“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor. 12:12-14, TNIV).
Have you ever noticed how Scripture celebrates our interdependence, our mutuality, and our oneness as the church? To be members of Christ’s body gives new meaning, fellowship, and comfort to us in our weaknesses and suffering. It also means that our achievements and our joys are shared and celebrated by our brothers and sisters in Christ. Contrary to the isolation, competition, and ambition that often separates individuals, in the church our intimacy with Christ unites us as we humbly share in one another’s achievements and each other’s disappointments. In fact, in Jesus, we are to be so close to one another that what wounds one, wounds all, and when one rejoices, all rejoice (Rom. 12:15).
Paul makes it clear that when one member suffers, all suffer. When one is honored, all are honored (1 Cor. 12:26, 1 Cor. 12:12-14). If this is true, then the church as a whole should suffer when women encounter gender-bias. Yet, often women shoulder rejection that isolates them in their pain, distancing them from the comforts of authentic Christian community that God intended for the church. For example, one woman told me that her pastor holds staff meetings without inviting her, despite the fact that she teaches Bible and leads adult Bible Study groups as a paid staff member. Other pastors even hold these meetings during times when the women cannot participate, or on the men’s basketball court–sending an agonizing message to women. Just consider how this segregation might seem if ethnicity were the issue, rather than gender.
The pain of these actions is real and often women have few places to turn to for support. As a result, some women are confused, others are angry, and many simply leave the church altogether. Friends, the time has come for all Christians to acknowledge the suffering women have endured. Though many of our brothers have not encountered gender prejudice, they can learn to share in the sufferings of their sisters in Christ. That is the road to reconciliation, healing, and authentic Christian community. That is the path of Christ, and also the responsibility of leadership.
President Eisenhower offered this type of leadership, sharing the sufferings of others, during some of the most difficult days of American history–when our losses in WWII were great. Eisenhower made a promise that he would extend his fullest attention and empathy to our troops and to those who had lost loved ones, giving himself fully to the victims of the war. He was devoted to us through his empathy, choosing to understand rather than to be understood. President Eisenhower recognized, as Christ did, that leadership is a call to lay down your life for others.
In 2004, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization established an issue group devoted to, “Empowering Women and Men to Use their Gifts Together in Advancing the Gospel.” This issue group published an Occasional Paper that outlines specific actions churches can take to give their church opportunities for Bible study, discussion, prayer, and action–giving God an avenue to bring healing and empathy to women.
What other important steps can the church take to begin the path of reconciliation and healing in the gender debate? Join us in praying for churches that God would build authentic reconciliation, community, and empathy, so that the process of healing for women and men may continue!