You know that moment when you take courage and you do something you know you’re supposed to do, but the results are disappointing? In these moments we have a choice to give up, or to get stronger.
My most recent opportunity to gain strength occurred after I sent a letter to a pastor asking him to take a look into the Greek word Diakonos referenced in the New Testament. My issue is Paul uses this word to describe his ministry (Eph 3:7) and then goes on to use the exact same word to describe Phoebe’s work in the church at Cenchrae (Rom 16:1). But the translation for Paul’s work is ministry, and for Phoebe’s work, servant. This inaccurate translation has kept women from leadership in churches for centuries.
Do I believe some women are called to be pastors in our churches? Yes, I do.
Do I believe women and men have different roles? Yes, I do. To use a Missy Elliott phrase, I believe men and women put their things down and “flip it and reverse it” throughout life. This probably isn’t the original way Elliott intended her words to be used, but it’s applicable.
Regardless of what I think and what I believe both the Old and New Testaments say, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m not a decision maker.
I was reminded of this when I received a letter back from the pastor I mentioned. His response was filled with rigid Complementariness views.
The big “C” word came after me three years ago. We had a family over for dinner. We served them. Following the meal, the man had a topic fresh on his mind. Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism. This is where I confess I didn’t know what these terms meant.
He had no problem explaining the definitions. Egalitarians believe women can hold leadership positions in the church, he said, while complementarianists believe under no circumstances can women be ministers, pastors, or deacons. He was a complementarianist, he told me proudly.
When I refused to fall on either side, I was called an egalitarian. My problem with this is egalitarians think women and men are equal and fulfill the same roles. I believe men and women are equal, period, and most often fulfill differing roles, but sometimes fulfill the same roles.
The main thing is I didn’t appreciate him telling me what I believed and I didn’t think his approach to women was filled with humility. The spirit within me crawled for peace, for a topic we could agree upon, like serving the poor. I don’t know why I continually bring this topic up at dinner parties, since it mostly gets skirted for the bigger issues of today – like what political party I represent.
You know the conversation well.
“Are you a republican or a democrat?”
“Are you for life.”
“Yes, all life.” Pause. “There are truths and fallacies on both sides.”
“So you’re an independent.”
Some people are just campy. The man at our dinner party that night, he’s King of the Campers. For him I needed to fit into a term so he could understand his own life. So out of respect for him and his family, I let him make me fit, and I returned to my room that night to grieve.
In some small sense I was mourning for myself. Being forced into unduly small boxes for any amount of time is breathtaking in the claustrophobic sense. I felt like the air in my lungs was being sucked from my mouth for another’s purpose.
But my fruit was with me, my peeps – the yellow joy and tender gooeyness of my family. They get me. My heart.
So what tiny straightjacket I’ve been forced into is only temporary, while others have a more permanent fitting. And I long to cut their containment, that they might know the joy I’ve found.
And throughout my twenty years as a believer, I’ve been around a lot of pastors and elders, and decision makers. Surrounded by them. They’re everywhere. In my experience they’ve been middle-aged white men, and read a lot of leadership books, and like to talk about the sovereignty of God, but I’m sure the profile changes based on where you live and what churches you’ve attended.
What I’ve noticed is the casual arrogance in which some of them display their power, and how what I see doesn’t parallel Jesus’ life, or the message He’s given me in his words.
So when I hear from men in power that “women in leadership” is not a top tier issue, I find it demeaning and arrogant. It’d be a top tier issue if it were their issue, if they were the ones being held back. Also, I often wonder if women were in leadership if more would be done for the least of these, more resources to feed the hungry, more programs to help the single parents?
I guess what I’m trying to say is, here we have massive disparities in our communities and our pastors have time for arguments on gender roles. When a woman wants to start a foster care ministry, she gets red tape. A woman wants to create opportunities for church members to sponsor children, and she hears her idea doesn’t fit into the church’s vision. I write a letter and it’s dismissed with ease.
When I’m confined by the constructs of my position in life, I’m reminded of those confined to daily hunger and freezing temperatures on the streets. I want to tell the children who long for their next warm shower and safe place to rest their heads, that they’re worth more to God than any fancy thing, that it’s scaredy cat adults that are the problem, not God. I want to tell them not to worry because a home is awaiting them, but I know based on this construct we call life, it may not be so.
And my spirit crawls within, wanting peace for these little ones and hope for their parents. I want my words to reach them, and most important, I want the words of Jesus to reach them,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14)
But they have no address, and I do not know their names, though their faces stay with me.
For a writer, words are our way, but what happens when words aren’t enough to produce change? When action is the only adequate response, but you don’t know what action to take?