the time for women to step out and become leaders because we are seeing so many social changes. Women and men can come together to create a better and more full picture of leadership if we start to break the social traditions that have long held here in America. I really enjoyed that you brought God into this conversation because I do think it’s important and I do believe that anyone who studies and reads the Bible will see that there is not a gender biased in terms of Leadership in God’s eyes and that tweeter’s argument does not hold up.

  13. Wow now this is a topic to be discussed!! I have really loved going through the comments and seeing people’s thoughts. As a Christian myself I truly believe God made us all to fulfill a purpose for him in our lives (if we’re willing). My favorite character in the bible is a women (Ruth) because she was such a servant to her mother-in-law and relied on the Lord to provide for her. I think people like to label things, it’s easier to say it has to be this or that. The verse does talk about submitting to your husbands, but also submitting to the Lord and serving others. In doing so we strengthen our character and leadership. I believe God calls us to be leaders, personally I can name so many women leaders in my life who have encouraged me and prayed for me as I go through life. I am so thankful to be apart of something where I can point others towards living in their full potential as leaders and women!

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