Where Are “Apostate” Women Preachers Taking Us!?

Today’s post is a guest post by Bobby Valentine. He writes a blog as the Stoned-Campbell Disciple that is published on Wineskins.org .  Our church pulpits are slowly opening to women preachers as serious study is changing how we have traditionally discriminated against women using just two verses from the New Testament as justification keeping women out of the pulpits in our churches.  However, we conveniently forget that when the push to return to simple Christianity started growing in the late 18th Century, women  preachers  took an active role in pushing for that change.  Bobby explores that history for the Churches of Christ that grew out of the work of Alexander Campbell and others like him.

Bobby has been a valued friend on the internet and teacher for more than fifteen years.  This is posted with permission.

Where Are “Apostate” Women Preachers Taking Us!?



Recently across the internet, and Facebook, it was asked “Where are Apostate Women Preachers Taking Us!?” And it was asked of me directly. My reaction was “no where!” No apostate woman preacher will be taking me anywhere was my thinking.

The question is, of course framed in the most poisonous way possible. The proper answer is “the same place apostate MEN take us!” But the questioner would want us to think that all women who think it is ok for a woman to teach or address men are apostates!

Humans are not apostate based on their gender. The vast majority, by far, of heretics in history have been MEN. Think of Aaron (Golden Calf), Jeroboam (idol shrines in Dan and Bethel), Judas (hello!), Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Valentinus, Marcion, Joseph Smith, John Thomas … All men.

But from a biblical angle, I suggest that women preachers may take us into revival and reformation like Huldah.

A courageous woman leader may lead us into deliverance and praise of God like Esther.
Some women may be ones who instruct the apostles themselves in the reality of the Gospel, like the Marys, Martha and Salome.

Perhaps some woman may instruct God’s people for many years like Anna (I wonder if Anna preached in the Huldah Gate of the temple) only to have God himself reward her by letting her see Jesus … what an endorsement of her ministry would you not say?

Sound Gospel Preachers … who Happen to be Women

Here are some forgotten non-apostate women on our family tree … Some people claim today that the church is just selling out to culture in letting women teach or preach. But the women listed here were hardly selling out to culture they were intensely counter-cultural and cutting against the grain. There was nothing “cultural” about their ministry at all.

1) When I first took “restoration history” I learned who Elias Smith was. He established the first religious paper in the country. He rejected creeds, etc and “had nothing to do with Campbell” (because he was before Campbell). What I was not told – maybe the teacher did not know – was that women preachers were common in the “Christian movement.” Nancy Cram (1776-1815) discovered her vocation as a proclaimer of God’s Good News in 1812. She led a revival, converted several preachers to the Christian movement and had an active and fruitful ministry with the Oneida Indians living in New York.

2) Abigail Roberts (1791-1841). Roberts was converted to the Lord under the preaching of Nancy Cram. She and her husband, Nathan, actually were searching for answers after the death of two children within months of each other. Cram pointed them to the Lord. She began teaching and preaching in 1816 but encountered bitter opposition from traditional Christian congregations and the wider culture too. But she called all to abandon party names, reject creeds for the Bible, that followers of the Messiah should be called simply Christians. One male preacher threatened to gag her then tar and feather her. Female preaching was wrong but violence against her was sound and true!! I can see Jesus scribbling in the dirt in front of such sound male preachers …

3) Nancy Mulkey. Back when I took that restoration history class we made a trip to Kentucky and visited Cane Ridge and the Old Mulkey Meeting House. Again we were taught how Stone and his friends called people to be basically like “us.” And how John Mulkey was of critical importance because without influence from Campbell he just went by the Bible. I was never told though that in that very meetinghouse how women preached. In fact Mulkey’s own daughter would preach after her father on a regular basis. In that day the female was not called “preacher” in Kentucky but an “exhorter.” Mulkey would preach a long lesson and Nancy would follow the “sermon” with an “exhortation” that would last as long as modern sermon – 20 to 30 minutes. Joseph Thomas, known as the White Pilgrim, relates in his Travel narrative visiting Mulkey’s congregation and described Nancy’s preaching, “She would arise with zeal on her countenance and fire in her eyes, and with a pathos that showed the depth of her soul and would pour forth an exhortation no brother could equal and brought tears from every feeling eye.”

4) Clara Hale Babcock (1850-1924). Babcock was the mother of six children and she and her husband united with the Stone-Campbell Movement in 1880. She was active in her community fighting the evils of whiskey and became president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She worked with churches in the mid-west in Illinois, North Dakota and even Ontario.

5) Sadie McCoy Crank (1863-1948). The ministry of Crank, long buried in obscurity and forgotten, was truly remarkable. Most of her ministry focused in Missouri. She planted almost 50 churches, led in the fundraising of 18 church buildings, and immersed nearly 7000 people during her preaching. She also performed a thousand funerals and 361 weddings. Born August 15, 1863 to members of the Primitive Baptist Church, she became bitter towards God at an early age. Apparently her supposedly devout father was an abusive alcoholic. She became a teacher and it was during that period that she renewed her faith in God and also began to question tenets of Calvinism. She became a leader in the Sunday School Movement and the Temperance Movement. In 1891, her mastery of the Bible became clear. She was teaching in Sunday School and fielding many questions. Sunday School was closed with a hymn and some one came forward. Confronted with a new situation she did not know what to do. So she took the person’s confession and not wanting to be out of line sent for a male preacher to baptize the individual. Sadie was asked to preach and she did and 96 people were baptized in her first protracted meeting. When she passed in 1948 these are some of the words that were said (and later printed): “Her total strength was devoted unreservedly to the service of Christ and humanity. She was sustained by an intelligent and well founded faith. In early life she passed through a period of serious doubt. A careful and thorough investigation of the basic truths of Christianity brought her assurance and peace. She became an alert and invincible champion of the Faith. When skeptics tried to storm the citadel of her Hope they found a Woman in the way … She built many church structures. But these were only means to a great end. Her constant purpose was the development of Christian character. Along the road she traveled are many living monuments of consecrated personality adoring the way on which she walked with God …”

6) Silena Moore Holman (1850-1915). Silena was the wife of T. P. Holman, an elder in the Church of Christ in Fayetteville, TN. A mere 80 miles or so from where I grew up in Florence. She was active in the Temperance Movement and suffrage Movement – they hung her portrait in the Tennessee State House in 1917 to honor her contributions. Holman published controversial articles in the Gospel Advocate under the editorship of David Lipscomb. First thing to be amazed at here is that Lipscomb actually published them. The Gospel Advocate today will not publish anyone that does not does not adhere to the unspoken creed. This actually has been true for sometime with the GA. But Lipscomb was made of hardier material. He was unafraid of discussion and printing things that he personally disagreed with. We are, after all, SEEKING the truth. There is no way anyone (and Lipscomb certainly never claimed this) could paint Holman as an apostate, unbeliever, liberal – she was a devoted wife and mother and was in the Gospel Advocate orbit of thinking. Given Lipscomb’s feelings about women’s roles in society it is stunning he published her regularly. In August 1888 her article “Let Your Women Keep Silence” graced the pages of the Gospel Advocate. She said that there would be little doubt about Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 if that was all the Bible said on the subject. Indeed in a series of articles she agreed that “man is the head of the woman” but she denied this means women are hidden from view. She rejected the reading of 1 Cor 11 that said women praying and teaching in the assembly was “private.” Indeed such a dichotomy between public and private was a modern contrivance she insisted. She writes “Suppose a dozen men and women were in my parlor and I talked to them of the gospel and exhorted them to obey it? Exactly how many would have to be added to that number to make my talk and exhortation a public instead of a private one?” She addressed the question multiple times, as late as 1913 just two years before her death the Advocate published her “The Woman Question.” Holman was widely respected for her abilities and work. When she died it was the famous T. B. Larimore who preached her funeral. He praised her for her devotion to family, her wonderful intelligence, her honorable life and her public leadership.

Where Sound Women Preachers May Take Us …

What happens if we examine the Scriptures, like the Bereans did, and find out that we are WRONG and that God has never systematically excluded women – because they are women – from preaching and teaching. There are a lot of them in the Bible if they are mere exceptions. But I do suspect that God would exclude apostate women just like he would apostate men.

When people ask me about women teaching, praying and exhorting and where it may lead us. I tell them, “historically it has led to more loving, caring and holistic ministry in the world and it has led thousands of people into eternal life. And it has even caused a great deal of Bible study.”

I would rather listen Nancy Cram proclaim the Gospel than listen to some male spout the heresy salvation by precision obedience. Apostate women preachers are no more dangerous than apostate men preachers. And right now there are probably more apostate men preachers than the reverse.

We selectively read the Bible. We need to stop.

We selectively remember history. We need to stop.

We often find the most extreme example of something we dislike and then portray that as the norm and goal for all. Such is absurd and we need to stop.

I am thankful for Huldah, Miriam, Anna, Esther, Phoebe, Junia, Abigail, Nancy, and Silena.

Be blessed.