Archives for posts with tag: International Women’s Day

One of Martin Luther’s contributions to how we view church today was his rediscovery of the concept of the “priesthood of all believers”. International Women’s Day [March 8] is a good time to reflect on the application of this doctrine. How many female leaders of the Reformation do you know? Probably none. Of the Reformation groups, perhaps the Anabaptists practiced this doctrine better than any other, although 500 years later even among them there are still groups who do not yet allow women in all leadership roles.

There is disagreement among scholars as to the role of women among sixteenth century Anabaptists. It was the medieval era after all and women were not accepted as persons or leaders in the larger society or church at the time. Yet, the strong belief in believer’s baptism, freedom of conscience, the calling of the Spirit, and communal living birthed an inclusivity that was radical for its time.

“The concept of the priesthood of believers among the Anabaptists elevated women to a role of partnership in the congregation of believers. In the state churches, Catholic and Protestant, the attitude toward women was as yet quite medieval and remained so for many years. However, in Anabaptist circles women were referred to as sisters, and were held in the highest respect.” [Myron Augsburger]

“The calling of the Spirit which provided the foundation for the Anabaptist movement was radically egalitarian and personal, even though it led individuals into a commitment to a community.” [Linda H. Hecht]

Anabaptists believed that women received the same call to salvation, baptism and discipleship that men did. Therefore, some Anabaptist women also had leadership roles in the church and many were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith.

The nature of Anabaptist communities involved economic sharing and recognized the prophetic gifts of all people, not just ordained leaders. All people, including women, were involved in Bible study and spiritual discernment. In fact because the women lived and associated so freely with the men in the work of the church, the Anabaptists were often slanderously accused by their opponents for having their women in common!

With this background we should ask ourselves today: How are we practicing the priesthood of ALL believers in our churches today? Are we leaving anyone out of the privilege of priesthood?

 

 

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I post an article, “Losing My Religion for Equality,” written by Jimmy Carter a few years ago when he left the Southern Baptist Convention over their restrictive stance on women in ministry. I count myself as a biblical feminist who reads the Bible as a book on a trajectory towards the liberation and dignity of all persons regardless of their human differences. 

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God. I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met. In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support   the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of  the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

My last post was put up in some haste in order to get it out on International Women’s Day, so let me finish it with some more thoughts from Nellie McClung about women’s leadership in church and society. I recall growing up in Wawanesa, MB and learning that Nellie [Mooney] McClung had grown up in the same community. A number of Mooney families still reside there; I even have a brick from the house in which she lived, salvaged when it was demolished. Thus, there is some local fascination besides the fact that she helped to bring the recognition of “women as persons” to our Canadian constitution, and with it the right to vote. She was a writer and a speaker and known for her wit and strong opinions. The following quotes from her 1915 publication, In Times Like These, indicate that she was a woman of her time, yet since we still do not have gender equality in the world—not even in our own country—her words are still relevant for our own time.

On women and reading:
Long years ago, when women asked for an education, the world cried out that it would never do. If women learned to read it would distract them from the real business of life which was to make home happy for some good man. If women learned to read there seemed a possibility that someday some good man might come home and find his wife reading, and the dinner not ready—and nothing could be imagined more horrible than that! That seems to be the haunting fear of mankind—that the advancement of women will sometime, someway, someplace, interfere with some man’s comfort.

I dare say it has and it has been a good thing for all of us!

On women and preaching:
If a woman should feel that she is divinely called of God to deliver a message, I wonder how the church can be so sure that she isn’t. There was a rule given long ago which might be used yet to solve such a problem: ‘And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone, for if this council, or this work be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God you cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.’
That seems to be a pretty fair way of looking at the matter of preaching; but the churches have decreed otherwise, and in order to save trouble they have decided themselves and not left it to God. It must be great to feel that you are on the private wire from heaven and qualified to settle a matter which concern the spiritual destiny of other people… The church fails to be effective because it has not the use of one wing of its army, and has no one to blame but itself.

Preach it, Nellie!