For 18 months, the congregation I’ve been meeting with for fifteen years has slowly been confronted with the reality that about 10 to 15 percent of its baptised members were asking serious questions about the assumptions and practices regarding Women in Ministry.
Perhaps naturally, the majority of those questioning and challenging the status quo are women. In a patriarchal church that already believes women have no role or authority to teach a mixed group, this has proven ironic and problematic. How does one get a fair go at accurately and systematically presenting one’s case, when the current dogma dictates that one is not entitled to a platform to teach in the first place, and the Upholders hold all the Preaching & Teaching Cards? It was always going to be an uphill battle, one where the odds are stacked against us from the outset. A built-in stumbling block, if you will.
It is certainly not a level playing field — but then our contention is precisely that it has never been a level playing field, so perhaps my lamentation of the same when it comes to debating the issue is redundant.
Nevertheless, we tried in various ways and within our confines and imaginary hooped skirts, whether it was through more egalitarian platforms like an email chat group; bringing up alternative points of view during bible study; or writing in to a temporary Leadership committee to raise points about partiality and throw in a few modest proposals for change.
In response, a steady stream of sermons and lessons were prepared and delivered. They loosely followed any and all of the following:
- Christ prayed for Unity: we must remain united and the only way we can do that is through Love.
- Love trumps Liberty: the Bible *may* show numerous ways in which our practices can be relaxed, but in the name of Love, it is better to give up your freedoms than to seek them.
- Peace is paramount, as that is needed in order to achieve Unity in the body.
- Love trumps all.
It is the last point I’ve been meaning to address in a while. On Sunday, it was inevitable that 1 Corinthians 13 should be quoted to show what perfect love should look like to one another. That it is patient and kind. That it doesn’t envy or boast, that it isn’t rude, or insistent on its own way, nor irritable and resentful…
So many sermons saying similar things. So many alluding how the opposite is happening now. But the two things I have not heard from our teachers regarding the present climate: the love of truth, and the love of justice.
“(Love) does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”1 Cor 13:6 (ESV)
To love is to show justice
Justice in the bible, like all other topic areas, is a fascinating romp. The biblical concept of Justice is captured in two Hebrew words — mishpat and tzadeqah. Essentially, the former has to do with what we think of in judicial systems: that acquittals and punishments are meted out according to the merits of the case regardless of social status or race. It is about fairness, paying someone what they are due whether it’s wages or a sentence. It’s about equity.
The latter is usually tied in with the concept of righteousness. In our modern Christianity, we often define righteousness as a personal morality: something between us and God. But tzadeqah has got to do with how we interact with humanity. Are we just with others, do we treat one another fairly, generously, and equitably. (One thinks on Peter, James, Paul and many others cautioning us against partiality.) It’s about living a right relationship with God by living a right relationship with others.
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.1 John 3:18
Justice follows love. It cannot help but follow love, for Justice begins with loving our neighbour as ourselves. The thing about Love not being insistent on its own way? It requires a heart for others, and then hands that will move, feet that will walk the extra mile.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?Micah 6:8
Sexism dressed in pretty clothes
We don’t tend to use words like “racial discrimination”, “ageism” and “sexism” in church settings. For one thing, many find them to be secular terms that don’t belong on Sunday. For another, people really wrinkle when we talk about gender equality because it gets conflated with concepts like gender neutrality. (But that’s a little like saying “Homosexual” and “Homo Sapien” sound like the same thing. I digress.)
In other words, we don’t talk like that in church because “we are not of the world”. But I argue that the bible speaks frequently about God’s children and their charge to uphold social justice.
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.Isaiah 1:17
Recently, a brother in Christ stood up for the women in church. He brought up a recent incident where women were prohibited from conducting an act of service when no scriptural basis for the prohibition could be found. What followed was the vast majority of Christians in a church meeting from all persuasions on the Women question voting to say that they don’t believe women should be prohibited.
What followed in the weeks after was silence, a continuation of former practices, of women being left out anyway.
It broke, I think, the hearts and spirits of many. To them — to me — it was an act of pure un-love; a hard-heartedness, a perpetuated state of partiality in favour of those who hold a restrictive and narrow stance, and a continued lack of justice.
To persist in an unscriptural practice that leaves out brethren purely because they are women IS sexual discrimination. We have to stop painting lipstick on this pig, folks.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.Proverbs 31:8-9
Justice is Love correcting that which revolts against Love.Martin Luther King Jr
Justice begins at home
Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.Cornel West
A Christian brother remains genuinely bemused that we speak of the ungodly inequality of men and women in our congregation. Among his many objections includes his belief that women in our society “have arrived”. That sexism is largely myth now. Overreaction.
I could bring up stat after stat, but underneath that complaint lies another belief: that there are better causes to champion than the equality of women (which he maintains is ungodly because men and women were not created equal to begin with.) I’m not, for one moment, saying that the Women in Ministry question is the ONLY injustice to correct. The world hurts: we are surrounded by the poor and needy, the disenfranchised, the bereft and homeless. The country-less: refugees, fleeing in fear and reaching out for a halfway decent life. In contrast, our questions about women being able and allowed by God to serve across all ministries might seem paltry. Privileged, air-conditioned, First World concerns.
But justice begins at home. And if we cannot be willing to stand up and call out untruths, or pull a brother or sister up when they’re unfairly disadvantaged and oppressed, what then? How can we, how dare we talk of love for the lost and hurting when we will not help our own sisters?