What we talk about when we talk about women in church: part one

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A female Christian leader I know and respect once said, "I've yet to visit a church that doesn't hold to something being funny about women."

Her comment either rang true to you or raised your hackles, didn't it? Let's stop for a minute while you ask yourself Why? Why did I respond the way I did?

Perhaps you don't believe that women are often perceived as dangerous in the Church. I am used to hearing, however, over and over again, that we don't allow women to serve in certain pastoral or elder or leadership or director roles because that would put them in close proximity to men. "And you know what happened in that one church when they..." 

If you've read the book Reclaiming Eve, you know we pointed out a few things the Church Fathers said in history that have caused no small amount of pain and questioning about the role and value of women:

  • Augustine: women were only made in the image of God if they were married
  • Tertullian: women were the devil's gateway (and worse)
  • Aquinas: women were inferior to men

As we also mentioned, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Our theology, history-wise, comes from men who were often openly sexist, men who viewed women disdainfully, from a place of superiority. And, I am sorry to say, I believe we are still buying some of what they are selling, even if we can't back it up biblically.

Let me tell you a story.

I attended a class once on Church Leadership. At one point, the instructor told a sad story of a pastor who was ensnared in adultery and sex with a minor. The instructor extolled the dangers of pastors meeting alone with a female and told of the vast damage done to his ministry and his family. He talked about the need for extremely tight boundaries around interactions with women. I knew the boundaries he suggested would limit women in a myriad of ways.

But what was so confusing about the story is this: the pastor had intentionally invited a young women repeatedly to his office, after hours, when the secretary was gone, to counsel her. So was the young woman inherently dangerous? Or did the pastor put himself in a situation ripe for compromise? (Let me be clear: the pastor was not engaged in adultery, but the rape of a minor.)

During this class conversation, I mentioned that I had met with a pastor privately to interview him for a class project, and that to me, the situation did not seem unsafe. A young man whipped his head up and said, "I would never allow my wife to do that!"

What has happened to us as a Church when a man and a woman who are reflecting Christ to the world cannot have a productive and fruitful conversation for the sake of the Kingdom? Have we so sexualized women and vilified them that their presence is an immediate cause for panic and fear?

For sure, appropriate safeguards are needed anytime we interact with another person, male or female. Both men and women can—and do—fall into sexual sin. But is the Church's view on what a women can do based primarily on fear and the Fall in Genesis 3?

Because Jesus reversed that situation, my friends. He is in the business of renewing us so that each one might reflect his image and his mission more and more, not less and less (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 3:23-29). Galatians 3:26-27: "So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized with Christ have clothed yourself with Christ."

Are women truly the "devil's gateway," as Tertullian said? Or are they brilliant imagebearers of the living God, created as ezers or strong powers (Gen. 2:18), and commissioned alongside their brothers to rule together over God's very good Creation?

I suppose you know what my answer is.

Your turn: How does your church view women? What safeguards in our interactions seem helpful and redemptive? Which don't?

Women are not allowed to "___________"

What exactly are women allowed to do? In the church?

In the home?

In the workplace?

In social settings?

These are the tired questions I find myself facing again and again. That's why I wrote about it in our upcoming book Reclaiming Eve. Because I felt it was high time to bring all this "allowing" business out into the open.  

I even wrote about it on Kurt Willems' blog last May when I graduated from seminary, in a blog post titled:  "What will you do after seminary?" "What will you allow me to do?" was the question I began to think about asking others when they asked about my plans. I have gifts to preach, to lead, and to encourage. What will you allow a woman to do? What should she do? Where should I go with these gifts and this degree?

This word of God that I love, the one that ushered me into new life in Christ, healed my hurts, wrecked my soul, and knit it back together again, is used by so many factions and camps to "allow" or "disallow" certain things, specifically when it comes to women.

Sometimes women are allowed to teach or preach from the pulpit. Many times they are not allowed to.

Sometimes women are allowed to take management positions within companies. Sometimes they are strongly encouraged not to.

Sometimes women are allowed to be deacons or elders or church board members. Often times they are not allowed to.

Sometimes women are allowed to manage their households and family using all of their brains and their gifts. Sometimes they are encouraged to ask their husbands for permission before they buy pantyhose or underwear.

"Well, these people have good biblical reasons for all of these things!" you say. "They are trying to be faithful!" And this may very well be true, they may be trying to do their best with what they know and believe.

But beyond all the attempts to try and fit men and women into categories and roles from the 1950s or so, the Bible stands as a book of truth that is ageless, that passes the test of time.

And no matter what position one might say they hold firmly on what women are allowed to do in a specific time and place, I believe the real question each of us must ask ourselves is this:

What does the gospel make possible for women?

Let me spell this out as clear as I know how:

Do you see women primarily as fallen, dangerous creatures? Or do you see women as imagebearers of the living God who have the opportunity to be radically renewed because of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

What does the gospel make possible for women?

Because our New Testament sisters impacted by Jesus experienced a radical before and after, my friends. They went from second-class citizens to being a part of a family where there was no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male nor female. The more I read about Jesus and the stories of the women who followed him and came after him, the more I am convinced that his blueprint "the last shall be first" turned things upside down for these women.

As one woman once told me, "Jesus has already set women free." And because I believe this, and because I will defend the power of the gospel and the new kingdom Jesus ushered in, I will tell you my wish. I wish and hope and pray that someday we will stop all arguing about what we will allow women to do and instead we will rise up and say:

What will we empower women to do in light of the gospel?

To do anything less blights the power of the good news Jesus came to bring, I'm afraid. I long to see God's female imagebearers unleashed to build his kingdom alongside their brothers. May it be so!

What do you long to see the Church empower women to do for the sake of the kingdom?

An official update on the Reclaiming Eve book + DVD curriculum

Have you ever worked on a project that took four years to hatch?  If so, you'll understand our jubilation at announcing that, indeed, the Reclaiming Eve book will be published in spring 2014! It will release in March, to be exact.

Here are a few endorsements:

149718_72bd21c05fa807bb11428e0e3b989d0a.jpg_srz_320_425_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz“The authors write, ‘..this woman has been following me all my life!’ No kidding! The reputation of Eve has trailed after us all, holding onto our ankles, pulling us back from what God has always had in mind for us to pursue and become: his free women! In Reclaiming Eve, you’ll find solid biblical thinking to help you shake off false mythology about womanhood and grab hold of much-needed freedom to embrace your destiny as God’s woman. Pick up this book, throw off the ‘old’ and live out your influence! -Elisa Morgan, Speaker, Author, She Did What She Could and The Beauty of BrokenPublisher, FullFill, www.fullfill.org 

EdC200_thumb1“Reclaiming Eve reminds us that scripture empowers and uplifts women, calling them not to merely be helpers, but to become full partners in the work of God's Kingdom. The Bible has become "bad news" for women in many churches, but this refreshing and liberating book sets the record straight.” -  Ed Cyzewski, author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and co-author of Unfollowers: The Doubters, Detractors, and Dropouts Who Didn't Follow Jesus

Slingshot_120427_08_MK"Reclaiming Eve is a book I wish I could have read in my teens or early twenties, when I was just embarking on the adventure and challenge of ministry. Grounded in Scripture and brought to life by their own real experiences, the authors ennoble women.  I am thrilled to recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve who struggles at times to ground her identity in a solid place, who longs to make a difference for Jesus, and who hears false messages every day from our culture - which would include about every woman I know!" -Nancy Beach, Leadership Coach, Speaker, Champion of the Artists in the Church; Author of Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Beacon Hill Press team

My coauthors and I just returned from a trip where we recorded eight 10-minute video discussion segments that will be used in church groups for those who choose to use Reclaiming Eve as a Bible study in their small group or church class. In what could only be a beautiful act of God, the videotaping among the three of us was seamless, rewarding and fun. (Admittedly, part of the fun was dressing up in cute outfits and getting our hair and makeup done. And I'm not apologizing for it!) The folks from Nazarene Publishing House/Beacon Hill Press treated us so kindly. But the best part of the whole video thing was the realization that this project has transformed me spiritually and that these coauthors have lovingly pointed me toward Jesus and his plans for all of us. What a gift!

Not only will the book finally be published—painting a Christ-centered vision for why women must rise up to join their brothers in advancing God's Kingdom—the video will help to reinforce our personal passion to see God's daughters celebrated, encouraged, and mobilized for him. The DVD package will include a Bible-study insert that will help guide the weekly studies, and each ten-minute segment can also be downloaded individually if you're only interested in one or two chapter discussions.

So thank you for joining us on our journey to reclaim Eve and every woman ever born, no matter her circumstance. Stay tuned for regular updates, and an official way to preorder the book in the next month or so. This is our prayer: Do with this little book what you will, Lord. May it unleash women to stand side-by-side with their brothers, advancing Your Kingdom through all means possible. So be it.

Stay tuned for the next update, when we'll announce the preorder page on amazon.com.

In your opinion, what keeps us from seeing Eve as a full imagebearer of the living God? Why has she so often carried a "second-class citizenship" throughout history? Can't wait to read your answers.