Evangelical women face a myriad of messages related to pastoral and teaching roles in the church and academy. Some evangelical churches open their doors to women leaders while others reject the ordination of women and endorse explicitly hierarchical models of gender relations, both in marriage relationships and also in church and church-focused institutional hierarchies. Others even extend male authority to secular arenas, excluding women from exercising leadership or authority over men that is direct and/or personal.
So often, when we meet people for the first time and immediately connect with them, we ask them, "Tell me your story." But sometimes, we only ask people who are like us to tell their stories, preventing minority voices from speaking on their experiences in a safe space.
Recently I was told the story of a 55-year-old woman currently attending an evangelical seminary. This story, and others like it, drive my upcoming research at the Evangelical Theological Society conference.
"Home-schooled girls do not need 'further' education; they should just prepare for being a wife and mother." "A daughter should stay at home and serve her father until he chooses a husband for her." "The daughter is a 'helpmeet' for her father." "Parents should never let their daughter be out of their sight." "Women should never work outside the home." These and many similar sentiments are being dogmatically expressed by leaders of the Christian Patriarchy Movement.
Before the nineteenth century, a Chinese woman’s life was wrapped around three men: father, husband, and son. The famous “Three Submissions” taught that a woman should follow and obey her father while still young, her husband after marriage, and her eldest son when widowed. “A woman married is like a horse bought; you can ride it or flog it as you like,” says a Chinese proverb. Widows with no sons could not inherit property; sons alone could continue the family lineage and fulfill the duties of ancestral worship. Sons stayed within the family and worked for the honor and prosperity of the family. In contrast, daughters were money-losing goods. In desperate times they were the ones to be sold, abandoned, or even drowned—but never the sons.
In patriarchy, not only is the misuse and abuse of power justified, it is also institutionalized. But the misuse and abuse of power is abominable to God. The prophet Isaiah wrote: "I have more than enough of burnt offerings...Stop bringing meaningless offerings...Take your evil deeds out of my sight!" (Isa. 1:11-16). Then he solemnly declared in 1:17, "Seek justice, rebuke the oppressors, defend the fatherless and plead for the widows."
As I read the church’s brief report, my anger mounted. We knew that my friend had been abused. But we were now being told by our spiritual leaders, people with no professional training or knowledge on the subject, that she had not been abused.
The Christian egalitarian woman is in a difficult position. If she truly believes God calls women to engage in the same types of ministries and offices of the church in which men engage, and if she is also committed to living a life that reflects God’s character, she is faced with a quandary.