Hey Brother: How to Practice Gender Equity in Church
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:2;8, ESV)
Sometimes I cringe when I realize that in 2020, we are still having the age-old argument about women preaching. I decided to take my dog out of the race about 20 years ago. I will not engage in that argument. Why? It’s a distraction to the call. It’s a distraction to the work. I liken myself to Nehemiah. I am not coming off the wall to argue with anyone. However, being on COVID lockdown I did find myself listening to an online discussion between some well-known preaching women and men. Two women, one older with a 30-year history of pastoring and one younger with about seven years pastoring experience. The men, likewise, had similar experience. I thought it would make for a very balanced and interesting conversation. It did not.
Honestly, I was floored by the younger male pastor. He admitted that women preachers confused him because he didn’t know whether to treat them like women or treat them like men. (That’s scary! How about treat them like people? Just a thought. IJS) He went on to give an example. If a preacher (who happens to be a woman) should drop her bulletin in the pulpit, should he pick it up (treating her like a woman) or let her pick it up (treating her like a man). I was flabbergasted. To pick up or not to pick up a bulletin? Really? Is this what the argument has been reduced to? The older woman replied, “Yes, by all means”. The younger, “No. I don’t need you to pick up a bulletin”. My thoughts were a bit more pragmatic. How about if it falls near you pick it up for a man or a woman? I was taught this is common courtesy, but I realize that not everyone was reared like me. Be that as it may, it did spur my thinking as to how gender equity can be achieved in churches. I believe there are at least six (probably more) areas that need our efforts.
1. Gender Role and Expectations. We have all been socialized to have certain expectations based on gender. From childhood we learn that little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice. While boy are snaps and snails and puppy dog tails. Women are expected to be polite, nurturing, gentle, and accommodating. Men are expected to be tough, aggressive, and outspoken. While these are very general descriptions, we have all been influenced by gender stereotypes to some degree. In order to achieve gender equity, we must consistently assess and re-access how we have been influenced by gender roles and consciously choose to deconstruct what is not useful, keeping in mind that what works for one at home is not necessarily useful in church.
2. Stop Sexualizing Women. You must respect that a woman is also made in the image and likeness of God. In addition, respect the call on her life and the office she holds. Women who preach (and those who don’t) should not have to concern themselves about sexual harassment or any type of sexual violation in a church or in a pastor’s office. Let’s face it, it happens. Brother, your penis is not a weapon and your strength should never be used against her. Simple, right? Catholic priest are not the only men of faith abusing power.
3. Preach More Texts About Women. In a positive light, I must add. Not only should more text about women be preached, but please check your biases as you prepare your sermons. For example, if you want to talk about David and Bathsheba tell the entire story. Make sure you tell the congregation how angry God was with David and how his entire family suffered because of this alleged affair. If you tell the story of the Woman at the Well, tell them about history of levirate marriage and there are other possibilities as to why she had five husbands. Use women as main characters in your preaching sometimes. Ask yourself, does my preaching elevate and present women in a favorable light or does it silence and bring shame to women?
4. Co-Preach and/or Co-Teach. Give your congregation an opportunity to hear two different reflections on the same text. You can empower your church by allowing them to see collaboration between male and female preachers and reassure women that their gifts are honored and respected.
5. Engage with Diverse Voices. Pastor, leader make it a practice to listen to sermons and teaching by women and allow your congregation to hear diverse voices as well. Invite women to preach for services that are traditionally led and preached by men. When men and women are represented as well as people of different racial and ethnic groups, the kingdom of heaven is fully represented. It is a positive and encouraging example to girls and women who are struggling with their giftedness. It gives a nod to their abilities and silently encourages them to fully embrace all that God has blessed them with.
6. Listen. One of the things I love to do as a preacher is to talk with other preachers. To share insights about scripture and sermon preparation because iron sharpens iron. Be assured that women who preach bring some iron to the table. The same Holy Spirit working in you is working in them, too. Please stop mansplaining everything. It is offensive. Just in case you need to know: Mansplain – verb – (of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner. Stop it. Period.
Having women and men in leadership is Biblical and beautiful. We find women in the five-fold ministry throughout the New Testament. Mary who brought the message of the resurrection to the disciples, Junia, Philip’s four daughters, Phoebe, and Priscilla quickly come to mind. Jesus is our exemplar of righteousness. I believe that when the church begins to live into the righteousness of God and not the patriarchy of the world, women preaching and leading will become commonplace and attitudes toward women will change significantly in every sphere.