Men have been talking about men for so long, they don’t even realize it.

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.

So I was inspired, encouraged and compelled by the recent post of Scot McKnight on his website Jesus Creed asking:

  • 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…:

  1. The influence of a strong, gifted woman in one’s life.
  2. The impression of the stories of those who changed their minds on this very issue.
  3. A more careful reexamining of the whole of Scripture in light of its historical, cultural and broader theological context.
  4. The experience of working side-by-side with gifted, dedicated, and called women leaders, teachers, and preachers.
  5. 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:

  1. They were shadows of males.
  2. They were “submissive” in order to attract a husband.
  3. They functioned as a supplement to make males complete.
  4. They became depressed and struggled over rejection of their callings and gifts of the Spirit.
  5. 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 teacheither 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

Scripture says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3.28,  NASB (©1995)

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.

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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

Why “For Women” is not “For Me”

Matthew 25 (1) of The Holy Bible, King James v...
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Why I don’t like “women’s” ministry, seminars & conferences specifically for women, or special Bibles and studies written only for women.

It  is not that I’m against women (or men) gathering together as a tribe, but I have other, deeper concerns.

  • First of all, fundamentally it comes out of this notion that men and women are so different that you must make categories of resources just for each group.   We certainly have our differences, but that sort of thinking divides us.  It’s unproductive. It hurts us more than helps as we try to work out our faith with one another.
  • Secondly, I don’t like them because I don’t think ideas in scripture are necessarily “for women” or “for men.”
  • Thirdly, and possibly most important to me, because scripture was translated by men, and it was done a long time ago, by committees, and there were no women involved, therefore I think that the language just might possibly be patriarchal and misleading.

Before you burn me at the stake, look at Proverbs 31:10 to see what I mean.  It is the classic verses of a virtuous feminine woman.  Yes, it is a description of a woman though I never saw until I looked at the original meaning, that it is a description of a spiritually powerful and strong woman!

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (a group I’ll say up front I don’t totally agree with) describes a “worthy woman” fairly well as “virtuous, trustworthy, energetic, physically fit, economical, unselfish, honorable, lovable, prepared, prudent, and God-fearing.”  That’s all good.

Look at the word virtuous in 31:10 “Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies?” (KJV)

The Hebrew word chayil is translated as virtuous or excellent, strength and influence.; a force, an army, able activity in might and power, valiant, full of valor and virtue, and worthy in war.

I’m not making that up.  It’s there for anyone to know – to learn.  But don’t you think it’s interesting that no one talks about a virtuous woman like that?

I know I have never heard a woman at church described as a warrior — not in all my life and that ‘s a long time of church attending among several denominations.  And I had to find it for myself.

Original Word: חָ֫יִל
Transliteration: chayil Phonetic Spelling: (khah’-yil)
Short Definition: army
Definition: strength, efficiency, wealth, army
NASB Word Usage: able (5), armies (3), army (82), army* (1), capability (1), capable (3), elite army (1), excellence (1), excellent (2), forces (12), full (1), goods (1), great (1), might (1), mighty (1), nobly (1), power (2), retinue (2), riches (9), strength (10), strong (2), substance (1), troops (2), valiant (41), valiant* (4), valiantly (6), valor (18), very powerful (1), warriors (1), wealth (25), wealthy (1), worthy (1).

A Proverbs 31 Woman:

  • She is a mighty woman of God.
  • She is a woman of strength and influence.
  • She is a woman of force who is able and effective in spiritual warfare, she is full of valor (acts of bravery) and virtue.

Who can find a virtuous woman for her price is far above rubies.” (KJV)

The Hebrew word for find transliterated matsa, not only means find or acquire‚  but also has the meaning of  to come forth, to appear or exist.

Imagine that.

Perhaps these verses are saying:

God is calling mighty and courageous women to come forth, spiritual warriors and champions, who at His command will be a great spiritual force in Jesus name.

Would people be so uncomfortable with this if you inserted “God is calling mighty and courageous MEN, spiritual warriors, champions, forceful and mighty, be a great spiritual force?

So, if as I believe God communicates to us all — straight up, irregardless of our gender — why are we always separating ourselves as women? It just makes me uncomfortable.  I think we each benefit as we mix the generations, genders, hipsters and bikers and soccer moms and dads, with boomers, silent gen, under 18 kids, teens or whatever.  Single and married, higher education or not, race or ethnicity.  The church is the worst at coming across those cultural barriers to worship together.  But we are strengthened as people and as a community when we do.  Why do we do that?  Especially in the church?  We lose out.  There is so much that we don’t learn.  I love that my life is incredibly diverse and I’ll do everything I can to keep it that way.

Tribes. On the other hand, we are all in a tribe, or two or three.  We feel connection and solidarity, even strength when we connect from time to time to our tribe.  So, I suppose one must find a balance. One of my husband Tom’s Tribes is Musical Geeks and they cross believers and not, women or men, young or old, it matters not at all.  They just get together to “geek out” about all sorts of really boring musical minutia.  Not my tribe.  Not my need.  But man does he need and love to be with those folk!

So finding the balance is key.

But, I detest groups “for women.”  Bible studies and events just for women.  I guess they always will represent to me that women are not yet equal with men in the body of Christ. It’s not an obvious equation, but still that math goes there in my mind and heart.

Sure I’m not your typical evangelical Christian woman.   I regularly question every idea in theology.  I don’t believe “male headship.”  I don’t believe the idea that God’s divine order of things is for me to follow a man.  I do believe in order.  I do believe in submitting to one another mutually.  But right now it feels like there are a million obstacles to women experiencing  true equity within the Christian evangelical church.

There’s no way that your typical male is ready for the woman spiritual warrior who is mighty in strength and influence.  Uh uh.  They’re squirming now in discomfort and ready to thump me over the head with their  B I B L E.  Oh well.

I can read it for myself.  I translated it.  I know it is different from some things being taught.

I believe that men and women when utilizing their skills and abilities and spiritual gifts — all given to us by a real and loving God by the way, who chose those skills, abilities and spiritual gifts for usthat creator God is the one that called us. If He made me this way, I should be serving, using my gifts that He gave me.

Because sitting back, watching many capable men do many things in the church is wrong.  And only leading in the midst of women is also wrong.

It gets complicated when you don’t know, when you haven’t had your abilities affirmed in the church.  But some day, women will come to know themselves capable of being that woman described in Proverbs 31.

God is calling mighty and courageous women to come forth, spiritual warriors and champions, who at His command will be a great spiritual force in Jesus name.

Amen.


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Some things I am reading my way through:

Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Editors.  “… the writers focus on “portions . . . that deal explicitly with female characters and symbols . . . and sections that bear upon the condition of women generally.” Although the contributors share this goal, they take different paths. In addition to the commentary itself, there are helpful essays on feminist hermeneutics and daily life in biblical times. This commentary will raise eyebrows, and it will raise consciousness as well. It will not be well received in all quarters, but it is essential for those who are seriously interested in biblical and feminist studies. Recommended for seminary, university, and public libraries.”  – Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.

“No one will go away from the volume with her or his old assumptions about biblical texts intact…The challenge and pleasure of this work is its tendency to upset expectations about familiar books”. Theology Today

Christians for Biblical Equality

Equality Central

Gifted to Lead: The ARt of Leading as a Woman in the Church by Nancy Beach, Willow Creek Church.

“No mistake was made in heaven when God gave you the gift of leadership or teaching. Every gift you have came from the hand of a loving Father who crafted you.”— Nancy Beach

Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family by Gilbert Bilezikian. A first-rate biblical and theological study that affirms full equality of the sexes in church and family.

How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership. Compelling stories from Prominent Evangelicals including Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Tony Campolo, Bill and Lynn Hybels, I. Howard Marshall, John and Nancy Ortberg, Cornelius Pantinga.

[I find this website Biblos to be a great resource in my Bible study.  It has many commentaries, original translation, many versions of text, and concordance.  SO many things that I’ve never used including  dictionary, atlas, even bible studies.]