Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Men and women: mixed messages

I long for a time when men and women are free to work together in ministry and leadership as I believe God intended.

But just when I think we are making progress in this direction, there's another step back.

Recently I've been thinking about and reading about this subject. I came across a great book, Becoming Colleagues. In the course of exploring the stories of various mixed-gender teams, and what we might learn from them, I came across a great section on 'mixed messages.'

It's compared to 'the creaking of an ancient, heavy door, slowly opening, with some pulling it open and some pushing it shut.'

On the one hand women are made welcome as leaders, but increasing invitations, by inclusion in previously all-male gatherings, by men who advocate for women.

But at the same time women are made unwelcome - by language that excludes, by hierarchical models, by an enduring fear of working with women.

I wonder if you've experienced these mixed messages:
'We want you here. We know you have something to contribute.' So far so good?
'If you are going to be here, we want you to act in a way that will be comfortable to us men.'
And 'This is the way things are, and you have to fit in' (meaning, it's fine so long as women are not too assertive or too powerful or too visible.)

Where do the mixed messages come from? I guess some assumptions about women are still deeply embedded in our culture, and the church. When women are viewed as wife, mother, virgin or whore, how is it possible to see women as leaders? But why is it that women are still 'the unknown other', when God made us equally in his image?

And back to the subject of men and women working together, women are cautious about working with men (often with good reason), and men are cautious about working with women. How do we create a church where men and women can work together as equal partners?

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