I want to wage a campaign against sloppy Biblical understanding, especially when it comes to stories about women. The narrative tends to be hackneyed and stresses ‘feminine’ qualities like beauty, humility and caring service. We miss out on the richness of complexity when we praise Ruth’s hard work and faith without also acknowledging her boldness in prompting Boaz to take action as her kinsman-redeemer. And it is not just wasteful of a beautifully crafted Old Testament book, it reinforces roles for women that are about service not leadership.
In a positive discussion with a group of about 40 women leaders last week in New Zealand, I was reminded that we do not hear about Biblical women enough and when we do, the examples are distorted or unhelpful eg ‘Women, do you have a Jezebel spirit?’
The 40 women in Auckland are determined to change the story for women in the Pacific region. They were meeting to discuss forming a Women’s leadership group to be part of the New Zealand Christian Network.
New Zealand comes top of the polls in so many ways – economic strength, good governance, lifestyle and equality. But good can always get better and the church is recognizing that it can help women connect, learn and contribute to discussions on all sorts of women’s issues and be a voice in the church and the public square.
New Zealand has a wonderfully mixed population of Maori, Anglo settlers, Pacific Islanders and more recently, Asian migrants. That makes an interesting fusion of Christian experience which can contribute a lot to worldwide discussion for women and men grappling with secularism, family challenges, good business, community violence and poverty.
One woman in a lunch meeting of leaders referred to ‘the sacred glass ceiling’, a great image to describe the deceptively pretty-looking limits placed on women in churches.
It was inspiring to meet with Janet Tuck and Rachel Afeaki Taumoepeau (in the picture) who have stepped up to lead the group. I was so impressed by their thoughtful positive approach and the fact that they bring different skills and experience.
The meeting in Auckland is going to be followed by other get-togethers across the islands and Janet and Rachel hope that they can start telling stories of strong hope, that will give good models of leadership to the next generation. Both women are already on the Board of the NZ Christian Network so their work will not be parked in a lay-by marked ‘Women Only’.
Being a daughter of God should be an exciting adventure. Yet many church structures are stuck in old ways and cultural expectations that are not helpful to the educated, talented and articulate bunch of women I met in Auckland (and everywhere I go!)
I’m excited to think of what can change in our perceptions if we have some good solid teaching about women in the Bible. And I’m looking forward to seeing what Janet and Rachel and all those women in New Zealand will nurture over the coming years to bring glory to God.
- For a really readable introduction to women in the Bible, see the books of Lee Grady.
2. Please pray for Christian women who are acknowledged as leaders – it is not easy for women (or men) in the sometimes-harsh -judgmental spotlight of the Church!
 It will be part of the global Women’s Commission, of the World Evangelical Alliance