Four nights ago I was driving in a van through the Zona Norte section of Tijuana, Mexico. This is the”red light” district, complete with dark back alleys, girls on every corner, and men shopping for whatever entertainment is offered. Street after street reminded me of the heartbreak surrounding the treatment of women around the world. Over the next few days I would meet women who had been sold into prostitution or just plain seduced into servitude. Encounters like these have shaped the way I define words like oppression and power.
You might consider me a feminist. Years of study in academic philosophy told me that feminism is simply for the equality of women and against the oppression of women. Of course, equal pay for equal work, educational opportunity and protection from harm seemed obvious. Why wouldn’t someone identify as a feminist with these kinds of definitions?
Then I was introduced to a kind of feminism that screamed at high decibels in affluent western countries. This brand of feminism was angry and carried an odd mixture of jealousy toward men while sporting a superiority complex. This brand of feminism didn’t empower me to be woman, it simply told me to be a man because we don’t need them, as if an entire gender was expendable.
A Female Pastor
Now as a wife, mother, Christ-follower and “pastor” I get the question all the time. “What are you as a woman allowed to do?” There is a subtle insinuation in the question. Hasn’t the Christian church so oppressed women that your role can never exceed childbearing, cooking or knitting, because we know there is no power in these things? Aren’t you told to submit to a man? Does your boss really value your contribution?
I love these conversations and I wish the Christian church had more of them. It is here that we learn the heart of Jesus. As a Christian, I have more ground to defend oppressed woman than any other worldview. We have a God who made male and female to bear His image, with all the dignity and worth that goes along with that image. (Genesis 1:26) How we treat people comes from our view of creation. He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker. (Proverbs 17:5).
Much like a Monet or Picasso painting, we are priceless not because of our usefulness, but because of our Maker.
It is still a wonder to me how one can reject the notion of God and yet cry foul when people are oppressed. In a world without God, the oppressed are just too weak to defend themselves. The lion doesn’t feel guilty for eating the bunny rabbit. It is simply the natural order of things. Without God, the natural order rules and there is nothing morally wrong with the powerful winning.
Even with a high view of human value and dignity, we must admit that some Christian churches have a poor track record for the treatment of women. I have been encouraged by men, objectified by men, patronized by men and empowered by men. How do we make any sense of such confusing messages and a culture that is slipping into further decay with each passing day?
Asking the Right Question
May I suggest that we are asking the wrong question. God does not ask me to respond to all the world, just my little piece of it. How then does God ask me to live as a woman in my world? I am called to ask a better question.
“How can I, uniquely gifted as a woman, be for the good of those around me?”
It is not about how much power I can have, but about how much I can serve those around me.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:1-7)
This passage is not for the faint of heart. Why should I submit myself to the good of someone else when they are no better than me? Because Jesus did. He, although being God himself, took on service, humility and yes… submission. An outflow of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is our ability to submit ourselves on the altar of someone else’s good. (Ephesians 5:18-21) This mutual submission, from men and women, reflects the humility of the cross of Christ.
Over the years I have seen women who fall into bitterness and hate the men around them. These same women long for marriage. I don’t know how we can expect to hate men and love any one of them very well.
What does this look like everyday? I don’t need to fight for some misguided attempt to be a man. I am not a man. God has a much more feminine approach to my calling. As a created female, I have immense power to inspire the men around me to be what God calls them to be. This doesn’t mean I am silenced or kept from using my gifts. This means that I have no right to bemoan the passivity of men and then trample on them with my competencies.
As men, my husband and the elders of my church bear a leadership and responsibility that God would not have me lift from them. They rightly feel the weight of being for my good in ways that are different than my weight. I am for their good. They are for mine. This is the heart of Christ. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
Finally, deep in our hearts we may be tempted to seek the safety of power in order to take care of ourselves. Who will look out for you? That’s God’s job. If power is your main goal you are the last person who should lead.
Ironically, I have worked with those who long for power. It looks ugly on both men and women. I have worked in academia, smaller organizations, and corporate structure. I find myself now in a work environment with men who feel the weight of being for my good while empowering me to be all that God has made me. Funny that it’s an evangelical church. And that is saying something.