December 5, 2015

The Stained-Glass Ceiling

In the business world, the glass ceiling was an unofficially acknowledge barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities. In the church, the stained-glass ceiling is the churches equivalent, indicating that a certain level of power or authority exist within church structures that women tend not to be able to rise above within church hierarchies courtesy of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

After I was blocked from commenting on the Head Covering Movement (and I still am, I checked.) I wasn't quite sure where I should focus my attention. In a discussion about worship and church and how discouraging it was - I met another Christian who gave me a sermon called 'The Glass Ceiling'. While listening, I took two and a half pages of notes. They became - 

Deconstructing Headship Relationships
≤ (Less Than Or Equal To)
Implications of Subordinationism
and A Non-traditional Marriage.

I've presented the case that the majority of the church is prevented from taking action to assist the church while a minority of the church is charged with the task of keeping everything going on their own. I've already shown that the ratio of women to men in Christianity is not 50:50 but more like 60:40. Not allowing women the same authority and free use of their abilities as men is like a terrible manager keeps 60% of the team side-lined watching 40% of the team play a game against an opponent who has 100% of his team on the field. Keeping the numbers simple, do you really think a team of four overworked men (assuming all men tried-out and weren't disqualified; in reality many of them wouldn't have been allowed to serve as a leader, then again, with so few people, too many who shouldn't have been allowed to be a leader were allowed to simply because they were guys) can really keep up against a team of ten made up of five men and five women? Can the four players do well with offense and defense doing double-duty when the ten player team can divide the responsibilities, switching between them back and forth, and not leave the goal unguarded? (if this were a soccer-like game.) This metaphor is an apt one - pastors are being burnt out and they're so stressed divorces are becomingly increasingly common. So to keep with the metaphor, what if two of the players on the team of four just walked off of the field? That's two against ten whose work-load has just doubled. But this isn't a game. It's the ministry where the goal is to try to reach people, help people, teach people, and the good side isn't winning. I've talked about how the idea of headship is taught differently for women while all other examples of the concept share the same understanding. It breaks it's own pattern and doesn't follow it's own rules so that it can keep the foundation of subordination. When I was exploring subordination, I considered the nature of oppression and the complementary roles of master and slave as well as the complementary roles of husband and wife. This leads into the non-traditional marriage arrangement of Mary and Joseph that made Jesus' ministry possible.

You see, churches long ago realized that just because women have less authority it doesn't mean that they can operate as if women have less responsibility. Women have much of the responsibility of helping to keep the doors open - women clean the church, run the nursery, prepare food in the kitchen, teach women in women's groups, teach children in Sunday School and youth groups, operate vacation bible school, run the sound board and other technology, arrange visits for the elderly in retirement homes, make meals for families in a sort of meals-on-wheels type thing, and there's always the possibility of some last minute special thing, flowers for mother's day, gifts for other special days, or some unforeseen responsibility or circumstance. Women get to do much of the hands-on work of relating and nurturing and helping in any given capacity; except leading the church.

Women who do feel that they're called to preach often have to be prepared for what happened to Anne Graham-Lotz, Billy Graham's daughter; she had been invited to speak at a church in 2002, the pulpit was removed and replaced by a music stand. When she began to start delivering the message, a number of men got up, turned their seats around, and sat down, with their backs facing her. In some circumstances, women can expect men to just walk out of the church altogether. That's if they're invited to come and speak at all, most women aren't. There's a reason why women who are called into ministry often become missionaries - we let them have as much authority as they have responsibilities; but preaching and being a missionary are two separate things. Women who are called to be preachers but not missionaries are often without options other than to leave certain denominations behind.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to see a steam-powered vehicle for the first time in a region that had only known horses and horse-drawn carriages? I wonder if they thought it was a joke. Maybe they got curious when they started seeing more of them. Maybe they felt threatened by them because the represented a change in a beloved way of life. Then it was obvious that they were inevitable. Finally, they were here to stay. At this point, the women in ministry issue is a joke to some, a curiosity to others, and a threat to a great many people who don't want their way of life to change. But there are some denominations that realize that it's obvious that it's inevitable. This stained glass ceiling is cracking and they can see the writing on the wall that it will soon fall.

So it's time for an action plan - I guess the first thing to do would be to educate yourself about all sides of the issues, learn which arguments and counter-arguments are valid and which ones are straw-man tactics, look for good information, great teachings, and sound research into cultural information and ancient biblical languages. Then teach what you learned. Talk about it when you get the chance and bring it up in conversations when you don't. Question the validity church by-laws that prevent women from being leaders - the great commission is for everyone and you shouldn't let a rule that says otherwise keep you from equipping everyone to fulfill it. Learn what the bible says and what it doesn't say. Understand that ancient cultures often expected that there would be exceptions to the rules, and so rules like "I do not permit a woman to teach" had exceptions like Priscilla. There are living exceptions to the rules - if only we'd let them be. Some, we do - Beth Moore, for example is permitted to teach and is not punished when men learn from her. We just have to get comfortable with the idea that every church has it's Beth Moore's that go by other names and aren't as wealthy.

Of course, we could leave everything as it is, but it would be allowing an oppression to go unchallenged in our midst and Jesus came to set the oppressed free, and so should we set free those we oppress even if we're benevolent oppressors. Only when we do that can we show how truly benevolent we are.

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