Q: My church is unwilling to address the gender debate, feeling that it is too divisive. I have tried many times to advocate for women, but I am labeled as a trouble-maker and a radical. How do I, in a non-threatening way, encourage my church to examine the issue?
A: This is a familiar dilemma and there are no easy answers. Perhaps some of the following suggestions will be helpful:
- Does your denomination have restrictions that eliminate women from all positions of leadership? If so, your local church cannot move toward equality. The only possibility may be to consult the editor of your denominational magazine and suggest a forum on the subject, in which both sides are presented. Many people have never heard an alternative biblical view.
- If the denomination has no official restrictions, look at the constitution of your local church. Does it contain any restrictions that would prohibit women from serving in all offices? If not, you may be able to make small steps within your congregation, appealing to the constitution.
- No progress is ever made until the pastor is willing to discuss the subject. So you need to start there. Perhaps you can give him a short book on the subject and ask if he would be willing to read it and discuss it with you. If he agrees and you meet to discuss, listen carefully and respectfully to all that he says. Carefully prepare questions that you can ask regarding the biblical text (if that is his basis) or about the history of the church. Don’t let it become a debate — just a sharing of ideas on the subject. Offer to get more material for him (see the CBE catalog!) if he seems open to further discussion. If possible, make a date for your next meeting and discussion. Always appeal on the grounds that you know he wants to be faithful to the Bible, and to work for the good of the church. Thank him for his willingness to talk with you about this.
- If the discussions with your pastor go well, you may eventually ask how he would feel about the subject being discussed in a women’s group, or in an adult Sunday school class. In whatever venue the subject arises, make plain that this is not for the benefit of women, but for the benefit of the church which is being denied the gifts that God has obviously given to some women. Not using women’s gifts limits the outreach of the church.
- Make plain that you are not seeking to be a leader, but rather opening the door to the gifts God gives to women. If and when an opening becomes available for a woman, you need to have someone else in mind to suggest so that it is clear you are not seeking your own power or prestige.
- Pray. If possible, let your discussions with the pastor or other leaders always begin with prayer. Pray that everyone will have an open mind and show respect and love to those with whom they differ.
- Persevere. Remember that those bringing prophetic messages to God’s people were not often welcomed with open arms.
- Find community with like-minded Christians. If your church is not egalitarian, consider starting or participating in an existing CBE chapter in your area.