It sounds like a joke that is thrown from the stage of a stand up comedian who is either very alternative or just has bad taste.
I first studied this during my theological training, some years ago, staggered, shocked and angry at how one of the theological “ Fathers of the Church” could have said such a thing. But Tertullian was not a lone voice.
For as long as I can remember the issue of the role of women has been under discussion in the church. I was brought up in a very lively Anglican evangelical church in the 70’s. It was a great church and a key influence on me that I am very grateful for. I was encouraged to be a part of it and to take a lead but I can remember the talk then around headship, submission and women priests, which left me uneasy and discontented and there began my journey of debate, discussion and disagreement.
Years later I believe in the church and some things have moved on. Thankfully women priests are the norm in many parts of the church, the issue of headship has largely moved on in the circles that I live and work in and women are more able to explore their roles in relationships and ministry, vocation and dreams.
But take another look at the world stage, the public square or the church, the body of Christ, and we wake up to the battle at hand.
The worm has not fully turned.
There are more women in the world than men. The female race makes up an estimated 80% of the total number of millions human beings trafficked (bought and sold around the world) today. Women are still paid substantially less than their male counterparts in work. One of the key reasons that girls are trafficked or are left with no choice in life is that millions are denied the option of an education that the boys in the family are given. One of the key factors that leads to a demand for the sale in girls is the sexualisation of women that leads to a man buying and demanding to be sexually satisfied.
Our world is still struggling to treat men and women as the equal partners they were created to be. Both made in the image of a God who is the creator of all and whose character is fully expressed in every man and every woman.
Can the church take a lead on this issue or is it still going to walk around in the background giving credence to those who want to maintain a male-led church making it impossible to engage in the world and community they reach out to?
I am not going to write about the 1001 reasons the church needs to change. There are many thesis, books and workshops, sermons, debates and synods that do this extremely well.
I offer two thoughts.
One thought of ‘why?’
One thought of ‘so what?’
Why is this issue so pervasive and seems to cling onto the body of Christ dragging it down and resisting growth?
It is part of our family history.
The other day my 14-year-old daughter launched into a cascade of rhetoric on the reasons why she wouldn’t follow the suggestion I’d just put to her. Although my head was constructing a reply to put her right I stopped myself as I caught a glimpse of me at her age doing exactly the same thing. For better or for worse through our genes or our nurturing role we pass on a part of who we are and what we do to our children. There is an awful lot from our family that we are passing on for better or for worse.
The church is no different. And we have quite an extensive family tree to inherit from.
Origen (c185 – 254 AD) had himself castrated, as he believed that the call of the kingdom in Matthew 19:12 to be a eunuch was to be taken literally.
We can look at Thomas a Kempis, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards the great 18th century preacher and Dwight Moody, all dug deep into a dualistic thinking that separated life and the spirit and who, even if unintentionally, contributed to the belief that women were not equal to lead. Many I recalled had given us some very valuable contributions in the development of our theology on sin, atonement, grace and the extensive contents page of any theological tome. But this legacy is deep rooted and it is baggage we have all been forced to carry.
And where are the women?
When we search into the archives of our church family tree there are few female faces looking back at me informing the journey. Take a look at the string of male faces that I assembled in my afternoon’s trip down memory lane as I assembled the list of Christian theologians.
Through the emergence and growth of dualism that has damaged the church and muddled the understanding of what the Christian faith is about there was a deepening of the common prevailing cultural belief that women were not born with the same human rights as men.
When Jesus spoke, when he took action, when he talked about the kingdom that he was bringing and the values of his living he brought affirmation, equality to the women he knew and the ones he met. He was counter -cultural. But we stand on the shoulders of great men who have taken that truth and turned it around. So many have created the oppression or at least reinforced it by allowing it to continue.
This baggage was passed onto me and the burden has been carried for generations. This is a way of thinking and being that has been nurtured in the church for thousands of years. There are many wonderful women today who still think that they were not meant to lead, or be led by a woman within the church and who do believe this was forged in the ministry of Jesus.
So what do we do? We grab the opportunity and make sure we change the legacy.
By recognizing our history, we can then turn and resolve to make sure we don’t hand the baggage on. I am convinced that that is not achieved just by argument but more importantly by example.
This is a moment for opportunity. Women must take up the challenge and be the best leaders in the church, in the public square and on the world stage. We must not achieve this by trying to become made in the image of a man but by reclaiming the image we were divinely given, women made in the image of God.
The very heart of God whose image we reflect is to make all things new and to bring hope and change possible where it would seem impossible. So however deep the problem in our church, public square or world the church should be the one to lead the change and do it well.
So whether you are a youth worker, a small group leader, a teacher, a church leader, a mum, an MP or a CEO, whatever capacity you find yourself leading others and you look and see others following you, lead well and win the change that changes minds and together we can change history.
Ruth Dearnley is CEO of Stop the Traffik