Women in the Post-Pandemic Church

written on 04 October 2021 by Alicia Hovanas

Art by Nat Iwata

In this inspirational and personal talk, Alicia opens our eyes to the way in which the Bible is used incorrectly to continue the subjugation of women. She also talks about ways that we can uplift one another, and work towards equality for Christian women.

TEXT (imported from subtitles so apologies for grammar mistakes):
So I'm Alicia. I am so happy to be with you guys to talk about women in the post pandemic church. And this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. Women in the church has been something that has been breaking my heart for oh, you know, a decade or so. And it's funny. I, I think back about my time in Bible college and even my time just growing up in church and the women's ministry, I don't know for the women here, if you have experienced this, but whenever there was an opportunity to be involved with women's ministry, I just sort of thought that it was super lame because it seemed like the cool theology, the hard stuff, the really like meaty, transformative gold nuggets were reserved for the men. And the women's were just more fluffy and emotional and I don't know, talking about homemaking and things that are noble and wonderful, but I wanted the meat.

And so it got me wondering. Why? Why, why is it that the men get to have all the cool things and the women don't and we get to do the potlucks and organize that and plan really fun retreats, sure. But you know, we're, we're sort of relegated to to sort of a lesser realm so that the men can do the hard, the hard intellectual work.

So anyway, that's just a little bit of where my interest comes from. So I'm going to go ahead and jump in, but what I do want to articulate from the get-go is that I am operating today's talk under the assumption that the vast majority of the people here in attendance are egalitarian or at least sympathizers. And so what I mean by egalitarian is that men and women, this is the Alicia 2021 definition that I'm making up on the fly. So what I mean by egalitarian is that men and women are equally gifted, called, possess the same intrinsic and inherent worth before God that they, that men and women are called and equipped to hold all the same offices as each other, that there are not some offices that, by offices, I mean like the pastor role or an elder role, can only be given to men. So I'm here to say that as an egalitarian, I believe that women are called to those spaces and should be in those spaces as well. So all of today's talk has an it's operating under the assumption that the majority of the people here are egalitarianism or sympathisers.

So I'm not here to convince anybody to become egalitarian, but I do want to just throw out some little things that I think sort of illustrate my point that the women in the church in leadership positions is woefully lacking because of how our world has been set up and even the nature of the Bible itself.

So what I want to talk about first is the backdrop and the nature of the, of the fall and how the patriarchy even began. So in Genesis three, when we look at the fall of mankind, It's important to remember that Moses who was writing, you know, presumably writing Genesis, he wasn't there when Adam and Eve were in the garden.

So he is writing after the fact and in the language of the fall where he says, let me just pull it up really quick. Oh Here we go. "Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you." Moses is writing this as he's looking around and observing the patriarchy. That is not him saying "this is prescriptive, I want this entity to exist between men and women." He's looking around and saying, "this is what I'm observing". And it is because of the fall that there is now a power struggle back to my notes here. And so the ancient near east context in which the Bible was the old Testament is written, it was written in, was situated in a patriarchal society that still exists today in the middle east, frankly.

And then even into the new Testament, it's situated in an, in a Greco Roman context that is absolutely patriarchal. And what I want to say about that is that patriarchy is so tied to the church that when you protest patriarchy, people think that you're protesting the church and worse the Bible itself, which is kind of a crazy thing to think about, that if you are against the patriarchy where men are in authority, over women, just by virtue of their genitalia. That's insane to think that that would be God's heart in my opinion. And yet for so much of my Christian life, when I read when I read Paul specifically in the new Testament, I had such a hard time with him because he seemed like a misogynistic mega- jerk. And if I didn't like Paul, who wrote the majority of the new Testament, and these words are inspired by God, what does that say about me trusting the Lord? And my concern is, if, if these words are inspired by Paul, these words that seem to dehumanize and subjugate women, does that mean that God feels that way about women too? And if so, that's not somebody I'm remotely interested in following, but as I dug in further, I, I came to this place where I knew that I either needed to dive all the way in and be willing to live with the conclusions of what I found about, about Paul and about God, or just except that I was dying a little bit inside, not knowing, but if, if I were to dig in and learn that this is indeed how God felt about women, I knew that that would probably be the end of my relationship with God and with the church.

So I dug in and what I found was just quite the opposite of everything that I'd ever thought was possible. I learned that Paul's household code of conduct flips the Roman household called code of conduct on his head and that Paul routinely elevated women. But we have just not been given the tools to understand how to read the Bible and the context.

And we haven't learned the history of how Aristotle believed that women were deformed men. And so when Paul is saying things in like first Corinthians about women being silent, he's quoting people like plenty, like people that, if you've, if you've learned Latin and studied some of these older people like Aristotle, you learn that today, he's quoting these speeches and then re going on, like in the very next verse to refute them.

But we're not told that in church, we're just told the plain reading of scripture is the best reading of scripture. And then we get church sanctioned misogyny in the name of faithfulness to the scriptures. Which gets my goat more than just about anything else. So I do want to talk about the flavors, the flavors of patriarchy because I think that there are there's ranges of, of course there's in, in terms of like a complimentarian structure in the church, there's the extreme end and there's soft complementarity complementarity, and there's commonalities between them.

On the extreme end I've never been a part of a church like this, but I know that they do exist where women literally have to be silent in churches in order to fulfill or to honor what Paul was saying in first Corinthians. And then on the little less extreme side, women aren't allowed to give any announcements, they're not allowed to be on stage leading worship, but they can help out with the children. They're relegated to helping with the children. But only up to a certain age. And every church is a little bit different. It could be up to age 12 because that's when some churches believes that a boy becomes a man and he, she can not have any sort of authority over him and yet you know that she does at her house. So that's sort of strange if she's got children older than that. And then on the softest end of complementarity, there are just no female elders, but women are allowed to preach. But in all of that, I would still say that we are even in, in the context of the softest complementarity, we are In churches that are perpetuating cycles of women, not living into their calling, which means that, and, and not just calling, but they're gifting and what they're passionate about in ways that they can even benefit the church, which means that we are taking half of God's children and effectively silencing them.

And thinking about from God's perspective, what that must be like, if you are silencing half of his kids. And I'm reluctant to say that there's a war on women, because that feels so triggering because we've heard, you know growing up evangelical that there's a war on culture and just a war on anything that feels that it's harmful to Christianity. So I don't want to say that there's a war on women, but I do know that there are indeed people actively working like the Southern Baptist convention and Wayne Grudem specifically, who are continually subjugating and attenuating women. So an example of this is in 1997 Zondervan was updating their translation of the NIV to the TNIV, today's new international version with more gender, gender inclusive revisions. And so things changing things like mankind to humankind or human beings. So not getting rid of all gender language, but, but reflecting the gender neutral language of the Hebrew or the Greek text that don't as readily exist in English and Zondervan was working with the international Bible society and they always have been working with them in trying to be as faithful as possible to the text. And when Wayne Grudem, many of you probably know who that is, but many of you probably don't, he's probably one of the most well-known systematic theologians. He has written a number of books and is a very staunch complimentarian and quite influential, writes for the gospel coalition and it just anyway has a lot of sway in, in American evangelical churches specifically. So when Wayne Grudem and James James Dobson from focus on the family caught wind of, of this situation going on back in 1997, where the, where Zondervan was updating their language to reflect a more gender inclusive rhetoric in the Bible, they put out a bunch of articles talking about the attack on the integrity of scripture and in response, you guys, I wish I was joking in response, that is how the ESV, the English standard version of the Bible came into existence. It is a reaction from the TNIV to promote even stronger, stronger gender exclusive language.

And one of the examples that that I learned about is in Ephesians five, where let me just pull this up real quick. That infamous verse that people like to throw out the wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord for the husband is the head of of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church. What the ESV did is they separated. They've created a whole like they've moved. I'm having a hard time articulating myself. They've created like a chapter break, even though there's not a chapter they've created space in the printed Bible between the previous verses about submitting to one another. So that when you go down to this part or wives submit to your husbands, that's the first line under a new heading of text so that it really stands out and what is critical to remember, is that in in the Hebrew and the Greek, there's not punctuation, there's not numbered verses that whenever there's chapter breaks and even chapter numbers, that is all us writing in and taking liberties usually with integrity as much as possible, but that is our own interpretation saying that this belongs somewhere else and we're going to clump these verses together and say that this is a chapter. So in the ESV Wayne Grudem, who was on the the panel of Bible of Bible translators among other people that you may recognize as very strong complementarians they've gone ahead and, and made an even more stark break that didn't previously exist there in most Bibles translations.

And then they say that this most accurately reflects the text even now. And that the TNIV was a deviation from God's intent, even though the Latin Vulgate has gender inclusive language. So just kind of an interesting thing to throw out there. But what I do want to say is it's not just women who are suffering when, when we are routinely subjugated, it is men and women who are, who are strongly affected by this. If you are only hearing experiences from half of humanity in the church, and you're only hearing half of the church, at least half the gender teach scripture, we are not getting the full breadth of what the Bible has to offer. And when women are not given the opportunities to to preach and teach and lead, then when they are given those opportunities in different spaces, we do not have the practice under our belt. So there's confidence issues, there is opting out because we don't feel as equipped, we don't feel as ready or smart enough and, and feeling even that we have to overcompensate or be even more educated than our male counterpart, because we have not been given the experience in the past.

And I would argue that that confidence bleeds into workspaces, even in inequitable pay and then not advocating for what we deserve that our male, our male counterparts are receiving because from the age of zero, growing up in the church, we have learned that we are we are not maybe told that we're inferior, but that's the subliminal messaging.

If you never see representation of your sex on stage I would also say that that those infrequent exposure points of being given leadership or speaking or teaching positions, it perpetuates the cycles of lack of opportunity and then you don't get to hone your skill set as much, and then you have low confidence and then you're opting out or not trying, or, you know, even if you're not told that you're not allowed to you, you just don't want to anymore because you know that the men are going to do a better job.

And then I remember just as a side note, I remember one time talking to my younger brother about women preaching. And this was before I started doing it and asked him, do you think that that women should preach? And this is also before I'd really studied it very much. And we had only at that time had one person in our lives who who was a woman and, and taught from the pulpit and that was Shawna Reid actually, so many of you do know her. And he said, I, I think that it's fine, but I generally think that I dunno, women, maybe aren't as good at it. And actually Shawna's a fantastic preacher. And so when I asked what he meant he said, I, maybe it's not that they're not as good it just feels weird. So it's interesting, thinking back on that and realizing that that's because men have become the standard. And so when we measure women's preaching or teaching abilities, we're measuring them against a standard that is sort of bizarre to begin with. And I pointed that out. I said, well, yeah, if it's always men, then that's what feels normal for us and so it's going to feel weird when, when a woman does it. So that's just a little aside.

I, I came across something the other day. It was just floating on, around on Instagram. And it said something to the effect of people are wondering where all the prolific, prolific women theologians are, where the artists are, where the scientists are, where the leaders are, where are they all went. But if girls learned early in their life, that their lot is to remain demure and deferential and play small and to tone it down, we're the ones that are sacrificing our dreams or our passion, or even what we're interested or good at. And then as a result, that's a whole that's a whole world who is not getting to benefit from another artist, another scientist, another leader, another theologian with a different or unique perspective.

So yeah, it's just interesting to think about how this affects everyone. And another little, a little tangent is that this even plays out in the, in the realm of sex because in a, in a heterosexual relationship, this is a wild statistic on the on the largest study nationwide in America ever done on Christians. What the study found was that 95% of Christian men in a heterosexual relationship orgasm every time that they have sex, whereas only 45% of women orgasm every time. And so to reiterate that, that doesn't mean that around half the time women orgasm. That means just less than half of women in the country are reaching that sort of satisfaction, right that that men are. And so you see, you think about how purity culture really affected women specifically and always has that are that the women who are the most prize and valuable and the thing that we're supposed to be amounting to is remain pure for our wedding night, whatever the heck that means usually just means being a Virgin. And then you get there, you arrive and then things are supposed to be bliss, and for, you know, it's not, and it's not necessarily that way. And so that promotes marital dissatisfaction, this targeted language about, about covering up women's bodies about not wearing bikinis about not wearing too form fitting clothes, this all trickles into every aspect of life. It's not. It's not just whether or not women can preach. It goes all the way down to what we teach our kids about sexuality and how we're targeting women with our language or girls or females in that language disproportionately then how we're talking about it with boys in terms of the shame and negativity.

So I would say that that perpetuates low confidence and shame and marital dissatisfaction, which creates more fights and more instability. And I would argue that helps facilitate more divorce, if you're chronically dissatisfied in your marriage. So that was just a little tangential there.

And it is also interesting to think about a little bit of a trigger warning here about the sexual abuse and clergy abuse that happens in churches too. So if you need to mute this part for like the next couple of minutes or step away, that's totally fine. But. If, if the vast majority of authority figures in the church are men. If the elder boards are men and they are, their interest is avoiding lawsuits for the church. In addition to other duties for sure. You're going to have way more coverups, hence the church too movement that came from the me too movement. And you think about all these people, all these male leaders who have fallen like Bill Hybels and Ravi Zacharias and Mark Driscoll, not for sexual reasons, but also really crude in his Preaching about women. Stuart Allen Clark, who is a lesser known person, but became infamous during this pandemic for talking about how some of you may have seen this, this YouTube clip of him preaching at church, where he holds up a a photo of Melania Trump and says, this is the ideal and that women are just letting themselves go and it's their duty to be looking as close to her as possible. There's Art Azurdia, ... ... and James McDonald and Hillsong and Chuck Bomer and Ted Haggard. And there's so many, like the list could go on and on and on, and it makes you wonder what would happen if, what would happen with these, the clergy abuse and the sexual abuse if there were women in the elder board? If there were, if half the teaching staff was women and knowing that between the average statistic here in America of women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed is one in four, knowing that chances are, if you get women on the elder board, you've got women who are empathetic, who have experience, lived experience with what this feels like to live with trauma in this regard, how much they would put a stop to it the second that they caught with of abuse going on. Like I said, like everybody, everybody is affected by this boys, girls, women, men, the wives married to these men.

Anyway. I was thinking too, in, in preparation for this about a little thought experiment with a role reversal. So imagine with me for a second, what it would be like if there were only women on an elder board. No men. And what if women were the only ones that taught, except for like maybe twice a year, we permit the men to, even though we would hear a lot of complaining and grumbling about it. What if we let if we let the men do the children's ministry, but we made sure that they didn't have the word pastor in their title lest they get the wrong idea and get a big head about it, or, you know, that we're being we're not honoring scripture. What if it were all men who were the secretaries and assistants and in charge of all of the hospitality and planning the potlucks and the event planning, just how different that would feel and look, and I'm not at all advocating that this is what it should look like, but it's interesting to think about what has become normative and standard, which is men dominating these spaces. And yet how foreign and bizarre would feel to have that flipped.

So what happens when women finally do rise up when they do decide to they've had enough. They are faced with adversity, for sure. And that comes from both when women and men telling them that that is not their place. There's their own negative self-talk to overcome. And it's an uphill battle every, every step of the way, because you've got people throwing out proof texts, every which way at you letting you know that this is not what you're supposed to be doing and you just have to be armed knowing that That this is okay. But when they do rise up, everybody, of course, benefits men, women, children, the church at large, workplaces, the world at large, and God himself. I'm thinking about like, I'm a parent of two kids, a boy and a girl. And what it would feel like if if Judah, who is my son was constantly telling Jacqueline his older sister that she couldn't do X, Y, and Z, because she's a girl, even though she wanted to, or she's good at it, or whatever, what it would feel like for Judah to finally just either be quiet or tell her yeah, you're good at this. Let's go ahead and let's work on this. Let's grow together in this What that would feel like for God Himself if we think of him as the parent

Letting his daughters, or seeing his daughters finally exercise what he himself endowed them with. So, how do we empower women? I'd say that we advocate for each other, we volunteer each other with permission of course we encourage profusely, we speak up every single time we hear inaccurate teachings about women. And what I would hope to see in a post pandemic church is that the boundary lines of who's in and who's out go away because what we do when we create those boundaries, Are we create narratives about intrinsic worth and hierarchies and that's got to go. And I also hope that we will begin to see and learn the arcs of scripture as themes of God's heart and stop decontextualizing verses for proof texts and in such we will experience what I think is the true freedom that's found in Christ.

So that is what I have for you guys today.