Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Does the Church Affirm Women in Leadership?

This week's posts join in the theme of Rachel Held Evans' blog this week:  One in Christ:  A Week of Mutuality.  This particular post is also one in a series about the adventure of finding a new church to attend after moving to a new town.  You can find the others with the label "Church Shopping". 

One of the qualifications we've been looking at in the churches we've visited is whether or not they approve of women in leadership positions.  Now, I have been in churches that view this in opposite ways and while I believe women should be able to be leaders, I can be in a church in which it is not permitted; I spent the last two-ish years in one such church (ironically, I actually was able to lead there:  I organized being part of a simulcast and I taught an adult Sunday school class; yes it had both men and women in it).  I have also been in a church in which women have been allowed to be leaders for many years, but for other reasons, it was not a healthy church.  And so I am trying to be careful to understand my motives for picking this qualification and to consider whether or not it makes me a "one-issue-voter".

There was a time in the early 2000s that I was simultaneously attending two churches:  one Presbyterian, one Baptist.  One Sunday at the Baptist church, the pastor's sermon was about all of the qualifications to be an elder, since the church had decided it needed two more elders.    By this time, even though at one point I'd struggled with and been confused by the idea that women should not be leaders, I was firm in my belief that women could and should lead.  I listened to the sermon, stayed relatively calm, took notes, and then waited two weeks to e-mail the pastor with my concerns (the back-and-forth e-mails ended up comprising about 5 pages of text altogether--mostly my thoughts).  To read the full discussion, go here.  Identities have been edited to protect privacy.  

His final response to my thoughts was this:  "Thanks for the perspective. It gives me a lot to think about. Have a super night!"

In other words, "I'm not going to continue this conversation with you; it's over and done with."  (I suppose I was naive; I enjoyed Biblical discussions and getting deep into the Bible and I assumed that pastors did as well).

I do not want to experience this again.

Granted, in the most recent Baptist church I went to, I didn't experience this, but I am apprehensive as I explore the different churches in my new town.  There is one particular denomination that we are looking at (for reasons I won't go into here) and from what I understand so far, only one of the five or six of them in my town allows women in leadership positions.  While I most likely need to do some more investigating about this, I am definitely drawn to this particular church for this particular reason.  

But, as I said above, I don't know if I should lean towards this church for that reason alone.  I do know that I want to be in a place in which my gifts will be appreciated and used, and I do not want to be in a place where they will not.  This was made a bit more clear to me in the book that I have mentioned extensively this week, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, in the story of Bonnie Wurzbacher, a senior vice president of Coca Cola.  She wrote about her journey to becoming a leader in the business world, but ass she advanced in the business world and used her gifts to become a leader there, she started thinking about leaders in the church.   She writes "I wanted to worship in a church that encouraged me to be all that God planned for me and that valued my gifts of teaching, speaking, and leadership.  I wanted to be part of a church that recognized, developed, and embraced everyone's gifts."  (page 261).

And I think that for me, that summarizes how I feel.  Whether or not I become involved in church leadership, I want the overall position to be that everyone is welcome to use their gifts.  I do not want to be relegated to children's ministry or kitchen clean-up duty.  Frankly, I can't stand doing those things.  I do them enough at home as a stay-at-home-mom.  Well, ok, I'm not so great at the kitchen clean-up duty at home either.

It is somewhat of a struggle though.  Am I acting like a selfish and spoiled child when I say "I don't want to do that; I want to do what I want to do!"?  If there are other great things about the church, should I be content to use my gifts elsewhere, as I have done in the past?  If I use them elsewhere but they are not appreciated or acknowledged in the church I go to, is the church really a family as it should be? There are many questions to ask and think about, but I do have to say that I am fairly amazed that it's even an issue; it seems as though the equality of men and women should be obvious and accepted.  

What would you do?  Would you pick a church on one issue, even if there were other reasons not to go there?  Would you attend a church with the opposite belief as you if there were other things about it that you liked?


K. Hernes said...

Great article Kelly...if your one issue is such a big issue, I think that you almost have to be a "one issue voter". Especially if your options are very limited anyway, and choosing another church would limit your opportunities to share your gift. For me, it seems like our church choices have been most influenced by my husband's "issues" as church is usually his main source of spiritual nourishment. He obviously values my opinion about the church, but I have fewer requirements since I am fed from other sources too. Our last 2 church choices have been amazing places that are open, and more than happy to let us share our gifts. Not sure how I'd feel about not being able to use mine freely.

Kelly said...

Thanks Karen!

I think my husband's main source of spiritual nourishment is church too, and I can get it elsewhere, so there is that to take into consideration. I don't want to end up in a church where he doesn't get anything out of it!

I just found out this morning from a friend that this one particular church is indeed the only one in town with women in leadership. Even another denomination that is quite similar that allows it does not have women in leadership at any of their churches here.

Earning a Prophet's Wage said...

I have met two women in my life that really struggled openly with the notion of women in leadership in the church. (I took a college ministry class under one of them) I have read a couple of books on it as well. (I recommend Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal by Carroll Osburn for a deeply text sensitive view, but Osburne seems a bit detached as I remember him).

Yet, this has not been my issue. Of course I am a man which means I can ignore it. (Not excusing myself - will aim to do better.) But I have enough exposure to some important enough thinkers and leaders to realize this is important. I have a lot to learn.

I consider myself conservative and will lean on what I perceive as good tradition until it is sufficiently challenged. (I am slow to move and careful about it.) But I think there is room here to grow and make changes. I sense that deeply, I will be looking into it.

Thank you for posting and challenging!

Kelly said...

Sorry it's taken me a while to respond to you; I've been traveling. I'll have to check out that book. I think it is great if you are able to think on things and realize that growth and change can be good. It's when we refuse to acknowledge that that discussion can't happen, I think.