HAS THE SECULAR FEMINIST MOVEMENT INFLUENCED WOMEN TO ASSERT THEMSELVES MORE IN THE CHURCH?
Briscoe: I think what drives the secular women's movement, to be fair to them, is the notion that women are people. And you can't argue with that. That's something I share as a Christian. In the way that works itself out, of course, I would differ with them. But I think those issues ought to be raised in the church. How many of us refer to the "pastor's wife"? You don't say the "garbage collector's wife" or the "engineer's wife" when you're introduced. She has a name. She is a person. And I see a lot of Christian women struggling with that.
Thompson: Some of the issues that the feminist groups have brought up have been very good and needed to be addressed. Some have wanted simply to help women gain basic rights, and God has used these gains in the church. But a philosophy has also crept in that, if you are at home with your children, then you're enslaved—and we're going to free you. Women are being taught that if the child is an inconvenience to you, get rid of it. Take care of you, no matter what.
That's not all feminists, of course. But some, I believe, desire to destroy the family. That's where the church needs to step in and affirm women who choose to bear children, and then help them if they need help.
Kassian: There have been advances in opening up different professions and arenas for women as a result of secular feminism. But I also think that there has been a destructive backlash, and you see horrific crimes against women now to a greater extent than ever before. And men are not protecting women as they used to. December 6 was the sixth anniversary for a horrendous slaying at the University of Montreal. A fellow who had been denied a place in the engineering school went into a classroom with a semi-automatic and methodically separated the women from the men, telling the men to leave the room. He pointed his gun at the remaining women and said, "You are all feminists" and shot them. There were 14 killed, numerous others wounded. Fifty years ago those men wouldn't have left the room because they would have seen it as their duty to protect the women. There were enough of them that they could have easily jumped the gunman.
The feminist movement has sent a number of confusing messages to men. They've been told that "maleness" is responsible for all the evils in the world. And there is a frightful trend toward identity confusion.
Adeney: When it hasn't been extreme, the feminist movement has raised our awareness of some important themes. And Christian women have taken some of the best of it and have become salt and light around the world. I'm thinking about some women who are now with World Vision, or Food for the Hungry, or World Concern, or others who are involved in inner-city ministries. These women leaders are very concerned about women in poverty, here and around the world, who are true victims. They're aware, for example, of the feminization of poverty, of sexual harassment, of the problems in health care—especially in the Third and Fourth Worlds. These women are not only concerned about basic health and education, but even about the possibility of having access to water or land. These are life-and-death issues for a lot of women in the world. And our gains as women leaders in Christian service—due in part to feminist sensitivities—have enabled some to "love our neighbors" and have a concern for other societies.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS A RETRENCHMENT IN SOME CHURCHES AS A REACTION AGAINST SECULAR FEMINISM?
Adeney: When we're thinking about influences of feminism, we have to know how to deal with lesbianism and goddess worship and even witchcraft. And these are real forces that I think the church hasn't been able to address effectively. You have women for whom coming to Christ is a stumbling block because they are into relating to Mount Rainier and to whales. And the church hasn't always made it easy for women from a feminist orientation to find a home. But the "retrenchment" of some churches, I think, is a reaction to more than that. It's a reaction to the feeling of wanting order in a world that has become "disorganized."
Briscoe: The Boers used to put their wagons in a circle, and they all got inside in their defense. And that's what I think the church has done. They have seen the fallout of society and the disintegration of the family, and in their eyes, the feminist movement has been responsible. So they go inside a circle and turn their guns out. So I do see a retrenchment in some areas.
But I also see freedom and opportunity. In America, if you don't like something in a church—their view of women, for example—you just go to another one.
WHAT POSITIVE STEPS ARE BEING MADE IN EVANGELICALISM IN THIS AREA?
Briscoe: I think the Promise Keepers movement has had a very positive effect, not only for men, but for women. Men are going off in hundreds of thousands and hearing the message to take care of your pastor, take care of your wife, take responsibility to release your wife to be all that she should be, and make it possible for her to serve in church.
One of my colleagues in our Women's Ministries recently solicited interest in our church bulletin for women to lead a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) program. She had 35 women show up for the first meeting, only two of whom had previously been involved in our women's ministry. Just out of interest, she asked, "What will your husbands say?" They answered, "Oh, they went to Promise Keepers. They're telling us to do it." She said this would not have happened even two years ago.
HOW DO YOU ANSWER THE CALL OF GOD IN TERMS OF YOUR GIFTS AND STILL ANSWER THE CALL OF MOTHERHOOD AND FAMILY NURTURER?
Adeney: I don't see it as an either/or. For me, it has not been an impossible problem, because I have always been a thinker and a writer, and I would do that if I had 20 children.
Also, we need to talk about Christian mothers exercising dominion in ministry. Christian women today need some role models. Catherine Booth is one of my great role models. She had eight children. She wrote eight books. She had no word processor. She regularly went out and spoke to 2,000 or 3,000 people a night in the slums. She had no Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to train counselors for her. She had to counsel them. And they were unemployed. They were, in fact, thieves and prostitutes. So she also had to do job training and placement for them. And yet, at the same time, she spoke to the wealthy. The Lord gave her a sense of dominion.
There are many ordinary Christian women who are doing things that are admirable. We need to fill our minds with these examples that will encourage and inspire us.
We also need to develop a sense of sisterhood—groups of women doing things together. Many times we encounter negative experiences that can be demoralizing and discouraging. We start to think, "I don't really quite have it." But if we have a supportive sisterhood, together we can be encouraged to keep trying.
Another thing women have to do is learn how to say no. I have a phrase over my desk that reads: "Writing is planned neglect." (Unfortunately, I'm not planning enough neglect, so I'm not doing enough writing.) Jill was asked to write commentaries on Habakkuk, Psalms, and John for the Women's Bible. So she writes Habakkuk. Now, that's a very nice way to say no to the others.
Finally, when we talk about the nuclear family, we must also talk about single people. I'm thinking about childless single people; but also we have a lot of single parents. We need to affirm them and make sure that our churches are user-friendly for them. We need to keep in mind that there are people in a lot of different roles and affirm them in what they are called to do for the kingdom of God and the world.
Briscoe: I counsel pastors and wives where the husband will say, "I don't know what's the matter with my wife. She's falling apart." Well, she's wearing seven hats, that's why she's falling apart. She's had to go back to work because the church doesn't pay him enough; she gets criticized for it by the church. Then I ask him, "Did you lower your expectations of her in the home when she went back to work? Did you pick up some of these responsibilities? Did you help the children get organized and disciplined?"
Each couple is different—their capabilities, their gifts, their ages, their child rearing, their time, the season of their lives. How can one of us say to the other, you should put God first or church first or family first? There has to be a partnership in how we do ministry. Whatever Jesus says is first today is first. Today he might say you should stay home and look after the children. Tomorrow he might say you should leave, and somebody else is to look after the children. The art of it is being brave enough to be close enough to God to hear what he says is first today.
Kassian: We also need to recognize that ministry can happen where we're at, as we're going. There are phases and seasons of a woman's life that shape what she's capable of doing. If you're nursing a young baby, you cannot be gone for more than two hours. That's just reality. It took me a long time to come to the understanding that I don't need to stop my life in order to do ministry. Ministry is my life.
I had a lady over last week who's anorexic. She was helping me make supper, and my kids were pulling on her and doing this and that. Before I would have thought: okay, I've got to set up a meeting, get a sitter, get out of the house, have it all structured. But I think that there is power in the home to have ministry. I don't think you ever need to sacrifice ministry for the sake of your family, because I think the family is ministry, and the family is salt and light to the world.
Thompson: We need to ask ourselves, will my kids rebel if they're brought up in a home where we're always putting the church first and they're left out? Or on the other hand, are we so protective of our family that we shut ourselves off from ministry? I think the husband and wife need to help each other make God the God of their family and not allow ministry or family to become as "god." But rather, we should make family and home the environment where ministry happens.
WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHER OF YOUNG CHILDREN WHO HAS A CLEAR SENSE OF CALL ABOUT HER VOCATION, ARRANGES CHILD CARE, AND THEN RECEIVES CRITICISM FROM HER CHURCH COMMUNITY?
Kassian: I'm always struck at how women are robbed of their joy of being who they are. You're made to feel guilty for having kids—whether you have interests outside of the home and use daycare, or if you want to stay home and that's all you want to do. Because you're supposed to be everything. There's this superwoman pressure that you ought to be able to juggle seven or ten or fifteen different roles. It's a tragedy to see all these women who have all the joy sapped out of them for doing and being who God wants them to be.
Briscoe: You can sacrifice family on the altar of ministry, or you can sacrifice ministry on the altar of marriage and family. Because so many marriages have fallen apart, we've emphasized family so much that, in some cases, the family has become god instead of God being God of the family.
Every couple is unique. If the man is helping the woman to be all that God wants her to be, what she ends up doing will be unique. But whatever you do, you'll be criticized for it, and so you have to refuse to live under the expectations of the church. Work out for yourselves: What does Jesus say is first for us?—in our unique gifting, coupleness, training, time of life—and then do it.
So I think it comes back to being brave enough to break stereotypes, if necessary, and saying God is God of our family, and this is what he's told us, as a family, to do at this stage. And there's freedom in that.
Adeney: It helps to have either the sisterhood I mentioned or even a few good friends that you can share with who understand what you're about. I have some. We are all so busy that we don't get together more often than once every six weeks or two months at a time. But that's okay. We all know that we could call each other up if we had trouble.
Thompson: When we look at Proverbs 31, which is supposed to be the model of the virtuous woman, we find this woman dealt in business, in real estate, and she knew how to delegate and manage. When we look in the Scriptures, we find our stereotypes are shattered because we can't find everybody doing marriage, doing family, exactly the same way.
Kassian: Our culture is against us at this point. Work used to be centered in the home, where there was usually an extended family. So you'd have gobs of kids and aunts and uncles, and it wouldn't be a big deal to run out because there were enough adults around. The home was the whole center of society. But it is fragmented today. We've split work and home, and it has become very difficult for women. Women have a strong pull toward nurturing the home, and yet there are still external interests that pull them as well.
REGARDLESS OF HOW ONE DETERMINES WHETHER WOMEN HAVE "COME A LONG WAY," HOW CAN WE BE WHERE GOD WANTS US TO BE?
Briscoe: When Jesus said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden," he used a nautical word meaning "overloaded." Around every boat is a waterline that determines how much weight it can carry. Every one of us women, and men too, are like a boat; we each have a waterline. If you load us beyond the waterline, we'll sink. If you do not allow us to carry the burdens we're built for, we'll drift. We need to help each other discover what kind of "boat" each of us is, and what our carrying capacity is.
Thompson: In Acts 5, both Ananias and Sapphira were called to give an account. They asked her the same question they asked him, and she answered with the same lie. The marriage relationship did not absolve her from her own responsibility. We all must give an answer for ourselves. Whoever is in authority has the obligation before God and to the people being served to encourage and inspire. We must be good examples for one another.
Kassian: It has been men that have encouraged me in my writing and speaking and, in a sense, have protected me. Many times the structure of authority is perverted and used for power, but that is a distortion of the Word. It grieves me when I see women bottled up. The authority structures in church ought to be freeing for women rather than oppressive.
Adeney: There is a great deal to be said for being a Sunday-school teacher of girls all your life and for raising a godly family. To strive to be a leader for its own sake is not necessarily a good thing, and we ought not to champion it unduly. For me, the reason to aim to be a leader would be the call of stewardship, love of your neighbor, and the desire for God's glory to be extended.
Miriam Adeney is research professor in missions at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and associate professor of cross-cultural ministries at Seattle Pacific University. She has lived and traveled extensively and authored many articles and books, including "A Time for Risking: Priorities for Women" (Multnomah). She is also a senior editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. She resides in Seattle with her husband and three sons.
Jill Briscoe is the lay adviser to the Women's Ministry at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where her husband, Stuart, serves as pastor. She and her daughter Judy work as a mother/daughter speaking and writing team. Jill has spoken all over the world and has authored over 40 books. She is the editor of "Just Between Us," a magazine for ministry wives and women in ministry, and a board member of Christianity Today, Inc., and World Relief. She recently coedited with her husband "The Family Book of Christian Values" (Chariot). She is the mother of three children and the grandmother of nine.
Mary Kassian is the author of "The Feminist Gospel" and "Women, Creation, and the Fall" (both Crossway) and is section editor and contributor for the NKJV Women's Study Bible. She is a member of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and has taught women's studies courses at various colleges and seminaries. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with her husband and three sons.
Jean Thompson copastors the 1,200-member Landover, Maryland-based Harvest Church International with her husband, James Thompson. She is the founder and president of the International Black Women's Network, and she also founded the Great Potential Program, which promotes inner-city outreach. She lives in Maryland with her husband and their daughter, Sherah.
Copyright © 1996 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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