Jehan is a good friend of mine and also writes for Sunday Everyday from time to time. This is the first of a series on Women in Leadership. Each can be read independently but this introduction sets up the examples of biblical women in leadership for the following weeks.
Dr Jehan Loza is the Research Director of Social Compass and its original Founder. She holds a PhD in Sociology (Deakin University), a Masters of Vocational Practice – Church Practice at Tabor and has nearly 25 years experience undertaking qualitative evaluation and research with a range of stakeholders both in Australia and internationally.
Jehan has worked across diverse cultural and geographical contexts including with Indigenous communities. She has intimate knowledge of community and organisational capacity building processes and has applied this knowledge both practically and theoretically in her work.
Women in Leadership by Dr Jehan Loza
The question of women serving as Christian leaders is old, yet the debates continue to rage.
In the USA not only are denominations caught up in this debate (particularly over women’s ordination), but the issue of women’s roles in the church, overall, envelopes evangelism; and divisions remain at every level of the evangelical community, including across denominations, seminaries, and local congregations (Grenz 1995).
Grenz (1995) notes that, in the late 1980’s, polarization of this issue took on organizational dimensions with the establishment of two competing coalitions – Christians for Biblical Equality and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood posited that the Bible prohibits women from occupy public ministry roles, while Christians for Biblical Equality argued that, regardless of gender, God calls gifted persons into all aspects of public ministry. Therefore at the centre of the debate lies the question of male leadership versus shared leadership.
Taking a gender equality perspective, women in church leadership mirrors the wider mainstream public/private dualism (and subsequent dualisms).
Such dualisms are social constructions that favor men’s agency over women’s and which the Church, as an institution led by men, has accepted, even promoted for its own political and social agenda.
Judge Deborah and Priscilla are used as Biblical case studies to demonstrate that throughout history women have indeed occupied (influential) public ministry roles. While this in itself should be evidence enough to end that debate, I will argue that even in the sites of their ‘oppression’ – on the other side of the dualism (for example as mothers and home-makers) – women are active and empowered agents, who have used those sites powerfully and as leaders to create history, nations and entire movements.
In an attempt to do away with dualisms, leadership, as God ordained it, should be based on a co-ministry model where women form an integral part; not as mere supporters of men’s leading, but as equal contributors to God’s kingdom work.
Using my personal context, I share my journey towards co-ministry with my husband and some of the ways we have negotiated (at least tried to negotiate) the complexities and challenges associated with this. I conclude with a revisit of Genesis 1:26 to argue that, until men and women co-lead, as one, ‘Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven’ will remain very much an elusive theological ideal.
Accordingly, the emerging question is:
What is leadership as exemplified by God and how can this be applied in the church to allow women to fully participate in God’s kingdom work?
Questioning Silences, Claiming our futures
When reading the Bible or typical literature on the Bible, the voices of female biblical characters, are on the whole, absent or at best, heard as whispers alongside their more vocal male counterparts. When they do emerge, women like Hannah, Ruth, Sarah, Mary, Rahab, even Jezebeel, appear in supporting roles to their male counterparts in stories heard and taught from a male perspective. Those supporting the view of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would not disagree with this statement. In fact, they are likely to go further and argue, as Piper and Grudem (2006) do, that God’s gift of complementary manhood and womanhood is designed hierarchically and calls for such an interpretation. These authors argue that, within this model of relationship, man is head of woman and, drawing on several biblical verses (notably Tim 2:11-15, Cor 14:34-36, 11:2-16, Eph 5:21-24), argue that a woman’s role is to take backstage by submitting to her husband:
Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts (Piper and Grudem 2006:56).
These gifts, according to Piper and Grudem, are in a woman’s disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and in her inclination to follow his leadership. The authors are adamant that it is men who bear the primary responsibility for Christlike leadership and teaching in the church. Women have a minor and supporting role. Anything else, they argue, is both unbiblical and detrimental to the church.
Feminist writings, in general, and of the Bible in particular, have revealed alternative interpretations. Mainstream feminists would argue that authors such as Piper and Grudem mirror a wider theoretical debate on the position of women with respect to the public/private dualism (and subsequent dualisms that hinge of this). Such dualisms are social constructions that favor men’s agency over women’s; relegating women to the private sphere and men to the public sphere (Manne 2005, Sinclair 2005).
The theory of dualisms was first proposed by Greek philosopher Plato (427-327 B.C), who claimed that everything in the cosmos had an equal but opposite partner. His theory shaped the way women were viewed, and mostly not to their advantage. Within this epistemological framework, woman became relegated to those categories connoting negativity and submission, while man was assigned the more privileged, powerful, positive category. He became associated with the public sphere, the domain of civilization, reason, logic and creation. Woman was relegated to the private sphere as the homemaker and child bearer. She was assigned to that which is closer to the natural/animal world and by ‘nature’ became man’s negative counterpart: irrational, unpredictable and untrustworthy; ultimately, unqualified to make the type of rational decision required to govern her life. Man with his pursuit of rationality, reserved for the public sphere, was to look after and control woman.
Unfortunately, the Church, as an institution led by men, has accepted, and even capitalized on this thinking for its own political and social agenda; silencing women and excluding them from full participation within church structures (Grady 2000; James 2011). The church has called this a Biblical reading and revelation of Truth. Others, however, might suggest it is but a mere reflection of ideologies and practices created, in the first place, by the wider society and culture and as a result of the fall.
Those supporting the view of Christians for Biblical Equality reveal an alternative Biblical reading of women and the public sphere. These writers argue that the gifts and calling of the Spirit are attributed without gender bias since all believers of Christ stand on an equal footing before God. These writers disagree that the Bible grants spiritual authority to men over and above women and deny that the Bible grants men other privileges while denying them to women (James 2011, Oleson 2009, Groothuis 2005).
Using exegesis, hermeneutics and other methods (such as socio-historical and archaeological methods), these writers reclaim the Biblical right of women as leaders and as equal to men. And conclude that “gender has no bearing on a person’s fitness to represent or speak for God” (Groothuis 2005:2). Indeed, a feminist reading reveals female Biblical leaders who often acted in very public roles. I would propose to go further with this view; to demonstrate that, as God’s image bearers, both men and women are equipped for leadership and as image bearers of the Triune God, anything less than an equal relationship between the sexes is in fact unbiblical.
Featured Image by Artist Carolyn O’Neill http://www.carolynoneill.com.au
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Ackerman, S., (2003), ‘Digging up Deborah: Recent Hebrew Bible Scholarship on Gender and the Contribution of Archaeology’, Near Eastern Archaeology 66:4.
Belleville, L., (2005), ‘Women Leaders in the Bible’, In Pierce, R., and Groothuis, M., (eds), Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, IVP Academic, Downers Grove IL.
Berk, S., (1985), The Gender Factory: The Appointment of Work in American Households, Plenum Press, New York.
Bittman, M., and Pixzley, J., (1997), ‘Gender and the household: Division of Labour’, Bittman. M., and Pixzley, J., (eds), The Double Life of the Family, Allen and Unwin, NZW.
Bronner, E., and Nimrod, N., (1977), ‘A Woman’s Passover Haggadah’, Ms., April.
Brown, C., (1992), No Longer Be Silent: First Century Jewish Portraits of Biblical Women, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville.
Espiritu, Y., (2000), ‘“We don’t Sleep Around Like White Girls Do”: Family, Culture and Gender in Filipina American Lives’, Signs, Winter 26:i2.
Essortment, ‘The Old Testament, Deborah the Judge’, http://www.essortment.com/old-testament-deborah-judge-44017.html.
Giles, K., (1992),”House-Church Leadership and the Rise of the Monarchical Bishop” in Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians, Collins Dove Publishers, Sydney.
Grady, J.L., (2000), 10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible has been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage, Charisma House, Florida.
Grady, J.L., (2003) 25 Tough Questions about women and the church, Charisma House, Florida
Grenz, S., (1995), Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, Intervarsity Press, Illinois.
Groothuis, R., (2005), ‘The Bible and Gender Equality’, represented from Christians for Biblical Equality website, www.cbeinternational.org
Huber, J., and Spitz, (1983), Sex Stratification: Children, Housework, and Jobs, Academic Press, New York.
Hurley, J., (1981), Man and Woman on Biblical Perspective Intervarsity Press, Illinois.
James, C., (2011), Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, Zondervan, Michigan.
Karssen, G., (1977), Her Name is Woman, Book Two: 25 Women of the Bible, Navpress, Colorado.
Keller, M., (2010), Priscilla and Aquila: Paul’s Coworkers in Christ Jesus, Liturgical Press, Minnesota.
Lewis, E., Adeney, W., Milligan, G., Rowlands, D., Simpson, C., (1904), Women of the Bible: Rebekah to Priscilla, James Robinson, Manchester.
Manne, A., (2005), ‘Motherhood and the Spirit of the New Capitalism’, Arena, No. 24.
Oleson, A., (2009), God’s Women Then and Now, November 30, www.agts.edu/…/Oleson,%20A%20%20-…
Piper, J., Grudem, W., (2006), ‘An Overview of Central Concerns: Questions and Answers’, Recovery of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, Crossway Publishing, Illinois.
Scott, S., (2004), Journeying through Acts: A Literary-Cultural Reading, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.
Sinclair, J., (2005), ‘Motherhood and the Temporal Logic of the Modern’, Arena, No. 24.