WORKSHOPGENDER EQUALITY IN CHURCH

     I am available to conduct workshops to assist churches in shifting from a traditional patriarchal         leadership structure to one that recognizes gender equality, and to embrace this as part of the             church’s message and mission. The workshop includes overhead visual aids, handouts, group           discussion, and critical study of biblical texts. Below is an outline of the contents.

First Session- Patriarchy as a Cultural  Paradigm

  • Every culture in antiquity was patriarchal, meaning dominated and ruled by males (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Judaism, Greece, and Rome).
  • The origin of gender roles and patriarchy is debated but no doubt linked to the male tendency to dominate (T-Rex principle). Throughout history, mythology and religion have served to explain, defend, and promote patriarchy, aided by various social structures, laws and mores.
  • Patriarchal cultures provide the backdrop for the New Testament and the early church (the first century Greco-Roman world) 
  • Many modern cultures maintain patriarchy, based on ancient social and religious tradition (the Muslim world and various undeveloped cultures). In some such cultures the abuse of women is defended, based on ancient norms and practices.
  • Among Christians, the source for patriarchy (and female subordination) is primarily the Genesis myth and seven key New Testament texts.
  • Despite social advancements for women in many parts of the world, the majority of Christians (and church denominations) still hold to the traditional patriarchal model (in which the male is head of the home, and females are subordinate in home and church).

Second Session- Biblical Counter-view

  • For Christians, despite biblical and traditional backgrounds, there is no sound theological basis for the subordination of women.
  • Jesus demonstrated a greater value for women than was typical in his day, and the spirit of his teaching was opposed to social and class domination, slavery, female subordination, exploitation of the weak, and other such abuses of power.
  • The early church provides evidence of greater freedom for women than was common, including positions of leadership, although there is evidence in contemporary culture of some degree of awakening to greater freedom for women.
  • Within a few decades after the church was born, there occurred a reversion to patriarchal teachings in the writing of some key teachers. This is seen in seven New Testament texts that have been the backbone of patriarchy in Christian tradition, along with the Adam and Eve legend in the Hebrew Bible.
  • The reasons for these teachings were soon forgotten, but for succeeding generations they became an authoritative blueprint for gender roles and hierarchy.

Third Session-Survey of Awakening

  • Woman’s Suffrage and the Anti-slavery Movement in America during the 1800s led to a social recognition of the wrong in female subordination, but was resisted by Christian clergy based on tradition and scripture.
  • The Modern Feminist Movement has unfolded in several phases, each motivated by specific social needs and interests. The more recent phases have been academic and theological, addressing the injustice of female subordination as well as the theological dilemma it poses.
  • These movements have helped to elevate the social status of women and provide equal opportunities for women and nearly every field of endeavor.
  • Some church denominations have also responded by embracing gender equality and the ordination of women.
  • However, resistance to change is strong and issues and conflicts are deep-rooted. The position of academics on this issue, and courses in seminary, have not been successful in changing the official position of most churches, nor the traditional male bias and gender roles in homes.
  • Religion continues to be the primary factor in defending patriarchy and upholding female subordination.

Fourth Session- Strategy for Change

  • Shifting beliefs on gender status requires first a shift in thinking on biblical inspiration and authority. This is not as radical or compromising as it may seem. Such shifts have been made in most churches already on various issues (slavery, racism, doctrinal legalism, sectarianism, dress and hair style) by accepting that the biblical writers spoke on these issues within a cultural context.
  • The solution cannot be sought in reinterpreting New Testament texts to remove tension, at the expense of academic honesty. Texts on subordination of women must be recognized as reflections of ancient cultural norms, but cannot be taken as divine mandates.
  • Churches willing to change must also address related problems, such as the patronizing approach to gender bias, old-boys clubs, misguided textual exegesis, resentment and bitterness, suspicion, fear of change, etc.
  • Churches willing to change should formulate an action plan that involves a direct and meaningful strategy, facing theological shifts, persuading men to give up dominance and share leadership, nurturing partnership between men and women, resolving resentment, and the appointment of women to equal (not token) positions of service and leadership.
  • This will involve several steps, including large and small group interaction to air and resolve grievances, and to develop sensitivity, respect, and mutual appreciation between genders for what each contributes to leadership (vision, insight, strategic planning, and implementation).
  • It will also require training both men and women in effective church leadership without gender bias.
Painting Babylonian Marriage Market  by Edwin Long,  1875