I recently wrote about my frustration and confusion with the Church and particularly my church. It seems to me the Church is ignoring the stories of women in the Bible, and historically as artists and theologians, and in the Church worldwide.
Now I don’t have history or theological degrees, but it doesn’t take those to know instinctively that women have been actively participating in the work of the church since its inception. I was so frustrated I created a survey (you can still vote) asking my contacts who are the female spiritual leaders, thinkers, and theologians that inspire you most? The results are here. The results were interesting.
What are you doing to make sure women are part of the story of your church? of the Bible? of church history?
Do you talk about the women in the Bible?
Do your folks know the women of the church?
Which women have you mentioned in your teaching or your preaching?
These are fantastic questions and exactly what I was getting at by my rant. The church could be teaching about men and women. I have never heard of Katherine Bushnell or Alice Paul or Macrina. I could not even place them on a historical time line. Could you? And then there are the many women in the Bible that are never mentioned in church. Paul’s coworker’s Timothy and Barnabas we know, and yet his coworker Thecla is never mentioned.
Jenny Dunham, recently in Arise Magazine, compellingly stated something so obvious it is shocking: “To learn of men without their woman counterparts is an incomplete view of human history.” She goes on to ask:
“What would happen to the gender divide if we were taught history in a holistic manner—that is in a way that includes both women and men? Can you imagine how difficult it would be to devalue females if we more frequently celebrated their brave, unstoppable, and tireless leadership throughout history? Without knowing the history of these remarkable women we would see only men taking action and moving the tides of our world.”
It is too easy to presume that women have no place in the church, have no history, have no stories when we do not hear them told!!! We perhaps think that women are incapable of “making history” because they are not celebrated (or rarely even mentioned) in the history of the Church.
I’ve recently been reading How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. It is just okay. To be honest I didn’t finish it, perhaps some day. There are so many other books on my bedside stand that I want to read more. But it was fascinating to read some observations, again by Scot McNight from his blog:
“Themes about what precipitated change…:
- The influence of a strong, gifted woman in one’s life.
- The impression of the stories of those who changed their minds on this very issue.
- A more careful reexamining of the whole of Scripture in light of its historical, cultural and broader theological context.
- The experience of working side-by-side with gifted, dedicated, and called women leaders, teachers, and preachers.
- The realization that there is a view where head, heart, and Scripture can come together and honestly confront the difficulties of applying a restrictive position consistently.”
“Women tell their stories and their stories show some common themes too:
- They were shadows of males.
- They were “submissive” in order to attract a husband.
- They functioned as a supplement to make males complete.
- They became depressed and struggled over rejection of their callings and gifts of the Spirit.
- They received encouragement from respected evangelical males who wanted their gifts and callings to find full expression and for them to be completely themselves.”
The stories about women are important. The questions are important. The history is important. But change won’t come quickly.
Men have been talking about men for so long, they don’t even realize it. They read and study fellow men. They listen to fellow men. They quote men. No, change won’t come quickly. I was recently asked how can we make baby steps toward change, in response to my writing We are Half the Church. Well, obviously I don’t want to only make baby steps because it’s too frustrating!! But most days I can admit that we will likely not see change in the evangelical church in the next decade. So, here’s to baby steps … Cheers.
Small Choices. Big Impact.
Be thinking constantly about utilizing women and minorities. I think pastors and staff need to be aware of how their seemingly small choices are making big noise. Their lack of determined action is effectively stating more than their words.
In the case of my church, they don’t say much about women and you won’t find anything on the website under beliefs or core values, but women can’t become elders and there are no women on the teaching team. But I know there are many folk there (I have met them) who do believe in Biblical equality (Of course there is a good portion that don’t.) But the leadership’s actions tell me they aren’t willing to make institutional change any time soon. The change they are bringing is more covert. And some of it highly admirable if very slow. One thing they do is hire by merit giving women some jobs in leadership. Yes, this is good. Fair. Legal. Slow.
When I worked at IV we worked hard to find capable, talented, exceptional leaders who were women and minorities. We worked tirelessly, seeking input from those communities that
do not traditionally have a voice in a culture dominated by whites and males, but who clearly knew of talent that didn’t have the mainline white or male exposure. Our conferences and events fairly representing women and minorities in leadership and teaching. That’s because the organization decided it was important and Biblical. I don’t know what they do today in their programming. With leadership change comes changes in priorities.
I observe culture. And what I see is discouraging. Look at Christian conference speaker lineups and Christian book authors and Christian songs played on the radio for example. Optimistically, nine out of ten are white or males. This has to change.
Yes, it takes work to find, empower, train up, mentor and listen to people that are different than you, but the kingdom of God is reflected and I believe God is honored and pleased by the effort. And it is a delicate balance between finding the right person and mentoring people into places of teaching, authority and leadership. It’s an art not a science.
On one level it is simple. In the planning and implementation of worship and teaching on a given Sunday in the local church, always ask how you can better utilize women and minorities on the platform in whatever way you can. That alone would be a huge step forward.
An example: This Sunday, at my church there were four short monologues or sketches done by the two main teaching pastors, Chris and Tim. Two of them could have been performed by women. This would have taken more work and time planning ahead. And you have less control when you “give up” some of that power. Or, in the same service scriptures were read through out. Others can reach scripture it just requires setting it up ahead of time. Again, the delicate balance of capability vs ongoing mentoring is significant.
Another “simple” idea.
If you are truly hiring by merit and have the value of actively seeking women and minorities to apply, the next step is to put in the job description for all NEW HIRES of senior staff that they must be able to teach — either have teaching experience or are capable of/willing to learning. Then give them opportunities and/or train them in teaching. Yes, this rules out capable people. But it also begins to change the expectation over time that this is a part of leadership. And it will diversify the teaching team which can only be good.
Even as I write this I am overcome by my sense of apathy and discouragement and lack of faith that the evangelical Church will ever change. When this happens I know I it is time to stop thinking, and reading, and writing, and to go sit with my heavenly Father. To be reminded of who he is and what is important to him. Our God is a lover of justice and mercy. He said, more than anything, what is important to him is:
- That we love one another as he loved us.
- That we build one another up.
- That we bring order to this crazy messed up world.
This isn’t about feminism or diversity, which are hot and misunderstood words in the Christian sub-culture today. This is about justice which is God’s priority. This is about restoring what God intended in the beginning when he created us all to be so different. God’s order doesn’t look like ours.
“I cannot begin to imagine how much good a holistic teaching would be in bringing reconciliation and healing to God’s kingdom. This is not only the case for women; people of all ethnicities and social classes should enjoy equal recognition in history with white males.” — Jenny Dunham
Baby step no. 1. Remember the other half of the church on a given Sunday. Empower them. Tell their stories. Celebrate the whole church, not just the less than half that are male.
Men, stop talking about yourselves.
I should say that my article We are Half the Church was in some way inspired by the book Half the Church, by Carolyn Custis James. Although I am reading it, thus far I don’t have a big take away but I was struck hard by the title. We are more than half the church. Yes, we are. And it is about time we were more vocal.
| Half the Church
Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women
Women comprise at least half the world and usually more than half the church. But so often Christian teaching for women either fails to move beyond a discussion of roles. This shuts a lot of women out from contributing to God’s kingdom as they were designed to do. Furthermore, the plight of women in the Majority World demands a Christian response, a holistic embrace of all that God calls women and men to be in his world.
In Half the Church, James presents an inspiring vision of God’s plan for women that avoids assuming for them a particular social location or family situation. She unpacks three transformative themes the Bible presents that invest the lives of every woman and girl with cosmic significance that nothing can destroy. These new images of what can be in Christ come with a blazing call for them to join their brothers in advancing God’s gracious kingdom on earth.
|Carolyn Custis James|