If I told you I was invited into someone’s home and that the host spoke to some of the guests around the table, but that a lot of the guests and I were ignored, what would you think about the host? What would you think about the unacknowledged guests?
If I told you several women and I were in a corporate staff meeting and the CEO began the meeting with “Welcome gentlemen. I’m excited to discuss how we can continue to collaborate to achieve the company’s goals.” As the meeting progressed, the CEO respectfully and consistently referred to the men in the room. He looked at all of us when he rallied us around the organizational vision. He looked at all of us when he asked, “What do you think, men? It’s up to us to grow the company. We have to be men who lead the company well.” For an hour and fifteen minutes he never verbally acknowledged the female team members in the room.
What would you say about this CEO and this company? Is his eye contact with the women enough to imply that he’s including them? That he views them equally valuable? Would the CEO’s actions be considered discrimination?
Discrimination or not, it’s rude. As a guest in a home or a team member around a conference room table, to be disregarded is unloving. Fortunately, I’ve not experienced the rude behavior of a host or CEO described in the above scenarios.
Unfortunately, I have experienced it in the church recently. After waiting a few minutes for the pastor to add women to his exhortation, I looked around the sanctuary to see if anyone else was surprised by the exclusion of most of the people in the room. I was saddened by the pastor’s refusal to verbally acknowledge women in his sermon. I was heartbroken for the women in the sanctuary acclimated to this kind of dismissal, and the ones who aren’t but don’t know what to do with it.
We all know the pain of exclusion or disregard. We’ve experienced it on the playground, in the group, at the office, or through a breakup. But chronic disregard is harmful. According to psychology and neuroscience, the pain of disregard negatively influences emotion, cognition, and even physical health. When an entire people group – any people group – is chronically disregarded, devalued, or dismissed – the effects are widespread and devastating.
What I Can Do
I’m not here to change your minds about women’s roles in the church. This isn’t about roles or titles. It’s about our God-given personhood. It’s about our God-given authority to go and make disciples. It’s about our being in the room and showing up how God calls us to.
I do want to offer us some resources to consider as we journey together and partner with God in the work of restoration (Eph 1:9-12 and Romans 8:18-23). And I pray that we’ll be open and willing to learn or at least hear from other voices from a variety of denomination and traditions. If not, we’re setting ourselves up to be a tightly shut closed system which breeds fear, group think, authoritarian leadership, and an “us” versus “them” mentality. Ladies and gentlemen, that does NOT describe the church!
The church welcomes diversity, questions, differentiation, transparency, pondering, and learning and serving together. Paul puts it best, “we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power is a great resource. She writes extensively about power and the loving use of it. Two other great resources come from Aimee Byrd and Beth Allison Barr. When Byrd wrote Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood she didn’t believe in the ordination of women. I’m not sure where she stands on the topic now, but this book is a deep dive into the beauty of equal discipleship of men and women. Beth Allison Barr wrote The Making of Biblical Womanhood to show us where the concept came from – and it’s not what we think.
We’re All Partly Wrong
If we read Tim Keller, John Piper, and Denny Burk about women in the church, we will do better if we also read N.T. Wright, Mike Bird, and Scot McKnight. It is good and necessary to ask ourselves why we prefer one group of authors over others. All of these authors quote texts from the Bible that support their views.
I’ll be transparent here and admit that I was a fully committed, though confused, complementarian for most of my ministry life. I now claim no label. The Gospels inform the way I view the role of women in the church. I read about how Jesus interacted with women, how he discipled them, uplifted them, ministered with them, and called them. I read Paul’s and Peter’s letters as well and see their partnership with women in ministry aligned with Jesus and his ways.
My hope is to get us to think deeply about what informs our beliefs. I’ll give one last resource. N.T. Wright succinctly explains his take on women in ministry in this short YouTube video.
God, open our eyes and ears to You.