Posts Tagged women

Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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Complementarianism: A Separate-But-Equal Knockoff – ethicsdaily.com

A

n article I read recently extoling the virtues of complementarianism nagged at me. It would not let me rest.

Complementarianism is a religious construct that deals with the roles of gender. The message is evil at its center.

“The SBC has affirmed complementarianism – the belief that the Bible reveals that men and women are equally made in God’s image, but that men and women were also created to be complements to each other, men and women bearing distinct and different roles,” Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated in a recent column. “This means obeying the Bible’s very clear teachings on male leadership in the home and in the church.”

To me, it is nothing more than the old argument of “separate but equal” applied to gender roles and dressed in a type of theological clothing. This is the same argument earlier generations used to justify segregation of the races.

The whole idea is to downgrade the role of women and to promote the superiority of men. Proponents dress it up and clothe it in statements of love. In most cases, this is window dressing.

For many, it is the excuse they need to keep women in their place.

We have been through this before: “Blacks are fine as long as they stay in their place.” It stank then and it stinks now. Separate but equal was never equal, and no one pretended that it was.

The black schools in the town of my youth got hand-me-down textbooks, hand-me-down desks and chairs and rundown buildings.

We took our money to church for missionaries to win the lost in Africa, but the black children two blocks away could not come to church with us.

Under complementarianism, in many churches women can’t teach men because that is not their God-prescribed role.

The inconsistency of the position is seen in the fact that female teachers teach male students in public and private schools, including religious ones, every day.

The goal is to keep women in lower paying jobs and deny them authority. The males who promote this travesty are in control and have no intention of relinquishing any of their control.

“The same Bible that reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church also reveals God’s steadfast and unyielding concern for the abused, the threatened, the suffering and the fearful,” Mohler stated. “There is no excuse whatsoever for abuse of any form, verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual.”

And yet, the nation is finally seeing some of the harmful results of this philosophy, which plays into the hands of those who abuse women around the world: “The church says that you are to obey me.”

Jesus set the example for another and better way. He made it very clear that there is no artificial ranking of male and female roles in his kingdom. “Mary, go and tell my disciples.”

Paul emphasized this in Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Growing up Southern Baptist, my experience with women pastors is limited, but I have been blessed by hearing some of the best: Linda McKinnish Bridges, Amy Butler, Molly Marshall, Joan Brown Campbell, Cynthia Campbell, Julie Pennington-Russell, Susan Sparks and Martha Brown Taylor, to name only a few.

Not only have I been blessed by hearing these women, I have gained so much insight from them.

I regularly listen to and read Sparks, pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

She places God in the center of our every action and has a sense of humor and such an awareness of God’s presence in the ordinary that you are compelled to listen and take notice.

McKinnish Bridges, president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Virginia, preached her sermon, “Grace upon Grace,” 27 years ago. Yet it is as fresh today as it was the first day I heard it because it expresses God’s work in my life.

Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas, awakened my interest in the influence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

Cynthia Campbell, president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, preached the most inspirational sermon on the resurrection I have ever heard.

God’s love for all of humanity oozes from every word from the sermons of Joan Brown Campbell, an ordained Disciples of Christ and American Baptist Church minister who was the first woman to lead the National Council of Churches.

How can you say that God rejects the work of these ambassadors of hope because they dare preach to men?

I have experienced outstanding female Bible teachers in my years in the church. You want me to disregard the teachings of these gifted women because I am a male and should not have been listening to them?

Should I have not have listened to my mother when she spoke of God’s love for me? Should I have not listened to my wife when she assured me that God would watch over me and our children?

All of these women were gifted by God with talents far greater than the ones given to me. I think God brought me into contact with them because they had been given a message I was intended to hear.

I ask myself, “Where would I be in my spiritual journey if these women were not a part of my life?”

Complementarianism belongs on the ash heap of history along with separate but equal.

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They believed in complementarian theology- Peggy Wehmeyer –

Baptistnewsglobal.com

First came sexual harassment scandals in powerful evangelical pulpits. Then the movement’s best-known female Bible teacher, Beth Moore, charged church leaders across the country with widespread misogyny. And now the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has been fired for religious chauvinism that pressed abused women to stay with their husbands and a rape victim to forgive and drop charges against her perpetrator.

“The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance,” warned one powerful church leader, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler. He added that the story’s not over.

I should have seen it coming. I’m one of millions of American women who converted to evangelical Christianity because of its life-changing promise of hope and healing. The problem is that some of the men in leadership have used the Bible to mask a patriarchal misogyny. That’s what’s driving today’s #MeToo church movement. A whole host of leaders, like fired seminary president Paige Patterson, have silenced and marginalized the voices of women for decades. And that leaves my faith family morally compromised.

I had wanted to dedicate my life to full-time ministry since becoming a Christian in college. The Jesus I met at the University of Texas was a revolutionary who inspired his followers to usher in the kingdom of God, fight for justice and give up your life to save it — whether or not you were a woman.

I thought I could learn how to do that at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). The people closest to me didn’t understand. The dean of my journalism school shook his head in bewilderment, my sorority sisters whispered, “She’s joining a convent,” and my parents, who unsuccessfully hired a psychiatrist to have me “deprogrammed,” cut me off financially.

I reached Dallas in my tattered Toyota station wagon, broke, alone but unafraid. Each morning when I woke up in this new place, I knelt in the dark, closed my eyes and cranked up Handel’s Messiah, singing along, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

At 21, all I knew about DTS was that it produced great Bible teachers and had a job opening for a writer. I grabbed it. Too broke to enroll, I slipped into any class I could audit, attended chapel whenever I could, and begged for audiences with theologians whose teaching I devoured.

When at last I earned enough money  to enroll as a student, I discovered something troubling: The master of theology program, the one that prepared students for leadership in the church, was off-limits to women. That came home to me one day after a New Testament class. A few men approached me outside the room.

“You don’t plan to preach to a mixed audience, do you?” they asked.

My answer: “I just want to study the Bible,” I said. “I don’t know how I’ll use it yet.”

I learned at seminary that many biblical texts could only be understood in the context of ancient Hebrew culture, and that made sense to me. What confused me was that the harsh passages prohibiting women from leadership — in church and at home — were the ones taken literally.

The limitations of my future in a church led by men should have become apparent early on. My female hero of the faith, Elisabeth Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, had been invited to campus. When she rose to the chapel pulpit to speak to the students, almost all male, a group of them walked out in protest. Preaching to men presumably gave her authority over them, and that was forbidden.

Did I challenge the system? Hardly. As a young Christian, I accepted the teachings of seasoned theologians. I agreed that the Bible was inspired by God and that its truths transcend culture. What I struggled to understand was which Bible passages were to be taken literally. After all, no one was suggesting we should have slaves and make them obey their masters, a command listed in the same place where women are told to submit to their husbands. What if the seminary leaders had it wrong? What if Jesus and his apostles actually elevatedwomen who were treated deplorably in their day?

When I asked about the heroic women of the Bible, like the prophet Deborah, who led her people into battle, or Queen Esther, who stood up to a king and saved the Jews, I was told that God used women to lead only when men failed to step up to the plate. We were God’s backup plan for weak-willed men. And to quote Paige Patterson, our role in church and at home was “to be submissive in every way.”

Almost all of the seminary students and professors treated me with respect and kindness, so I didn’t resent the limits placed on my role as a woman. I trusted the intentions of church leaders. They believed in complementarian theology, which gave men primary leadership in the church and home.

That affected the shape of my life. By my fourth year at DTS, I was doubting my own instincts about what career path to take. My only brush with leadership in the church came when two outlying professors offered to train me, on the condition that our meetings stayed under wraps. After hours, I slipped into their offices to learn how to interpret Scripture, outline a sermon, and deliver it with flair. Larry Moyers and Mike Cocoris were traveling evangelists. When they took me on a preaching circuit to East Texas, only they could teach in the sanctuaries. My sermons were restricted to women who met on the peripheries of the church.

At seminary, I felt like a racehorse lunging at the starting gate, waiting for the bell to sound, with no track ahead of me. And then I stumbled into wide open space: a job opening at a local TV station, where career restrictions had everything to do with skill and nothing to do with gender.

Before I could take the job and clear my seminary desk, a prominent professor called me to his office. I remember standing with him outside the pastoral ministries department when he asked me the ultimate question for a follower of Jesus: “What is God’s will for your life?”

By now I knew the answer he wanted. “To get married and have children,” I said. “But God hasn’t led me to marry yet. Until he does, I’m going to go out and make a difference in the world.”

What he said next felt like a curse, and it would haunt me for years. “Peggy, if you leave Christian work for a career in the secular media, two things will happen: You’ll lose your faith, and it’s unlikely any Christian man will want to marry you.”

I was speechless. To lose my faith was to lose my life compass. To miss marriage and children would be to miss God’s highest calling for a woman.

I took the risk and I left seminary to be a copywriter for WFAA-TV in Dallas. Within a year I was named the first television religion reporter in the nation. I covered the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco and the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. We tracked the rise of the Mormon church in Texas and reported on all the major Southern Baptist Conventions, including the ones where the embattled Patterson led the conservative takeover of the denomination. I interviewed Patterson countless times in the ’80s and ’90s.

Like many women my age, I managed all of it while married and raising two children, but it wasn’t my church that supported me in the herculean task of juggling family and work.

For support later in my career, I pulled together my own small community of women from both coasts. We met each week for a decade by speakerphone, talking and praying about everything from how to integrate our faith at work, to raising our children, to discerning the will of God.

Rarely did I seek out my pastor for counsel, but once, during a rough patch in my marriage, I did. He urged me to follow the Bible verse that tells women to be “like Sarah, who obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her lord.”

So why did I remain an evangelical? This community had introduced me to Jesus and helped me build a relationship with a personal, loving God whom I could trust.

I held onto my faith and my evangelical family even as my secular career ramped up. When the call came from New York, my 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, was click-clacking her Big-Wheel across our kitchen’s hardwood floors. The voice on the other end sounded uncannily like that of my broadcasting hero.

“Hello, Ms. Wehmeyer? This is Peter Jennings at ABC News, and I have two questions for you,” he said. “Is it true that you cover religion? And are you willing to make a major life change?”

“Yes. And maybe,” I answered.

Months later, Jennings and ABC received a rush of publicity for hiring me as the first religion correspondent in the history of network news.

Soon Christian leaders wanted me on the covers of their magazines and speaking in their college chapels. But I was careful about when and where I spoke personally about my own faith. For me, the highest calling of a journalist was to separate my personal bias from the stories I covered. It was because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I could distance my personal beliefs from my reporting.

But Christian colleges were having a serious problem. More than half their student bodies were made up of women, and this generation of evangelical women wanted futures that included robust professional careers. Who would mentor and lead them? Wheaton College, the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” pressed me to be that person. The school chaplain called to tell me the president of the college was proud of my work and struggling to find female role models for their students. Wouldn’t I please reconsider their request to speak in chapel?

“Who’s your president?” I asked.

It was the same theologian, who 20 years earlier, as a professor at DTS, had told me to throttle back and find a husband.

I agreed to speak in the Wheaton chapel, only after I was no longer reporting on religion. I stepped into the pulpit where Billy Graham and countless high-profile male ministers had preached and looked out at a sea of young female faces. I purposely singled out the Wheaton women:

Young women: Hear me now.

Trust your own deepest convictions and let no one else overwhelm the quiet pull of God on your life. You’re the one who will come home every day to your choices.

And do not limit what God wants to do with your life. Why would you narrow his plan to include only marriage and family? These are high callings, but for both men and women.

The student body responded with a standing ovation, but the president promptly accused me of fueling a feminist fire. The discussion it roused on campus led one Wheaton student to call me several years later.

Like me, this young woman had committed her life to following Jesus. It had led her to the South Side of Chicago, to four years in some of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods with Teach for America. Now she was frustrated because her time in the classroom had taught her that education held only part of the answer for children and families whose lives were riddled with poverty, violence and drugs. She wanted to tackle spiritual poverty too.

“The church is the best place to address both the economic and spiritual vacuum in people’s lives,” she told me. “I want to study theology and become a minister so I’m better equipped to help people who struggle.”

If this had been just any young evangelical woman, I might have counseled her, “Go for it, but it’s going to be tough.”

But the words came from my own daughter, Hannah, the one who was in kindergarten the day Peter Jennings called. The one whose crib I had knelt at in the dark, asking God to give her strength for whatever challenges she would face as a woman.

“Hannah!” I said, “What are you thinking? Women can’t be leaders in the church. You’ll be beating your head against the wall.”

Painful memories — many stories I had never told Hannah — rushed to the surface. I tried every way I could to shut down my daughter’s dream, but she wouldn’t have it.

“You got to be a pioneer in television, Mom. Why can’t I be one in the church?” she argued. “You’re the only one discouraging me from taking this path. My own mother!”

I’ve heard it said that dreams and visions blocked in one generation can surface in the next. I had spoken harsh words to spare my daughter from the pain I knew by heart. What I failed to account for were the changes she already was a part of.

In recent years, a few evangelical seminaries have reconsidered their interpretation of Scripture on women. Now some of them allow for women’s ordination. A groundswell of leading evangelical churches, where women now serve as pastors and elders, reflect that shift. The theology on women’s roles at places like DTS hasn’t changed, but more than four times the number of women are enrolled there than when I was a student.

Last year, I was worshipping at the church I now attend in Dallas, where former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are members. As worshippers walked to the altar to receive communion, I watched the Bushes kneel at the rail. A young minister in robes approached the table with a chalice of wine and bread in her hand.

The same world leader I’d once peppered with tough questions about faith was now being led in his faith by my daughter, Hannah.

This fall, the story comes full circle. Hannah will begin seminary, one that prepares women for every facet of ministry. She’ll learn, as I did, that Jesus was a revolutionary, not just in the ways he taught us to love but in the ways he liberated and dignified women in a culture that treated them like second-class citizens. While Hannah works and studies, I’ll help care for her 1-year-old daughter, Eliza, a name that translated from the Hebrew means “God is faithful.”

Peggy Wehmeyer is a writer in Dallas and a former news correspondent for WFAA and ABC News. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. 

 

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Climb the Ladder and Storm the Treehouse* – Rev. SUSAN SPARKS  

I grew up in Charlotte, N.C., on a quiet neighborhood street called Lockhart Drive. For years, I was the only little girl on a street full of boys. Lucky for me, I could outrun and outclimb most of them, so they would begrudgingly let me play, too — except, of course, in the treehouse.

Tucked away in the top of an old sycamore in my next-door neighbor’s yard, was a fort made of nailed-together plywood. It was the place that all the kids — excuse me, all the boys — loved to play.

To emphasize that it was for the boys only, they had scribbled the ubiquitous “no girls allowed” sign on the door. Ironically, the sign was spelled not “allowed” but “aloud,” which made me think I could come in if I were quiet.

I was wrong. I was never invited in.

I put up with being excluded from that all-boys treehouse for a long time, not wanting to rock the boat and hoping they’d change their minds. Then one morning, I woke up and thought, “This is a new day.” Sneaking through my neighbor’s gate, I inched up the ladder, and as I was about to clear the last rung, one of the boys spotted me. They all started shouting, “You can’t come up here! You’re a girl! Read the sign!”

I was about to yell, “You can’t SPELL!” when my next-door neighbor’s mom came running out of the house, and said, “What’s the ruckus?”

When the boys shouted their angry disapproval, she crossed her arms and gave one of the best comeback lines ever: “Well, boys, I own this tree, and the tree house that’s in it. Technically, you’re trespassing. I’ll let you stay, but only if you take that tacky sign off the front door and let Susan in.”

There was a long silence, followed by grumbling. Then the sign was pulled down. They did it, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They did it because they didn’t own the treehouse.

Fifty some years later, nothing has changed. The world is full of treehouses with signs that say, “no girls aloud” or “no people of color allowed” or “no LGBTQ” or “no persons with disability.” Why? Because unlike the one in my neighbor’s yard, these modern-day “treehouses” are still owned by the boys.

That changed this week when a powerful Hollywood actress woke up and decided “This is a new day.” Two-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand said two words at the end of her Oscar acceptance speech that rocked Hollywood: “Inclusion Rider.”

The next day social media and news outlets were abuzz, explaining the significance of the term. In short, an inclusion rider is a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew. It is a little-known concept and one most people are reticent to engage because, like me with the treehouse, they don’t want to rock the boat or damage their chances to “getting in.”

The movie industry is a classic example of the proverbial treehouse with a sign hung out that says, “no ­­­­­­­­­­______________    (fill in the blank with any demographic that is not straight white able-bodied male) allowed.” For example, a recent study showed that LGBT-identified characters represented a mere 1.1 percent of all speaking characters in the top 900 films of the past decade.

Similarly, the Asian community has for years endured the sting of Hollywood casting Caucasians for Asian roles. For example, DreamWorks and Paramount cast Scarlett Johansson, a Scandinavian actress, as a Japanese cyborg in their adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. The announcement coincided with reports that producers considered using digital tools to make Ms. Johansson look more Asian.

People with disabilities are another underrepresented population. As comedian and disability advocate Maysoon Zayid has explained, “We (the disabled) are 20 percent of the population, and we are only 2percent of the images you see on American television, and of those 2 percent, 95 percent are played by nondisabled actors.”

Of course, women are not allowed in the treehouse either. According to a study of the top-grossing 250 films, women comprised only 11 percent of the directors, 11 percent of the writers, 16 percent of the editors and 3 percent of the composers.

And the statistics for inclusion are equally if not more skewed for people of color. Again, studies of popular movies show that in 2016 70.8 percent of speaking roles were white, far outweighing the numbers for those who were black (13.6 percent) or Hispanic (3 percent).

These statistics are particularly troubling in film and television because what we watch has the power to shape what we believe about who we are.

Hollywood is not an isolated example. It’s a microcosm of the deep seated, systemic prejudice and racism that runs through the social meridians of our nation and our world.

Achieving the American Dream shouldn’t be like trying to get into a treehouse in which only certain people are welcome. The Puritan work ethic shouldn’t just ensure success for those who look like the early white Puritans. Frances McDormand was right. We need an inclusion rider. But not just for Hollywood contracts — we need one for life.

Fortunately, we have one. It’s called the Bible.

Unlike most convoluted corporate documents, this contract boils down to two simple provisions: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. If you take these words and apply them to the discrimination in our world, you get God saying to the power structure something akin to this:

“Well, boys, I own this tree and the treehouse that’s in it. Technically, you are trespassing. I’ll let you stay, but only if you take that tacky sign off the front door and let all my people in.”

If we’ve accepted God’s terms, if we’ve accepted this contract, then we are bound to live within its parameters. We are also bound by the corollary: we must not support those who refuse to live by that contract, and specifically the “Inclusion Rider” of life. That is a deal-breaker.

There are many ways we can do this, but one is to be intentional about how we spend our money. Again, Hollywood offers the perfect example. One of the main reasons offered to justify their outrageous hiring practices is economic — the claim being that films with diverse casts don’t make money.

Really?

Last weekend, it was announced that Black Panther, the first mainstream superhero movie fronted by an almost entirely black cast, became only the 33rd movie in history to cross the one billion dollar mark. It joins films like Jurassic Park, and Avatar, and it did it in only 26 days after its original release.

In. Your. Face. Hollywood.

Brother and sisters, we have more power than we think. We have the power to take care of each other, to give everyone a fair chance, to ensure that the gifts and talents of all of God’s children are not wasted.

The misspelled sign outside the treehouse contained more truth than I realized. We all need to speak out and be heard “aloud!” “Girls aloud!” “LGBTQ aloud!” “People with disabilities aloud!” “People of color aloud!”

This is a new day. Come on! Let’s climb the ladder and storm the treehouse!

*This piece is taken from a sermon delivered at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City on Sunday, March 11, 2018.

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