Weary of the Gender Wars
I grew up in the faith while "Onward Christian Soldiers" was still regularly sung at church. However, due to the Viet Nam War, it lost its appeal as we were bombarded with the images of war on the nightly news. I learned very quickly that war is costly: two members of my church youth group were killed within months of each other.
Then, through my reading of Scripture and the teaching I sat under, I came to understand that when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I entered a spiritual war against the forces of evil. I could expect persecution and rejection on many different levels. I accepted this as part of the cost of following the Lord Jesus. What I didn't know then, and would not come to understand until years later, was I also had been conscripted into a battle within the church that has now come to be known as the "Gender Wars," the women-in-ministry debate.
In the June 2008 issue of Christianity Today (GFL's sister publication), a pair of articles were published under the title, "Wounds of a Friend," one addressing complimentarians ; the other, egalitarians. Because I am in vocational ministry, these articles drew my attention---either because of a sadistic curiosity to see what's being said about women like me or an eternal hope that perhaps the discussion might change.
I was surprised when I found myself somewhat encouraged by the article directed at complimentarians, but was disappointed at what the egalitarian representative wrote. Sadly, the discussion has not changed and in many ways it seems that now both sides are reaching in ridiculous directions to make their arguments fresh and new when in fact the discussion is old and tiring.
The trouble with these debates between members of the academy is they have no basis in reality. As a ministry practitioner, I do not look to the current political liberal thought, as was suggested in one of the articles, to determine where my place is in ministry, although there are those who presume I do because of my gender. The Lord God, not some current thought, determined my place when he called me apart to serve him. I'll stand with Paul on that. (See Galatians 1:15,16.)
Reality for most women in ministry also does not speak of "rights." We serve because we cannot do otherwise. I mean: who would willingly place themselves in a position of being targeted at every turn without being compelled to do so by their desire to serve the Lord God? But the academy continues to keep the war going through a debate that is far from the reality of most women in vocational ministry.
Personally, the women-in-ministry debate became a reality during my second theology course in seminary. We were discussing the Doctrine of the Church when my professor stated with great authority that women should not be involved in passing on the faith. I couldn't believe what I heard. So in a moment of reacting rather than a thoughtful response, I asked him to repeat his statement. He repeated exactly what I had heard: women should not be involved. That statement led to a 30-minute "discussion" in class with this man who had shared just two weeks earlier that his grandmother had led him to faith. I stood at one point to be face to face with him, and he merely stepped to one side and spoke to the men who were sitting behind me. I sat down at that point and had the first taste of many more similar situations to come. I had been fully conscripted into an unwanted and previously unknown war.
Ten years after that first introduction to the gender debate, I'm tired of the discussion. I'm tired of being cautious around ministry staff that I do not know, not trusting how they'll receive me. I'm tired of having to justify the call God has placed on my life to serve him in a pastoral role. I'm tired of having my gifts denied, often buried, because I am made in God's image as a woman and not as a man. I'm tired of church boards who send young women into war-torn Sudan, but tell that same woman she cannot serve with them on the board. I'm tired of being boxed into a certain theological camp based solely on my gender and not on any discussion with me.
I had the privilege of serving under the ministry of a world-renowned pastor for 25 years. We talked many times about this debate and our conversations helped me through those first rough times of attack. I asked him once why he didn't speak out for women in ministry because he was so clearly supportive. His response surprised me. He told me he didn't want to be marked by the issue, as many others had been; rather, he wanted to be known to preach Christ and quietly address divisive issues through example. I wish I had that luxury because whether I like it or not, the "gender war" follows me everywhere.
If the church is going to be about the work of the Kingdom, the war has to stop. God has, does, and will continue to call faithful women and men to serve him in many different capacities: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). A kingdom, or church, divided against herself will never stand. One of the Gender War articles noted, "when God calls a woman to step forward she is to step forward, regardless of how others respond" (CT, June 2008, P.41). I do agree with this statement and as long as the Lord allows, I will continue to serve him. That's reality.