Rise in Strength

Sixty women leaders from 18 nations gathered in Amsterdam in June to celebrate the gifting, service and leadership of women in the Church across the globe. They mourned the injustices women suffer and called on Christians to take steps to honour women’s leadership in family, church and community.
Women are leaders. They lead businesses, families, law firms, theological colleges and charities. They are writers and counsellors, mothers and mentors. They also lead in churches in various ways, using the gifts and natural talents given by God.
During three days of ideas, worship, networking and united determination to speak for women across the globe, key ideas emerged. I want to share some of those ideas, to demonstrate the beauty and the burden of being born a girl in our world.

1. We love our calling despite setbacks: Before the consultation we surveyed 500 women (496 to be precise) to seek their insights. The survey highlighted that we think that sexism in the Church (57%) and cultural obstacles to women in leadership (50%) are the biggest hurdles to women being able to follow their calling.
The women at this consultation were mostly over 50 and established in leadership – they had pioneered projects, set up ventures and earned high educational standards; but they still wanted to talk about the setbacks they had to overcome and were concerned that young women still experienced the same obstacles.
The strongest social concerns were about poverty (52%), faith-based or gender-based violence (46%), marriage and family pressures (39%), and social media pressures on girls and teens (38%). Is the Church active in addressing these issues?

2. We need numbers: It’s often said that women make up 60% of the Church (and more in some places like Nepal or rural Europe). But we don’t know for sure because there are few global statistics on the number of women who are Christians or their roles. Barna research tells us that women are leaving church in the USA, but we only have anecdotal evidence for women becoming Christians or the number of women who lead churches. Good data will help us know how women and men experience church. After all, the closest disciples of Jesus (120) counted their new members at Pentecost (3000). Numbers would help us understand how women are contributing and where.

3. We recognise the truth of The Bible: over 180 women are mentioned by name in the Bible and many more who are significant are not named. Too little is taught about the contribution of women to the flourishing of faith. We are conscious that Bible teaching about the role and leadership of women can divide Christians but God’s character is to value men and women equally. And there are many examples from the Gospels and the early Church that show women leading church groups, teaching, giving financial support and having roles like prophets and apostles.

4. We value each other: The event was unusual because we did not have any ‘main’ speakers – 32 women had roles in presentations or leading some aspect of our time and that was a strong signal to us all that no-one was more special than anyone else. Kay Arthur, whose Precept ministry has 11 million books in print (!), showed gracious humility in all our discussions. Other women are successful business entrepreneurs, or work with the most vulnerable women in war-torn areas. God sees and values all. If only all leadership in the Church was as wise and humble as the women gathered in Amsterdam. It is not easy: we all want recognition for what we do, a bit of praise, especially if we are volunteers or low paid. This group of dedicated and professional women were willing to acknowledge each other’s giftings and achievements without jealousy and that is a moment to celebrate.

5. We have influence: Our influence in terms of day-to-day contact and leadership is around 3300 people, an average of 55 per woman, which sounds good but not spectacular. But when we added the next layers of influence – emails, books, social media, radio, TV, our Boards, and friends, we got to 5 billion! That’s the reach of TV and radio as well as having some big denominations present. You might say, ‘Hang on a minute, that sounds like overclaiming’. And the quick survey we did in the room was not meant to be scientific. But if we take only 10% of that figure, the women gathered in Amsterdam reach a potential 500 million people. This gathering in Amsterdam, sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Lausanne Movement is a significant step to heeding the insights of women.

6. We united in our prophetic voice: Gender inequality continues to be a barrier that diminishes the effective witness of the Church to the transforming power of the Gospel. Views on theological hot issues like headship or women pastors varied but all of us acknowledged the pain when women’s voices are silenced, single women are ignored, girls are seen as second class and when the Church has tolerated abuse. Such behaviour has harmed the gospel message.

7. We had one mind in the Call to All Christians: We know that that Jesus came that we may all have life and have it in all its fullness. and that Jesus called, accepted, healed and restored women. We committed to sharing and demonstrating this Good News, women and men together empowered by the Holy Spirit. And we called on the Church to take notice of the cries and concerns of women and girls so that we can be honest when we say, Jesus transforms individuals and communities.

You can read the full text of the Call at http://www.worldevangelicals.org/wc/
In my next blog, I’ll be looking at how the Church could respond to the Call to action.

Here is the full text of the Call to All Christians, just in case it is slow getting online:
We, sixty international women leaders[1], met at the Rise in Strength consultation in Amsterdam, June 2019, to celebrate the contribution of Christian women to the work of God in the world.
We gathered from diverse backgrounds, recognising the changing context in which we find ourselves.
We were united in our conviction that gender inequality continues to be a barrier that diminishes the effective witness of the Church to the transforming power of the Gospel.
We affirm that Jesus came that we may all have life and have it in all its fullness[2]. This Gospel transforms lives; the Bible affirms that Jesus called, accepted, healed and restored women. We commit to sharing and demonstrating this Good News; women and men[3] continue to be compelled by God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit[4].
We affirm the theological approach of the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment as a foundation for our Call to all Christians: “That all of us, men and women, married and single are responsible to employ God’s gifts for the benefit of others as stewards of God’s grace and for the praise and glory of Christ. [We] are also responsible to enable all God’s people to exercise all the gifts that God has given for all the areas of service to which God calls the Church.” [5]
We are compelled, building on this Biblical foundation, to broaden our awareness, increase our attentiveness, and commit to specific actions to restore God’s intention for all people.
AWARENESS
We recognise that our communities and leadership structures have not always been encouraging, freeing or even safe for women and girls, who are each valued and loved by God.
We acknowledge that the pathways for women to serve as leaders in the global Church are limited, and this has prevented many from contributing to the Church in this way.
We acknowledge that the Church has deeply hurt many women and girls, and not heard or acknowledged their pain.
We acknowledge that violence, in all its forms, towards women is perpetrated not only outside the Church, but also inside.
ATTENTIVENESS
We recognize that the global Church has too often ignored the voices of women in its communities.
We commit to being attentive to these voices, including experiences, perspectives, joys and suffering.
We commit to being attentive to women and girls among the most vulnerable populations and regions of the world, especially those living in extreme poverty, or with disability, those endangered by human trafficking, persecuted for their faith, denied education and legal rights – and so at greatest risk of gender-based violence and discrimination.
We commit to discerning the spiritual gifts of all women and girls, so as to draw upon resources God has given for the full health and strength of the whole Church, wherever it manifests across every sector of our society.
ACTION
We must all act to:
Engage in a positive dialogue, mourning and repenting of mistakes and the pain we have caused, and seeking reconciliation; believing this is a first step to making our communities more empowered in Christ and safer places for women, girls, men and boys.
Celebrate the strength, courage, gifts and work of women in churches around the globe.
Work in unity to address the issues which concern us regarding the most vulnerable populations, especially those in extreme poverty and facing persecution for their faith.
Consecrate our gifts and opportunities to further strengthen, grow and mature our local churches and the global Church, in imitation of Christ’s example of Servant leadership.
Commit to collaboration between women and men.[6]
Equip women and girls to take up leadership positions in the Church and wider society, including training and development, making the most of innovative resources .
We call on men and women of the global Church to act so that women, men, girls and boys can all embrace their spiritual giftings to strengthen the work of the Church, and Her witness to the glory of God.

[1] 64 women from 18 nations participated in the consultation
[2] (John 10.10b)
[3] (Gen 1.26-8, 2.23)
[4] (Acts 1.8)
[5] https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment#capetown, p.6
[6] Eph 5.21, John 17.21-3

Miss-reading the Bible

We sometimes think that Christians are better than the general population – we don’t swear, watch porn, abuse our loved ones or have affairs.

Sadly the data and research shows that people who identify as Christians are just as likely to indulge in all those things[1].

Behind closed doors, there is abuse. And unfortunately, some Christian teaching about submission and the headship of men in marriage, is interpreted to give permission for abuse.

I have heard from women in the church who accept that it’s OK for a man to hit his wife ‘a little’. I have heard a number of preachers hint that a wife is not being submissive enough if her husband is violent or has affairs.

I have seen wives encouraged to be forgiving of their husband’s affairs to save the marriage. And I have heard of women being counselled to stay with violent or drunken husbands so they can pray and ‘love’ their men into better behaviour

Behind these views are a couple of disturbing thoughts:

  1. that the Bible is used to endorse the dominance of men in marriage (maybe because it is mainly men who teach in churches)
  2. that Christian leaders are not very good at dealing honestly with abuse (maybe because it men who generally lead churches).

Studies show that gender inequality contributes to an environment where men seek to control women, and that can lead to abuse.

So how could some Christian teaching contribute to abuse? There are 2 aspects here – marriage relationships and women as leaders and teachers in the church – but the scriptures get conflated into a general argument about equality.

There is a strand of Christian teaching about marriage (endorsed by a number of respected evangelical leaders) that emphasises the submission of wives and the headship of husbands. This is often linked to rules that say women cannot teach or lead in church.

These are indeed words from the Bible, but we all should know we should test ideas by comparing them to other verses and the teaching of the whole Bible. And we should acknowledge the culture in which Paul was writing. That makes complete sense and does not denigrate the power and authority of God’s Word.

In fact, in all sorts of other verses we see cultural context. Otherwise we would still call for women to wear head coverings, we would follow Paul’s advice and remain single, we would all speak in tongues and we would share all our possessions in radical community. Funny how we see SOME verses as having eternal truth and others, not so much.

I don’t have space to deal with the key verses used to justify male authority in marriage and female subservience. But there are many places you can go to catch the main arguments cogently explained.

For starters, we can look at Jesus’ radical attitudes of acceptance towards women and the role of women as leaders and prophets and in the early church.

Watch:

VIDEO: Pastor and theologian Steve Latham discusses key verses in Paul’s letters

VIDEO: Julia Baird and Anglican priest Michael Jensen discuss domestic violence and the Church.(ABC News)

VIDEO: Various Christian pastors discuss submission

Please read:

blogger Marg Mowczko who writes intelligently and knowledgably about the theology of Christian egalitariansim

Lee Grady’s Ten Lies the Church Tells Women, which is a great book from an American pastor.[2]

The danger is that if men and women are taught, or somehow assimilate, ideas that male leadership is God’s truth – that women cannot be elders or pastors – it does not take much of a step to see men as superior in all relationships with women.

And one or two more steps along that path allows us to see women as subservient and not equipped to lead. Women (ie mums) are praised for many wonderful skills in homemaking and motherhood and are encouraged to complement their husbands, but they do not have a claim to equality when it comes to making decisions, to guiding others or leading men.

Everyday mainstream churches stress ‘happy’ marriages at the expense of caring for single mums, widows, divorcees and families at risk. It’s also worrying that single women seem to have no place in such a worldview.

Another result of seeing women as weaker, is that men blame girls and women for being sexually provocative, for causing men to stumble. In other words, women get blamed if they speak up and blamed if they simply stand next to a man!

Churches should be safe, loving and truthful places for everyone but in too many church traditions, women are still counselled to stay with an abusive husband to see if their submission can win their husband around.

Nicky Lock[3], an Anglican counsellor and academic from Charles Sturt University in Australia has seen the results of ‘mis-teaching’ in her work on domestic violence cases over the last 25 years.

She told the ABC that the use of headship theology is commonly used to justify abuse.

“Anecdotally, teaching of headship has been seen to be contributing to the problem of domestic violence, both in encouraging abusive male partners, and preventing female partners from challenging abusive behaviours, or leaving an abusive relationship.”

So do men and women have different roles? I know a lot of women who are happy having a supportive and caring role in their family. Their role enables their husband to take on all sorts of other responsibilities at work, in the church. But that does not fit all women or all men. And the submission and sacrifice must be equal otherwise it is too easy to exploit the goodwill of women and to ignore their needs. If women are not encouraged to speak out at church, do they forget how to articulate their insights and longings? Do they lose confidence in their God-given giftings?

And what about most of the women I know, women with ideas, women with a life beyond the domestic who want to be recognised as leaders, teachers and inspirers. I am blessed to have a husband who enables and encourages me to be all that I can be in God (and I want to do the same for him).

So if you’re reading this, what can you do? What should we do to encourage healthy views of men and women’s in the church and in marriage?

Talk about the issues and their seriousness – in the church – don’t allow people to dismiss you as extreme or “a raving feminist”. Be respectful!

Know what the Bible really says about relationships between men and women. Don’t just accept ‘truths’ we have been taught in the past.

Use the videos I have made to get discussion started. They are short, easy to understand and have clear ideas. There are 8 different topics covered. They also have great questions to explore.

Find them all here

 

 

[1] BUT please note that abuse is worse among men on the edge of faith.

American research provides one important insight: men who attend church less often or who are the periphery of church are more likely to abuse their wives. Regular church attenders are less likely to commit acts of intimate partner violence.

[2] Grady has been speaking about equality in many cultural contexts across the globe for over a generation. He also leads many conferences for men.

[3] Nicky is a friend of mine who has counselled on issues of heathy relationships with intelligence, balance and humour for many years. She is an expert who should be lauded by all of us, especially Christians.

Using our wealth for women

My blogs never usually mention giving money – so next month, you can relax. But just this once….

Over the next two weeks, thousands of women from every UN country will be in New York. They won’t be marching or doing much shouting.

They will instead be making their voices heard at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). A plethora of events will cover different agendas, from high powered celebrity packed celebrations to small, slightly amateurish affairs on the fringes. The CSW is the biggest UN gathering aside from the General Assembly. There will be politicians, professional feminists, charities and faith groups.

It’s expensive to be there and this year I won’t be making the trip. Lack of money is the biggest barrier to having a voice.

Last year, the leader of evangelical women in the Caribbean and I were there, sharing a budget room, meeting people, attending events and telling anyone who would listen that women in local churches around the globe deserve a voice. Jenifer Johnson from Barbados is a strong leader: she has her own radio program dealing with a range of relationship issues from a Christian perspective; and she runs the only shelter on the island for women who need to get away from abusive homes. She is consulted regularly by the government on these social issues because she is intimately involved in the lives of local women.

At the CSW, Jenifer spoke at an event organised by a faith group, Side by Side, about how she is working with churches to alert them to abuse and trafficking (girls and boys are victims). She also trains pastors in how to talk about healthy family life.

Women of faith can be sidelined at the UN but they have important views on education, family, health and work. They also want to learn how to advocate more effectively.

I would love to be able to have funds so more women can go to events like the CSW. I would love to see more capable women like Jenifer training others. Women like Fortuna in Kenya, Lona in South Sudan and MayPan in Myanmar.

It is not easy to get money to train, develop and inspire Christian women in leadership. Those words don’t go together in Christian fundraising circles. We will give money to see women lifted out of dire poverty via micro-credit, which is great. We will sponsor girls to get an education, which is very needed.

But somehow, the next step, of seeing young women being trained as leaders in a Christian context becomes too hard. Women are victims of violence, of poverty, of maternal mortality. But they can also deliver solutions if they get opportunity and encouragement.

So this week on International Women’s day (the 8th) and  with Mothers Day around the corner, I’m asking  for women and men to help me develop confident and equipped women leaders in the Church, at the UN and in business.

Let’s use our wealth for women. And then let’s pray that the money will be multiplied as it is used for leadership projects. Those empowered women will in turn train, equip and encourage many thousands more.

I’m asking for money so women from places like Egypt, Barbados and South Sudan, can have leadership training and development opportunities for the benefit of the whole Church.

If you live in the UK                                                                                                                         Please make your donation by bank transfer to Transform Network.                                     Bank: HSBC   Account Name: Transform Network Sort code: 40-06–34                       Account Number: 01411616     Reference: Women’s Commission

If you live anywhere else eg USA, Canada, Australia                                                                 The easiest way to donate is online                                                                                                  Please designate your donation – Women’s Commission

All these accounts are audited. The money will go to the Women’s Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance to develop women in leadership.

 

Why I’m a Material Girl (sort of)

How does the economy impact women? It’s our daughters trying to get a loan to buy a flat, our mums trying to open a bank account and our sisters wanting a fair deal on child-care. It’s millions of women across the world wanting a route out of poverty.

Now there is a feminine perspective on economic issues, called the W20, an offshoot of the G20 (the group of 19 major economic nations plus the EU).

The actions of the G20 matter to all of us. Like it or not, they control 90% of the global economy and are home to 75% of the world’s population. And the rest of the world is bound to feel the impact of their decisions through trade, finance regulations and jobs.

The G20 has spawned various offshoots –the C20 for civil society, the B20 of business leaders, the Y20 to represent youth and now the W20, to raise women’s voices on economic matters.

The production and consumption of goods, and the wealth this creates, matters to women. And women matter to economics.

The ability of women to access credit, to market their goods and to have training in good practice would give women more respect and more equality, as well as more wealth. I think the passage about the wonderful woman in Proverbs 31 – provider, wife, mother, business woman, home maker – is a good model of what godly women can achieve if they have the opportunity.

Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, spoke this week about the G20’s goal to increase the participation of women in the ‘formal’ labour force as a ‘no-brainer’ – it will result in 100 million new jobs for the global economy. And 100 million consumers and tax payers!

Lagarde said, “We know that empowering women boosts economic growth. For example, we have estimates that, if the number of female workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP in the United States would expand by 5 percent, by 9 percent in Japan, and by 27 percent in India.1

She said there was also evidence that getting more women into secure and well-paid jobs raises overall per capita income AND reduces income inequality.

Young mothers in the developed world might worry that they are being forced back into the workforce, but for many women in poverty in the developing world, a job means basic security and provides independence.

The W20 wants to remind the men of the G20 (and it is nearly all men) that women matter.

Lagarde identified three crucial ways that girls and women can get a hand-up in their working life.

Getting an education: one extra year of primary school boosts a woman’s earning potential by 10 to 20 percent. One extra year of secondary school boosts her earning potential by 25%.4

Getting a good job: IMF research notes that 9 out of of countries have at least one major legal restriction that makes it difficult for women to work.11

Getting help with family: it might be good child care or tax breaks or schemes that can help dads take time form work.

“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” Aung San Suu Kyi

It’s a package of measures that families, governments and business can take to support women’s economic empowerment.

So my daughter can get good child care and my sister can get a loan for her flat, and my friend in Burundi can start a business.

ACTION: Read Christine Lagarde’s speech in full – the statistics on women and economics are really interesting (I’m not kidding)

If you never read financial or business articles, make a start so you can be ‘literate’ in money matters.