Unhappy that women have eclipsed men in some spheres, a man once lamented that he had been put in the “backseat” behind women. A quick-witted person responded, “Well, men have been telling women for years it’s a very good place to be!” Not surprisingly, this man was uncomfortable when he felt his God-given gifts and agency took a backseat to those of women. Ironically, his disappointment and humiliation have been the experience of women for centuries! Perhaps one day he will also express empathy and regret for this historic marginalization of women, which he himself abhors, but of which he too is complicit.
One point shines brightly. Created in God’s image, we are—male and female alike—hardwired for shared agency. We detest being sidelined simply because of gender, because, as we learn from Genesis 1:26–28, male and female are created in God’s image for a shared purpose: to care for the world as God’s stewards. For this reason, women want what men want—opportunities to use their gifts for God’s eternal purposes without gender barriers.
Yet, too often, for the sake of harmony, we tolerate comments, actions, and policies that demean the dignity and agency of women. For this reason, I am delighted that Mutuality is exploring the fragile space between egalitarian beliefs and its daily practice in faith communities. Why fragile?
Coretta Scott King once observed that our struggle for justice is “a never ending process. Freedom is never really won . . . you earn it and win it in every generation.” King’s words point to a hard truth and a bitter reality that our world too easily ignores. While many of us assume gender equality is guaranteed in churches that have historically embraced its biblical premise, this assumption underestimates the nature and power of sin. Justice is more fragile than we imagine. Here is one example.
I was invited to speak for an institution with a long history of supporting women’s leadership at all levels. Early on, its policies, hires, and curricula were based on Scripture’s egalitarian teachings. Therefore, its board incorporated gender equality as a guiding principle and as part of its strategic annual plan. Eventually, confident that the matter was settled, the board deemed it unnecessary to retain gender equality as part of its annual goals. It ceased to be proactive, and before long, new voices emerged to challenge the biblical basis for the institution’s egalitarian identity and ethos. Ultimately, CBE was called on to lead sessions on the biblical foundations for the equality of women and men at all levels.
What happened at this institution happens all too easily. Human pride, entitlement, prejudice, and dominance too quickly encroach and establish themselves on quiet, undefended ground. Hence, we must remain vigilant, earning year after year the hard-won place of women’s equal service, which is made possible by the cross. Here is one example worthy of praise.
Remaining proactive, as Coretta Scott King advises, is something the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is tackling through their Deborah Project, as the Covenant Companion recently reported (See Brian Wiele, “The Deborah Project” at covenantcompanion.com). The ECC’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality has developed an initiative called “Develop a Deborah.” They recognize that just as God raised up Deborah to lead, so too God is using girls and women today. Without their leadership, churches are greatly impoverished. Thus, the ECC is inviting leaders throughout their denomination to identify “gifted women and girls in your congregation, youth ministry, or campus, and actively assist them to grow in their abilities and to live out their call to serve.”
This is a model we can all follow in our churches. As the apostle James said, hearing the word is great, but without action we delude ourselves. James 1:22 reminds us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Join CBE in becoming hearers and doers of God’s word, putting women in their place—right beside men—just as God did in Eden!