Friends, if we had a coin for every time an opponent of egalitarian ministry claimed that women’s leadership was: a) derived from secular feminism; b) Euro-American in origin; c) invented in the 1960s, we would probably be able to give away all memberships to CBE free.
This issue takes a look at non-secular, non-Euro-American, non-1960s examples of Pacific Island and Asian egalitarian women and egalitarian men in leadership.
History is the hostage of the historian. Often the facts are tweaked to reinforce—or, in the case of contemporary viewpoints, preinforce—a writer’s viewpoint by a deductive search for proof texts. I raise this issue because it is the chief objection proffered against admitting women had genuine leadership roles in history. If they led, why are so few mentioned in standard history textbooks? challenges the skeptic. The normal reply we offer is that texts are written and preserved by those in power and their presentation (or lack of such) of those outside their realm of interest will minimize, distort or dismiss their accomplishments. That reply illustrates the point of presenting the essays in this issue. Let me introduce them by the example of the plight of King Liholiho (King Kamehameha II), whom you will meet in Aída Besançon Spencer’s exciting analysis of the female-propelled awakening of Hawaii. One historian called this king who encouraged women an ineffectual ruler. A second decided he was easily misled. A third dismissed him as crafty. A fourth deplored his so-called dependence on the women whom he encouraged to rule with him. So much for the views of the historians.
I believe it takes a strong man, self-assured and confident of his masculinity, to allow others room to grow and lead. King Liholiho was not his father, King Kamehameha I, who ruthlessly unified the islands by brutal war. Instead, King Liholiho did something far more courageous and life enhancing—he broke a taboo that even his legendary father did not dare to break (though, to his credit, his father, apparently influenced by his son, to whom he dedicated the proposed victims, forbade human sacrifice at his death [see Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, Vol. 1 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1938), 63]). Who, then, ultimately, within the values of eternity was the stronger man? He who wages war against humans for self-aggrandizement, or he who defies gods for the sake of conviction?
Similarly, women called to lead worldwide across the ages have been dismissed, their accomplishments belittled, ignored, distorted, making them believe they are of no value. A small incident occurred to me in the 1970s that has been synechdochical in my assessment of the devaluation of godly women. My wife and I were teaching for New York Theological Seminary and were routinely invited to preach at various area churches. One of the local Asian pastors invited me to speak at his church. After a delightful service, the church held a pot-luck dinner. I chatted with all and sundry then took a place at the back of the food line. Seeking to honor me, the male pastor grasped me by the shoulder, strong-armed me to the front of the serving line and literally banged me into place between two mothers of the church, knocking them to each side.
I was non-plussed, but they continued talking calmly, all the while regaining their footing. Apparently this kind of thing was commonplace. My last becoming first by such a forceful manner has certainly redefined that verse for me at least in temporal misapplication in contemporary churches and some 28 or so years later I still remember this incident vividly.
In this light, the Asian and South Sea Christian women we will meet in this issue are dedicated and determined, in Caribbean islander Aída Besançon Spencer’s perceptive look at another island’s Christian queens, in Chinese-American missiologist Grace Y. May’s reflection on Chinese-American ministering women, in the autobiographical journey of Priscilla Lasmarias Kelso of the Philippines, and in Mainland China’s Chuan Hang Shan’s insider’s analysis of the pastoring women of this Communist-dominated nation. The subjects, like the authors, have been buffeted by life, but they stay strong and determined to pursue their calling, no matter where the darts of the evil one are firing from.
Finally, rounding out the issue, a playful musing on names introduces an appropriate and delightful triad of poems provided by Wheaton College’s poet Jill Peláez Baumgartner with striking symbolic photographs provided by the musician and visual artist Stephen Spencer. Two book reviews that tackle two aspects of the theological task close the issue. The first is a review of Hawaiian-born historian Edwin Yamauchi’s careful assessment of the African experience as reflected in the Bible. The second is a review of New Testament exegete Royce Gruenler’s probing study of the loving and mutually submitted relationships within the Trinity in the Gospel of John.
The cover picture, “Kapiolani Defying Pele at Kilauea, 1824” by Peter Hurd, is an authentic period rendition, leased to us by the Bishop Museum Archives (1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817 USA). Christy Morris, a free-lance graphic designer, added her expertise to produce this special cover. While we cannot splurge every time, once in a while, when something unusually wonderful comes our way, we will see if we can afford to put it on the cover in color.
Blessings to all in the global church;