Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Vision for Gender Reconciliation

In her guest blog post Lisa DeLay writes about her understanding of the term “the call”:
It's important in the course of this story to share that I don't take the word "call" lightly. It hardly ever applies to me, save two other times. I just don't use that language, and I tend to be suspicious when people over-utilize that word.
No, for me a "call" is like this deep conviction planted in my heart (think Dallas Willard. The heart = one's control center/will). This conviction then progresses through prayer, study, introspection, and wise counsel. I sense that if I don't move in a certain direction I'll be standing against something much bigger than me, and blocking it somehow to my own detriment.
I’m with her on this one. I’m not confident about a particular call on my life but I am confident about my convictions, gifts and passions. Furthermore as I’ve reflected on the trajectory of my experiences, both educational and practical, I’m considering a path that will require the same process Lisa suggests.

In a nutshell, this is what concerns me most today: I believe the evangelical church needs to experience a deep, transformative change in relationships between men and women, a change that results in what Carolyn Custis James describes in Half the Church as the “Blessed Alliance.” This alliance is a return to what God originally designed when he created male and female in his image, his imago dei. Both women and men were created to fulfill their mission together, to rule and subdue the earth together. Nothing in Genesis 1:26-28 indicates hierarchy or authority, only partnership.

James describes the alliance further:
This foundational truth elevates the seriousness of the Blessed Alliance well beyond men “making room” for women and trying to tweak the system here and there to keep us happy. Much deeper kingdom issues are at stake than resolving debates over disputed passages, deciding who’s in charge, resolving conflict, defining his and her roles, and dividing the proverbial pie so everyone gets their fair share. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” This statement means our brothers cannot be the men God created them to be or do the job God is calling them to do without their sisters. Together, we are God’s preferred method of getting things done in the world. He created his image bearers male and female, blessed them, and spread before them the global mandate to build his kingdom.
I have observed some interesting patterns in the past six years through the stories of many female leaders I have encountered, through the blogs of women who are increasingly voicing their frustration and anger, through books that are documenting the experiences of women leaders, and through my own journey into the wonderful yet hazardous sphere of church ministry.

Many have attempted entering into the debate over disputed passages. But from my perspective it is getting nowhere. In fact, the trenches are being dug more deeply. I’ve met women who were committed to resolving conflict and misunderstanding. But it ended up with more misunderstanding and often they were treated as the enemy. More women are being trained in seminary and are gifted for roles that are not traditionally sought by women. But few churches are hiring them or placing them in leadership positions. Instead they are boxed into safe ("biblical") places of ministry and their voices are not welcome at the table of leadership. Many are exiting the evangelical church and entering mainline denominations where women are welcome. But from what I hear women are still treated poorly in those denominations.

What’s so disconcerting about these stories is that many of the women in ministry are serving under or alongside of men who express their desire to value and encourage them.

So what’s behind the disconnection?

I want to explore this question. I believe this is my next step. It’s not much and it’s more for personal understanding. But I can’t ignore the vision growing deep inside me.

A vision of a Blessed Alliance in which God is most fully and accurately imaged in mutual loving, collaborative, and respectful relationships between men and women whether single or married.

A vision of reconciliation between men and women who work hard against the curse of domination and control, who dismantle fences set up to create safety zones of disengagement, and who choose repentance rather than contempt or fear.

A vision of partnership in doing Kingdom work so that both men and women are fully equipped and operating out of their gifting and passion and the leaders flow with the movement of the Spirit rather than an organizational chart.

A vision of inclusion that recognizes the need for both male and female voices at every level of leadership and ministry so that the perspectives of both genders are welcomed and celebrated not excluded nor confined to cultural roles.

I talked about my vision and convictions with my new friend Liz. We discussed a possible ministry of promoting the Blessed Alliance and what that would look like. She said she got goose bumps hearing what God had laid on my heart. I certainly got encouragement.

Then later that week at the Chinese women’s retreat we both got goose bumps when I made a discovery in the Bible. Perhaps it’s not a huge discovery but it was one of those “aha!” moments that set some wheels turning in my head.

I’ll tell you about it in my next post.


  1. Love your heart and your vision! With you!

    1. Thanks, Lori! I know you are busy with school but I miss our emails and Blessed Alliance.

  2. Brilliantly written, Harriet. I agree with you and I stand with you on this. Let me ask you this,for your consideration, do you think that we are building a wall between men and women?

    1. Mike, I didn't hear from you but Ali from England wrote a similar question from her particular context. I believe she is getting at your question too. So I will write a future blog post on this and offer some more thoughts on the divide. I still would like your observations.

  3. Thanks, Mike, for your encouragement and support.

    In your question, who is the "we" and what "walls" do you have in mind? And where do you observe walls being built? I'd like more clarification before I add my thoughts.

    I appreciate your question.

  4. I'm new to your blog and late to this discussion but I'm really interested in how we do reconcile the divisions theologically and relationally that appear to have been constructed in church life. I'm also a Brit so my context is a little different but I have observed in recent years the growing influence of the American conservative evangelicals on church life in the UK and it alarms me.
    One of the particular difficulties I have is the boom in women only/men only retreats billed as essential now not just for lay people but particularly for women leaders. In normal conferences there are now always a few seminars that are gender exclusive but when I have attended them there is no reason at all why they should be exclusive.
    There are few evangelicals who, accepting of women in leadership who would dare do a men only leadership conference but who encourage women only leadership groups and retreats. I wondered what are your thoughts on this?
    I do have some but I would very much appreciate your perspective on it. Thank you.

    1. Ali,

      You observe and allude to some dynamics/motivations/practices that are raising questions in your mind. And if I am picking up on your questions correctly, they are important questions to ask. I would like to take some time to think through a more full response in another blog post. But first let me see if I am asking the questions in your mind.

      Is there a legitimate place for separate, gendered discussions (whether biblical or cultural)?

      How do you identify what is a wall/divide and what's an appropriate boundary?

      What are the motivations/fears/misunderstandings that are driving a greater division between women and men? What are the assumptions?

      Do women need to gather together as women more than men do?

      As the Church becomes more globalized, how does it engage different cultures thoughtfully through the lens of the Gospel? In other words, what is one church culture (egalitarian) to do when confronted by a differing church culture (complementarian), or vice versa, especially when foreign? (This works both ways.)

      For those who are discerning like you, Ali, how do you engage the church in dialogue so that the damaging influences are identified and avoided while still making space for positive growth and changes?

      I may be reading more into your thoughts than I should. Please let me know if these questions are accurate or if you have a different set of questions.

      BTW the women's pastor at my church is from England. She has shared a little about the culture of women and men in your country but I would like to have a fuller picture. I want to share your post with her to get her thoughts and I would love for you to share yours as I formulate my blog response.

      As an initial response, in general I believe way too much is gendered in American churches while at the same time I acknowledge some legitimate and biblical space for gendered discussion. I believe the culture of women in America is unfortunately mostly defined by Hollywood so that the relationship between men and women is over sexualized. Instead of resisting this influence, I believe the church is perpetuating the myth that women and men cannot partner in a healthy, nonsexual way. With a possible hidden misogynist belief that women are responsible, the church falls back to post-fall cultural values of male hierarchy (control the power of women) and separation (control the presence of women).

      As I said earlier, the questions that I think you are raising are very, very important. Thank you for responding and raising them. I will address them and I look forward to any adjustments to the questions and further insight into your culture.

      Blessings and peace to you,

    2. Ali, one question. Is there such a thing as men's and women's ministries in the UK?