gender equality

There, But Not Here: Bible and Culture in Conflict

“They offered me the role of pastor at my church,” my friend told me with a smile. Originally from South America, she had been serving as a missionary for many years in the Balkans. Continuing with a touch of resignation, she added, “but back home, when I started a vibrant church plant with my friend, the denomination took it over because it needed a male pastor.”

These stories are not uncommon. Women are sent into mission by churches who support them prayerfully and financially. They are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. They are received back into silence and submission. As long as they preach and teach away from home, it is not a problem. As soon as they come back, it is. Women are equal ‘there’, but not ‘here’.

I am not sure why this is the case. Maybe there is some sort of cultural superiority at play. Things apply differently to ‘them’ than to ‘us’. Maybe there are not enough men to go, so we compromise and let women do the job. Maybe it does not matter, as long as we are not seeing it. Maybe we have never thought about it.

Complementarians often point to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 to bolster their position that women should not be allowed to teach. In it Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” They assert that Paul’s instruction to Timothy was trans-cultural, and so should be applied in a similar way today, even though our context is different.

But the apparent double standard between a woman’s permissions at home versus in mission sends a confusing message. Are women really equal with men? Or are they not? Are women really permitted to engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men? Or are they not? It seems to me that if Paul’s exhortation was truly trans-cultural, then it would apply as equally in mission as it does at home.

A pastor once told me, “we’ll just call it a missional encouragement, not a sermon. That way no one will get upset.” I had taught and preached in a variety of settings around the world as a missionary, but at home, it was different. The inconsistency in application leads me to believe the real issue is our culture and comfort levels, not Biblical adherence. For whatever reason, people are not comfortable with women in positions of influence and authority, so we limit when and where it can happen. If it were anything else, would mere semantics put us at ease?

Either Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 are trans-cultural, or they are not. Either women can engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men, or they cannot. Either women are equal to men, or they are not. We cannot pick and choose in which geographic location Scripture applies.

God is using women in mission around the world. Many are hearing about Christ for the first time because of women. Churches are being planted because of women. Relief and development projects are thriving because of women. Justice is happening because of women. If it is okay ‘there’, but not ‘here’, ‘here’ is what is missing out. Women will always take advantage of opportunities and serve God however they can. Let us clarify our message: women, you are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. Everywhere.

Get Tired, Maybe Something Will Change

I’m tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t wear,

Because men abdicated responsibility for their impulse control.

I’m tired of men debating what I can or cannot do,

Because somehow deciding my life is their role.

I’m tired of asking to be included.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard.

I’m tired of job and pay inequity.

I’m tired of hearing about girls denied an education and forced into child marriage.

I’m tired of women being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, simply because they are women.

I’m tired of rape victims being asked what they were wearing,

Because their assault is thought to be deserved or desired.

I’m tired of gender stereotypes dictating how we live our lives,

Because maintaining boxes is more important than allowing freedom to live according to passions, gifts, and callings.

I’m tired of feminism being considered a dirty word.

I’m tired of men trying to convince me my tiredness is irrational.

I’m tired of a lot of things.

Maybe if more of us were tired things would change.


Everyday Gender Justice

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the immensity of the gender justice topic. I mean, really, what can I do about individual and systemic gender injustice around the world? Perhaps you’ve felt the same way. Regardless, being overwhelmed is not an excuse to be uninformed and uninvolved. Instead, we need to find ways to integrate gender justice in our everyday, waking up, going to work, eating, sleeping, and socializing life.

That’s why I wrote an article all about it for the Sophia Network, a UK-based organization that advocates for gender justice in the church through raising awareness and developing and resourcing female leaders. You may recall a previous article entitled ‘Is Jesus a Feminist?’ that I wrote for them as well. So, why not grab a wee cuppa tea and get inspired to do gender justice in your everyday here. Enjoy!

[ If the link doesn’t work, copy and paste this into your browser: ]

Why I Need Feminism, and the Church Does Too

Some time ago, I engaged in a social media comment exchange with a particular person who argued that we did not need feminism, because gender equality already existed, at least in most Western countries. The exchange was short. I could not deal with the ignorance that oozed from his words.

So, in honour of the man that will remain nameless, here is the beginning of a list of reasons as to why I need feminism.

  • Because people somehow think gender equality exists
  • Because female objectification still exists
  • Because women who have been raped are asked what they were wearing, as if somehow being raped was their fault
  • Because I’m tired of being told that I should be careful how outspoken I am for gender equality, as men don’t want to marry a woman like that. After all, women are, by nature, gentle, nice, and submissive, right?
  • Because people scoff when I speak up for gender inclusive language
  • Because feminism is treated like a joke
  • Because men who are sensitive and nurturing are thought of as less manly, and women who are strong and outspoken are thought of as bossy and aggressive

After considering why I needed feminism, I started to think about the [Christian] church. Does the church need feminism? Ultimately, I believe the church needs Jesus, not a human construct. But I still believe it’s a helpful construct to consider. Here are my reasons why the church needs feminism.

  • Because Jesus is a feminist (See my article here)
  • Because the female leaders in the Bible are said to be an exception. Or used because God couldn’t find a suitable man. Or that they were going against God’s plan. In reality, they are people who responded to God’s call and used their gifts.
  • Because we still treat the part of the curse that refers to female subordination as prescriptive and not descriptive
  • Because we treat gender roles that originate in culture as Biblical, and therefore unquestionable.
  • Because gender dictates service opportunities more than gifting and calling
  • Because women are told to endure abuse due to the need to “submit to their husbands” (See, for example, John Piper in this YouTube video)
  • Because there are double standards. For example, women doing the same role as men have a lower title or less pay just because of their gender. Or women who are allowed to preach are told they are giving a talk, not a sermon.
  • Because we still use strongly androcentric language that excludes women
  • Because people need to hear about Jesus and we need to use everyone we can to their best ability, regardless of gender

These lists, of course, are just a start. There are many more reasons why you, the church, and I need feminism. What would you add?

Semantics and Gender Equality: When it Really IS a BIG DEAL

I never used to notice it, and if I did, I thought it was a rather inconsequential detail. “It’s not a big deal,” I would’ve said, complete with an exasperated sigh and eye roll to signify my time being wasted on trivial matters.

Actually, though, it was a big deal, and it still is. What is it? The androcentric nature of the English language.

Androcentric (male-centred or dominated) language is evident in many ways. Here are just a few examples…

  • Using words like ‘man’, ‘men’, or ‘mankind’ to supposedly include women and/or all humanity
  • Using male pronouns such as ‘he’ or ‘him’ to supposedly include both genders
  • Saying ‘man and wife’ at a wedding, instead of ‘husband and wife’ [speaking of which, this is a good example of ‘focus fronting’ – the tendency to put the male first]
  • Words and phrases like ‘fireman’, ‘policeman’, ‘chairman’, ‘middle man’, ‘man down’, or ‘businessman’ to refer to both women and men

Have you noticed this in your circles? Or perhaps even in your own speech? You can probably think of loads of these occurrences and more if you give it a moment or two.

But why is this such a big deal? Isn’t it just a few inconsequential words? Shouldn’t I (and others) just understand that ‘it is meant to include women too’?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that language actually functions as a way of defining experience and shaping the worldview of its speakers. This means that language is much more than words. It can expand or limit your worldview. It can include or exclude. It expresses who you are and what you believe. So, when I observe the androcentricity of the English language, I see a symptom of a much more fundamental problem: a deeply rooted gender inequality.

So, what can we do? I believe it is important to not just define a problem, but also propose a solution. Critiques must be matched with vision and practical suggestions for change, otherwise it’s just complaining. Here are some of my suggestions (feel free to comment with your own as well):

  • Be inclusive in our own language. Use words like ‘people’, ‘humankind’, ‘humanity’ and others that include rather than exclude.
  • Speak up. Language will not change magically or if only a few people do something. When you notice language that excludes men or women, say something. Call it out.
  • Dig Deep. Language is powerful, but suggests a deeper belief system. How do you believe and act for greater gender equality in your world in all areas?

As always, remember this: “Patient persistence pierces through indifference; gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses.” Proverbs 25:15