Woman and the Pulpit
September 21, 1893 — World’s Parliament of Religions, Hall of Columbus, Word’s Congress Auxiliary Building, Columbian Exposition, Chicago IL
Feelings which come unbidden from the influence of our surroundings tend to produce in us the willing acceptance of anything to which we are accustomed. The present becomes the instructive measure of the future. This tendency is much more influential than may be supposed in the settlement of many of the great problems of life, and it forms the only justification for the opposition still felt by very excellent persons to the presence and the wise, helpful teaching of capable women in the Christian pulpit. Serious arguments against feminine preaching were answered long ago. Wherever any of the fairly acceptable women preachers are heard and known long enough to make their speaking and their good work familiar and appreciated, there it is already accepted that the sex of the worker is not a bar to good work.
Women are taking an active, increasing share in the education, the thought and the investigations of the age, and are passing into almost every field of work, certainly to no obvious disadvantage to any worthy interest. This great Parliament of Religions is in evidence that narrow conservatism is rapidly decreasing, and that our conception of the religious pulpit must widen until it can take in all faiths, all tongues which strive to enforce the living spirit of love to God and man.
If Christianity had fully decided the modern status of society, there would have been neither male nor female in church, or state, or education, or property, or influence, or work, or honor. Choice and capacity would have established all questions of usefulness. Is God, who is no respecter of persons, a respecter of sex? Paul’s exposition of practical Christianity is: ” In honor preferring one another.”
Under barbarism, when no child could inherit except from the mother, personal property and power were as yet but partially separate from the community interests. The tribe, or clan, was a social unit for offense, defense and ownership. Their gods were tutelary, household, and tribal gods. Like other property safest around the hearthstones, they or their symbols were given into the safe keeping of women. In that condition of morals, women could only safely bequeath wealth or chieftainship to sons of their own lineage. That social order was an accepted fact, and, miserable as it was, it kept its women and its men side by side, equals in the onward march toward a better future.
When property and power were gained by some of the stronger males, naturally they desired to bequeath these to their own children. From that time female chastity began to be enforced as the leading virtue for the legal wives and daughters. The legal adoption of heirs to share with or supersede. children born in wedlock was an accepted custom. The futile schemes for securing virtuous wives and legitimate children without entirely discontinuing a wide license for husbands, fathers and sons, had not arisen for these simpler heathen folk.
The later enforced civil inferiority of women sprang from the same baneful root. And woman’s long exclusion from the pulpit, from the most consecrated place which Christianity has kept for its supposed best and noblest, is the outgrowth of the same basal iniquity.
The highest code of morals is not elastic, but both men and women must look aloft before they can cordially appreciate its teachings. To be hedged about by conventions is not to learn a self-reliant rectitude. Was there ever a reason why capable women should not have continued to be expounders of the highest truth to which their era could attain?
There is no impropriety in proclaiming truth from the highest house top. The most consecrated pulpit is less sacred than any living principle. If reverent lips proclaim holiness and truth, the gaze of the thousands who listen can brush no down from the cheek of maidenhood or wifehood. The fitness of the primary educators of the race to be moral and religious teachers has easily demonstrated itself. It was inevitable.
In 1853 an orthodox Congregational Church called a council and ordained its woman pastor; who had been already settled among them for six or eight months. In 1859 two were ordained by the Adventists. In 1863 two women were ordained by the Universalist Church. In that second decade, so far as yet ascertained, three other women received ordination — only five in all. In the third decade thirty or forty were ordained, and in the fourth decade more than two hundred have received ordination from many denominations.
Numbers of our most earnest religious speakers have not chosen to seek ordination. Most of these women are, or have been, stated preachers or pastors of churches, and are believed to have proved themselves to be successful above the average in promoting the religious welfare of the church and community.
Women are needed in the pulpit as imperatively and for the same reason that they are needed in the world — because they are women. Women have become — or when the ingrained habit of unconscious imitation has been superseded, they will become — indispensable to the religious evolution of the human race.
Source: The World’s Parliament of Religions, An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World’s First Parliament of Religions, Held in Chicago in Connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, (Chicago: The Parliamentary Publishing Co.) 1893, pp. 1148-1150.