“Mister Jones, will you please close with prayer?” Every week our Young People’s Society ends in this manner, for each time a male member of the society leads in closing prayer. But I think the young women in our society also have a place in the leadership of prayer. Therefore, to the question: “Should women be allowed to assume prayer leadership in the presence of a man?” I answer YES! The young women have received the right to speak, vote, debate, and read scripture in the society. In all these activities, the young women are considered equal with the young men; yet, when it comes to prayer, the young women are placed in a position of subordination. The purpose of this article will be to explain why I feel women should assume a position of equality in the leadership of prayer.
Before going into a complete explanation of my views, it would be wise to explain certain of the terms used in the statement of the problem and used elsewhere in this article. When the term society is used, it refers to any organization of people under the auspices of our churches and dedicated to the purpose of Christian edification. More specifically, I am referring to the Church societies which are made up of young men and women approximately between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four. By young men and women I refer to young people who have learned to pray in the home and should be capable of public prayer if the necessity should arise.
In continuing this discussion, I would like to call your attention to the practical benefits of allowing our young women to lead in prayer. In my “definition” of young men and women, I pointed out that each was capable of public prayer in so far as they knew how to pray. This, however, is not sufficient. Our men and women must also be able to feel at ease and to think clearly while praying in public. I am sure that you can recall the first public prayer you made. Probably you were at least very nervous, or perhaps even unable to voice your thoughts properly. With proper training where training ought to be accomplished, that is, in our younger societies, this problem of public prayer would not exist in our adult societies. In talking with some of the women who are members of women’s societies in our church, I found that, not having had any previous public training, they were afraid of making mistakes and asked to be excused from leading prayer. In fact, I have been told that the ratio of women who do not accept prayer leadership to those who do accept this leadership is very high. I feel that a situation such as this is very unhealthy for our people and societies. I believe the only solution is to urge all our young people, both young men and women, to learn public prayer when they are in the young people’s societies.
But you may ask, “How can our young men and women be taught to pray in public?”
First, I think that the best way to teach young people to be sure of themselves while praying in public is to let them teach themselves. But for a person to even begin to feel at ease, he must begin to pray among his peers, that is, among those who are at an equal level of development.
Second, if our societies were established so that the young men and young women belonged to different societies, the girls could learn to pray in their society and boys in theirs. But few, if any, of our societies are established in this way. The members of most of the young people’s societies of our churches are both boys and girls. But may we teach only the boys how to pray in public? I do not believe that we may; yet, this is what we are doing. This I believe to be unfair to the women in our churches. Therefore, for the sake of our women and their societies, I feel that we must urge the girls in our young people’s societies to close with prayer.
But I usually meet with opposition when I suggest this idea. And what is the first and main objection? It is “The Bible says that women may not pray in public.” The opponents usually refer to two texts: I Cor. 14:34 and I Timothy 2:12.
Let us first consider I Cor. 14:34-35: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
I would like to first call your attention to the fact that Paul is speaking about the attitude of women in the Church, that is, in The Worship Service.
First, Paul wrote this advice to keep order in the church services. When Paul wrote that the women should not ask questions until they could ask their husbands at home; he seems to indicate that the women did not understand all the practices that were going on or the teaching during the worship service. Therefore, the women asked their husbands questions, causing a disorderly meeting. Therefore, Paul exhorts them to save their questions until a more expedient time.
Second, Paul is not speaking about the Church and all church related societies. If he is including all activities, he does not allow the women to form their own societies or even to vote, discuss, or ask questions in the society, especially if it is a mixed society of males and females. If the verses referred to the societies as the Church, the women could not open or close the meetings of even an all-female society because Paul writes: “Let your women keep silence in the Churches.” I believe that it is plain to see that Paul is speaking here about the attitude of women in THE CHURCH WORSHIP SERVICE, not in societies or other activities.
I would also like to briefly call your attention to I Timothy 2:12 where we read: “But I suffer not a women to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
First, I call your attention to the preceding verse where Paul writes, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.” Here I believe that Paul again is only speaking about the Church Worship Service proper; otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that the women have no voice in any society, whether a mixed or an all-female society.
Second, I believe that verses 11 and 12 belong with the whole passage 8 through 15. In verse 8, Paul exhorts the men to pray the righteous prayer and to pray for men of all positions. He seems to indicate here and in the following verses that only the men are to lead these prayers and teach during the church worship service. I also think that Paul is exhorting both men and women to pray their own “private” prayers; but that the women do not do it and shame the Church at the same time by wearing costly apparel, gold, or pray with boldness and pride. But I do not believe that Paul is saying here that women may not pray in the presence of a qualified man.
Third, in I Cor. 11, Paul seems to infer that women may prophesy and pray in public; but I think he is referring to smaller and less formal meetings than the Church Worship Service. An example of such a meeting would be the prayer meeting in the house of Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12).
In conclusion, I would like to say that I agree that women may not teach or lead the congregation in prayer during the Church Worship Service. But I do not believe that the Bible is forbidding women to pray, discuss, or ask questions in less formal meetings such as our young people’s society. Therefore, I urge that we permit the women in our societies to accept prayer leadership.