When he (Jesus) noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Assemblies of God drafted a Constitutional Statement in 1914 that allowed for the ordination of women as Evangelists and Missionaries, but not as Elders. This was reversed in 1935 by the General Council to allow women to be Elders and Pastors as well. In a position paper, The Role of Women in Ministry as Described in Holy Scripture (adopted by the General Presbytery in session August 9-11, 2010), support is provided by careful exegesis of scripture confirming that a woman’s call by the Holy Spirit not be restricted.
“We are aware that the ministry and leadership of women are not accepted by some individuals, both within and outside the Christian community. We condemn all prejudice and self-promotion, by men or women. The existence of bigotry against women in our world, and all too often in the church, cannot be denied. But there is not such place for such an attitude in the body of Christ…A believer’s gifts and anointing should still today make a way for his or her ministry. The Pentecostal ministry is not a profession to which men or women merely aspire; it must always be a divine calling, confirmed by the Spirit with a special gifting.”
And yet Assemblies of God statistics in 2014 show a lack of women in the ministry. For credentialed ordained Pastors there is only 14% which are women. The number drops significantly less for women being Lead Pastors as 5.1%. Overall, the percentage of female Pastors in Assemblies of God churches is 22.9%. Unfortunately, the statistics didn’t separate out the various types of Pastoral positions such as Associate Pastor, Teaching Pastor, or even how many of those women are allowed to preach.
Historically in mission work in the Assemblies of God church, women oftentimes took the most challenging and difficult placements because the men were given the more desirable mission assignments. Many times in churches female Pastors are positioned to be the Women’s programs Pastor, or over the Children’s Christian Education department by male ministry leaders. I had an interesting discussion with a male Pastor who stated that female Pastors will frequently be given the tasks of Nursing Home visitations, or other extraneous tasks that the male Pastors don’t particularly care about. Amazingly, he was frustrated over his Christian brothers’ behavior towards women in the ministry. He went on to tell me that he has seen many female Pastors who are gifted by the Holy Spirit, but not allowed to use those gifts as God intended because of the “Ole boys club” that still dominates in many churches.
“Pentecostal women who are called to ministry walk a fine and often precarious line. We, on the one hand, are not radical feminists who demand certain fights, suspicion patriarchal hierarchy as the greatest of all human evils, or refer to God, as “she” at every turn. However, on the other hand, we are not simply passive about our call to ministry. We do notice the ‘man’s world’ in which we must function, and we understand the ‘female,’ too, helps make up what we know about the image of God. We are not women who wish to displace men, nor do we view women who are not called to ministry as being any way inferior. We are women who simply and humbly ask that we be given room to be obedient to the Lord who has called us. We are certainly not the first generation of Pentecostal women who have pursued such an opportunity” (Where Do We Go From Here? Sheri R. Benvenuti).
It is clear there is a cultural problem which blocks women from fulfilling their calling from God. Sarah Sumner, PH.D writing in Men and Women in the Church states that when working as a consult for ministry leaders about the subject of Christian women in leadership she asks them, “Does a person’s view of women somehow correlate with a person’s level of Christlikeness and maturity? If so, then does a person’s view of women somehow inform the way a person reads the Bible, especially the verses about women?” The consensus is that “spiritual formation” is correlated with a person’s interpretation of scripture. “Racists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches racism. Traditionalists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches traditionalism. Chauvinists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches chauvinism. Feminists are more likely to believe the Bible teaches feminism. In every case prejudiced people produce prejudiced interpretations of God’s word.”
Christians must walk the way of discernment to truly align God’s Word with their behavior. Obviously, prejudice against women is entrenched in our culture. Just look at income statistics. In 2013 the median income earnings for full time work was $39,157 for women compared to $50,033. Almost half of these women were the primary providers, earning at least half of the overall family income. In dual-earner couples, 71% of men out-earned their wives. Even in spite of more women than ever obtaining college degrees, the men earned more at every education level (http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/womens-earnings-and-income).
If we look at the lives of most male Pastors there will be a majority of wives who didn’t work, but supported their husbands by taking care of the children and running the household so their husbands could focus on the ministry. These same men have female secretaries who take care of all the extraneous needs in running a church office. Subsequently, the male Pastors are surrounded by women who see to their various needs, and are in a submissive, supportive role. Add to that the leadership staff and other Pastors being male such that communication, personal interaction, strategizing, and planning are done male to male with very little female input. Men reinforce each other’s male bonding by their use of male oriented metaphors and activities. As men primarily work with other men, the cultural influence of prejudice towards women grows stronger. Sumner writes (p. 79), “As for men, prejudice often means not associating with women or not trusting women or dismissing them in a way that is difficult to describe, though not so difficult to discern.”
The average age of ordained AG Pastors is 59. When these Pastors were children in the 1950’s only 23% of their mothers worked outside the home (http://www.pbs.org/fmc/book/2work8.htm). So, it is quite evident there is a strong cultural influence that causes male Pastors to resist women in the ministry unless it is a pastoral role that does not allow for egalitarian interactions.
What does sex have to do with it?
I know of one woman who in her early thirties applied for a coveted position to work at an upstanding evangelical institution where she emerged as the leading candidate. A few weeks into the job search, she received an invitation to visit privately with the chair of the hiring search committee, who told her that she brought ‘too much physical beauty’ into the work environment. It wasn’t that she dressed immodestly. It was rather that she dressed more fashionably than professionally, a problem that easily could have been corrected. Even so, the Christian men found themselves unable to cope. The chair of the search committee told her what the men had said behind her back. In closed quarters, after her initial interview, he said that one man remarked to the others, ‘what are we going to do with that?” She became a ‘that,’ an object of beauty, not a sister (Susan Sumner, Men and Women in the Church, p.299).
Our society objectifies women in various ways and when men primarily are together in the workplace the respect towards women decreases and the objectifying of women increases. Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997 report “…that many women are sexually objectified and treated as an object to be valued for its use by others. SO occurs when a woman’s body or body parts is singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990). Caroline Heldman, PHD, writing in a prominent blog about SO states: “The yard stick for women’s value (sexiness) automatically puts them in a subordinate societal position, regardless of how well they measure up. Perfectly sexy women are perfectly subordinate” ((http://carolineheldman.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/).
The level of SO in Christian churches should be significantly less due to the moral teachings in the Bible, but SO research in 2003 states: “stress from SO stems from relatively stable underlying patriarchal social structures, institutions, and processes beyond the individual rather than from individual conditions or events that characterize generic stressors or biological characteristics of an individual.” So, a church that has a patriarchal structure will experience more SO which maintains and reinforces men in leadership roles and women in subordinate roles regardless of what Scripture teaches regarding men and women in the church.
Additionally, research indicates that “hegemonic masculinity” (“the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees [or it taken to guarantee] the dominant position of men and the subordination of women” Connell, 2005, p.77), is directly related to hostility and aggression towards women. Baron & Strauss, 1987; Brownmiller, 1975 explain that men who express hegemonic masculinity will expect women to submit to the roles as well. In other words, this type of masculinity expects that women will remain in a subordinate role to men.
The studies go on to explain that when women step out of the expected subordinate roles, hegemonic men are more prone to experience “gender-relevant stress” which causes them to confront women in subtle or not so subtle ways to reduce the stress and maintain the status quo of male dominance. All men will at some point experience gender-relevant stress, but the hegemonic male will have a higher risk of aggression towards women (Cowan & Mills, 2004; Malamuth et al., 1991; Malamuth et al, 1995).
Many women who have been called into the ministry including myself have been told by male pastors they are “strong.” It goes something like this, “you know, you are really a strong woman.” This is state with a subtle negative voice tone which infers they need to be more submissive. And yet every time I think of an effective female leader that I have worked under, she would be considered “strong.” To be an effective leader whether a person is a man or a woman requires a personality that displays strength.
Loving one another
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35)
What does “loving one another” really mean? In Luke 6:31: “do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” As men, you would honor a woman’s calling just as much as you want yours honored. And most of us know the well-known verse on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
A woman called by God, and gifted by the Holy Spirit is to be honored and appreciated as the gift God meant her to be to the church. God is not partial to men. He uses men or women as instruments of His perfect will. Love “…does not dishonor others.”
Mary and Martha
The Jewish culture during ancient Israel times was extremely male controlled. A woman could not participate in any of the ceremonies of the temple, and the only religious instruction they could receive would be from their husbands. They were treated harshly in the Jewish culture based primarily on the Rabbi’s teachings that women were not to be spoken to in the street, not to be instructed in the law, nor could they receive an inheritance. Also, she was required to walk six paces behind her husband and could not uncover her hair. In the home, she had very little control, and the Mishnah taught that she was considered at the same value as a Gentile slave, and could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html. Therefore, a Jewish woman was considered no more than property and was entirely dominated by her husband. Her responsibilities were completely related to her domestic duties in the house and bearing children.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘ Martha,Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Let’s go deeper into the story. Imagine the scene, the Rabbi Jesus is surrounded by followers as he is teaching, most likely all of them male. Remember the Jewish culture and its Rabbinic teaching that women are not allowed to learn from a Rabbi or be his disciple. Martha is fulfilling her role as a good Jewish woman by preparing food and serving the men. Meanwhile, Mary is listening entranced with wide eyes as Jesus teaches and slowly lowers herself to sit at his feet. Her heart is stirred, and her mind is awakened. All she can think about is learning from this amazing man. She doesn’t care that she is being given nasty looks by the men, or the pointed looks from her sister. Her heart fills with love for Jesus, and everything he teaches resonates in her soul like nothing has ever before. Martha, feeling resentful and frustrated with her sister blurts out her discontent. Jesus, our beloved radical Jesus, steps out of His culture and understands immediately the dynamic between the sisters, so comes to the defense of Mary who with a sincere, loving heart only wants to learn from this wise Rabbi.
My brothers in Christ, your sisters who have been called into the ministry are like Mary. We sit at the feet of Jesus daily, and our hearts are on fire for teaching the gospel. His Word shapes our very being, and we are being prepared to be His teachers. You see, God chooses His instruments, and those he calls to teach are learners who are continually being blessed by the Holy Spirit with wisdom and knowledge to share with His church. Jesus made a radical move out of the Jewish culture, and yet you have difficulty following God’s will by stepping out of our culture to allow the Holy Spirit to bless the church through His daughters. God never moves in a simple way. He sees the oppression of women, he sees their pain and their hurt. Most importantly, He sees their love, and their willingness to sacrifice all to follow Christ including their lives. He is raising women up to become leaders in the church so that their dignity may be restored, and they will be valued as equally as He values men. God’s incredible love shows no partiality between women and men, and His will is they work together in unity to build His Church. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
As I was sitting in my office praying about what God wanted me to teach on next, the phrase, The Banqueting Table came into my mind, and then I felt the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit creating the applicable context for this scripture. My brothers in Christ, this is a gentle, loving reminder from God; serve His daughters He has gifted, honor them as God’s beautiful gift to His church. When you position yourself higher than women, it is our loving Father in heaven who will place those women you have oppressed, and lowered in your own mind into a place of honor above yourself. As it states in Psalm 145:14, “The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.”
Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church
|Celebrant:||Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
|Celebrant:||Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?|
|People:||I will, with God’s help.|
What does it mean to “respect the dignity of every human being?” The Latin root of the word “dignity” is a noun, “dignus” which means “worth.” We are created by God to be valued, we all have worth. Any time we don’t love another person fully because they are a woman, another race, another social economic level, etc we are not loving at all. Not loving fully is perceiving yourself as being better than another person. Not loving fully is not being willing to lift that person up, to make sacrifices for them, to give all that you can to provide for a need they may have. In the context of women being called to the ministry, loving fully means male Pastors will come alongside women to fulfill God’s calling on their life.