In a recent ABC special, actor Will Smith is quoted as saying, “If the leader of the free world is African American, then every glass ceiling is broken.” I agree that the inauguration of Barack Obama marks a remarkable moment in US history, but I don’t agree that ‘every’ glass ceiling is broken. It is a milestone and a major victory, but it is not the end of all inequality as we know it. For the oppression of women, which began all the way back at the beginning of time at the fall, continues today.
Women are still paid less for the same job as men. They are still treated as inferior even when they are not. Just the other day, I was sitting down with two women who are both engineers, and they both shared stories about bosses who made inappropriate requests of them. One of them said that her boss asked her and the other women in their group to pick up dry-cleaning for him, re-type some notes for him and choose the team shirts. These are things that he has never and would never ask the male engineers on the team. And female professionals are treated like this everyday. Even with Equal Employment Opportunity Managers in place in large companies, women are often reluctant to speak up, undesirous of making things uncomfortable for themselves in their work environment. Most of all, they fear that they might lose their jobs if they speak up. Some of them figure they’ll just wait til the “old boys club” retire and die off… which won’t be for another 10-15 years — at least, in the work world. That’s a long time to wait, but at least, there’s an end in sight.
In the church, however, I’m afraid it may take longer as hierarchy and inequality are passed down in mainstream Christian churches as though it were the only Biblical interpretation of God’s view of women. Young people, spurred on by the teachings of several well-known complementarian authors/teachers have taken up the banner of inequality by making big black sharpie defined roles for men and women in the home and in the church. Women are one way, men are the other. Men are made to be leaders, women to be followers. Men are to be kings in the home and women are to be submissive. They say that men and women are equal, they just have different roles. In other words, they are equal but separate – “Separate but equal.” Such use of semantics has obscured, for the majority of Christians, the actual inequality behind such teachings. According to hierarchicalists, women aren’t permitted to take up leadership roles in the church (pastoral positions are only given to men). If a woman has teaching and preaching gifts, she is relegated to teach women and children only — as if somehow the Word of God and Holy Spirit in her is rendered invalid when falling on male ears. Hierarchicalists believe that a woman’s rightful place is in the home and her highest calling is to be a wife and mother – even if she was a high executive with intelligent skills and incredible gifts which allowed her to contribute to the world significantly before she was married. And if a husband and wife disagree about a decision, she is to defer to his decision. He has the veto power. If this isn’t inequality, I don’t know what is.
But, at the end of the day, I believe this is truly a battle for men. When men are willing to give up their positions, then will there be true equality. Most of us who have ever tried to fight for equality realize that people who are in power will not give up their powerful positions when they feel like they have nothing to gain but everything to lose. If only men would realize that they lose everything – everything – when they seek to silence and suppress the Holy Spirit’s gifting and calling upon women. The whole church suffers. When they realize this, the battle will be fought — and won.