In the course of the ongoing conversation on this blog about gender issues, both in the church and out, Erin posed a couple of interesting questions. Let me quote an excerpt of her comment here:
One thing I heard recently was something like this:”Well, we’re not going all affirmative action just so women can feel included.” In other words, in this case while they weren’t actively excluding women, they felt that if they actively included women to something like an equal balance, they would feel like they were doing it just for the sake of it or that it would look to outsiders that they were bowing to the women to make them happy.
I also heard, specifically in the context of ministry, that there just aren’t as many “qualified” (the definition of “qualified” being subjective) women to fill certain roles. It occurs to me that maybe the reason there aren’t as many qualified women is because they haven’t been actively given the opportunities in the first place.
Do you think that a practice of active inclusion of women to an equal degree has to happen in order for things to change?
And do you think there should be some admission of or responsibility-taking for the role men have played in creating the lack of “qualified” women in the first place?
I love the way Erin makes me think. 🙂 I have a number of thoughts going on about this, and I hope I can share them coherently. (Being able to actually use the word “coherently” may be a good sign.) 😀
First of all–I actually understand the objection in itself, or rather, the thought process behind it. Ever since the concept of “affirmative action” came to the fore, I’ve had mixed feelings about it–because although I agree with the heart behind it, I don’t believe it is the best way to deal with the problem of discrimination, either with race or with gender. It’s akin to putting a band-aid on an open wound, or treating one symptom of the disease rather than going after the disease itself. It is an attempt to force a balance or equilibrium without dealing with the reasons why imbalance was created in the first place. And not only does it fail to prevent discrimination–in most cases, it simply moves it around, essentially shifting the unfair advantage from one group of people to another. So in one sense (and I say that guardedly), the objection has a point. A forced equal male/female balance in church leadership doesn’t signal equality in itself, and if females were preferred over men just because they are female…it’s just as wrong as when females are discriminated against. You can’t solve discrimination by discriminating the other direction–and that’s exactly why the affirmative action approach doesn’t work. Equal opportunity only exists when people are given equal chance to qualify for a given position…not necessarily by forcing an equal representation among those selected.
That said…there is the underlying issue that sometimes people aren’t given the chance to qualify. In cases of race, minorities don’t always have access to the same quality of education that whites in America do. And in cases of gender–particularly in the church–women have been in a culture of suppression for a long time, and when it comes to being prepared for certain positions in the church…many haven’t had the chance to “qualify” for such positions. (And as Erin pointed out “qualify” is a subjective term.) So it is highly probable in many church circles that when leadership is trying to find someone to do a certain leadership task, more men than women will be in the pool of candidates, regardless of how open-minded the leadership might be.
So while it’s true that the affirmative action approach won’t solve the problem, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem, or that just providing “equal opportunity” will solve it. It seems to me that we need to be tackling the problem a little further back up the trail. First…we need to deal with the prejudice and bigotry that cause the oppression; and second…instead of placing under-qualified people into positions for the sake of balance, we need to be helping them qualify, so they have an equal chance of success.
So this leads to my dealing with the second question first: should the men take any responsibility for their role in the under-qualification of women? In my opinion…the answer is yes. I’ll address “qualifying” momentarily, but let’s just say that to whatever extent we have church positions to qualify for, if women do not qualify, it is (at least partly) because our prolonged suppression of women has robbed them of the chance to do so. Thus, part of how we can move from a passive role to an active role in restoring women is to come alongside them and find creative ways to help them develop and refine their own skills and gifts. I know this is theoretical, and I don’t presume to know exactly what that looks like in every environment. But I do believe that when we have the heart to restore the woman, those solutions will present themselves.
I questioned whether I needed to say this, but because Erin mentioned that “qualifying” is subjective, I feel I should mention that in my view, the whole idea of “qualifying” for church leadership has been overblown, for men as well as women. Most of the hoops we make people jump through to qualify as leaders aren’t really founded in the Bible. Just look at some examples of early church leaders: they range from Paul (a learned Pharisee fluent in multiple languages) to Peter (an uneducated fisherman from Galilee) to Priscilla (an apostolic female house church leader whose educational background is unknown, but whom Paul honored with the term “co-laborer”). There were no seminaries, no Bible schools; and when leadership criteria are mentioned in the New Testament, the focus is actually more on character than level of education. My point is…from a Biblical standpoint, there are a lot more women already qualified to lead than we might realize; we are the ones who often make the qualifying standards more stringent than the Bible dictates. If you disagree with that idea, you have the right; but either way…whatever standard we are using to “qualify” someone for church leadership, not only should the standard apply across the board, but prior to that step, we should be trying to ensure that people of either gender have the same opportunities to meet that standard.
Having said all that…let’s look at this from yet another angle. Let’s look at the first question again: is the active inclusion of women in equal balance with men actually necessary for change to happen? Apart from all previous discussion about the “affirmative action” approach, or how many women are qualified…let’s approach this from the standpoint of who is asking the question, and why they might be asking, because I think it’s actually a bit telling.
If you think about it…for someone to say they don’t want to put women into leadership just to bow to pressure to appear non-sexist, it begs the question: why aren’t they already doing so regardless of what people think? In other words, although no one expects them to do it for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t doing it for the right reasons, either. To me, playing the “affirmative action” card in this case is little more than another deflection of the deeper issue. If they haven’t already naturally enabled women to serve in leadership, than even defending that stance by saying, “we don’t want to do it for the wrong reasons” reveals that there is still a heart change that needs to happen. Sorry if this offends anyone…but I think it still exposes a root of sexism, and a need for the heart of the man to be softened toward the woman.
So to answer the first question last…I don’t believe active inclusion of women has to happen for change to take place. I think it’s the other way around. Active inclusion of women is the sign that change has taken place–that we are changing the way we view women, the way we treat them, and the opportunities we afford them to qualify. It is the outward manifestation of the change in the heart. It is the effect of change–not the cause of it.