Tuesday, May 6, 2008

women in leadership (most likely part 1)

Google Reader is a Godsend. Just thought I should start out with that, because had I not finally given into trying it out, I may never have found a community of bloggers that think and write about the things I have such a hard time putting into words.

Yesterday I found Janell Paris' blog discussing her thoughts on women in leadership in the emerging church discussion. Well that's my very broad synopsis on the post, and I probably give it very little justice so you should probably just read it for yourself here.

Lately I've found myself wrestling with all that is women and their role in the church. Not that I haven't always questioned the existence (or lack there of) of a female presence in church leadership, but as I grow in my relationship with God and do my best to discern His Will for my life I can't help but struggle with feeling limited. Most of the limitations are mental, and have much more to do with where I'm at spiritually and emotionally, but I do need to acknowledge that some of these limitations come from the cultural context of a male dominated (patriarchal) society.

As far as where I've stood in the past with women in leadership in the church, I've pretty much held every view, and I'm still trying to figure out what on earth I think. My current stance on the issue has been greatly influenced by my amazingly liberal and secular schooling from San Francisco State University.... the (sadly unrecognized) birth place of many a protest and social/educational movements, as well as my current involvement with The Salvation Army (seen by most, who actually know it as a denomination, as a place that is accepting and even encouraging of women leadership). I suppose you could say that my schooling primed me for relearning that women are capable leaders, and The Salvation Army showed how that could be done in the church. The Army also revealed that, while women can be accepted as leadership, it's a hard road to travel down, and you continually have to push to have equal footing. That pushing often results in undeserved stress and backlash - I have a feeling this applies to most settings, not simply in the settings I've seen it in.

My most current round of conversations on women in leadership have been with a good friend of mine, Matt. We happened to be co-leaders for an InterVarsity Bible study during college, and he is now engaged to a friend of mine. Surprisingly, the topic of women in leadership didn't come up until last fall when I visited his church's young adult group with Emily (his fiance). Turns out they were going through the book of 1 Timothy, and not by anything but divine appointment it happened to be the week they were talking about Chapter 2. While the person speaking had managed to sidestep the hot button verse, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." By focusing the lesson on men needing to step up (frankly I was a little miffed because the whole thing was directed to the male audience when the majority of his audience was women). Needless to say the first thing I asked Emily (Matt's fiance) after the closing prayer was "Where does Matt stand on all of this?" Emily was raised in the Lutheran church so women in leadership was normal for her. She assured me that Matt was open to women on leadership... and so began the conversation.

Over lunch last weekend, I caught Matt up to speed with all the changes in my life. I expressed how much discouragement and condemnation I had felt and received, much of which had ultimately pushed me to make the decision to leave my current church. None of the discouragement I had felt, at face value had to do with being a woman, but I think some of it might have been rooted there. He shared with me his frustration at people in the church not encouraging each other out of fear that the person receiving encouragement might become prideful. He also said something along the lines of women getting an even shorter end of the stick in regards to encouragement, because in so many settings, their roles are restricted. We mutually agreed that it was our responsibility to continually encourage others and let them decided whether they should be prideful about it. I know that I left lunch that afternoon, feeling lighter than I had coming into it.

To Be Continued...

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