James W. McCarty III has written a great post about the absence of female voices in the theological blogosphere. (His title is pretty awesome, too: Stop, Collaborate and Listen ) His conclusions are applicable to just about every area of life and ministry:
Listen to women. And listen in a way in which you can learn from them. Seriously… And don’t argue with them right away… Listen deeply. Meditate upon those things that don’t resonate with your experience and give them a charitable interpretation. Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women to answer them.
Seriously? I think several books could be written about the issues raised in that paragraph. As fond as some branches of Christianity have become of vamping on the differences between men and women, there still seems be little acknowledgement that the “female” way of seeing the world could ever be helpful or instructive outside female circles.
Why is that?
First, men often forget to ask women for input. It’s not an intentional slight–men are just used to being “the only people in the board room,” and women are used to functioning in a male-dominated society.
This is unfortunate, because the experiences, perspectives, and ideas women bring to the table are an invaluable and often overlooked resource. From important theological issues (like Dr. Arloa Sutter’s incredible explanation of God’s compassion), to the ins and outs of daily ministry (like suggesting that the all-male elder board shouldn’t be the only people offering prayer after the service, since many women aren’t comfortable opening up to men, much less having their hands laid on them!), it just makes sense to tap into female wisdom, insight, and experience. Unfortunately, most of us are so used to the status quo that we don’t realize what we’re missing out on.
On the other hand, there are people who believe this sort of female influence should be extremely limited–that female influence may, in fact, be destructive to the church in general, and men in particular. Words like “feminization” are bandied about, the ancient practice of Eve-blaming/shaming is deployed (women are more easily deceived than men, women are too emotional/irrational to lead well, putting women up front might make men check out, or fall into lust), and the instructions the Apostle Paul gave some of the early churches regarding women are universalized, despite biblical evidence that Paul himself didn’t always adhere to them.
What’s more, biblical examples of godly female leaders like Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and Junia are “effeminated” (men have a word for it–why shouldn’t we?), either ignored or squeezed into the narrow mold of “acceptable female behavior.” For instance, a women’s study Bible I own has a devotional about Deborah titled “Homemaker and Soldier.” Homemaker and soldier? Seriously? The Bible describes Deborah as a prophetess, a judge, a leader of Israel–NOT as a homemaker (or a soldier, for that matter). But Deborah is a little too strong for our tastes–too pushy, too self-assured, too influential, too powerful. We celebrate male leaders with those characeristics, but have an uncouth word to describe women who exhibit those qualities. We prefer Little Debbies–soft, sweet women who conform to precise specifications.
What do you think? Have you seen these issues at play in your circles? How can we do a better job of seeking out, valuing, and including marginalized voices?