Adapted from a post originally appearing on Ashleigh’s personal blog, Being Redefined, May 2007.
“It’s ultimately about Jesus,” “We want to focus on the essentials,” “No reason to stir up controversy.” The excuses to avoid serious questions about the issue of women in ministry are plentiful, and many sound pretty good. So why bother with an issue that’s seemingly on the sidelines?
Well, because it isn’t!
Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly much more crucial elements of our faith. But the more I grow in Christ the more I understand that he desires to be Lord over everything in our lives and in this world! There is nothing that shouldn’t be submitted to his leadership, including our church governing structures (surely!) and how we relate to other people (surely!).
However, I know this still won’t make the issue seem crucial to all of my friends, or yours. So let me be more specific:
I think Women in Ministry is an important issue because…
*Women haven’t always been considered equals with men. This is true both in the church and society and persists in some circles and cultures. In fact, for centuries women’s lack of role in formal ministry was explained by their inequality in nature. Today most evangelicals against women in ministry insist that women are equal in being but with different roles or functions. The change in reasoning and the fact that ministry roles and women’s (in)equality used to be linked in the minds of many theologians (even C.S. Lewis’s, from some of what I’ve read– see his “Priestesses in the Church” article and note his linking of masculinity with the nature of God) shows how just how important it is to understand exactly what God intends for us as men and women.
*Evangelicals are divided. We do want unity. But we’re already lacking it. Talking about our differences, yes, may make us feel more divided at points, but we were never meant to pretend to agree where we don’t. It’s going to be more beneficial for us to research and discuss the issue (Christianly!) and all move forward in our understanding of the truth. We are called to unity, but unity centered on Jesus and the reality of the gospel. To do that, we’re going to have to understand how the gospel really applies to the area of gender. Only as we move forward in our understanding will we be able to not only be united but united for truth.
*Many evangelicals are inconsistent in the applications of their beliefs. For example, many churches allow women to teach children (the most vulnerable learners) but not adults (who should be able to understand that their teacher is fallible). Another inconsistency is allowing women to serve as missionaries to “natives” but not to teach men in the U.S. Historically, the practice of allowing white women to teach abroad yet not at home to white men sounds awful suspect of racism. The fact that these and other inconsistencies exist merit further study.
*Feminists need Jesus, too. For too long evangelicals have been afraid of the f-word. If we’re going to love feminists and their passion for gender justice, we’re going to have to understand precisely how the Good News relates to their lives and current beliefs. If you’ve never thought about what God has to say about gender, it’s going to be a lot harder to understand where your feminist friends are coming from. You might even condemn them for some places God has been at work in their lives before you arrived on the scene! (For example, most non-evangelical feminists I know are a lot quicker to speak out against sexual and relationship violence than many non-feminist evangelicals.)
And the two ultimate reasons why I think we need to face this:
This is real life. It’s not some distant theological issue only. We are women and men. How we see ourselves and each other is right here. In our faces. Every day. We can’t pretend that our understanding of gender doesn’t have immediate implications for our church activities and leadership, for our own identities, for how we raise our kids, for the political issues we stand for, for the way we operate in cross-gender and same-gender relationships. In this way, the “peripheral” issue of Women in Ministry becomes immediate and important.
And it relates to God’s revolutionary reconciliation and restoration in some way. Men and women do not get along perfectly! People have gender identity issues! People consider themselves victims of sexism! People feel shame over advancing sexism inadvertently! Christians with different opinions on gender roles don’t always know how to relate in a loving way! All of this points to a need for the God that is making all things new to get involved.
There is gender-related brokenness in our world. Even just focusing on Women in Ministry specifically, we can see confusion, pain, division–signs of sin and brokenness. The question is where is the brokenness and how does it heal? What is God trying to fix in us, in our communities, in our relationships? Some might say he wants to bring gender justice and reconciliation between the men and women whose relationships have been hurt by injustice. Some might say he wants to help individuals understand their God-given gender roles and heal the divisions in churches and families that have been caused by certain people living outside of those roles.
However you understand it, though, brokenness invades our lives. Gender is no exception. We have a long way to go. Learning more about the issue of Women in Ministry and the gender roles debate more generally is a way to continue growing in becoming more like Christ. We should hurt over the gender-related brokenness he hurts over. We should desire to see the kind of reconciliation and restoration he desires. We need to understand what wholeness and peace look like when applied to gender so we can pursue those in our own lives and communities.