"Tension is soaring among evangelicals over what it means to say God gave men and women different roles," wrote The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein on Wednesday. The article is titled "U.S. evangelicals headed for showdown over gender roles." A showdown?
The way I'm reading it, it feels more like a meltdown. I hear from and read stories from so many women who are not given a voice in our churches. Many struggle with and often leave congregations when it becomes clear male leadership are content to maintain existing power structures, many of which are exclusively male. (See the book Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?)
As a woman who advocates for mobilizing every woman in God's Kingdom—no matter her circumstance—I'm always looking for ways to release women for God's Kingdom purposes. Doors often open when men (who currently hold most of the power in evangelical circles) find ways to include women, to make new spaces and places for their sisters through their words and actions. These are just a few examples. Please add more of your own in the comments below.
He stood up in front of the preaching class, all of 6-foot-something, his booming bass voice filling the classroom.
And he began to read his Scripture passage, all the while inserting feminine pronouns: She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High….
Actually, I don’t remember the actual passage he used. I just remember being the only female in a class of 20 males—most of whom likely didn’t agree with me preaching to them at all—and being unable to wipe that stupid grin off my face.
She, her, sisters, females, women. Suddenly we were no longer faceless, but named. No longer on the periphery, but essential to the mission. And my new friend Todd didn’t have to preach a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 or even Genesis 1 and 2.
It was a small thing. A subversive thing. And everyone in the classroom knew it.
When it comes to entering into contemporary issues in the Christian conversation, you don’t get much more subversive than Shane Claiborne. Rather than quietly throwing in feminine pronouns and illustrations in his sermons, Shane is known for asking that women be asked to speak instead of him. What an interesting example of “Ladies first...”
But when Shane’s first approach doesn’t work, and conferences don’t want to up their percentages of females on the stage, he has tried another tactic. At a large leadership conference for pastors, Shane got up to speak while wearing a shirt that reads “God loves women preachers.”
In the book Follow Me to Freedom, Shane admits, “I got in a little trouble for that one.”
I love this idea. I will not opt-out of your conference; instead, I will use my influence and voice (and chest) to advocate on behalf of those whose voices are not heard here.
In Follow Me to Freedom, Shane continues: “It’s certainly not that women or people of color are not good leaders or dynamic communicators when we see a conference brochure with all white guys talking. It’s that we haven’t been careful enough, and humble enough, and creative enough to make sure every voice is at the table.”
Shane drills down to the essence of good leadership on page 84: “Good leaders not only identify what’s wrong in the world, but also point toward what’s right.”
Thank goodness, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to advocate for women leading in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes the most prophetic acts start with ordering a one-of-a-kind t-shirt.
“We’ll take 50 books!” she exclaimed, wondering aloud if I had that many.
One of my coauthors and I had just completed our book release party for Reclaiming Eve at The Rescue Mission of Fort Wayne. It was filled with hope and promise and a prophetic word for the Church: every woman is an ezer/ Hebrew word meaning “strong power” (Genesis 2:18); every woman is an image-bearer representative of the living God; and God’s glorious intentions are for women to fully partner with their brothers, advancing God’s Kingdom of love and justice around the world.
The employee requesting the books explained that the CEO of The Rescue Mission, who so kindly introduced us and hosted us, wanted 50 copies of Reclaiming Eve on the spot. The only thing I could think to ask was: Why??
The answer: Rev. Coley was about to make the book required reading for all 50 of the organization’s employees. Men and women. Brothers and sisters. Partners and allies. He caught the vision, and he wanted to make sure his team did, too.
That day I learned another important lesson about making room for women at the table. When you make room, you don’t always speak on behalf of your sisters. One of the best ways to advocate for Kingdom values is by saying “This is important! Pay attention!” And then you get out of the way, quite literally making room for others to speak for themselves, for their voices to be heard. (Case in point: buying books by a female author and then discussing them in male-only or preferably mixed-gender groups.)
Rev. Donovan Coley realized this before I did. And I thank God for him.
Your turn: In what ways have you noticed men subverting gender hierarchy in the Church or the Kingdom of God at large? What creative ideas do you have for additional ways in which to do so?
"As CEO of a growing Rescue Mission that provides ministry to women, we affirm the message and ministry of Reclaiming Eve. The women at The Rescue Mission are devouring the book in their Bible study. They are being empowered, lies about what it means to be a woman in the modern era is being refuted. The book also presents a balanced view on how men and women can work together to build the Kingdom of God. Suzanne, Jamie and Carla have rightly divided the word of truth for the people of God and the many Eves among us." -Rev. Donovan Coley, CEO, The Rescue Mission, Fort Wayne