24 March 2014
Women in leadership: an issue for real men
I recently heard of a review editor for a Christian magazine receiving a book on women in leadership; on offering it for review, the response came back: "A woman should review this - it's not as relevant to men." Why should a man care about that issue? To be honest, I don't have many good reasons; I have several good reasons why a Bible-believing Christian, male or female, should care though.
The first is selfish: the New Testament is clear that God gives leadership gifts to build up the Church, the body of Christ, so that we are all made mature; we need to know whether God gives those leadership gifts just to men, or to men and women indifferently, so that we can experience all of God's intended blessing for our church, and grow to be the people God is calling us to be. That's not a 'women's issue'; that's about fulfilling God's call to us in Ephesians 4:11-16.
The second is missional: the New Testament is equally clear that God's call on the Church is to be a missional community that spreads the gospel across the world; if the Church's effectiveness is compromised by denying or ignoring the contribution of its female leaders, then God's mission is compromised - people who might have heard the gospel never will; fewer folk will be saved than would otherwise have been the case. That's not a 'women's issue'; that's about fulfilling God's call to us in Matthew 28:18-20.
The third is cultural: we live in a culture in which the objectifying of women is normal; pornography is ubiquitous - already, studies show, routinely affecting the expectations teenage boys place, and teenage girls feel, on their sexual interactions. If we want our sons and the boys in our youth groups and Sunday Schools to learn to relate better than this to women, and if we want our daughters and the girls there to grow up with less pressure to conform to sexual norms imposed by the pornography industry, we need to be offering them all - boys and girls - visible role models of a different way of being female, and that must involve visible public leadership of whatever form the Bible allows. That's not a 'women's issue'; that's about fulfilling God's call to us in Ephesians 6:4.
The fourth is justice-based: if there is gender-injustice in our churches - and who can say with confidence that there isn't? - then I, as a man, benefit from it; ignoring an injustice because you benefit from it does not look like Christian behaviour in the Bible I read. That's not a 'women's issue'; that's about fulfilling God's call to us in Micah 6:8.
The fifth is moral: in our society violence against women is terrifyingly common. I am writing this on a day when a major piece of research was published, based on very extensive interviews across Europe. In the UK, 44 per cent of women interviewed reported experiencing some form of violence from a man; that's nearly half.
That's not the world I want my three daughters to grow up in; that's not the world I want, as a man - as a human being - to belong to. Or - more pointedly - this is not the world I want to belong to, or in which I want my girls to grow up. I want this world to be different. And I believe passionately that God wants this world to be different too. I believe God hears the cry of Tamar and Dinah and so many others; I believe sexual violence is, to use biblical language, an abomination in God's sight; and I believe that cultural accommodations that make space for or tacitly encourage sexual violence are just as much an abomination. And if my church has conformed to unbiblical standards in its leadership structures or that it in whatever small way contributes to this, then I want to know about it, and to change it.
A women's issue? No. This is an issue for real men.
Steve Holmes is senior lecturer in systematic theology