The historical Christadelphian position on the role of women was documented by a sociologist, Bryan Wilson, in 1961 in an article on “The Social Composition of Christadelphianism.” The relevant section called Patriarchalism and the Women in the Movement is reproduced on this site. The position set out there broadly operates the same way today.
Christadelphians believe there is a divine order to things based upon the Bible. For married women this means that men are held to be the head of the household. The woman should defer ultimately to his authority. This is based on verses such as,
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. 1 Peter 3:1-6
to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:5
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18
In practice things don’t always work in an authoritarian manner because Christadelphians also believe men are to love their wives.
Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:33
In addition having a belief doesn’t mean most women will accept a rigid application of an authoritative principle at home. There is the theory and then there is the reality of how things actually work.
Christadelphians also believed historically that order in society and family is based upon following the roles set out by God. The duty of the wife was therefore to stay at home and look after the children, whereas the man is to be the wage earner. These were once widespread beliefs outside the movement in mainstream society. To some degree their practical applications have changed and with equality today less women are happy to follow the traditional roles and this applies in the Christadelphians too. Some of this is also through economic necessity, because it is harder today for a family to operate on one income.
In church affairs teaching and most organising roles are delegated to men as can be seen within the Ecclesial Guide. This is validated by referencing certain quotes from the Bible such as,
Let the woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
In many congregations even after open discussions after talks or study groups, it has been customary for a woman to write any questions or thoughts on a note and give it to her husband.
Women are allowed to teach children in Sunday School and can give talks in “sisters groups.” They help organise catering at activities and in addition many play very strong supportive roles behind the scenes.
At worship women are usually required to wear head coverings based on a passage in 1 Corinthians,
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
The whole passage raises difficulties in fact if taken literally. Christadelphians do not believe anyone “prophesies” today. They also apply this passage only to public situations (which taken this way would allow women to both pray and prophesy). The arguments also have unclear bits (about angels for instance) and it is also apparently a recommendation not a compulsion (“we have no such custom”).
The limitations of roles can be particularly challenging for single sisters because they have more restricted role at being able to express themselves than do young males. It is also out of sync with modern society. Many women are now highly educated and some see the historical role they have in the community as too restricted. They want to be able to teach and to lead. In addition whilst some passages seem to limit the role of women, others can be brought up to challenge them. There is therefore a growing questioning of the role of women. Some would see any change purely a result of the growing influence of changes in the wider society, whereas others believe that more equality of roles is in fact the Biblical position.
The general principle is that women should dress modestly. That means not showing too much cleavage or flesh. The details of what constitutes modesty can be more debatable, but guidelines are often issued at events such as Bible Schools. Women are also often expected to wear dresses or skirts and trousers can be frowned on. Informally this is much more relaxed today and the idea that wearing jeans for instance is “men’s clothing” less prevalent. In the early days for the same reason short hair on women was also viewed poorly. There is a reference for instance in the Bible that says long hair is a woman’s glory and likewise for men long hair was a definite no, no.