The upcoming presidential election in the United States is unique in that a female candidate—Hillary Clinton—is featured at the top of a major party’s ticket for the first time. This is reflective of a huge upending of values in American culture, as it was less than 100 years ago when the U.S. Constitution was amended to give women the right to vote. Even thirty or forty years ago, if a woman was nominated for president, many evangelical Christian leaders would have spoken out against her, arguing that it is unbiblical and immoral for a woman to be president of the country. Most evangelical seminaries did not even admit female students before the 1980s or 1990s. Yet I have not heard any Christian leaders so much as even raise the issue of whether the Bible allows a woman to be president during this election cycle. How quickly our values have changed!
Today, either it is taken for granted that it is it is morally acceptable for women to occupy positions of leadership, or else there is so much hostility to the contrary position that no one on any part of the political spectrum dares even to raise the issue, not even on talk radio or on social media. Yet for much of the history of the United States, most people in the country believed it would be morally wrong for a woman to be president. In fact, most leaders of most countries in all the history of the world have been men, so this is not just a viewpoint unique to people who historically lived in the United States.
Since we as Christians are to be guided by God’s Word in all that we believe and do, the answer to the question of whether it is morally permissible for a woman to be president can only be resolved through a study of what the Bible has to say about the issue. One of the clearest statements in the Bible on the role of women is 1 Timothy 2:12—But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. This verse gives a blanket prohibition against women exercising authority over men. While Paul is speaking of rules for the church, if women are not permitted to exercise authority over men or even to teach in the church, surely it is also morally impermissible for a woman to exercise authority over an entire country. Paul explains the reason for this prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. First, it is because Adam was created before Eve, which set the man in a position of primacy. Second, the fact that Eve was deceived by the serpent while Adam was not shows that men have a greater capacity for discernment than women and therefore a greater inherent ability to lead. These are principles which would apply just as well to the issue of women occupying positions of leadership in government as they would to the issue of women as leaders in the church.
The New Testament does not comment directly on qualifications for political leaders, since the early church had no role in the governance of the Roman Empire. In the Old Testament, politics and religion were closely linked in the nation of Israel, although here again it was not the responsibility of the people to choose their rulers. The Old Testament does not give a list of principles for choosing a king; it says only to appoint the king chosen by Yahweh, who was to be an Israelite (Deut 17:15). To understand the criteria by which God chose kings, we can examine the choices which God made.
It is striking to the modern reader of the Old Testament that every king of Israel and Judah appointed by God was male. God never appointed a woman to rule over his people! There was only one ruling queen in the whole history of the Israelite monarchy—the wicked Athaliah, who usurped power in a coup and was overthrown by the high priest in a counter-coup. Some point to Deborah as an example of a female leader. Judges 4:4 identifies Deborah as a “prophetess” who was involved in the activity of judging. As a prophetess, she did not speak her own judgment and her own message; when people came to her with disputes, she would inquire of Yahweh and return His answer. In this sense, she was like Huldah (2 Chr 34:22-28). These prophetesses were not set in positions of authority over men; they were simply relaying messages from God to them. It does not seem that Deborah actually preached to a mixed audience, or was teaching the Law to the people. It is significant that Deborah called a man, Barak, to lead the army of Israel into battle (Judg 4:6).
Another means of understanding the criteria by which God chose leaders is to look at criticisms of leaders by the prophets. In Isaiah 3:12, God’s people are said to be pitied when women and children rule over them. However one may interpret this verse, the presence of female rulers is definitely viewed as a bad thing. God is saying that Israel will lack qualified leadership.
Interestingly, one of the qualifications for being a king chosen by God was not to be a true believer or worshiper of Yahweh. God anointed Jehu to be king over Israel because of certain good things he would do, even though Jehu was an idolater who never repented of the worship of Jeroboam’s golden calves (2 Kgs 9–10). God anointed Jehu in order to destroy the dynasty of Ahab and the religion of Ahab, which was something that apparently no believer in Israel could have done so effectively. While God disapproved of Jehu’s idolatry, He promised him a four-generation dynasty for the good that he did (2 Kgs 10:29-31).
Despite the fact that it was possible for a woman to be a prophetess, almost all the prophets were men, and every significant prophet and writer of Scripture was male. All the priests, the temple musicians, and official temple servants were required to be male. All of Israel’s military commanders and warriors were male. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was a mark that only males could receive. All of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus were male, and all of the later apostles were male. In the church, women are barred from positions of authority and teaching, not only by 1 Timothy 2:8-15, but also in the qualifications for elders/pastors (“husband of one wife,” 1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:5-6) and by 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, which prohibits women from speaking or asking questions during church services and commands them to be in subjection to male authority. The idea that women should be in subjection to the men who are in authority over them is not just something that applies within the church; Paul cites “the Law” as the basis for this command in order to show that it is not something new or culturally-specific (1 Cor 14:34). Scripture presents women as designed to occupy a role in support of men (cf. Gen 2:18).
From a biblical point of view, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is obvious: “No way!” Why, then, does it seem that most Christians have no problem with women in positions of leadership? The answer is different for different individual Christians. Some Christians just never have heard a different point of view than the one they were taught by the culture around them. But in too many cases professing Christians simply do not care what the Bible says, and they are not serious about doing everything God wants them to do. They have already decided to commit to egalitarianism, and are not open to considering arguments to the contrary. Following this pattern, as our culture continues to move away from God, increasing numbers of Christians are adopting similarly anti-biblical positions on other cultural issues, of which the most flagrant is acceptance of homosexuality.
Finally, a disclaimer: while some people may view this post as “sexist” or “bigoted,” it is intended to be about the Bible’s teaching on women in positions of political leadership, not about my personal opinion per se. Feminists are actually divided on the issue of the Bible’s teaching about the role of women. On the one hand, there are many Christian feminists who attempt to read the Bible as a feminist book. But there are also many non-Christian feminists who would argue that the Bible is a biased, chauvinistic book which was the product of male-dominated societies and cultures. Thus, the view that the Bible prohibits women from positions of political leadership is not inherently a feminist or anti-feminist viewpoint. However, as a Christian believer I do take what the Bible says as the definitive standard for faith and practice, and I encourage other Christians to do the same.