Daniel Sommer (1850-1840), a graduate of Bethany College and the heralded successor of Benjamin Franklin among northern conservatives, lived and worked among congregations of Churches of Christ who were more open to the public voice of women than their southern counterparts. In particular, at least in the article below, Sommer is quite explicit about the “priviledge” of women to publicly read Scripture and exhort the congregation in their worship assemblies. Southern congregations, particularly in the Tennessee Tradition of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, opposed any public reading and exhortation of women in the assembly. In this the northern conservatives, often more “right-wing” than the southerners, are more progressive (or biblical?) than the southerners. In fact, the Tennesee folk are one the “extremes” to which Sommer refers.
Daniel Sommer, “Woman’s Religious Duties and Privileges in Public,” Octographic Review 44.34 (20 August 1901) 1,
Extreme begets extremes in all departments of life, and at all angles of religious thought. As a result we are requested to write in regard to woman’s public religious duties and privileges.
What woman is divinely commanded to do is no doubt her duty regardless of what any human being may think or wish, approve or disapprove. That she is commanded to become a Christian just as publicly as the circumstances of her obedience may suggest is admitted by all who read the New Testament aright, also by many others. That woman is likewise commanded to worship publicly as a Christian is likewise admitted by all who think seriously on the subject. Thus we need not quote scripture on the subject, nor reason thereon in any measure or degree. Moreover, that it is the woman’s duty as a Christian to obey the scripture which says, ‘I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,” (1 Tim. 2:12), is likewise admitted, as well as the reasons which Paul gives for such restrictions.
But what do these restrictions embrace? Here is the only question to be decided and this is not difficult if we be unbiased. Certainly they do not restrict women in regard to her worship, and thus she is not restricted in regard to communing, singing, and praying in public. Any reasoning which will prevent woman from praying in public will prevent her from communing and singing.
But may a woman who is a Christian in good standing arise in a congregation and publicly read in audible tones a portion of scripture without comment? The answer to this depends on whether reading is in the New Testament called teaching. In 1 Tim. 4:13 Paul says, “ Till I come give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” The revised version gives the word “teaching” instead of “doctrine.” This ought to settle the question and enable all to understand that a woman may without comment read any part of the Bible publicly without thereby becoming a public teacher. But when a woman comments on scripture, applying and enforcing its meaning, she then and there becomes a public teacher and falls under condemnation of Paul’s restriction.
But may a woman teach a class in this meeting house without falling under condemnation? The question is troubling some congregations. Its answer depends on whether Paul’s restriction on women in regard to speaking did or did not refer to the public congregation when assembled. In 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches…For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.” The translation called “Living Oracles” gives us “congregations” and “congregation” in the foregoing scriptures, and this is correct. The “silence” which Paul enjoined on woman was therefore in the “congregation” when assembled, and in regard to teaching and authority. But teaching a class, especially a class of children, in a meeting house does not conflict with such restriction. Therefore, we conclude that it is woman’s privilege to teach a class in a meeting house.
Woman is the first divinely ordained teacher of children. She is made thus by nature, and God is the author of nature. Besides, Timothy’s mother and grandmother are honorably mentioned in connection with the mention that is made of the faith that was in him. (2 Tim. 1:5.) Finally, aged women are required to be teachers of young women. (Titus 2:3-5.) Yet they must do such teaching in such manner and circumstances of Paul’s restriction. But that restriction simply forbids a woman being a teacher in the public congregation and forbids her usurping authority over the man. Up to this restriction woman may go; beyond this restriction she should not go.
But as exhortation and teaching are different the question arises, May a woman exhort in the public congregation? This question is sometimes asked, and should be answered. In response thereto we state that where Paul had “no command” of the Lord he simply gave his “judgment” as one that had “obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (1 Cor. 7:25.) We do the same, and our “judgment” is that if a sister in good standing wishes to arise in a congregation and offer an exhortation it is her privilege to do so, but let her be careful not to become a teacher. She should simply exhort on the basis of what has been taught, or on what is generally understood in the assembly, and at all times, both publicly and privately, she should avoid usurping authority over man. This needs to be emphasized, especially in the United States, where woman is so highly praised that, in many instances, she forgets the word of God, and becomes a dictator.
But may not a woman lead a woman’s prayer meeting or even preside at the Lord’s table when no mean are present who are capable of so doing? Here again we have no command but our “judgment.” A woman’s prayer meeting is not the kind of “congregation” of which Paul was writing in 1 Cor. 14th chapter. It is not a public assembly. Neither should an assembly of women on the Lord’s day to break bread be thus regarded. Men—godly men—are divinely intended to be the public teachers, and regulators of established congregations, and the public preachers to build up congregations. But with these exceptions, women—godly women—are privileged, and, in most particulars, are duty bound, to be partakers with godly men in their religious work. Priscilla helped her husband to teach a preacher named Apollos the way of the Lord more fully (Acts 18:24-26), and they were among Paul’s “helpers in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 16:3. But this does not mean that Priscilla was a public teacher or a preacher. All that she is reported as having don could have been accomplished by her without one public speech.
The foregoing paragraphs are submitted to our readers, not as an exhaustive discussion, anticipating all possible objections of gainsayers, but as sufficient to indicate the public duties and privileges of godly woman [sic] in the public congregation.