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Published Date: April 27, 2016

Published Date: April 27, 2016

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Are You Responsible for Empowering Women?

We all have a “thing”—a certain issue, cause, or topic that taps into our passion and causes us to climb up on our soapboxes.

One of my “things” is building supportive communities for women in the church. So much so that, when my husband and I were at brunch with a group of friends recently and the conversation at my end of the table turned to women in leadership and ministry, it was only a matter of seconds before I was on my soapbox. 

I argued that if a male leader in the church believes that women should be in positions of leadership, but doesn’t use his power to actively work toward that goal, he is sinning. 

These words were born out of frustration with a system of complacent privilege in our churches.

If we don’t see or hear any overt push back against women asserting their God-given roles in the church, we assume things are okay. We are content for things to be “good enough” without working toward full inclusion in leadership, membership, the way we read Scripture, and how we worship. And I’ve also noticed that churches seem to spend an awful long time “discussing” the issue of women in leadership without taking any concrete action. 

I’ve been a part of these complacent communities for too long. I recently made a decision to act as if this issue is settled—women are full citizens in God’s kingdom and it is our right and responsibility to lead where we feel called. My words at brunch were rooted in this decision.

But upon further reflection, my words were also the result of my ignorance of my own privilege.

I’m pointing the finger at people who can and should be helping me but aren’t. But who could point the finger at me? A lot of people actually.

As a well-off, well-educated, white person, I don’t always leverage the power of my social position to liberate others. I recently wrote an article titled, “Making Space for a Feminist Theology of Military Chaplaincy.” In the article, I shared that my theology of ministry is drawn in part from liberation theology, which reminds me to advocate for the marginalized, oppressed, and silenced.

I specifically referenced the need to advocate for women. Yet, I am reminded that if I ignore my own privilege, my expression of liberation theology and my own theology of ministry are inconsistent. 

But there is so much marginalization. So much oppression. So much silencing. Where do we start? 

Initially, my answer was to advocate for my “thing”—the issue or cause that makes me want to jump on my soapbox. We can’t advocate for everyone all the time, I reasoned, nor attempt to fix all the marginalization, oppression, and silencing in the world.

But I think pastors and church leaders should be working toward the full inclusion of women and minority groups even if empowering marginalized groups isn’t their “thing.” Because fighting injustice, in all forms, was always meant to be the church’s “thing.”

Jesus is our best example of this. Jesus used his platform to draw attention to the justice issues in front of him. There are so many examples of Jesus speaking life-giving truth into justice issues, whether that meant giving literal life through healing, resurrecting, or exorcising, or helping his followers better understand the earthly pursuit of kingdom life.  

So yes, as a woman in ministry, women’s inclusion in church leadership is right in front of me—and my natural inclination is to focus whatever social power I have on this issue. But as a woman with privilege, I know there are other justice issues that I am either ignoring or am oblivious to.

I set out to open my eyes to other justice issues. Here are a couple of examples of what I found in my context: 

I currently live in Nashville, Tennessee in the US, which has a re-settled refugee population of nearly 60,000. And that’s before the arrival of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that Tennessee is likely to receive in the next year. I found outreach and volunteer opportunities with Catholic Charities that work for my schedule and skills. I’m currently in the process of becoming qualified to help with job interview skills and collect care packages for families arriving to new homes. 

The Islamic Center in our neighborhood has been on my heart for several months in the wake of terror abroad and vitriol at home toward Muslim people. I’ve been wanting to reach out, but wasn’t sure exactly what to do. This week, they’re hosting a diversity brunch and I’m planning to stop by, get to know some of my neighbors, and see where—if anywhere—I can be of further assistance. 

These aren’t my “soapbox issues.” They’re not in my comfort zone. But I believe that when we focus solely on what makes us tick, we shortchange our theology and communities and miss the ways God is calling us to grow.

A male leader who supports his female congregants in leadership and creates an ethos of inclusion is not only working toward a more kingdom-like community, he’s opening himself up to the work God might want to do in, with, and through him. 

And this can be profound. 

As I mentioned, I recently started attending a church that is one hundred percent supportive of women in ministry and leadership—for the first time in my life. It has been incredibly life-giving for me to hear these messages from the pulpit and even more so, to see the messages modeled by female preachers and elders. 

This isn’t my pastor’s “soapbox issue,” but he makes sure the feminine is represented in word and practice in our church. His commitment to include women in leadership empowers me, a woman who is called to lead. 

You might already know what your “soapbox issue” is—the cause you naturally channel your passion into and use your power to advocate for. But what other issues are right in front of you? Where might God be calling you to robustly develop your theology or lend your power and voice?