A Woman’s Place

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.

High Value

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?

Proactive 

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.

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4 Comments

  1. Administrator Author
    March 7, 2017 at 6:53 am

    We recently moved our website to a new host. The process took several days, and as a result, several comments were temporarily lost. This is a comment made by a reader during that transition period:
    ________

    From Julia Dale on Feb. 19

    I appreciated the article and agree with much of Mr. Harlow’s position; however, I must admit I am somewhat frustrated by the fact that a discussion regarding “A Woman’s Place” and the devaluation of woman is written by and from the perspective of a man.

    If we seriously want to consider how women in the United States feel in the post election environment and what the church’s response should be, why not ask women? Why not solicit an article from the perspective of women within the church?

    And so, I looked a little more closely at the publication. The Publishing Committee consists of 15 individuals – 13 of which based on name I can clearly identify as male. Of the identified contributing editors only 3 of 11 are female.
    As the author states above:

    “At least half of your church members are female. What could you do to make them feel more valued?”

    If this is indeed true for the churches this publication is circulated in and the readership, then maybe a good place to start is with this magazine. In the words of the author, “Will you let them?”

  2. Myron Williams
    March 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I think Julia’s comments about this article written from a man’s point of view are right on, including the statement on the Publishing Committee.

    What do women think about how to engage them in the church?

  3. Bob Klemm
    March 29, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    These remarks come from one of the older generation. I appreciate Tim Harlow’s comments. I personally agree with Tim’s comments about communion servers, and in most cases ministry leaders. I have even vacillated between allowing and not allowing women as deacons (after all the word does mean servant). Others are more solid on their opinions about women in this and other areas.

    In past experience (over 60 years) within this brotherhood of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ I have found in most congregations a genuine desire to be led as close to Biblical principles as possible, but over the past two decades, I have noticed a disturbing trend in some of our churches to accommodate culture within the church. There always seems to be no lack of rationale for this accommodation in whatever area of “church life” it appears.

    There are only two systems operating in our world; God’s Truth and Satan’s Lies. They are mutually exclusive and always at war with each other. Culture is on Satan’s side, not the Lord’s.

    I say all this to ask a question, “‘How valued women feel in the Church family will seldom, if ever, be reflected in the culture, will it?’, or even should it?”

    I have been married over 50 years to the same woman, so I understand a little of how culture can impact a woman’s self worth and value. Some of the Church’s functions are to promote fellowship and love, provide opportunities for Spiritual growth,and equip the saints for works of service.

    The Church has a different set of values, priorities, and behaviors clearly laid out in Scripture. Tim, you asked the question, “will you let them?” My answer is, “Yes, let them, unless expressly denied the function or role in Scripture. And I hasten to add those Scriptural denials are not open for debate or accommodation within the Church.

    Many churches shy away from Biblical in-depth study on women’s roll in the church. Why? Many reasons: Upset influential people in the congregation; fear “loss of members”; too many varying opinions and no Biblical scholarship, etc. By the way, all of this could be said of other issues also.

    Should we value our brothers and sisters in Christ and ensure that value is demonstrated and communicated? Definitely — but on a Scriptural Basis, not cultural.

    Tim, thank you for bringing the discussion to the table.

  4. Al Edmonds
    April 30, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Since the ‘Committee’ is responsible for theological oversight of the publication, although a semi-parachurch organization, the Standard Publishing Committee membership should come under the same principals as that of congregational eldership– men only… If the Committee were divided in responsibility, in that the qualified male members dealt with Biblical authority, and the others with the remaining aspects of publication, then that model would be doctrinally sound. Inclusiveness in the name of gender equality is heresy and worldly foolishness. Standard Publishing, as well as local congregations, would do well to keep this in mind.
    ____

    Here is a response to this comment from Mark A. Taylor, publisher of CHRISTIAN STANDARD and The Lookout:

    The Publishing Committee’s role in the last decades was simply to approve hires at the director level and above in the editorial department of Standard Publishing. They evaluated those folks based on their commitment not only to God’s Word, but also to the principles of the Restoration Movement. These editorial directors (many of them women) dealt with issues of Biblical authority, but the committee itself did not. All of this is a moot point now, because Standard Publishing does not exist and the new publisher of the company that remains, Christian Standard Media, is replacing the Publishing Committee with a new set of advisors.

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