female pastor

Gender and Theology: My Wife is the Pastor, Too

Today’s blog is the fourth installment in our Gender and Theology series, egalitarianism from a male perspective. Our guest blogger is Scott who shares his thoughts on equality, ministry, and gender with us.

My wife and I are both pastors. We both went to seminary. We both earned our ordination…in fact, as humbling as it is to admit it, my wife had a higher GPA than I did.

A number of years ago, however, my wife received a phone call from a parishioner who refused to talk to her but instead demanded to talk to “the pastor.” Even among dual ministries where equality of leadership should be present, there is still an old, tired, stubborn mold that hasn’t broken yet. Just because I was a man, it was assumed that I was the “head/lead” pastor.  It wasn’t about me not wanting to be a leader, but as a co-leader in our ministry, my wife’s role should have been perceived as equal but it was not.  Let me just tell you that when I received that phone call, I wasn’t a happy camper. This subject actually comes up more than I care to admit. When crucial decisions have to be made in church, for some reason all eyes fall on me…the guy…and I hate that! I’m not trying to abdicate my role as pastor and leader, but my wife is also the pastor and leader in our church. We’re co-leaders together!   Okay…stepping off of my soapbox, but only a little.

This is probably more frustrating to me than it is to my wife. She is an easy going type of pastor, who is full of compassion and hope. I guess she might be better at forgiving an indiscretion such as this, I am sure this wasn’t the first time, nor will it unfortunately be the last time. I struggle with this though. I desire others to see how vital this wonderful, loving, smart, gifted woman (whom I’m truly lucky to call my best-friend, partner and wife) is to this ministry. We are serving in this church together!  She is just as important of a pastor as I am!

We may think we are all equal in an ever evolving, progressive, “all inclusive” world…but we still have a long way to go…especially among the Church. The body of Christ ought to be progressive when it comes to equality with those who serve as leaders and worshipers as well as those we are reaching out to. But it isn’t always the case. Why do we have such a hard time allowing women leaders to preach? I don’t personally have trouble with this at all, but I have witnessed this resistance. Is it only generational? Are we only meeting resistance from older generations where the predominant thought was that a woman’s place was in the home? I don’t mean to start a generational war, because I have a deep respect for those who have blazed a trail for our present generation both in ministry and in our society…but how can we move forward when some of these deeply entrenched thoughts still exist?

Questions to consider: Why is it so hard to break out of these old gender roles as Christians? Does the bible actually say women shouldn’t preach or be church leaders?  If we believe that to be true then how do we then reconcile the fact that Jesus had female disciples? What is the Church afraid of? How can we change this conversation?

Breaking the Old Molds: If we truly believe that God has made all of us equal, regardless of gender, why are these old molds still lingering? That same question about the Bible and why the apostle Paul wrote seemly so harshly towards women in church comes up from time to time.  What did he mean?  Does that include all women everywhere? The answer is absolutely not! Yet many churches still today use passages such as those found in 1 Corinthians 14 to justify its stance on women in ministry. Where is the context? Where is the appropriate interpretation? Fact: Paul was addressing one specific church, the church in Corinth. They had some specific issues and Paul was speaking directly to THOSE Christians. My fear, when it comes to biblical interpretation and application (especially when it comes to women in ministry) is that people can and will pick and choose passages and apply them to suit their needs. This too is another mold we must break!

Jesus had disciples who not only included men but also women. Jesus was truly counter-cultural in His day! Jesus was revolutionary. If we are to be like Christ in every way, shape and form, then even in the “who” of leadership we ought to be inclusive beyond the “traditional” gender roles of leadership.

Dear phone caller from church…my wife is THE Pastor, too. Something to ponder today.

If you want to read more of Scott’s writing, check out his blog here.

If you haven’t yet read the other posts in this series, take a moment to read Steve’s thoughts on equality, everyone brings something unique to life and ministry; Tim’s thoughts on the flaw of the separate but equal view; and Phil’s thoughts on power and voice.

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Gender and Theology: Voice of Influence

We continue with our third blog in our series on Egalitarianism from a male’s perspective with our guest blogger, Phil.

What does it mean to have power and have a voice? What does it mean to exercise power and use your voice?

In the broadest terms, to have and use power is to make things happen, to effect change, to set the agenda, and to influence others to accomplish what you want.

Often, the possession and use of power is integrally connected to having and using your voice—to be in a position where you can (often literally) speak up and say what you want, voice your opinion, state your position and have a real chance at having others listen, which means influence…and power.

So who has the power and the voice in our societies? Too often it’s an unequal ratio.

There’s a reason that “rich” is often linked with “powerful” and that’s because it’s too often reality.

Rich folks have power that poor folks don’t.

People in positions of power—government, military, business leaders—have a voice that others don’t.

(And much too often, in North America, whites descended from European immigrants have by default what others do not have.)

Who decides how riches are accumulated, protected and passed along? Those who have the money already, because they can exercise their power and use their voice to influence the other people in positions of power to create laws that perpetuate their power.

To stay in the game you gotta get in the game. And who has been in the game—who has had the power from the beginning? Men. Rich men. (Rich white men.)

Men have had the power to set the rules and the rules have been set to keep men in power. Over millennia of “tradition” the ways things are has been made to seem that’s the way things ought to be.

Men in positions of power in religious structures have (literally) written the rules into sacred scriptures that seem to support their claims that this is the way that God wants things to be.

But we should distinguish between “descriptive” passages and “prescriptive” passages in scriptures. It’s one thing to acknowledge how things are—to describe the inequality among the sexes, and who has a voice to effect change and influence societal structures.

It’s quite another thing to demonstrate that this description of how things are is also a divine prescription for how things ought to be—to assert and prove that inequality among the sexes is divinely-approved, a good and right design and plan.

As a man, a person who by default has a certain amount of power and who by default is given a certain degree of deference and audience when I speak up, I find I have a choice to make.

I can rest in the measure of power I have, and even strive to gain more power (usually through the accumulation of riches and/or attainment of positions of power), and be satisfied in this life.

Or I can take whatever measure of power I have and use whatever “currency” in the form of my voice that I might possess—both given by the social structures by default simply because I am a man—and spend these on behalf of others.

I can speak up and challenge the very social structure that has endowed me with unequal measures of power and voice.

I haven’t been given this power within the social structures by divine decree. My power to be heard comes from those who create, control and preserve the social structures.

I have been given by divine decree the responsibility to use whatever power to be heard I might have in ways that works against abuses of power and works for those who otherwise have no voice.

For me, to be an egalitarian shapes how I read and understand what the Bible describes and what the Bible prescribes.

In reference to the default status that creates inequalities in our social structures, while the Bible describes such inequities in social structures as normal, the prescription for change is what I hear.

If you want to read more of Phil’s writings, check out his blog here.

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Gender and Theology: Egalitarianism or Separate but Equal

We continue with our series on Egalitarianism from a male’s perspective with our guest blogger, Tim.

Wow! What a significant word! My first thoughts when coming up to this word is from my own experiences as a missionary in Germany. One of the phrases that I said quite often was, “Das ist mir egal.” Loosely translated: “I don’t care.” In reality it means, “That is equal to me.”

The Germans borrowed that word from the French, who borrowed it from the Romans. Normally a German would say that if she or he were presented with two options and both options were equal in importance. After a while, it carried the connotation of the, “I don’t care” attitude, which is rather unfortunate.

My thoughts and ideas on this topic are many.

I come from a privileged position. I am white. I am male. In no sense of any perception have I ever been considered a minority in the United States. Even when I lived in Germany, I could pass for a German. It was only when I spoke that one noticed a slight accent that not everyone could place. My mother made certain to be at home whenever my siblings and I returned from school. I don’t ever recall my father greeting us home from school unless he happened to be home sick, which was very rare. Growing up, I remember that the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass and I thought my mother would be mad about that. As a child, I thought it was silly for people to pass a law to force everyone to treat everyone equally.

Perhaps it’s not so silly at all.

Since I do come from a position of majority, rather than minority, I approach this topic with a bit of trepidation, knowing that my own words and ideas are shaped through that lens of never having been discriminated against because of my race or gender.

Egalitarianism in Christianity can tend to conjure up frightening things for some Christians. I heard stories from some other friends of mine who told me legends of pastors going before an ordination board and asked that if he or she could pray, “Our Mother, who art in Heaven” instead of “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” I have no idea if that story is true or not, but I do know that in recent years, a new German translation of the Bible came out, entitled Die Bibel in gerechter Sprache (The Bible in Correct Speech). The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9 starts off, „Du, Gott, bist uns Vater und Mutter im Himmel.“ In English this translates as, “You, o God, are Father and Mother in Heaven to us.”

As a translator myself, this disturbs me because they were forcing the Bible to say something that it isn’t saying. There were other huge problems with this Bible (including saying that some of the Pharisees were female, when they were not). In college, I was told that there were some denominations that had started worshipping God as Sophia, which is Greek for wisdom. “Wisdom” in the book of Proverbs is portrayed as a woman, calling out to the people to listen to her voice and learn from her. There were some theologians who claimed that this figure of Wisdom is an incarnation of God.

People at my college did not like that. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t like it either.

I then recall what one of my professors said, “Gender is a created thing. God has no gender.”

End of story for me.

God is above gender. Therefore, it shouldn’t disturb us to realize that the term “mercy” in Hebrew, especially God’s mercy, refers to the womb. It shouldn’t bother us that the Church is described as the Bride of Christ, where we ourselves take a feminine persona, whether or not we are female. We shouldn’t think twice that in Hebrew, the term “spirit” is actually a feminine word, even when it refers to the Spirit of God.

U2 had no problem with this, either. Their song, “Mysterious Ways,” actually refers to the Holy Spirit. “She moves in mysterious ways.”

God is above gender and as such, we need to treat each other equally. It has been ingrained into our collective psyche that we (at best) should complement each other. The movement of “complementarianism,” where men and women have fundamental differences in religious life, but should both be treated with respect, reminds me of the “separate but equal” segregation that went on in the US South before the Civil Rights Act eliminated that.

And, just like the Civil Rights Act, I believe we need to take some Affirmative Action within the Body of Christ to right the wrongs that men have caused to women over the years. My own denomination, The Salvation Army, has tried very hard to be at the forefront of egalitarianism over the years, but sometimes we tend to have relapses. We need to be reminded that not only are women equal to men, but that they should be treated as such and given responsibility according to their talents and abilities and not by default.

In all this, I am reminded of what Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

If, in Christ, gender no longer matters, then I need to treat all people equally, looking past their gender, race, or status in life and seeing them for who they are: someone created in the image of God.

If you would like to read more of Tim’s writings, check out his blog, here.

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Gender and Theology: “We all bring something unique to the table.”

One of the strategies late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. used in his non-violent protests for racial equality was insisting that 20% of the people participating in the demonstrations be white. That was a new concept to the black community since, as the object of racism, they were accustomed to fighting for their own rights, but Rev. King emphasized that all races of people were needed for the advancement of racial integration.

When it comes to any kind of discrimination, it is not one group against the other; rather all people are needed to fight for reconciliation and for equality to be brought forth. Here, in the 21st century, we are still fighting for the equal rights of women in the home and in the ministry of the Church.

When it comes to gender and theology, there are two main views in the church: egalitarianism and complementarianism. Egalitarianism (from the word ‘equal’) supports the equality of men and women in all areas of ministry and leadership. Complementarianism (from the word ‘complement’) is the view that men and women have different roles and responsibilities based on their gender.

In the church we often see women fighting for their rights, however, shouldn’t people from both genders be fighting for equality? With this in mind, we have asked some men to tell us their thoughts, concerns, feelings, and convictions, on egalitarianism, gender, and the church, and see what they have to share with us from the male perspective and welcome them to the table of reconciliation.

This week, we interviewed Steve, a minister in an egalitarian church, and he shared some important thoughts with us.

What is egalitarianism?

The attitude of equality (the same worth/value) among a group of two or more people.

When did you learn about the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism? Why did you decide to become an egalitarian?

I didn’t even know the term “complementarian” until looking it up just now. I have been aware of the term “egalitarian” for at least 30 years. I decided that this is right simply because the value of a person is never determined by their role. We’re all unique, that’s what gives us value and worth.

What does the Bible teach us about women and men, and their roles in the Church? At home?

No exceptions; all are included who want to be!

Are there particular stories of women in The Bible that speak to you? Do you think The Church pays as much attention to the stories of women as they do, per say, the stories of Jesus, David, or the Apostle Paul?

I love that Jesus’ best post-resurrection moment was confirmed in a name: Mary.

No, of course we don’t give as much credence to women in the bible—a basic failure of the church’s polity and focus. It’s egregious how the church has demeaned women historically; a thoroughly anti-biblical habit.

Why is Egalitarianism essential to the Church? Do women bring something unique to the table that men don’t? Do churches that don’t support an egalitarian theology miss out on anything by not letting women lead or have a voice?

It’s never about a person of one gender or another bringing uniqueness to the church; it’s always individual worth, gifts, temperament, personality, etc. that add to the good of the whole. We ALL bring something unique to the table.

I don’t like any broad label that suggests men or women have more or less of anything. I say that because I know women who are more manly than some men, and men who are more womanly than some women—in every way that might be judged. We’re foolish and less than we should and could be by rejecting ANY voice. We shouldn’t reject a message just because we judge the messenger (positively or negatively).

Why do you suppose some churches have a hard time embracing egalitarianism?

The reality is that we’re all simply what we’ve been developed to be—by “chance” of birthplace, family and community context, etc. Some people can’t help their ignorance and cultural limitations if the diet of their mind and soul has been neglected. This is true for individuals and groups of people.

How does a church properly construct egalitarianism within the Church in a healthy way?

We each listen to the other. There is a sense of individual worth that causes me, you—all—to want to create an environment where honesty and openness are never just tolerated, but always wanted!

Do you think even within an egalitarian church system, women can still be oppressed?

Anyone can be oppressed! Every generation seems to need someone to look down on. But this can be changed. Common decency and respect can prevail. Disparate [distinct] voices can be equally honored if they’re used respectfully, tactfully, lovingly, and kindly.

What are some ways in which men can help raise awareness and help support women to bring egalitarianism to the Church?

Men can and should be encouraged/taught to shut up and listen. Men can and should be taught real respect—versus pretend tolerance. Men can and should be given chances to be who they really are—not always the leader, not always the strong one, not always with “special” expectations of anything…except who they really are.

What is an effective way that an egalitarian can communicate their conviction to a complementarian without being a jerk?

Simple phrases gently applied are the best tools: “I don’t agree.” “I see that slightly differently.” “Do you realize how that might feel or be heard by…?” It requires simple, direct, gentle, sincere, loving honesty. Silence is the greatest killer of hope.

Is there anything you would like to add that I may have missed?

This is possible! But it requires the simple, humble people of God to be dedicated to the hard task of correcting ancient, historic, deep seated wrongs in our habits, thoughts, and practice within the church.

Aslan and the broken table

Eschatology 101: Curse and Redemption

“Though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know…when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” -C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is the 4th in a series about Eschatology, or end times. If you haven’t already read the first three posts, you can check them out here, here, and here.

Last week we had two funerals at my church. One for a man in his eighties, with several children and grandchildren. He passed away surrounded by family, having lived a full life, more than prepared to meet his Maker. The other was for a younger woman, in her forties. No spouse, no children, wrenched from this life much too early by cancer. She left behind a father grieving over his lost daughter, something no parent should ever have to experience.

There was a lot of talk at the older man’s funeral of “being ready,” how death is a part of life and that he truly had lived his life. But I noticed both funerals, though sprinkled with laughter, were sad. Even though death is a common part of life, even though we all know we will one day die, we cannot escape the fact that death is not right. It may be part of this life, but it shouldn’t be. It’s not natural. It’s not how we are designed.

And so we are constantly reminded that there is something wrong. And that, of course, leads us back to Genesis, to the story of creation, the story of a sacred beginning, humanity in innocence in a beautiful garden. The first humans were given everything they could possibly need: life, purpose, fellowship with humanity and with God. But all was lost in the very first act of sin.

God warned them that disobedience would bring death (Genesis 2:17). And so it did. Sin brought a curse that not only affected the man and woman who sinned, but the entire earth. It brought the death of innocence, the death of their close fellowship with God, the death of their own relationship with each other, and it brought the death of the man and the woman in my church last week. We each feel the curse of sin in the world. The Apostle Paul said that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).

When we talk about eschatology, or last things, end times, we usually focus on the things that we disagree on. And, those are things that should be discussed and debated and wrestled with. It is in our disagreeing that we can spur one another on to further study and a greater knowledge of and intimacy with God. But, we also need to take time to acknowledge what we agree on.

All Christians agree that Jesus is coming again. We may disagree on how or when, but we are all convinced that he will return. He promised he would return “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:27). Angels assure the disciples of his return “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

We live still in the broken, cursed, sin-filled earth, but we have the promise of redemption. In the same passage where Paul talks about the earth groaning, he also assures us that it is not in vain. Earth does have something to hope for.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-21

If the curse of sin was far-reaching, then the redemption of resurrection reaches further still. In the words of Randy Alcorn, “The power of Christ’s resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe—mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies. Christ’s redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe.

John paints a picture of this redemption in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

The final redemption of the earth is what gives us hope to continue on in this broken life. It is the hope that gives meaning to the work we do for Christ in the here and now. It is the hope that accompanies every cup of cold water we give in His name. It is the hope that brings relief when we offer a blanket to a homeless man or groceries to a single mom trying to make ends meet. It is the hope we give in our fight for social justice. And it is the hope we give in the words of comfort to the grieving friends and family at a funeral.

Whether you believe Christ’s return will be accompanied by a secret rapture and tribulation or ushered in by the salvation of the nations; whether you believe you are living in the millennium of the church age where Christ is presently reigning in Heaven, or you’re waiting for a millennium to come, we can all rejoice in the hope of the Second Coming of Christ and the redemption of creation.