By Tim Harlow
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, many women in the U.S. are feeling devalued. What should be the church’s response?
Although many issues were debated during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, gender issues didn’t seem to be at the forefront. Most people seemed prepared for the possibility of a female president. It wasn’t a big deal.
Even those who were dead set against Hillary Clinton for president seldom said it was because she’s a woman. And while many people were offended by Donald Trump’s comments and apparent attitudes toward women, they tended to overlook this in pursuit of issues they thought were more important.
But now, in the wake of the 2016 election, there are observers in my circles who believe the rhetoric of the election has taken a toll on the value placed on women, especially since so many conservative churches came out in support of Trump. Although our country came close to electing a woman for president last November, women don’t always get their due respect in this country, and I sincerely wonder how women are faring in our congregations.
Jesus placed the highest value on the most marginalized people. In the example of the recent election, this pertains not only to women but also to other groups of people who felt left behind.
In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus said this to his host:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Jesus not only accepted the disregarded; the disregarded were more regarded by Jesus. Yet even though he was clearly an advocate for the marginalized, so many today still feel ignored by the church because of age, race, gender, or other factors beyond their control.
Regardless of your beliefs about gender roles within the church, we must do a better job. I’m not lobbying for any church to change its theological position, but if we’re going to reach the “Jerusalem” in which we find ourselves, this cultural reality is going to be important.
When I came to Parkview Christian Church in 1990, I was surprised to find that women were allowed to serve Communion. Pleasantly surprised. I realized it was one hill I wouldn’t need to climb. It took me about two seconds to figure out that there is no biblical role assignment for serving Communion. I had just never been at a church that had climbed out of tradition in that area.
We also had female deacons based on Phoebe in Romans 16. Again, a quick biblical study did the trick. (Actually the trick was that there was never a board of deacons in the Bible, and a deacon was really just a servant—so who cares what you call them?)
Have you done a study on the role of women? Or does your church just do things the way they do because they’ve always done them that way?
I believe the church needs to be proactive on behalf of the disregarded at all times. Depending on your demographics, your church may not be able to accomplish much regarding racial or socioeconomic or political reconciliation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proactive about inclusion in every way we can.
At least half of your church members are female. What could you do to make them feel more valued?
Was the apostle Junia in Romans 16 a woman? I think that’s likely. What about Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Dorcas, and Lydia and the roles they played?
My daughter works on the staff of a church outside our movement where she feels very empowered, even though this church believes strongly in male eldership. The reason is that her church actually has a theological position on gender roles, and yet a strong sense of inclusion in all other areas. Our church has the same theological position, but I wonder if she’d feel as valued working for me.
Every church needs to come up with its own position on scriptural headship, and I’m not advocating for a specific view. Though we have many women in director roles on our staff, we haven’t spent enough time on this issue. I just know that many women are hurting from what they feel is a backward slide in the way their country values them. The church must step up.
As the Bible says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
When the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, Peter drew from the words of the prophet Joel to describe what had happened, saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17, 18).
Will you let them?
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois.