Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Does religion cause the violation of women's rights?

As I read through the Bible this year I am taking note of the story of men, women, and God as it unfolds. I have already noted that though men are definitely the power brokers, at least the women were not circumcised in Genesis. Okay, so a virgin daughter or two are offered to crowds of men in lieu of offering male house guests—virtual strangers for—sex. Okay, so Abraham gives his wife with benefits to several men to avoid being killed.

Observe, I still, even after reading more than twenty chapters in Genesis, hold out hope for a good story to unfold for women.

Also note, I made a decision when I was about 24 years old to keep my mouth shut about woman’s role in the church. I convinced myself that I would not have any credibility in the Church of Christ unless I could prove that I could be a good wife and mother. I would have to hold my tongue on my the view that women are marginalized in church practice due to a misappropriation of a few select verses written by the good bachelor Apostle Paul—until I was 50.

Well, I would not approach the issue with such reasoning today—now that I am well over 50. Certainly titles, offices, and power are not what Jesus sought. He did, however, come to “preach good tidings to the poor...proclaim the release of the set at liberty them that are bruised.” Throughout the world, women fall into these categories day in and day out.

Juxtapose the above proclamation of Jesus with a comment I heard many times through the years in women’s Bible studies in Churches of Christ, "Remember, in Christ, we have no rights.”

Did you ever hear this? How would you have responded? Sometimes people would say it in response to the hymn in Phillipians 2 in which Jesus did not claim his equality with God, but made himself a servant. However, how damaging is it to re-write this and tell women they should not claim rights?

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, in his January 9 piece entitled, "Religion and Women" challenges leaders in world religions, those who devote their lives to their faith, to take steps to stop the oppression of women. He says, “Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior.”

I have a thought, and I wonder if you agree. Many leaders in Churches of Christ agree that women can speak in the regular assembly—as they do in Sunday school classes, small groups, and after the “closing prayer,” but they do not make it a practice in their churches for fear of offending some—in particular, the more conservative women. When will those male leaders in our churches stand up for the women of the church whose gifts are stymied and marginalized while they enjoy using their talents in full employ?

I think most of the church leader fellows I know are nice guys thinking they do not want to rock the boat for the more conservative members of their congregation. I wonder if they ever consider that they may be part of a very big global problem?

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

To speak up for what I believe about women's gifts in my church would get me fired, possibly turned away at the door and shunned by people I have known and loved as family for about half my life now.

I would not be able to support my family until the next job.

That would not be very responsible, either.

So which is the greater trespass?

Sorry to remain Anonymous. Truly sorry.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

I am sorry that this is hurtful. It is a difficult topic.

Chris Dowdy said...

Nothing but love, Anonymous, but we might want to qualify "speak up for." I don't think Beverly is suggesting that we start fire-breathing sermonizing. People who do that kind of thing have no business being in pastoral positions, so good call.

But if the leaders who have the education, the position, and the social capital to *begin* conversations about women's equality in churches do not act, no one in those churches will. They will not. Ever.

And if leaders do believe women should be equal, and are waiting for something else to do it, that is unconscionable. It is past time to risk for this.

That is a hard thing to say. But ministry is grief work.

Also: Beverly is my mom.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Years ago I explained to a wise man at a church of which I was a member that since I grew up with the inconsistencies in the interpretation of women's role in the church, and certainly can serve God in many ways under the present conditions, I was content to remain in the status quo.

I thought he would be impressed with my acquiescence.

In a very kind manner, he commented that this may all well and good for me, but forecast that the coming generation of young women will have no such social context for the complex way we process how women function in most congregations. They will simply, he predicted, not be part of our churches. That was 25 years ago.

The article by Nicholas Kristof challenged me to rethink the impact of accepting the status quo.

Stephen said...

It gets worse and worse. Women can't speak or else they lose their credibility. Men can't speak or else they lose their income. The oppressors are, oddly, gender-neutral: they are happy to oppress anybody. How they get by with it is a marvel. To deny people the right to speak is abusive and damaging as few things are. But to speak! To speak good, beautiful, and noble things, and to speak freely and endlessly! Is this not what we will all do when perfected?

Three Scobeys said...

I have such a difficult time with this topic. It has bothered me since high school; but even more-so now that I have a daughter of my own.

What worries me more is the general culture of silence that we have created in our churches. What are we afraid of? That children, the future leaders of our churches, might ask questions to which we have no credible answer.

"Because that's the way it's always been" should no longer be a viable response.

Wonderful post. Very thought provoking and sensitive at the same time.

JJT said...

hi Beverly,

would you mind if I posted a link to this from rudetruth as a part of my ongoing guest-blogger experiment on women's voices in the CofC? this is exactly the kind of witness I am trying to elicit (from all, female and male).

actually, that goes for anyone who wants to contribute--and part of why I host things on my personal blog is to protect anonymity.

Chris pointed me to your post...but I've come across your blog before somehow, but now I can't remember how/who was the connection...

anyhow, a substantive comment re anonymous' predicament. I've seen many preachers, my dad among them, remain in ministry while making a shift out of the CofC. there is a bigger world out there, full of hurt people who would benefit more from *your* unfettered voice. what I desire for women, I also desire for you: the freedom to speak God's truth as you have received it, not as a "right" but because we are all called to serve. (and for the record, I don't consider that to be turning your back on the CofC either--sometimes that is the only means of witnessing left.)

Philip Cummings said...

Thank you, Bev! As a father who dearly loves his little girl, I am completely exasperated over this issue. I attend a "progressive" CofC full of people I love, who inspire me to live justly and faithfully while holding me accountable when I don't. That said, I am more than ready to abandon my tradition and possibly these same people in order to rear my daughter to understand that her God-given gifts are, indeed, God-given and that in Christ there is neither "male nor female."

Anonymous, I understand your predicament, and Chris, I appreciate your "grass-roots," relational approach. I simply don't know how much longer I can wait for change. My daughter was born yesterday. Today, she is 2. Will she be writing a similar post tomorrow? I'm running out of time!

Honestly, I don't know what would happen to my congregation if our church leaders spoke up for freedom in Christ for women. I'm sure there'd be some public upheaval, but I also know I'd welcome revival and actively support such courageous leaders with all I have, for the sake of our witness in the world and for the developing faith of my little girl.

Josh and Kaitlyn Thames said...

Thank you so much for this post. And to those that have commented about their daughters, I appreciate you as well! I am not there (ie parenthood) yet but, speaking from a daughter's point of view I still think this issue is so important. I am a daughter of 2 spportive and loving parents who taught me that I had amazing gifts, my leadership ability being one of them. We were members of a wonderfully loving and very conservative church body that taught me my gifts were not always appropriate for me to use at church simply because I was a girl. While we worshiped there, even though my family supported me and did not have the same views as the church as a whole, I felt pushed aside and neglected, unworthy and useless. Those feelings I had while growing up have turned into bitterness and resentment in who I am today. I want feelings of patience and love and forgiveness to overcome the bitterness but it is often a struggle.

I'm sorry to get on my soapbox and I know that this is about so many women other than me and that is why I appreciate Bev's take on the effect religion has on women's rights as a whole. This is just an issue that is so personal to me and I know to so many others. I am ready for a movement and am more than ready for discussion. Along those lines, Bev, you have inspired me and I was wondering if I could have your permission to link to this blog on a blog post of my own?
Your niece,

GAC College Counseling said...

to JTB and Kaitlyn--link away.

Becky said...

The curse of Eve as the temptress causing Adam to follow along with her desire to taste the power of good and evil depicted in the Bible has transcended all generations. There are strong women in the Old Testament. Remember the Tribe of Reuben? All his offspring were daughters and they had to fight for their birthright. They fought for equality and won the same birthright promise as the other tribes. Other women were Judges and Queens and in the last part of proverbs King Lemuel describes a very liberated woman in charge of business and finance in her own individual way. In the New Testament there were deaconesses that performed many great services. Servitude garners submissiveness, which society sees as a weakness. But in Jesus, the paradox is this submissiveness and servitude are the great strengths. I have struggled with divorce as a Christian servant wife and mother, and have stuggled my whole life with the corporate church entity. my divorce--the guilt of leaving a very problematic physically threatening situation, dealing with my parents(you made your bed now lie in it)having to appease my parents in seeking church leadership guidance to save my soul... It didn't feel right, and I can remember all my life never quite fitting in or feeling totally 100% church of christ or any other corporate body. I always thought religion should be as the Bible says...simple, but when humans form coporations, the simple becomes muddied and more complex. They use bits and pieces from the Bible to form the rules and regulations. The situation between women and men stays comfortably as it has been because it seems to be too destructive to the corporate body to change the balance. I can understand that. But I still feel that the curse of Eve is emblazoned on all women to wear as a scarlet letter to be forever ruled by men and that may be the way society will always see it. For me I continue to go against the grain from time to time and ask questions that continue to go unanswered by men. As I grow older I find, many others don't know all the answers either and they too wonder how we came to certain interpretations or mindsets. I thank God that I am a questioning soul. God will have to tell me or lead me to the answers when God feels it best for me to know. I pray for peace, wisdom, tolerance/forgiveness of myself and others and understanding why I am on this earth.

stan said...

Ahhh... the tension between pastoral care and comfort and the prophetic voice of transformation.

Krister said...


As a friend of your son's I'm happy to have stumbled upon these thoughts. One of the things I've been thinking about lately is the sharp dichotomy we have created between the pastoral and the prophetic within the pastoral vocation. As it relates to "the role of women," which in is simply vernacular for whether we truly believe women are imbued with and reflect God's image, we cannot hide behind the supposed tension between the therapeutic qualities of that define the pastoral and the supposedly divisive nature of the prophetic voice. The pastoral function is neutered (pardon the ironic metaphor) without a strong grasp of the prophetic. The prophetic is a function of the pastor's pastoral nature. It is a systemic application of one's pastoral care.

I have a daughter, and I know that I am facing some difficult questions about what kind of community I want her to witness as she grows in her faith. It seems unreasonable and selfish for me to raise her in a tradition that will not affirm her completely, throughout her lifespan.

Leaders of the church, which for better or worse in our polity tend to be the elders, need to trust the capacity of their pastors to envision a fuller approximation of the commonwealth within the context of their individual congregations. And in congregations where this is not a part of the pastor's discomfort, the elders need to ramp up the importance of mutuality as it relates to how this "body" reflects the life of Christ. Pastors, in turn, must be willing to take a stand for what they know to be true. Otherwise, we are turning out pastors who live a life divided between providing for their family yet not fully joining with a God who invites participation toward increased love of God, self, neighbor, and an ever expanding justice. Clearly, this is complicated, but as JTB notes, it is not a zero sum proposition. There are always possibilities.

Unknown said...

I think we've remained quiet, in the hope of not offending, for too long. Good post, Beverly!

Indie Pereira said...

I think Krister's comments about the pastoral and the prophetic are right on and very helpful.

Unknown said...

Bev--Found you thru JTB's blog; I'm wondering if Anon. is a minister @ my extremely conservative, very, very traditional coc in DFW metroplex. We don't even attempt to discuss "controversial" issues because they are considered "settled issues"--ones where "God spoke, we know it,so be it". Oh, every once in a while, we might have a textual study on "burning issues"---instrumental music,works of the Holy Spirit,who's in & who's out, women's roles(note we would never use the term "gender equality"--too "feminist speak"!!) but everyone always knows what the end results will be---what it's always been---& everyone knows the
"right" words to say. I like what Three Scobeys said--what are we afraid of in trying to dig deeper into what God really wants for His daughters??? I'll visit your blog again!! (Anon.--I'm looking for a sign from you!!!)

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

From my experience, anonymous is dozens of ministers of all ages in cities across the country.

Indie Pereira said...


As Beverly said, there are ministers like anonymous in a lot of churches. Speaking the truth prophetically is no easy thing to do especially when you will have to sacrifice dearly for it. Even if your minister is one of the anonymous and he someday feels safe to tell you so, don't expect him to speak out about it. It is not likely that he would be willing to do so.

Anonymous said...

Bev, I wish I could put my hands on a sermon (podcast) that Mike Cope did a couple of years ago on this subject. Very thought-provoking about the gifts God has given to all of us. If I can find it, I'll get it to you somehow. Love you!

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Hey Cindy
So sweet to hear from you. I think we have the link to Mike's sermon on this. He is one of the few men that I know who has taken the risk to speak up for women now.

Keith Brenton said...

Cindy, it's ... you'll need the free RealPlayer application to listen to it.

I'm trying to find something that will convert it to an MP3.

The elders at Mike's congregation, Highland in Abilene, spent about a year studying about women and leadership in worship before Mike delivered this sermon.

crossstitcher24 said...

I don't think true Christianity causes violation of "women's rights". We are created male and female for a purpose. We each have a role to play in this world. Men were commanded to be the spiritual leaders. Women were commanded to be the ones to submit to the man. When each fulfills their role, the family unit, church, and community runs smoothly. In Ephesians 5:21 it says to "submit to one another" and then in verses 22-24 it tells the role of the woman and verses 25-30 gives the role of the man. What is so hard to understand? When we allow the secular world to invade our way of life as a Christian, we become like the "pagans" who do not follow the pattern God has set for us to live. When the husband does what he is supposed to do and the wife does what she is supposed to do, we are pleasing to God.
Now, what can the women do? Tons! I think part of the problems we are facing in American society is that women have not been doing what they are best at doing. We are supporters, care givers and nurturers. Women used to help people who were homeless, now the homeless have to go to some kind of government aid facility. Women used to take care of their aging parents, now they stick aging parents in a home and forget about them. Women used to be involved in PTA, Boy Scouts, and other activities their children were involved in, now they let the school or government take care of that too. We women need to get back to the business of what we were created for. We need to be the suitable helpers of our husbands and the nurturers of our children.