This is my last post on the historical situation of women in the assemblies of Churches of Christ from 1897 to 1907. You may access the whole series from my serial page.
The Texas Tradition
While the mid and deep South seemed united in the Tennessee perspective, Texas reflected some considerable diversity, even among conservatives who opposed “digression.” J. W. Chism—a leader in the Texas Tradition throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Foy E. Wallace, Jr. as well as R. L. Whiteside were two of his pallbearers at his 1935 funeral)—contended, for example, that “Paul expressly” approved audible female participation in the assembly through prayer and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11. While a woman may not “take the field as an evangelist, nor any other work of authority,” she may “in a subordinate place…sing, pray and prophesy, and that, too, in the assembly” (FF, 1897, 3). Chism challenged the Gospel Advocate on the question. He interpreted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a prohibition against disruptive women who interrupted the assembly with their questions. Women, husband permitting, are “at liberty to speak or instruct in the assembly” (GA, 1903, 450).
Another leader in the Texas Tradition, the co-author of the series of books entitled Sound Doctrine with R. L. Whiteside, was C. R. Nichol. His book God’s Woman created quite a stir in 1938. Though outside the time frame of this series, C. R. Nichol is an especially important representative of the Texas Tradition. Like Chism, he believed that 1 Corinthians 14 only prohibited those who interrupted prophets with their interrogatories (p. 137) and women did audibly pray and prophesy in the public assembly with covered heads in Corinth (p. 124). In fact, Nichol explicitly rejects “publicity” as the key hermeneutical criterion since there is no prohibition against the female voice “on the ground that it is public” (p. 123; cf. p. 149). Nichol’s position was consistent with Daniel Sommer’s, including the promotion of deaconnesses (pp. 159-166) and female Bible class teachers even when men are present (pp. 153-54). Despite his stellar reputation among conservatives, he was attacked by both John T. Lewis (Tennessean) and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (Texan) for these views.
Another interesting window into the Texas Tradition comes through the public disagreemnt between Joe S. Warlick and his wife, Lucy, in the Gospel Guide which Grasham highlighted in his 1999 article “The Role of Women in the American Restoration Movement” (Restoration Quarterly 41.4  211-240, esp. 223-225). Though outside the dates for this series, their discussion in 1920 was symptomatic of a continuing move to exclude the female voice in the assembly from the Texas Tradition (and Churches of Christ as a whole). While Mr. Warlick contended that women should be silent in the assemblies, Mrs. Warlick believed women should be permitted to speak to men for “edification, exhortation and comfort” just as women prophesied in the Corinthian assembly. Though Mr. Warlick in 1927 adopted his wife’s position that a woman may speak in “her naturally modest way in any assembly of the saints where rule and authority are not to be administered,” he still contented that leading “public prayer” was not her privilege. “I have never heard a Christian woman lead a public prayer,” he wrote, “and I hope I never shall.”
One eighty year old father in the faith, William Wise, pleaded for the continued practice of women praying: “I would go farther to hear a devoted sister pray than I would to hear a hired preacher or digressive preacher preach” (FF, 1904, 3). He defended his position with 1 Timothy 2:8-10 where the phrase “in like manner” includes, according to Wise, women in the praying described.
But this was far from unanimous among Texas conservatives (George, FF,1897, 1), and even some, like the editor of the Firm Foundation, objected to appointed deaconesses (Savage, FF, 1903, 4). While Texas as a whole ultimately came to similar conclusions as the Tennessee Tradition regarding female participation in the assembly, the Texas situation was complex than Tennessee and Indiana. It was fluid rather than stable. The Texas Tradition finally closed ranks with the Tennesse Tradition, and the more conservative and now traditional (silence in the assembly except for singing and baptismal confessions) position became the norm in Churches of Christ in the mid-20th century.
The Tennessee Tradition was radically and deeply shaped by the “Cult of True Womanhood” that reigned in the deep South many years past the Civil War. This cultural atmosphere influenced how they read the Bible. It was their fundamental cultural assumption about female inferiority (e.g., will power) that grounded their understanding of male leadership. It seems that this cultural undercurrent did not allow—it was not within their worldview—alternative understandings of the two restrictive texts in the New Testament to get a hearing. The deep cultural mold in which the Tennessee Tradition was forged on the “woman question” was as at least as substantial as any cultural phenomenon that the heirs of this perspective insist inspire contemporary discussions. The “Cult of True Womanhood” in the late 19th century shaped the perspective of Tennessee Tradition as deeply and as radically as any “Feminist” cultural agenda shaped gender debates in the late 20th century. Of course, the truth is that we are all, both past and present interpreters of Scripture, deeply impacted by our cultural context. The value of looking back into this interpretative history is to remind us that they were as culturally situated as we are. This ought to engender humility.
The Tennessee Tradition ultimately won the day, even though it moderated its assault on women in society so that one hears little opposition to female doctors, lawyers and CEOs today. In essence, and quite effectively, the Tennessee Tradition silenced the female voice in the public assemblies of Churches of Christ. Sharing a similar legal hermeneutic that stressed decontextualized positive injunctions/prohibitions and a similar fundamentalist idealization of domesticity, the Texas and Tennessee Traditions converged in the 1910s-1940s on a common front to exclude the female voice from the assembly except for singing and baptismal confessions of faith. The openness that characterized the northern Sommer-influenced congregations died the death of marginalization as the Southern Churches of Christ overwhelmed them in number, influence and institutional power. Sommer’s position, though largely forgotten except by a few historians, has been unwittingly renewed in some quarters of Churches of Christ in the late 20th century as a via media between the traditional and egalitarian positions.
J. W. Chism, “The Church of God—Her Purposes and How Accomplished—The Woman in the Assembly,” Firm Foundation 13 (7 September 1897) 3.
A. M. George, “That Vexed Question,” Firm Foundation 13 (21 September 1897) 1.
John T. Lewis, “There is Death in the Pot,” Bible Banner 1 (July 1939) 12.
George Savage, “Deaconesses,” Firm Foundation 19 (27 October 1903) 4.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “God’s Women Gather,” Bible Banner 2 (November 1939) 15.
Mrs. Joe S. (Lucy) Warlick, “May Women Teach? When? Where?” Gospel Guide 8 (August 1923) 2.
Mrs. Joe S. (Lucy) Warlick, “The Things ‘In Part’ Considered and the Restriction upon Women,” Gospel Guide 11 (May 1926) 3.
Joe S. Warlick, “Editorial,” Gospel Guide 12 (May 1927) 4.
Joe S. Warlick, “Let Your Women Keep Silent in the Churches,” Gospel Guide 5 (August 1920) 2.
William Wise, “Woman’s Work in the Church,” Firm Foundation 20 (3 May 1904) 3.