One of the aims of the Sophia Network is to see the partnership that God created between men and women expressed fully in the world - in churches, families, businesses, schools, in every area of life. We want to see men and women working together because we think that’s how we work best. When God created the world, the one thing that was not good was that the man was alone. Sue Edwards writes, ‘Healthy faith families, just like biological families, need both men’s and women’s ideas, gifts and perspectives in order to thrive.’ Where women’s voices are silenced, or where men are excluded, then the body of Christ is impoverished and we can end up misrepresenting the gospel. Of course, there will always be a place for single-sex groups with a specific purpose (like the Sophia Network!) but we need to actively work at breaking down barriers, challenging unhelpful stereotypes and enabling both men and women to reach their full potential.
So what does that partnership look like in practice? It will be different for each person, but here are some suggestions for you to think about:
- challenging stereotypes, sexist attitudes, degrading humour and exclusive language that damage women and/or men when you encounter it in your church, your work and your relationships.
- if women are under-represented then proactively looking for gifted women when you need someone to speak, train, lead, write about, write for you, use as an illustration, preach about and so on, instead of immediately opting for the more obvious male candidates. At the same time, working to avoid any kind of tokenism or setting people up to fail.
- creating opportunities for women to learn, to be stretched, to do new things so that they grow in skills and confidence and the body of Christ is enriched – even if that means taking some risks.
- taking responsibility for your own integrity and accountability so that working relationships with the opposite sex are an opportunity for growth and not a threat to be avoided.
- recognising the wonderful and creative diversity that exists within both sexes, allowing people to be who God calls them to be and not expecting them to fit into neatly defined boxes.
- recognising the impact that the organisation of private life has on the public sphere, and, where appropriate, sharing domestic duties with the people that you live with.
- working towards an appropriate mix of men and women actively involved in any project that you participate in, or in any network that you belong to.
- consider using an inclusive language version of the Bible for your own study and in public contexts, and making sure worship songs and liturgy don't exclude.
- wrestling with theology and understanding of biblical texts that relate to gender to discover what they say to us as men and women today.
- helping young men and young women to relate healthily to each other, realising that they are brothers and sisters in Christ rather than aliens from another planet.
Any other suggestions? I hope to expand on some of these in future posts.