Monday, 29 September 2008

Gift-based ministry

I am constantly amazed how many women are still held back.

I've just come back from running a vocations weekend, and met several obviously gifted women who were beginning to grasp the idea that they could be called to leadership as much as their husbands were.

I really thought the days when women aspired to be married to a vicar (rather than being a vicar themselves) were over, but I fear that in some parts of the Church this idea is still alive and well. Over and over again I hear women say how men are always encouraged to consider ministry, whereas they struggle to hear God's voice amid the conflicting messages around them.

Yet it seems so obvious to me that God does not universally oppose the authority or public ministry of women. In Scripture there are so many examples of women who served as apostles, deacons, prophets, judges, church planters - and just one example would be enough to demonstrate that limiting women's leadership is not a universal biblical principle.

One of the chapters in my book recounts briefly the stories of women leaders in the Bible, while another examines the theology often used to restrict women's ministry - the so-called 'difficult passages', the significance of priority in Genesis and the recent concept of 'role subordination.' As more and more scholars support a more egalitarian interpretation, it grieves me so much that gifted women are unaware of how God can call them (and not just their husbands) to serve him in ordained or authorised leadership in the Church.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Sexist - and rich?

Men with sexist views 'earn more'.

One of my colleagues alerted me to this recent news item on the BBC news channel. A piece of US research has found that men who think that women should stay at home rather than work outside the home will consistently out-earn more 'modern-thinking' men.

On average this meant an extra £4,722 a year.

The somewhat obvious conclusion of the study was that more traditional people are seeking to preserve the historical separation of work and domestic roles.

I was intrigued by the possible explanations of the earnings disparity - that traditionally minded men are more interested in power, or that employers are more likely to promote them if they are the sole breadwinner.

I wonder if this is really true in the UK as it may be in the US. Personally it doesn't really worry me - and if the whole US economy is about to collapse, lots of those high earners may not be earning anything at all before too long.

And more modern-thinking men, as they are called, often realise that there's more to life than work, so salary is not everything. They might believe that their spouse and children deserve a little more of their time, or they need some friends and leisure time.

And in the church - well, we get paid the same for the same job, but when it comes to who has a stipend and who does not, I think there is room for progress!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Book signing

It was fun!

Even if I did not sign thousands of books, I enjoyed meeting people on Saturday, when I signed copies at a bookshop in Coventry.

The book is published at last!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

First woman dean in Sudan

It was great to read recently of the first woman dean in Africa.

The Very Rev Martha Deng Nhial was installed as dean of St Matthew's Cathedral in Renk on August 17, according to a report in the Church of England Newspaper on 5 September.

The new dean was ordained deacon in 2003 and priest in 2005, having previously been a leader in the Mothers' Union. She was born in 1959, and trained as a nurse, working in the diocese's clinic before ordination. She came to faith as an adult.

For her, there's a gospel imperative: 'The Bible says to go and preach the gospel.' Christians who want to see the gospel preached are bound to want to be involved in that process. 'When God calls you, you cannot stop.'

I hope those who want to keep half the human race in 'different' roles in the Church take note!

Friday, 5 September 2008

The concrete ceiling?

I wonder what you made of yesterday's report from the Equality Commission?

'The number of women in Britain's most powerful jobs is falling after decades of progress as they hit a "concrete ceiling" of discrimination', the equality watchdog warns today.

The report goes on to note that there are now fewer female MPs, police chiefs and senior judges than there were a year ago.

I have several thoughts. Further down the report is the sentence: 'although women are becoming better educated and keen to forge careers, too many people still believe that their place is in the home and that men should hold the leadership positions.' The writer of the report, Nicola Brewer, claims that radical change is needed to address the issues.

So what's new? Did we expect a straight line of progress? In the book Through the Labyrinth, which I reviewed on the CPAS website in April this year, the authors make some interesting and relevant points. First that there's no longer a 'ceiling' because women have broken through it (there are some women in these senior positions) - hence it's more like a labyrinth for women than a ceiling - and that 'social change does not proceed easily or without struggle and conflict' (p 198).

As women gain greater equality, it's inevitable that some people react against this, and there is a backlash. Women need to expect this pattern. The question is, how do we interpret the pause? Some might say, it just goes to prove that all this equality stuff is a big mistake. Or, we can say, this is just what we should expect to happen.

I'm with the latter! After leadership has been shaped by men, and leadership positions filled mainly by men for thousands of years, how could this not be difficult to shift? At the same time, passage of time itself will not bring change; there has to be activity by women and by those who hold the power.

What's my take on this as a Christian? I believe that while the church is slower to embrace women as leaders, our basis for this is much stronger than 'justice' or 'human rights'. The Bible teaches that women and men were created equal, and that leadership positions, whether inside or outside the church, should be filled on the basis of giftedness (plus talent, experience, etc), not gender.

I look forward to hearing about the future work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this area; and to hearing the voice of the church speaking out in the market place. Who's going to speak God's truth into this area?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Evangelical Feminism

I enjoy train journeys - a good chance to catch up with reading.

On Saturday I had a meeting in London, which gave me three hours to read. Among other things, I picked up the latest copy of Priscilla Papers, the theological journal produced by CBE.

I discoved, to my surprise, that I had missed hearing about the latest book by Wayne Grudem, published in 2006, Evangelical Feminism. But an excellent review by Kevin Giles told me as much as I probably need to know.

In my optimistic moments I dream that one day I'll read that Wayne Grudem has had one of those lightbulb moments and changed his views. But that's not happened yet, and his latest book continues his crusade to buttress his view of the permanent subordination of women as God's ideal. That is the theme of this latest book.

But I discovered that it's getting even more unpleasant. This time, Grudem gives a long list of names - eminent evangelical Bible scholars, whom he regards as 'liberals'. The book seems to move Grudem's case out of the world of reality into fantasy: all those who don't believe that women are permanently subordinated to men are 'liberals'. In other words, 'If you don't agree with me, you're wrong, and a liberal.'

The redeeming feature of reading about this depressing book was Giles' sense of humour: 'Why this humanly devised theological construct should be judged the only true interpretation of Scripture escapes me.'

Giles also takes issue with the use of the word 'feminist', which he contends Grudem uses deliberately, and is inevitably loaded. Most of those who believe in gender equality don't use the word 'feminist' but Grudem knows that by attacking 'evangelical feminism' he may find assent, in some quarters at least.

What makes me really angry is the effect of books like this on people who have read nothing else. They will not know that the views he attacks have been modified, that this book his previous books, depend on a (recent) heretical view of subordination in the Trinity, or that Grudem is a lone voice, citing only his own works and those of few others who agree with him. So many Christians will continue to believe that egalitarians are 'secular feminists in sheep's clothing who in reality deny the authority of Scripture.'

Nothing could be further from the truth - but reading about the book made me wonder if recent attempts to create an 'us and them' mentality within evangelicalism in the Church of England are suffering from an overdose of Grudem.