While women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts in equivalent roles in the workplace, my understanding is that in the United States conditions are now improving and women are given equal (if not favorable) opportunities to progress up the corporate ladder. A close friend of mine is an executive in the banking world. He often tells me that if he were a woman, with his qualifications and experience, he would have already risen to the position of CEO. In the corporate world, gender quotas and affirmative action have been ways that women, and people of color, are given opportunity in the workplace. Many of these policies are an attempt to create fair work environments where women have historically been overlooked or excluded. Often, the culture of work environments was one in which much business was conducted at the club, on the golf course, or in other social settings that were not the most conducive to the presence of women. Although many changes have been made to improve equality in the workplace, the corporate world still faces many obstacles in terms of women, minorities, and the like. The realities in the church, however, are far less encouraging.
Unfortunately, gender assumptions still limit women’s abilities to use their gifts holistically in many places, including the church context. Theological assertions, such as complementarianism, argue that women are gifted uniquely and differently than their male counterparts and that their capacity and expression should be limited to gender specific roles which are under the authority of men. Even in churches that affirm an egalitarian theological framework, gender assumptions often impede women’s ability to thrive and to flourish. These assumptions are incredibly damaging to women in the church. In addition to these false assumptions, Christian communities miss out on the abundant gifting of women because of cultural norms and expectations. For example, in the evangelical world, women are often called by a church to serve in associate pastor roles, to work with children, and to facilitate spiritual formation and community programs. These are all wonderful ministries! However, many women also have gifts of leadership, discernment, and wisdom that would be powerfully effective in other roles. I know one female pastor who preaches about once a month in her local church. She is an excellent teacher and often receives compliments for her gifts of communication and ability to relate the gospel to practical living and application. However, in her more than ten years of pastoral ministry, she has never (not once!) been invited to preach in any other church or ministry environment. When people look at her, they assume that she has administrative gifts, not that she is a preacher. On several occasions, when visiting with other pastors and church leaders in the area, she has been asked if she is the church secretary. This woman has been called and gifted by God to serve the Christian community with her many gifts, which unfortunately are often overlooked by those in leadership. The treatment and inclusion of women and their gifts in the church and body of believers is an issue of justice that has profound effects on the entire body of believers.
Justice, simply put, is the difference between right and wrong. Jeremy Del Rio describes it like this: “Deep justice is about righting wrongs.” Sometimes justice is described as the “right use of power” and injustice is understood as any abuse of power. The Bible is full of God’s ideas about justice. Biblical justice has its foundation in God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed. Biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on Earth and make God’s blessings available to all humankind. Social justice occurs when justice—or right action—is manifested in a social framework or community. If we start from the assumption that God commanded all people to steward the earth, we can assume then that God desired for all people to have access to the earth’s resources. When access to those resources is limited because of prejudice, injustice is experienced. Much of the world’s inequality about justice relates to race, poverty, and gender. Of these issues, gender is often the most controversial.
Women have been systematically oppressed around the world and have had limited access to resources and opportunities. Need further convincing? Consider the statistics of women who have suffered because of female genital mutilation, forced prostitution, the sex trade, rape, abuse, and assault—both in developed countries and around the world. In addition to these physical injustices, consider the painful reality of emotional abuse and the consequences of continually living in a world where the value of women is limited because of their gender. It is a painful reality for women that in many situations and geographic locations, women are often viewed as less than men. There is a deep need for justice in the world as it relates to gender. Unfortunately, the church often perpetuates limitations placed upon women rather than standing against them. God’s call upon the church is to be a place where the value of women should be taught and celebrated. The community of Christ is called to be intolerant of injustice and to advocate for all people. The foundation of God’s throne is both justice and righteousness (Ps. 89:14). May the church be a place that rests in those truths for the glory of God.