Late in 1981 I dug up one of Ellul’s early articles from the Protestant weekly Réforme: ‘La Femmes et les esprits’ (Women and the spirits) and found what we expect when we know Ellul: a maddening mixture of apparently reactionary views and revolutionary ideas.
Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life;” and from this biblical concept feminists must look at life and its fulfillment. The Holy Spirit was poured out for ministry; Jesus began after the endument on Him (Luke 4:1). Jesus broke the last barrier of separation that had been imposed on women by tradition. The Holy Spirit baptized women like men and for the exact same purpose as men: they were baptized for service and ministry.
The call for women missionaries is not often heard today. Often women are left with the feeling “we are only needed because the men fail to go.” Our American culture looks on pioneer missionary work as man’s work because the Church is infiltrated with a worldly and pagan view of women as inferior to men.
If someone were to call me a feminist in the true definition of the word, I would proudly accept the title. I believe in the social, political, and – more importantly – the biblically-based equality of all in Christ. But I can not accept the title of feminist because of what it seems to have become in the minds of the secular world and, unfortunately, in the minds of many Christians.
Whereas I see no need to defend, only to lament, the sexism of Christendom, I do think feminine Christians should think again about what Jesus himself taught. Jesus was a man. How did his maleness affect how he related to, and what he taught about, women?
It is useless to deny that women can be victims. Increasingly, the secular press documents it. The Christian press has long acknowledged it in society at large and is now beginning to acknowledge it even within the sacred walls of the church of Jesus Christ. People are also beginning to acknowledge that sexual harassment and violence exist on the job, even in strongly Christian organizations.
I came to see the fullness of the Christian community and church, but was I surprised. I found instead disdain for my impending leadership as a female. I found lack of acceptance for my ministry and my leadership. I heard so many masculine pronouns used and masculine leaders speak that I wondered if there was a place for me at all.
This is not an article about the role of women in the church or in the workplace. It is about managerial responsibility to safeguard women on the job. Our laws today say that employers have that responsibility. They must ensure that women are not unfairly treated as sex objects, and that sexuality not interfere with normal work patterns and practices.
Because International Women’s Day has its roots in the largely-secular history of organized labor and the international socialist movement, we might well conclude that its celebration in the middle of lent is the result of accident rather than design. And yet I discovered during my research for this talk that the motto of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (one of the more militant of the early labor unions) is the phrase “Not By Bread Alone” – the same words with which Moses sent the Israelites into the promised land (Deut. 8:3) and by which Jesus rebuked the devil when tempted to break his forty-day fast by changing stones into bread (Matt. 4:1-4).