By Byron Elam, Senior History major
Since being in Jackson, I have been blessed to regularly attend a warm and welcoming congregation. This church has been a sustaining source of fellowship and spiritual growth. However, every Sunday there is a portion of the worship service that deeply troubles me. During the call to discipleship, all of the deacons stand at the front of the church to welcome whomever may come to join the church or give their life to Christ. What bothers me about this seemingly innocuous gesture is that all the deacons are men.
The mere image is indicative of a barrier that far too few of our churches have yet to surmount: affirming and practicing the full equality of women within church. For far too long we have stubbornly held fast to the antiquated notion and belief that women should not be permitted to serve as pastors and church leaders.
Growing up as a Presbyterian, I was privileged to have always seen women at the helm of leadership. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) we have a rich history of ordaining women as pastors, elders, and deacons. Women serving faithfully in these capacities was something I have learned to appreciate and accept as normal. Back at home I was blessed to be led and taught by an equipped, competent, and spirit-filled pastor, who happened to be a woman. The preparation of her education, the depth of her biblical knowledge, the passion she possessed for the Gospel, and her ability to articulate the Word of God in a way that was relevant and transformative surpasses that of most preachers of the Gospel, male or female. However, many would have you to believe that her ministry is somehow unbiblical and inconsistent with the natural order established by God.
We cannot truthfully assert that we affirm the equality of men and women as long as we enforce the placement of women in an inferior position within the church. Women deserve the opportunity to serve in any office and position that God has called them to. The idea of complementary gender roles that brings about equality is a paradox. If one is the head and the leader and the other is the helper who is submissive, there isn’t any equality. As long as women are prevented from assuming leadership in the church, they are not equal.
There is no way to reasonably explain that although women cannot preach and lead in the church, they are still somehow equal. Their work and devotion have sustained the church throughout generations, but we still regulate and restrict their roles and abilities. So many churches are missing out on the vitality and vibrancy that women in leadership could render. The selection of pastors, elders, deacons and other church offices should be determined by knowledge, dedication, and faithfulness, not gender.
Women were the first to proclaim the Good News of the resurrected Christ. While the male apostles hid with doubt and fear, Mary Magdalene, along with a group of women, went boldly went to the tomb. They were the first to encounter the resurrected Christ. The women were the first to be commissioned to share the Good News of the resurrection. This was a revolutionary act in ancient society. But Jesus rejected the stereotypes and decided to relay the account of the most crucial event of the plan of salvation to women. Christ himself entrusted women to share the Gospel. Why can’t we follow Christ’s example?
As the older brother to two sisters, I believe that the church is not always a place they are permitted to develop grow freely. Rather, the church often prescribes predetermined expectations of what women can and cannot do. One of my greatest hopes is that my younger sisters will seek to fulfill their greatest potential and to fully live out God’s calling for their lives, unencumbered by their gender. I want them to see and experience women leading and guiding the church, in order that they may know and completely understand that they are equally valued in the world and even in the church. Also, it is crucial that boys see women in leadership roles, so that they learn to appreciate and welcome the voice and perspective of women.
I long for the day for the entire body of Christ to fully embrace the gifts of women and afford them the same opportunities as men. I long for the entire body of Christ to emulate and practice Christ’s liberating work and ministry. I long to see women flooding seminaries and women pastoring churches. I long for women’s voices and ideas to be heard on deacon and church boards. I long for the ordination of women to not be a controversial issue practiced by some, but for it to be an accepted and celebrated practice of all. I long for every woman in every church to have the opportunity and ability to stand up, speak, and have their voice heard. Hasten that day O Lord, I pray.
It is not good for man to be alone, and that holds just as true even on the church board and in the pulpit.