The Methodist Church: Women’s Participation


The United Methodist Church:

Women’s Participation

Part 10


methodist woman pastor

The United Methodist Church: Women’s Participation

The United Methodist Church differs radically from New Testament instruction regarding women’s participation.

We may think that the United Methodist Church and other liberal mainline churches, along with Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, have insisted on women’s participation only in the past century or two. However, in reality, John Wesley promoted the practice! He licensed women to preach in the mid-eighteenth century![i] Some attribute this positive stance to John’s mother, Susanna Wesley, but whatever the source, it would not have come from Holy Scripture.

On the one hand, it is true that the Bible encourages women to be active in good deeds of charity (Acts 9:39) and hospitality (1 Timothy 5:14). Women could open their homes for gatherings of Christians (Acts 12:12) and even do the work of service in the assembly (Romans 16:1).  A Christian woman could teach younger women and children (Titus 2:4-5) and explain the way of the Lord to outsiders along with a husband (Acts 18:26).  A woman could also serve as a prophetess (Acts 21:9; cf. 2:17-21) and could pray along with men (Acts 1:14).[ii]

At the same time, there were clear restrictions in the New Testament for a woman participating publicly.  These prohibitions are plain and must not be violated. For example, no woman wrote Scripture, no woman was an apostle, and no woman was an evangelist.  Only men (males) were to be overseers (elders or shepherds) in the assembly (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Only men were to serve as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Only men were to lead publicly in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8; the Greek, aner, means a male). Women were not permitted to “teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12; cf. vv. 11-12). Women were to “keep silent in the churches” for “it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

All of this seems quite restrictive in light of the modern feminist movement that began in the nineteenth century. We may think of the Holiness movement and the Pentecostal movement and the wide “open door” that they provided women. Women were permitted to teach in public, to preach in public, and even to lead over men—something that the Word of God clearly prohibits (1 Timothy 2:11-15). The contemporary United Methodist Church permits “women being ordained as pastors, or bishops.”[iii]  One volume writes of how a young person may become a “minister” in the UMC.  We read that “he/she” must have gifts to enter the “full-time ministry.”[iv] On the contrary, God would not give the “gift” of ministry to a woman when He has forbidden the woman from teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33-37).

We read this account: “In 1956 the Discipline was amended to permit the ordination of women. A number of Methodist women had engaged in preaching, including Maggie Van Cott, who secured a preacher’s license in 1966 and pursued a vigorous itinerant ministry for thirty years, as well as the black washerwoman Amanda Smith. But the northern church explicitly refused to permit women to be ordained in 1880. The question remained in constitutional limbo in the Methodist Protestant Church after a woman’s ordination in 1880 was declared unlawful. In 1868 the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church removed the term “male” from its ordination regulations, and in 1896 a female deacon was ordained and two years later an elder.”[v]

Another source identifies 1956 as the door that opened to allow full female involvement:

On May 4, 1956, in Minneapolis, Minnesota the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. This was done by adding one sentence to the Book of discipline: “All foregoing paragraphs, chapters and sections of Part III {of the Book of Discipline} shall apply to women as well as to men.” Bishops were now required to appoint every pastor in good standing, regardless of gender. Maud Jensen was the first woman to be granted full clergy rights after this decision, in what is now the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

Grace Huck was another woman accepted into probationary status as part of this historic vote, and she was received into full connection in 1958. She recalls the resistance to her ministry by a male member of her church in one of her early appointments. She has been quoted as saying that when the district superintendent told the congregation he was appointing a woman minister, one man shouted, “there will be no skirts in this pulpit while I’m alive.” She also noted that later he became one of her best supporters.[vi]

Since that time, not only local ministers but bishops have come from the ranks of women. It would seem that the UMC sees no boundaries to the public participation—and leadership—of women. The door has been completely opened without limit:

In 1968, when the United Methodist Church was formed from the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, Methodist women clergy were afforded the right of full connection

In 1980, the first woman, Marjorie Matthews, was elected and consecrated as a bishop within the United Methodist Church. In 1984, the first African-American woman, Leontine T. Kelly was elected and consecrated as a bishop. In 2005, Rosemarie Wenner was the first women to be elected bishop outside the United States. She was elected by the Germany Central Conference.

Over 12,000 women serve as United Methodist clergy at all levels, from bishops to local pastors. As of 2006, 16 women had been appointed as bishops. To try to address the lack of women of color in faculty positions at United Methodist Seminaries, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry created a scholarship program, which has over 40 participants and more than 22 graduates with doctorate degrees in theology.[vii]

One would think that both Methodist ministers, bishops, and laity would rise up in opposition to this blatant disregard of Biblical authority, but there apparently is little resistance to this trend. It is interesting that not only did the Methodist Church here violate clear apostolic teachings, but women obviously violated the Biblical instructions that women remain silent in the assemblies of the church (1 Corinthians 14:33-37; cf. 1 Timothy 2:11-12).

Please check out further articles on the United Methodist Church:

[i] women_in_the_United_Methodist_ Church.

[ii] Our Discipleship of Devoted Women booklet shows the array of works that God permits Christian women to engage in. However, there are also restrictions to their participation.

[iii] Katie Meier, Same God Different Churches, p. 264.

[iv] Harmon, p. 112.

[v] Arthur C. Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, Volume 2, p. 584.

[vi] _women_in_the_United_Methodist_ Church,


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