I was told that women were not allowed to speak in church. I thought that Christ had changed the way women were viewed in the church.
If the person who told you this said that women are not allowed to speak in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they are incorrect. On the other hand, if they were referring to Paul’s teachings in the New Testament, then they were probably speaking of one of these passages:
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
In each of the above verses, the Joseph Smith Translation changes the word “speak” to “rule” – an important distinction.
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
It’s possible that verse 12 was intended to say that women shouldn’t teach men (not that they shouldn’t teach at all), though it’s not entirely clear. Certainly, the culture in which Paul lived would not have accepted the idea of women teaching men. As for the teachings about silence, no one can learn unless they are listening to what is being taught (which requires silence, at least until that part of the teaching is complete).
When reading scripture, it’s important to keep the culture of the day in mind. This cannot help but influence the author. That doesn’t mean we can excuse ourselves from the teachings of scripture because it wasn’t written in our day, but rather that in order to understand the intent of some things, we need to understand the context.
Speaking of context, Paul’s epistles are letters to specific people with specific problems, and often in response to letters we don’t have. Therefore, we can assume that the above passages were written to groups who were struggling with related questions.
Lest you think Paul had no respect for women, there are various verses in his epistles where he praises and entrusts women (for example Romans 16:1-2, Philippians 4:3) Also, consider 1 Corinthians 11:2-5 where Paul appears to be describing public, possibly even church, behavior with both men and women praying and prophesying. Both require speaking. These verses lends support to the JST change in 1 Corinthians 14 from “speak” to “rule”.
Regarding ways that Christ changed how women were viewed in the church: his treatment of and relationships with women as described in the New Testament were indeed very different from the cultural norms, according to people who have studied this topic. I’m not an expert in this area, so I recommend reading “Jesus Christ’s Interactions with the Women of the New Testament” by Mary Jane Woodger, Ed.D., professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. This is one of the best articles I’ve found in clarifying the ways in which Christ acted counter to the culture of his time.
But we should not expect that all the people Paul and his fellow Apostles taught would immediately be able to let go of their traditions regarding women and worship. Despite Christ’s examples, such changes are usually difficult and slow in coming.
In our day, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, women participate fully in worship and service as speakers in Sunday meetings; as teachers of men, women, and children; as missionaries; as leaders in the Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women organizations; and in a wide variety of other positions. Like the men in the Church, they act under the authority and guidance of those who hold priesthood keys.
If you want to learn more about the unique roles, responsibilities, and service of women in the Church today, there are several places you could start:
- Daughters in My Kingdom (a manual for the Relief Society, the Church’s women’s organization)
- The General Women’s Session of the previous General Conference (October 2015)
- Or the Young Women home page on the Church’s website
I hope this gives you a better understanding of where the idea you heard originated, and that it’s not the way things are in the Church today.