Is a Woman Diminished by Marriage?
The pastor to whom I was speaking was adamant: God definitely had roles for husbands and wives to play in marriage. The husband was the leader, the decision-maker, and the wife was to submit to his leadership.
“If a woman is single, who makes her decisions?” I asked. “Why, she does!” he replied. “And when she marries, then who makes the decisions?” I persisted. “Her husband does,” was the predictable answer.
“So, then, is a woman diminished by marriage?” I asked. He was visibly shaken by that question. Before long, his thinking had changed in several areas, including that of women in ministry. We became partners in the Gospel, and he was very supportive of my being pastor of a congregation, something his denomination disapproved.
A good question, I find, is much more effective for bringing change than a lecture!
Should a Woman Hold Back to Elevate Her Husband?
Sometimes the absurdity of a situation shocks one into thinking about things otherwise taken for granted. Two incidents that took place more than twenty years ago remain in my memory as stepping-stones to the truth of gender equality that God wanted me to learn.
The first concerned two Christian workers, husband and wife, who came to me for music lessons. Both were good students: He, because he had a great desire to learn and worked very hard and she, because she was gifted musically and learned easily. One day she told me that she was going to be stopping her lessons. Why? “I realize that soon I will be playing better than my husband, and I do not want to do that to him,” she replied. The husband may never have known why she quit taking lessons. It was her practice to elevate him, even if she had to hold herself back to do so, thinking this is what God wants of wives. And she desired, above all, to please God!
Another time a female missionary was visiting our church, the church of her childhood. In a conversation with me she mentioned how sad it was, in her opinion, that so many Christian women were more spiritual than their husbands. “Even in this church!” she said. “Even with my own parents!” Her implication shocked me: Are women to stifle their spiritual development so that their husbands could be their spiritual leaders? Are women to be condemned for drawing close to the Lord?
Let’s be aware of stories like these. They may be used as eye-openers, not only for ourselves, but also for those we teach. And perhaps even for those participating in the stories, if we gently, prayerfully help them listen to what they are saying!
The Importance of Gender Inclusive Language
Years ago I set to music Psalm 112:1, 7 and 8 from the New International Version: “Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.”
A man in our congregation loved singing through my book of Scripture songs, but his particular favorite was the song from Psalm 112. Then two things happened in close succession: This man asked if I would become his mentor, helping to train him for church leadership, and I decided to revise my Scripture songs to make them gender inclusive. My student did not care for the changes in his favorite song!
In our mentoring sessions I told him how important it was to use language that includes everyone when reading the Scriptures. He did not seem to understand. So I asked him to turn to Psalm 112 and read verses 1, 7 and 8 using feminine, instead of masculine, nouns and pronouns. He did so: “Praise the Lord. Blessed is the woman who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. She will have no fear of bad news; her heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Her heart is secure, she will have no fear; in the end she will look in triumph on her foes.”
“How did that sound to you,” I asked. “Could you relate to it?” “Not as well as I did before,” he admitted. “That’s how it is for females when they hear only masculine language,” I said. Point taken.