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Candice McQueen speaks on stage after the announcement of her presidency on Aug. 5, 2021.
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Is David Lipscomb turning over in his grave?

Scholar reflects on how the Christian university’s founder might respond to the appointment of a female president.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Lipscomb University. The purpose is to offer a historical perspective. The writer, John Mark Hicks, fully celebrates the appointment of Candice McQueen as Lipscomb’s first female president.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — How might David Lipscomb respond to the announcement that a woman was appointed president of the institution, Lipscomb University, that he and James A. Harding co-founded?

Lipscomb, an influential leader in Churches of Christ from the Civil War until World War I, joined with Harding to start the Nashville Bible School in 1891. The university traces its roots to that school.

Lipscomb was adamant that women should not “take any active part in conducting the public service” or “public worship” of the assembled body of Christ (1 Corinthians, Gospel Advocate Commentary, p. 216).

Related: Lipscomb names Candice McQueen as its next president

Lipscomb was also clear that women ought, when they have the ability and knowledge, to use every opportunity to teach in a “quiet, modest, womanly way,” including teaching “old or young, male or female, at the meetinghouse, at home, at a neighbor’s house, on Sunday or Monday or any other day of the week” (Questions Answered, 736; cf. also Gospel Advocate [August 25, 1910] 968-9).

Lipscomb … distinguished between public leadership and private discretion, between public authority and private modesty, between public settings and private settings.

Lipscomb, like many before him, distinguished between public leadership and private discretion, between public authority and private modesty, between public settings and private settings.

While Lipscomb applied this to congregational life (prohibiting public teaching but encouraging private teaching), he also applied this to the place of women in society as a whole. The fundamental principle, for Lipscomb, was that a woman’s work is a modest, submissive one, which suits her for domesticity rather than public leadership.

“For women to enter the work of public speaking or of leadership in the affairs of the world,” according to Lipscomb, “is to cut them off from childbearing” (Gospel Advocate [July 3, 1913] 635). Anything that distracts from “her chiefest work in life” is “incompatible” with her “womanly” vocation. “Public speaking in any of the callings of life that demand a constant strain on the mind, a constant anxiety and care in reference to the public affairs of church or state, an excitement of the ambitions for place and power, not only destroy her taste for and cause her to neglect the home and family duties, the duties of wife and mother, but such a strain on the mind destroys the ability for childbearing” (Questions Answered, p. 739).

David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb

Lipscomb strongly opposed the increasing participation of women in any public sphere, whether it was in an activist movement like the Temperance Movement or in any public institution, whether in church or society. “Women,” Lipscomb thought, “ought not to be encouraged to make public speeches on any subject” (Gospel Advocate [February 13, 1913] 155-6).

The root of this opposition is God’s intent in creation: Men are designed for public leadership and responsibility, but women are designed for the domestic nurture and care of the family. Adam was created first, as Lipscomb would remind us, and this applies not only to the public assemblies of the church but to society as well.

Of course, the biblical student, including Lipscomb, recognizes Deborah was a political leader of sorts in Israel’s history. God, according to Lipscomb, “inspired as leaders and teachers of the people” when “men were unworthy and were unfaithful.” Women “are justified in teaching or leading only when the men refuse to do the work,” and their leadership “ought to be considered a reproach and reproof of the men for their deficiency” (Gospel Advocate [July 13, 1913] 634-5).

Since there were other qualified and worthy candidates for the job, including men, it seems Lipscomb would not be pleased with the appointment of a woman as the president of the university that bears his name. Then again, Lipscomb would not be pleased with any women who served in any public leadership at any institution whether religious or otherwise.

JOHN MARK HICKS is a professor of theology at the Hazelip School of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville. He has taught in higher education among Churches of Christ for close to 40 years. Contact him at [email protected].

Filed under: Christian universities churches of christ history David Lipscomb Lipscomb University Opinion Top Stories Views women in Churches of Christ women's roles

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