The Promise Fulfilled: Women’s Ministries in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement

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While evangelist Lena Shoffner was preaching in Oklahoma City in 1904, a man rose and proceeded to the platform. Disrupting the meeting, he shouted: “I rebuke thee in the name of the Lord.” The individual insisted Shoffner leave the pulpit. In response, she stopped her sermon long enough to place her hand on her hip, look the opposer in the eye and tell him that they had paid rent for the hall and furnished it and if he did not like what he was hearing he could rent a place and preach as he wished.”1


In this incident Shoffner exhibited “holy boldness,” a characteristic many Wesleyan/Holiness women possessed. Gifted by the Holy Spirit, women such as Shoffner broke through the invisible boundaries of “woman’s sphere” and preached. The doctrine of holiness provided an alternative social ethic that challenged the ideology that woman’s place was in the home. Recognizing that “woman’s sphere” was a man-made construction, women appealed to a higher authority, quoting Bible verses such as “we ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).2 They rejected the confining strictures of “woman’s sphere” and performed the public ministries God called them to accomplish.


Sociologist Bryan Wilson has observed: “The Holiness Movement in its varied forms brought women to the fore, perhaps more than any previous development in Christianity.”3 Emerging during the nineteenth century in the United States, the Wesleyan/Holiness movement affirmed the ministry of women from its inception.4 It offers a usable past for the support of contemporary women clergy that is lacking in most mainline Protestant denominations which only recently have granted women ordination. The movement is distinguished by the emphasis on the second work of grace, also called sanctification or perfection, a distinct experience following salvation or being born again. Sanctification, an instantaneous experience accomplished by the Holy Spirit upon total consecration to Christ, results in holiness. Tracing its roots to Methodism, the movement values the writings of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, particularly A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1739), a document which serves as a key reference.


This chapter will highlight the three largest groups associated with the Wesleyan/Holiness movement: the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Church of God (Anderson), with reference to other smaller Wesleyan/Holiness denominations. The chapter begins with an introduction to Phoebe Palmer, who played a pivotal role in the formative years of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement. A brief overview of the origination of several Wesleyan/Holiness denominations follows. An examination of literary defenses of women clergy produced by writers in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement reveals the biblical foundation of their arguments. Wesleyan/Holiness women have answered the call to ministry, serving as evangelists, pastors, and church founders. Yet the percentage of women in ministry, with the exception of the Salvation Army, has declined dramatically over the years. The chapter concludes with analysis of this pattern and a summary of current efforts to reverse it.


Phoebe Palmer: Mother of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement


Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) was a lifelong Methodist who articulated and promoted the doctrine of holiness through her preaching and writing.5 Her books, published in many editions, popularized her view of holiness. The National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness (known today as the Christian Holiness Association) promoted Palmer’s theology of holiness. Palmer succinctly explained how sanctification could be achieved: “There are but two steps to the blessing: ENTIRE CONSECRATION is the first; FAITH is the second.”6 Entire consecration meant placing one’s all on the altar of Christ. Palmer also believed that a person must testify publicly to the experience of holiness in order to retain it. This requirement often prodded women to make their first public utterances. Once empowered by the Holy Spirit to testify, women who had overcome their initial fear of speaking in public often took one step further and became preachers.


Palmer participated in public ministry from her sanctification in 1837 until her death. She conducted over three hundred meetings with her husband Walter’s assistance in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain without official ecclesiastical credentials. Contrary to one author’s contention that Palmer believed “it was improper for women to preach,”7 she claimed that it was the duty of every Christian to prophesy, equating “prophesy” and “preach” by citing biblical passages as her justification. Palmer argued that “all Christ’s disciples, whether male or female, should covet to be endued with the gift of prophecy; then will they proclaim or in other words, preach Christ crucified.”8


Development of Wesleyan/Holiness churches


While holiness doctrine emerged within Methodism and Palmer was the foremost spokesperson for holiness during the nineteenth century, it was not long before groups split from Methodism because they believed it had strayed from its holiness roots. Individuals opposed to Methodism’s weak position against slavery formed the Wesleyan Methodist Connection (now the Wesleyan Church) in 1843. The Free Methodists separated from the Methodists in 1860 over slavery and other issues. The Salvation Army, another holiness group, traces its beginnings to a mission Catherine and William Booth founded in London in 1865.


During the early 1880s some preachers began to encourage people to leave their denominations. While many “come outers” were Methodists, others also responded and affiliated with what is known today as the Church of God (Anderson). Merrill Gaddis estimated that at least twenty-five holiness sects were founded between 1893 and 1907.9 Mary Lee Cagle led an association of churches known as the New Testament Church of Christ which merged with another group in 1904 to become the Holiness Church of Christ. This church along with others around the country participated in other mergers in the early twentieth century, resulting in the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, now the Church of the Nazarene.


Promise of the Father


Wesleyan/Holiness advocates sought to emulate the primitive church described in the New Testament. They observed that the primitive church utilized women in leadership positions and proceeded to affirm an active role for women in their own churches. The minutes of the first annual conference of the Salvation Army in 1870 recorded its commitment to women preachers:

Section XII. Female Preachers—As it is manifest from the Scripture of the Old and especially the New Testament that God has sanctioned the labors of Godly women in His Church; Godly women possessing the necessary gifts and qualifications, shall be employed as preachers itinerant or otherwise and class leaders and as such shall have appointments given to them on the preachers plan; and they shall be eligible for any office, and to speak and vote at all official meetings.10

Forerunners of the Church of the Nazarene likewise officially sanctioned women clergy. In 1899 members of the General Council of the New Testament Church of Christ “decided that under the gospel women had all the rights and privileges that men enjoy. Since there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female in Christ, a woman is eligible for ordination.”11


Luther Lee of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection preached that “all antiquity agrees that there were female officers and teachers in the Primitive Church.”12 B.T. Roberts, founder of the Free Methodist Church, likewise discovered: “In the New Testament Church, woman, as well as man, filled the office of Apostle, Prophet, Deacon or preacher, and Pastor. There is not the slightest evidence that the functions of any of these offices, when filled by a woman, were different from what they were when filled by a man. Woman took a part in governing the Apostolic Church.”13 Leaders such as Lee and Roberts affirmed prophetic leadership that bases its authority on the Holy Spirit. This is in contrast to priestly authority that vests authority in ecclesiastical office. Phoebe Palmer exercised prophetic authority that does not depend on ordination by human institutions. She never sought licensing from her church because “she was divinely commissioned and ordained by the great Head of the church for the special work which she felt impelled to do.”14 The Holy Spirit rather than the institutional hierarchy of the Methodist Episcopal Church authorized Palmer’s preaching.


When groups value prophetic authority, they recognize the gifts of the Holy Spirit regardless of whether men or women receive them. Prophetic authority fosters egalitarianism. Sarah Bishop in 1920 maintained: “The Bible does not teach a set of gifts for women differing from those for men.”15 F.G. Smith, in the same year, expressed the prophetic perspective in a Church of God periodical, Gospel Trumpet.

Again, I call your attention to the organization of the church by the Holy Spirit. A man is an evangelist because he has the gift of evangelizing. It is not because he is a man, but because he has that particular gift. The gift itself is the proof of his calling. If a woman has divine gifts fitting her for a particular work in the church, that is the proof, and the only proof needed, that that is her place. Any other basis of qualification than divine gifts is superficial and arbitrary and ignores the divine plan of organization and government in the church.16

C.E. Brown, another Church of God leader, also emphasized prophetic authority based on the Holy Spirit’s gifts. He declared that for early Christians, “the movement of the Spirit of God was the supreme authority in all the work of the church.” Rather than a hierarchical institutional church structure, Brown advocated “spiritual democracy,” which he defined as the “fundamental doctrine of spiritual equality and the universal priesthood of believers set forth in the New Testament.”17


In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when most people cited biblical texts to prohibit women clergy, Wesleyan/Holiness students of the Bible produced numerous defenses of women’s right to preach. Book-length apologies appeared such as Phoebe Palmer’s Promise of the Father (1859)18 and B.T. Roberts’s Ordaining Women (1891).19 Nazarene preacher Fannie McDowell Hunter compiled Women Preachers (1905).20 Sermons such as Luther Lee’s “Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel” (1853) were printed.21 Pamphlets included Female Ministry (1859) by Catherine Booth, Woman Preacher (1891) by W.B. Godbey, and Woman’s Ministry (1921) by Alma White.22


Without fail, these writers highlighted the events of Pentecost recorded in Acts 1 and 2.23 Palmer borrowed her title Promise of the Father from Luke 24:49 where Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father which he described as “power from on high.” Jesus’ promise was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered those who had followed Jesus’ instructions and men as well as women preached along with Peter in Jerusalem. Acts 1:14 documents the presence of women at Pentecost. Hunter observed: “The women as well as the men had tongues of fire—God’s weapons for the spread of the Gospel.”24 Peter informed the crowds that Joel’s prophesy that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-17). Roberts contended that “no distinction whatever is made between the ‘sons and daughters.’ . . . No higher ministry is given to the sons than is given to the daughters.”25 Booth claimed that Pentecost settled the question of women preachers.26 Palmer held that the diffusion of the Holy Spirit was not a onetime event restricted to Pentecost but was available to all Christians in future generations. “The Father has not forgotten his ancient promise, but still pours out, in these the latter part of the last days, his Spirit upon his daughters and handmaidens, alike as upon his sons.”27 Pentecost ushered in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit during which men and women continued to claim the promise.


It is not surprising that each of these authors also quoted Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” to support their case for women clergy. Lee chose Galatians 3:28 as the text of his sermon, preaching that the verse “means that males and females are equal in rights, privileges, and responsibilities upon the Christian platform.”28 Hunter contended that Galatians 3:28 “removes the fetters from woman and leaves her free to serve Christ in any position she may be called to fill.”29 Writers challenged attempts to limit the application of the verse to the realm of conversion.


Hunter called Jesus “the woman’s Friend” and observed that Jesus did not silence the woman at the well who was the first preacher to the Samaritans (John 4:28). Jesus also chose women to announce the news of his Resurrection.30 Maintaining women’s right to be ministers, Roberts contended: “We have never heard or read a single quotation from the words of Jesus against this right.” In response to those who argued that because Jesus chose all males as his disciples then only males could be clergy, Roberts pointed out that Jesus’ disciples also were Jews. It was inconsistent to argue that only men could be clergy while allowing non-Jews to assume this position.31


These defenses of women preachers included a litany of other women in the Bible who served as models for contemporary women. Prominent women in the Hebrew Bible included Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Isaiah’s wife.32 Turning to the New Testament, writers listed Anna, Philip’s four daughters who prophesied, Eudia, and Syntyche.33 They paid particular attention to Romans 16 where Paul greeted many coworkers, including ten women. They pointed out that the description of Phoebe in verse 1 had been mistranslated as servant rather than minister, thus minimizing her role in the church.34 They also challenged the mistaken assumption that Junia (often mistranslated “Junias” in verse 6) was a man. Booth contended that since Chrysostom and Theophylact, early Greek leaders in the church, affirmed that Junia was a woman, subsequent translators should follow their lead rather than letting their prejudices get in the way.35


Wesleyan/Holiness writers challenged the interpretation of the verses used by the majority of Christians to silence women in the church. Foes of women clergy relied on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. These passages which speak of women’s silence in church appear to limit women’s public role in worship. Because of the influence of these verses in excluding women from the pulpit, Wesleyan/Holiness adherents examined them closely to determine their intended meaning and to counteract their power in keeping women from the pulpit.


Holiness writers pointed out that these verses were the only ones from the entire Bible that opponents could produce in their attempt to build a case against women clergy.36 Second, they observed that the verses were applied inconsistently in those churches that refused to ordain women. If churches really believed that women should be silent, they should be barred from teaching Sunday school, praying, or singing in the choir.37


Wesleyan/Holiness authors dismissed 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as irrelevant, claiming that it did not apply to women preachers. The verses state that women should be in silence and not “usurp authority over the man.” Hunter contended that women were assuming lawfully invested authority rather than usurping authority.38 Both maintained that the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:11-16 had “no bearing whatever on the religious exercises of women led and taught by the Spirit of God.”39


Some writers interpreted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to mean that women were not to ask questions during worship. They further contended that the passage applied to a particular situation in the congregation at Corinth and was not a general rule. They quoted 1 Corinthians 11:5 which provides instructions for women praying and prophesying in public worship to establish that the prohibition was not intended to silence Corinthian women in all cases.40


Contemporary biblical arguments utilized by Wesleyan/Holiness supporters of women clergy parallel those produced during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.41 Galatians 3:28 has continued to serve as the guiding principle for all arguments favoring women clergy. For instance, retired Church of God pastor Lillie McCutcheon quotes this verse in a recent article and affirms, “Our soul has no gender.” She further claims, “God is an Equal Rights Employer. One standard is set for both female and male Christians.”42

Your daughters shall prophecy


The call to preach is often a dramatic spiritual event in a woman’s life. Most women’s accounts of their “calls” follow a similar pattern. Despite the numerous scriptural defenses of women clergy, women initially resist God’s call, claiming ignorance, age (too young or old), or their sex. More than likely, they realize the opposition they would face as women preachers. Ministry is not a career they actively seek; but God persists and finally they yield. Lillian Pool’s and Jonnie Jernigan’s accounts of their calls provide representative examples. Pool reported: “I had no doubt about it being a call from God, for I recognized His voice saying: ‘Lillian, go preach My Word to the lost.’” She demurred, “My argument against yielding to the call, was, that I was too young and had been deprived of educational advantages. And, too, the thought of leaving home and being separated from loved ones harassed me until at times it seemed I could never consent to do so.” Eventually God prevailed and Pool began preaching.43 Jonnie Jernigan felt called to preach as a girl but her Methodist family informed her that “it was masculine and unladylike for a woman to preach.” As an adult, in 1895, she experienced sanctification when she finally yielded to God’s call.44 Her ministry focused on the poor, particularly prostitutes for whom she built a home in Peniel, Texas.


Rebecca Laird, studying the lives of ten women who pastored in the early years of the Church of the Nazarene, found that a common thread was their firm conviction that God had called them to preach. Susan Norris Fitkin’s experience is typical. She spoke of her ordination (presided over by Phineas Bresee in 1907) as “only the human sanction to God’s work.” She described her call which preceded her ordination: “For years before [God] had definitely spoken these precious words to my heart, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.’”45


The empowerment of the Holy Spirit accompanied the call to ministry. Palmer’s statement “holiness is power” explicitly connected the experience of holiness with the power of the Holy Spirit.46 Numerous women testified that, once they experience this power, they were enabled to launch their preaching careers and to withstand hostility to their preaching. Sarah Smith credited sanctification for enabling her to overcome a “man-fearing spirit” that had previously inhibited her.47 Phoebe Palmer and Alma White also spoke of natural shyness which they overcame with the power of the Holy Spirit.48 Vivian Pressley, who pastored a Nazarene congregation in South Caroline from 1946 to 1986, reported that when she was sanctified, “in place of my shyness, [God] gave me holy boldness so that I am not afraid anywhere under any circumstances.”49


Wesleyan/Holiness women called to ministry were empowered to serve not only as pastors but as evangelists and congregational and denominational founders. Historians, for the most part, have overlooked the hundreds of Wesleyan/Holiness women evangelists who were preaching at the turn of the century.50 In the Church of God alone, at least eighty-eight women served as evangelists throughout the country during 1891 and 1892.51 Initially most Church of God preachers traveled in teams from one evangelistic campaign to another. Women headed at least two teams or companies, as they were called. Gospel Trumpet reported in 1891 on the schedule of Mary Cole and Company, and Lena Matthesen advertised in 1905 for a woman to join a company consisting of herself and two other women.52 The Pentecost Bands, founded by Vivian Dake and affiliated with the Free Methodist Church from 1886 to 1894, also offered opportunities for women evangelists and church planters. In 1892 two-thirds of the approximately 125 evangelists comprising the Pentecost Bands were women.53 Traveling in teams or bands, they started over 100 churches, primarily in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, during their first ten years.


Women have played leading roles in establishing other Wesleyan/Holiness churches. The Salvation Army spread to the United States in 1879 when two women initiated a ministry in Philadelphia. Norman Murdoch contends that probably most Salvation Army corps were founded by women, and Alice Dise lists African-American women who started Church of God congregations throughout the country.54


Mary Lee Cagle played a leading role in the New Testament Church of Christ, founded by her first husband. Cagle began her ministry following her husband’s death in 1894, starting at least eighteen congregations in Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, and Texas. The roll of the second council of this group’s churches in Texas listed five women ministers and nine males.55


Like Phoebe Palmer, Alma White (1862-1946) was a lay preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, but, along with many others of her generation, she believed Methodism had strayed far from its roots. Seeking to restore primitive Methodism, she established the Pentecostal Union (soon known as the Pillar of Fire) in 1901. White’s church was highly sectarian: church members wore uniforms, worked for the church rather than in secular employment, and sent their children to Pillar of Fire schools. White explicitly founded the church to be an institution where “equal opportunities should be given to both men and women to enter the ministry.”56 Consecrated bishop in 1918 by William Godbey, her spiritual mentor, Alma White became the first woman to hold this position in the United States and the only woman in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement to serve in this capacity. One goal of the Pillar of Fire was “to set the example of equality for the sexes, heralding a new era of religious freedom by breaking the shackles that have held women in bondage for ages.”57 White expressed her commitment to equality in the political arena by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment at its inception in 1923.58


Silencing the sisters


Given the initial strong affirmation of women clergy in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement and the many women who ministered during its formative years, an examination of current Wesleyan/Holiness clergy statistics presents a far more dismal picture for women than would be expected. They only exception is the Salvation Army, which has maintained a high percentage of women clergy. In 1896 the Salvation Army had over 1,000 women officers out of a total of 1,854 in the United States. Currently women still comprise a majority of the 24,779 ordained Salvation Army officers. Despite these impressive statistics, there are some practices in the Salvation Army that discriminate against women. For example, when a woman marries, she assumes her husband’s rank if she outranked him prior to marriage.59 A couple’s allowance is based on the husband’s years of service. Likewise, husbands receive appointments, and their wives serve under them.


In contrast to the Salvation Army, the percentage of women clergy in the Church of the Nazarene dropped from 20 percent in 1908 to 6 percent by 1973.60 In 1989, 49 Nazarene women pastored churches in the United States. This is less than 1 percent of 5,129 American congregations.61 In 1992 almost one-third (197) of the women clergy were retired, 56 pastored churches or missions while 121 served as associate pastors, and 61 were involved in other ministries or were students. The remaining women were unassigned.62 Currently no women serve as district superintendents, and only 2 women have held this position throughout the history of the denomination.63


The highest percentage of women pastors in the Church of God (Anderson) was 32 percent in 1925. In 1992 the percentage of women clergy was 15.64 Three Church of God women held executive positions in national agencies in 1989 compared to 45 men.65 Jeannette Flynn became the first woman to direct an agency when she became director of Church and Ministry Service in 1994.


Sect analysis helps explain the reduction in the percentage of women clergy that has taken place in most Wesleyan/Holiness churches. In the early stages of development, sects value prophetic leadership and accept women preachers. As they institutionalize and shift from a prophetic to a priestly understanding of authority, the percentage of women in leadership positions declines.66 Groups that earlier had readily approved the prophetic authority of women evangelists found it difficult to affirm women in a pastoral role that relied more and more on priestly authority.


The Church of God (Anderson) offers a clear illustration of what happens as a group undergoes the transition from prophetic to priestly leadership. In the early decades of the Church of God, evangelists traveled throughout the country seeking to spread the gospel as far as possible rather than to establish local congregations. One of the distinguishing features at the outset was the Church of God’s anti-institutionalism that inhibited the proliferation of churches and the development of a national organization. However, by the 1910s congregations had evolved in some locations where evangelists had conducted revivals and a national structure emerged.67 As itinerant ministry diminished, women lost an outlet for ministry.68


R. Stanley Ingersol points to institutionalization as one of the main causes of the decline in women clergy in the Church of the Nazarene. Males controlled the institutional development during the early decades while women remained charismatic leaders. The Cagles represent this pattern. C.G. Cagle, the second husband of Mary Lee Cagle, served as superintendent of the New Mexico district (1918-1920) and the West Texas district (1926-1936), while Mary Lee Cagle worked as district evangelist in these two locations.69


While most Wesleyan/Holiness churches ordained women from their inceptions, for the most part, they have yet to concede priestly authority to women at the highest institutional levels. This helps to explain why very few women hold executive positions at the national level in Wesleyan/Holiness churches. The Salvation Army is the exception; Eva Barrows became general in 1986, assuming responsibility for the Salvation Army throughout the world until her retirement in 1993.


Nancy Hardesty, Lucille Sider Dayton, and Donald W. Dayton attribute the decline in women clergy to the professionalization of leadership that has occurred in Wesleyan/Holiness groups, contending that a growing demand for seminary-trained pastors resulted in a reduction of women.70 This is particularly evident in the Church of the Nazarene. Rebecca Laird credits increased ordination requirements for having a negative impact on the number of Nazarene women in ministry since 1950.71 It was probably harder for women to relocate in order to attend seminary than it was for men.


A second reason for the decline of women clergy is acquiescence to cultural stereotypes that support males in leadership roles and limit women’s participation in positions of authority. Lillie S. McCutcheon has observed: “We have had decades when our culture influenced our movement to discourage women in pastoral ministry. . . . It is disappointing that the church continues to remain with male domination when it should have pioneered the equal status for women.”72 R. Eugene Sterner states that the Church of God “has traditionally seen women in a supportive rather than a decision-making leadership capacity. In this we have pretty much reflected prevailing social standards.”73 While these statements describe the situation in the Church of God, accommodation to culture has occurred in other Wesleyan/Holiness groups as well.


“Fundamentalist leavening”74 also accounts for the reduction in women clergy. Often, theological justification has been utilized to support cultural stereotypes. Fundamentalists who oppose the leadership of women in the church attempt to support their position by keeping alive the arguments derived from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, insisting on a literal interpretation of these passages of Scripture. Just as the movement has accommodated to culture, it has also compromised its earlier convictions by adopting fundamentalist arguments that support female subordination. Wesleyan/Holiness laypeople and clergy who are unaware of their heritage embrace the fundamentalist viewpoint expressed by such lecturers as Bill Gothard, who promotes male headship in all areas of life, precluding any leadership role for women in the church.75 R. Eugene Sterner observes: “With what is an apparent trend to more conservative thinking among our people, there is a tendency to define, again, the women’s place as in the home.”76 Scholars have documented “fundamentalist leavening” in the Church of the Nazarene and the Free Methodist Church as well as in the Church of God.77


Cracking the stained-glass ceiling


Experts who research women’s advancement in the workforce coined the term glass ceiling to explain the fact that, despite the inroads women are making in various professions, the top jobs in their chosen fields elude them. In most Wesleyan/Holiness churches, a similar humanly constructed barrier exists, more appropriately labeled a “stained-glass ceiling” that adjusts to various heights depending on the particular church. Some women never cope with the stained-glass ceiling because a stained-glass door prevents them from entering the church to assume a professional role. Other churches affirm women’s rights to serve as associate pastors while the position of senior pastor is off-limits. Many churches claim no ceiling exists within their communions, but statistics indicate otherwise. People in these denominations believe that they are absolved from any responsibility actively to promote women in ministry because their churches have always ordained women. They refuse to admit that prejudice against women might be the cause for the low percentages of women clergy in their denominations. They do not recognize that fundamentalist leavening and other forms of accommodation account for the large gap between theory and practice.


Others, however, comprehend this contradiction. In an editorial in the Church of God’s Vital Christianity, Arlo Newell quotes C.E. Brown: “It is only when the church is in deep spiritual apostasy that the voice of her female prophets is silenced.” Newell acknowledges: “It may be that while we have debated doctrinal purity and biblical authority, apostasy has overtaken us through sexual discrimination. Let us return to the apostolic church pattern and hear the voice of the Lord as we recognize and receive female prophets.”78 Newell wrote in a subsequent editorial: “In a time of social enlightenment when sexist barriers are being broken down, we in the church seem to have some spiritual blind spots. Prejudice and discrimination are never broken down or destroyed without corrective measures being willfully and intentionally implemented.”79


At least two groups have recognized the inconsistency between their official support of women clergy and the low numbers of ordained women and have passed resolutions encouraging women in leadership. A resolution adopted by the Church of God in 1974 states in part: “in light of statistics which document the diminishing use of women’s abilities in the life and work of the church, . . . RESOLVED, That more women be given opportunity and consideration for positions of leadership in the total program of the Church of God, locally, statewide, and nationally.”80 The General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene issued a statement on women’s rights in 1980 that includes the following: “We support the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church. We affirm the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene.”81 Resolutions alone will not result in more women clergy, but awareness is the first step toward change.


Since Wesleyan/Holiness churches are generally non-liturgical, the uproar over the inclusive language lectionary in the early 1980s did not affect them. For the most part, a recognition of the theological importance of inclusive language is absent at the congregational level. In 1938 Mary Lee Cagle anticipated the contemporary concern for inclusive language when she raised the issue by refusing to complete a standard clergy form that consistently used male pronouns in reference to clergy.82 Inclusive language has been adopted in a few instances. For example, the Church of God Division of Church Service (now renamed Church and Ministry Service) has removed male pronouns from its clergy registration form. Warner Press, the Church of God publication agency, adopted an inclusive language policy in 1975. Western Evangelical Seminary, a multi-denominational Wesleyan/Holiness institution, began promoting inclusive language in the mid-1980s.


Thus far no Wesleyan/Holiness groups have implemented affirmative action policies to crack the stained-glass ceiling created by prejudice and discrimination. However, several have begun to address the problem in various ways. The Nazarenes, the Free Methodists, and the Salvation Army have established task forces to being dismantling their respective “ceilings.” The Church of the Nazarene started distributing the newsletter New Horizons to women clergy in 1992, while Wesleyan women established Growing Together the same year. Church of God women began publishing Women in Ministry and Missions in 1989. Denominational presses are publishing books highlighting their heritage and urging their churches and leadership to take a proactive stance to increase the number of women in professional ministry.83


Women clergy in the Wesleyan Church have met six times, while Church of God women in ministry have convened three times. Five Wesleyan/Holiness denominations cosponsored a conference for women clergy in April 1994 attended by over 375 participants.84 A second conference will be held in April 1996. Denominational enthusiasm for this conference reflects a willingness to support and encourage women clergy.


Wesleyan/Holiness advocates of women clergy are challenging fundamentalist leavening and cultural accommodation with biblical defenses first articulate din the early years of their churches’ history. By recovering their heritage, Wesleyan/Holiness groups are appropriating a usable past in their efforts to crack the stained-glass ceiling.




1 John W.V. Smith, The Quest for Holiness and Unity (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1980), 129.


2 All texts are from the King James Version of the Bible, which was the primary translation used in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


3 Bryan R. Wilson, Religious Sects (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970), 59.


4 Other formulations of holiness include one which centered around Charles Finney and Asa Mahan at Oberlin College in the mid 1800s and Keswick holiness, which originated in England later in the century. Keswick teachings were particularly popular among fundamentalists in the United States. These expressions of holiness permeated existing denominations rather than resulting in new groups as was the case in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement.


5 Recent scholarship on Palmer’s life and ministry has resulted in two biographies and a collection of her writings. See Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Francis Asbury Press of Zondervan Publishing House, 1986); Harold E. Raser, Phoebe Palmer: Her Life and Thought (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987); and Thomas C. Oden, Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).


6 Phoebe Palmer, The Promise of the Father; or, a Neglected Speciality of the Last Days (N.p.,[1859; rep., Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, n.d.), 245.


7 Charles Edwin Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867-1936, ATLA Monograph Series, no. 5 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1974), 3.


8 Palmer, 34, 40-44, 36.


9 Merrill Elmer Gaddis, “Christian Perfectionism in America,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1929, 458.


10 Minutes, First Conference of the Christian Mission, held at the People’s Mission Hall, 272 Whitechapel Rd., London, 15-17 June 1879; quoted in Norman H. Murdoch, “Female Ministry in the Thought and Work of Catharine Booth,” Church History 53 (September 1984): 355.


11 M.E. Redford, The Rise of the Church of the Nazarene (Kansas City, Mo.: Nazarene Publishing House, 1948), 123; quoted in Janet Smith Williams, “The Impetus of Holiness Women for Preaching the Gospel, with Special Consideration Concerning Women in The Church of the Nazarene,” unpublished paper written in 1981 for a course at the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, 23.


12 Luther Lee, “Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel,” in Five Sermons and a Tract by Luther Lee, ed. Donald W. Dayton (Chicago: Holrad House, 1975), 91. Lee preached this sermon at Antoinette Brown’s ordination in a Congregational church in 1853.


13 Benjamin Titus Roberts, Ordaining Women (Rochester: Earnest Christian Publishing House, 1891; rep., Indianapolis: Light and Life Press, 1992), 103.


14 Guide to Holiness, 78 (1880): 75; quoted in Charles White, 194.


15 Sarah Bishop, “Should Women Preach?,” Gospel Trumpet 40 (17 June 1920): 9.


16 F.G. Smith, “Editorial,” Gospel Trumpet 40 (4 October 1920): 2.


17 Charles E. Brown, The Apostolic Church (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1947), 138, 165, 30-31.


18 For summaries of Promises of the Father, see Raser, 202-208; and Charles White, 189-193.


19 Roberts wrote this book when his resolution to ordain women failed by two votes at the 1890 Free Methodist General Conference. See Linda J. Adams, “Stop Pushing the Sisters off the Scaffold!,” Light and Life 124 (May 1991): 8-9. Free Methodists ordained women as deacons after 1907 but did not grant women full ordination as elders until 1974.


20 Fannie McDowell Hunter, Women Preachers (Dallas, Tex.: Berachah Printing, 1905).


21 Lee, 77-100.


22 Catherine Booth, Female Ministry: Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel (N.p., 1859; rep., New York: Salvation Army Supplies Printing and Publishing Department, 1975); W.B. Godbey, Woman Preacher (Atlanta: Office of the Way of Life, 1891); and Alma White, Woman’s Ministry (London: Pillar of Fire, [1921]).


23 The Wesleyan/Holiness movement identified closely with Pentecost, with many believing that the experience of sanctification was the gift bestowed on Jesus’ followers at this time. Several groups, such as the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene and the Pentecostal Union (the original name of the Pillar of Fire), incorporated the event in their names.


24 Hunter, 24. See also Lee, 86; and Alma White, Woman’s Ministry, 2.


25 Roberts, 58.


26 Booth, 7.


27 Palmer, 176; see also 30.


28 Lee, 80.


29 Hunter, 40. See also Roberts, 37-40; and Godbey, 11.


30 Hunter, 96, 18-20.


31 Roberts, 37.


32 For representative examples see Palmer, 67; and Hunter, 13-15.


33 See Hunter, 18; Alma White, Woman’s Ministry, 2; and Godbey, 8.


34 Roberts, 64.


35 Booth, 11. See also Palmer, 26; and Roberts, 53-54. The problem arose because Junia is among those whom Paul refers to as being “of note among the apostles.” Translators refused to admit that Paul addressed a woman as an apostle.


36 Lee, 92.


37 Roberts, 40-41.


38 Hunter, 39.


39 Booth, 12-13.


40 Booth, 8; Palmer, 47, 6, 9; Booth, 11; Hunter, 36-37; and Lee, 94.


41 See Marie Strong, “Biblical Vision: An Interpretation of Acts 2:17-18” and Sharon Pearson, “Biblical Precedence of Women in Ministry,” in Called to Minister: Empowered to Serve, ed. Juanita Evans Leonard (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1989), 1-33.


42 Lillie McCutcheon, “God Is an Equal Opportunity Employer, Vital Christianity 109 (May 1989): 14-15. Rev. McCutcheon pastored the Newton Falls Church of God in Ohio from 1945 until her retirement in 1988.


43 Lillian Pool, “Experience and Call to the Ministry,” in Hunter, 68-69. For other examples, see 71-72 and 87-88.


44 Jonnie Jernigan, Redeemed through the Blood or the Power of God to Save the Fallen (Louisville, Ky.: Pentecostal Herald Print., [1904]), 6, 8. Rev. Jernigan was involved in the Independent Holiness group which merged with the New Testament Church of Christ to become the Holiness Church of Christ.


45 Susan N. Fitkin, Grace Much More Abounding: A Story of the Triumphs of Redeeming Grace During Two Score Years in the Master’s Service (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, n.d.), 46; quoted in Rebecca Laird, “A History of the First Generation of Ordained Women in the Church of the Nazarene,” M.A. thesis, Pacific School of Religion, 1990, 71. Laird’s thesis has been published as Ordained Women in the Church of the Nazarene: The First Generation (Kansas City; Nazarene Publishing House, 1993). It was unavailable at the time this chapter was written.


46 Palmer, 206. Hunter and Mary Lee Cagle also emphasized the power for service that accompanied sanctification. See Stanley Ingersol, “Burden of Discontent: Mary Lee Cagle and the Southern Holiness Movement,” Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1989, 253.


47 Sarah Smith, Life Sketches of Mother Sarah Smith (Anderson, Ind.: Gospel Trumpet Company, [1902]; rep., Guthrie, Okla.: Faith Publishing House, n.d.), 9. Smith was a member of the first team of traveling evangelists in the Church of God.


48 Susie Cunningham Stanley, Feminist Pillar of Fire: The Life of Alma White (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 1993), 21, 23; and Anne C. Loveland, “Domesticity and Religion in the Antebellum Period: The Career of Phoebe Palmer,” The Historian 39 (May 1977): 459, 461.


49 Nina Beegle and Wilbur W. Brannon, “Vivian Pressley Served Forty Years in One Church,” Grow 3 (Spring 1992): 40. Pressley is a retired Nazarene pastor.


50 For two examples of historians who minimize the number of women evangelists, see Martha Tomhave Blauvelt, “Women and Revivalism,” in Women and Religion in America, vol, 1: The Nineteenth Century: A Documentary History, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 9; and Raser, 103.


51 “News from the Field,” Gospel Trumpet, 1891-1892 issues.


52 Gospel Trumpet 2 (1 August 1891): n.p.; and 25 (26 January 1905): 5.


53 Howard A. Snyder, “Radical Holiness: Vivian Dake and the Pentecost Bands,” Wesleyan/Holiness Church Leaders’ Conference, 1-3 February 1990, Asbury Theological Seminary, 7-9. Members of the Pentecost Bands did not seek ordination. The group became independent of the Free Methodist Church in 1895. Changing their name to Missionary Bands of the World in 1925, the group ultimately united with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1958.


54 Murdoch, 361; and Alice Dice, “Black Women in Ministry in the Church of God,” in Leonard, Called to Minister, 59-63. Women founded many congregations in the Church of God and other denominations, but their contributions have not been fully documented.


55 Ingersol, 284, 205.


56 Alma White, The Story of My Life and Pillar of Fire, 5 vols. (Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1935-1943), II: 364.


57 Alma White, The New Testament Church (Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1929), 277.


58 Stanley, 111-14.


59 Murdoch, 349, 360, 358-59.


60 Donald W. Dayton and Lucille Sider Dayton, “Women as Preachers: Evangelical Precedents,” Christianity Today 19 (23 May 1975): 7.


61 Ingersol, 258. This number does not include associate pastors.


62 Phyllis Perkins, “Clergywomen in the Church of the Nazarene: Who Are We?,” New Horizons (Spring 1992): 1.


63 Maye McReynolds, who had managed the Spanish Mission in the Southwest, was officially recognized as district superintendent in 1911. Elsie Wallace filled a vacancy in the Northwest for four months in 1920. See Laird, 42, 54.


64 Susie Stanley, “Church of God Women Ministers: A Look at the Statistics,” in Leonard, Called to Minister, 175. Statistics for 1992 were provided by Ilene Bargerstock, Division of Church Service, Church of God. The 1992 figure includes 113 retired women.


65 Juanita Evans Leonard, “Women, Change and the Church,” in her Called to Minister, 162-64.


66 Barfoot and Sheppard trace this development in several Pentecostal denominations. As the prophetic emphasis diminished in these groups, men increasingly assumed priestly functions. The Wesleyan/Holiness movement corresponds to this pattern. See Charles H. Barfoot and Gerald T. Sheppard, “Prophetic vs. Priestly Religion: The Changing Role of Women Clergy in Classical Pentecostal Churches,” Review of Religious Research 22 (September 1980): 2-17.


67 John W.V. Smith, 148.


68 Joseph Allison, “Why We Encourage Women to Be Leaders,” Church of God Missions 52 (January 1988): 9; and Joseph Allison, “An Overview of the Involvement of Women in the Church of God from 1916,” in The Role of Women in Today’s World: Six Study Papers (Anderson, Ind.: Commission on Social Concerns, Church of God, 1978), 27.


69 Ingersol, 277, 290.


70 Nancy Hardesty, Lucille Sider Dayton, and Donald W. Dayton, “Women in the Holiness Movement: Feminism in the Evangelical Tradition,” in Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 249-50. This article provides an excellent overview of women in the Holiness movement.


71 Laird, iv.


72 Lillie S. McCutcheon, “Lady in the Pulpit,” Centering on Ministry 5 (Winter 1980): 5-6.


73 R. Eugene Sterner, “Women in the Church of God,” in The Role of Women, 15.


74 Paul Bassett coined the term “fundamentalist leavening” to signify the influence of fundamentalism with respect to the understanding of the authority and inspiration of the Bible in the Church of the Nazarene, but “leavening” has influenced other theological positions as well. See Paul Merritt Bassett, “The Fundamentalist Leavening of the Holiness Movement, 1914-1940: The Church of the Nazarene—A Case Study,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 13, no. 1 (1978): 65-91.


75 Williams agrees that Gothard’s lectures are often accepted as “gospel,” resulting in women’s diminished role in the church. See Williams, 32. Gothard’s teachings have made inroads into other churches as well.


76 Sterner, 15.


77 See Ingersol, 277-78; Laird, iv; and Adams, 9.


78 Arlo F. Newell, “Deep Spiritual Apostasy?,” Vital Christianity 100 (8 June 1980): 5. Vital Christianity is a Church of God periodical, formerly called Gospel Trumpet.


79 Arlo F. Newell, “For Men Only?,” Vital Christianity 109 (May 1989): 13.


80 Barry L. Callen, ed., Thinking and Acting Together (Anderson, Ind.: Executive Council of the Church of God and Warner Press, 1992), 66.


81 Church of the Nazarene Manual, 1980 (p. 346), quoted in Karen Schwartz, “And ‘Your Daughters Will Prophesy,’” The Preacher’s Magazine 59 (September 1983): 32.


82 Ingersol, 294.


83 Besides the 1992 reprint of Roberts’s Ordaining Women, other recent books are Called to Minister: Empowered to Serve, edited by Juanita Evans Leonard, and Rebecca Laird’s Ordained Women in the Church of the Nazarene: The First Generation. C.S. Cowles, A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church (Kansas City Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1993) was published too late for inclusion in this chapter.


84 The denominations sponsoring the conference were the Church of God (Anderson), the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Evangelical Friends, International. The Salvation Army (USA Western Territory) was an official supporter of the conference. For coverage of the conference, see Timothy C. Morgan, Christianity Today 38 (16 May 1994): 52; and Stan Ingersol, Christian Century 111 (29 June-6 July 1994): 632. The Salvation Army has joined the other five denominations as a full sponsor of the 1996 conference, while the Brethren in Christ Church is an official supporter.


Stanley, S.C. (1996) The Promise Fulfilled: Women’s Ministries in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement. In Religious Institutions and Women’s Leadership: New Roles Inside the Mainstream, ed. Catherine Wessinger, pp. 139-157. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.



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