Saturday, May 8, 2010

A woman's way

Reading through early Pentecostal history, I was struck by the pattern of how women were ousted from leadership roles, rather than praised for effective ministry. The women kept working as best they could while men fought for and hung onto titles of power and kept authority squarely between them and male colleagues.

Historians say that one way women gave away their power was by allowing the assimilation of women's organizations with male-run ministries. Women believed the male leadership's promises of ongoing partnership. However, leadership styles were very different between men and women: "The women's methods of leadership evolved in direct contrast to the authoritarian style demanded by the nature of [male] episcopal polity: hierarchical, individualistic, and dominating. In comparison, women's leadership tends to be consensus oriented, collective, and more inclusive, involving larger numbers of people in decision making." (History of Women in the Pentecostal Movement, Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, 1996) By being inclusive, collective, and consensus oriented, women were viewed as weak and incapable of authority within religious institutions led by men.

One church leader around 1914, with a wife who was a better preacher, leader, and evangelist than he, apparently with a bee in his bonnet, remarked that women were emotional and not rational so they should be barred from ministry leadership. That was his entire "logical" and authoritative argument against having women ordained and on the board of that denomination. No proof. No examples of emotionalism. Just one noisy man's view of women as "emotional" and "incapable." (In case you're wondering, his wife was not at the meeting.)

Mr. S's irrational, emotional generalization, spoken in commanding tones that brooked no argument, shaped denominational policy that restricted women from fully realizing God's call for decades. Upon the foundation of this one male's "logical" reasoning and the herd mentality of his fellow board members, women were barred from ordination and holding leadership roles - and not only in this man's denomination. Other early Pentecostal men took note and refused women ordination or ministry posts. Women were welcome to work their fingers off (especially if there were no men to do the messy work), but only men could be given the titles to match these women's job descriptions. Often, after women had successfully pioneered a church or region, a man would be sent to officially pastor the church.

Today, watching the glowing faces of the women graduating from NU, I'm wondering if access to ministry and responsibility will ever be as equal as the New Testament offers. Plain-speaking, hard-hitting behavior from men is called "knowing your mind" and "being a visionary leader." Such direct women are usually viewed as "bossy" or "controlling," "intimidating" or "unfeminine." I heard two accolades this year, men honoring wonderful, godly women who achieved and succeeded in leadership roles. Both men said the women were "never pushy," but knew how to make their point in a quiet and gentle way. I've rarely heard male leaders described this way in a positive light.

Watching the young women cross the stage with their degrees today, I wondered if their friends, young males who will clamber up the hierarchical ladders of ministry, will allow them an equal seat at the table. Will an old-boys' network prevail, as it historically does?

I believe in politeness and good manners. But what I read about historical Pentecostals made me kinda sad. Emotional even, as I tried to discern logic behind the boardroom's ego barricade. Women historically lost their power because they worked very hard to "be nice" and share influence without making men feel uncomfortable. At some point, one or two dominant / insecure males would sway a committee of men to exclude women. It happened every time... as soon as revival died and institutionalism began to take over.

I wish for our young women an ongoing revival, not legislation of pseudo-equality, but the Spirit of Jesus that calls and empowers each of us for ministry and service. Whether male or female.

Read more:
*Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him,   because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, just as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22 NIV

*Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 NIV

*Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

1 comment:

  1. Yes! It's sad that this mentality lives on today in so many Christian circles and despite the contrary evidence. Women in ministry haven't just taken the backseat by choice--they were forced there. If they spoke up, they were called pushy or emotional and forced out. If they didn't speak up, they were passed over and all assumed that they "wanted" men to lead. It is sad and there is no quick fix, but women could do more to speak up and say, "No, I will not be silenced!" I think the church is in great need for another renaissance--a renaissance of equality. We're on our way but I fear it won't happen soon enough...