Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Amy Gannett our guest poster today! Amy challenges us to ask hard questions to uncover obvious and hidden seixist attitudes that may exist in our women’s ministries.
Feminism has taken on many faces in the church over the last five years. Some of this has been massively beneficial to the church, as the concept has expanded, broadened, and served to bring more people into the conversation. On the other hand, some of the conversation has served only to further a dichotomy between men and women in the church, and has left confusion, bitterness, and hurt in its wake.
But here is the thing we call agree on: no one likes a sexist.
No matter where you find yourself in the scheme of things, we would all agree that sexism is wrong and has no place in the church. But I have found over the last several years a startling reality: sexism is alive and well in our women’s ministries. Outside forces are not the only ones at play. Surprisingly, we find it within our own ministries, from our own mouths, and, frighteningly, our own hearts.
Dismissing biblical characters because of their gender:
I was recently talking to one of the women who frequently leads in our women’s ministry. We were talking about a woman in the Text, and she said, “I’ve never liked studying the women of the Bible. I’ve just never identified with them.” What she was expressing is a common complaint of women in local ministries: don’t put me in a box.
Part of me resonates with this reaction. Nobody likes to feel hedged in, stereotyped, or assumed upon. And, so, on the one hand, I wanted to tell her, “Great! Resonate with Daniel and Joel and Jacob!” We can absolutely study non-female narratives in the Text, and we should be studying the Text as a whole. And if this is the end goal of those feelings, then this inclination is good and right and leads us further and further into the knowledge of God.
On the other hand, I wanted to say, “Wait a minute…There is so much to be learned from the women in the Text!” Sometimes I worry that, in a moment of irony, we reject women in the Text simply because they’re women. We look at women in the Text and either think they have nothing to teach us, or see them as a sub-plot of the overall biblical narrative.
Now, if you have attended ten conferences on Esther, and you know the book back and front, I understand and with you I will plead, “Please, let’s move on to Job.” But can you tell me how Ruth is a Christ-type? Can you tell me why she is included in the genealogy of Christ? Can you explain how Mordecai exemplified Jewish law and the character of Yahweh? And if not, then don’t turn up your nose at the study of these Texts! We have so much to learn, and it would be a shame if we, as Christian women, stereotype these biblical women with the thought that they have nothing to teach us.
Dismissing other women based on their fertility:
Our little church is full of babies. They seem to be multiplying every time I walk past the nursery door. Children are a blessing from the Lord, and when they squawk during the sermon or screech during worship, my heart is glad.
Unfortunately, there are women in our local body who cannot, at least at this point, have children. Whether they have struggled with fertility for years or have just started feeling the creeping feeling that getting pregnant will not be easy, there are women in our body burdened by the grief of infertility. It is a devastating reminder that all of creation, including our bodies, is marked by the fall and are groaning for redemption and renewal.
Their stories pain me. But when I see them excluded from women’s groups or studies expressly because they do not have children, it angers me. There is a strong current running through women’s circles in the church today that the pinnacle of biblical femininity is bearing children. Across the country there is a pervasive outcry of women in the local church who are being missed because the ministries that reach the masses are M.O.P.S. ministries and play groups. To the women who do not fit in this category, we say a quick “so sorry for your struggle,” and then head back to our circle of moms discussing which bottle nipple is the most organic.
When we see women as less a part of our women’s ministry circles and studies because they have not or cannot bear children, we wrongly define them – and our gender – by fertility. When we see women as less capable of mentoring others, less apt in leading our small groups, because they do not have children, we do the same disservice to our gender (and therefore to the body of Christ) that we accuse others of doing.
Dismissing teachers based on their gender rather than their competency:
I love conferences. The nerd that I am loves to learn from others in different areas of study, ministry, and experiences. Recently, I was talking to a local women’s director about planning a fall conference for all the women’s ministries in the area. I was dreaming of what it could look like to hear from our own women, to devote time, energy and space to growing as a group of sisters together in knowledge and worship of God.
“Who do you think would speak,” she wondered along with me. “Do you think the pastors would teach? It would be great to have at least one person really preach!” I told her that I thought it would be neat to hear from some of our women, or to bring in other local, female teachers for our imaginary event. She looked so disappointed. The assumption hiding in her statement is that women who speak will not be as gifted, as knowledgeable, as “preachy” as the men who could also be invited.
As a woman who loves to preach, and who has the same theological degree as the pastor mentioned, this hit close to home. Unfortunately, she is not alone. Many women would prefer to hear from their pastors than from their women’s ministry directors. While some ministry directors are not theologically educated (as some pastors are not), we cannot dismiss teaching as being less-than simply because the teacher is a woman. So ask yourself, Am I more eager to hear from male teachers on theological topics than an equally educated woman?
Now, it’s your turn. Have you seen sexism in your own ministry? Have you seen it in yourself? How can we, as women in the Body of Christ, be a part of making it right?
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