The Role of Women

My mother is a strong person. I have heard her talk about having low self-esteem, and while that may have been true, she raised 5 children without a lot of support. My dad worked hard, but he never developed the skills to lead us effectively. Many of us were raised in systems that stressed the man as the head of family, but often that is only a figurative assumption. Women, like my mother, were often the true leaders of the family.

As I began to work in the real word, I often had female supervisors. When I named my first daughter, I named her after several strong women I knew named Abby or Abigail. Several of my doctors, including my current primary care physician, are women. Good and bad, some of the strongest influences on my life have been female.

When I reentered religious life, I opted for a denomination that was the most comfortable for me. Baptist churches are all autonomous, but they generally opt for pastoral staff leadership, under girded by a “deacon” board that has some administrative authority. Often, they will have other committees or even a church council that operates with various levels of authorities. But, one thing is always a constant. The pastors, and especially the senor pastors, are only male. The deacons and Elders (if they have them) are men. If a woman has a pastoral role (over women and children only), then she may be called a “director” or some other inferior title. Women very rarely speak or preach in a Baptist church, even though some very popular teachers, like Beth Moore, are Baptist.

The seminary I attended followed this pattern and the first church I served was governed by an all-male board. We had an all-church meeting several times a year, but most decisions were made by the board. Our second church was a little more congregational. So, although we had a deacon board, it has less influence and the more regular congregational meeting allowed more input into the day-to-day decisions. Since we were replanting the third church, I was able to organize the church how I wanted, so I re-wrote some of the constitution to organize around a board of committee chairpersons. So, there was a treasurer, the building and grounds chair, the worship leader, plus a couple of elected at-large members elected annually. The fact that it was largely female frustrated the former pastor that attended our church, but it wasn’t up for debate.

I know all the debates that we can make concerning what Scripture says and doesn’t say. If I wanted to go back 150 years, I could probably have the same discussion about black people’s right to be free. 100 years ago, we would be fighting over women’s right to vote. And fifty years ago, we would be fighting about civil rights for people of color. We can keep having these same debates over and over or we can just accept that this is one of the last frontiers of the truth that all people are created equal. Not one is superior to the “other” regardless of sexual orientation, race, country of origin, social status or gender. We have to stop putting people in boxes so that we feel intimacy because we minimize the same things.

In my opinion, we have missed so much by minimizing what women can do. I have been blessed by so many sermons, speeches and books over the years, but I wonder how much beauty and wisdom and inspiration I missed because somebodies voice was silenced because they were born with a vagina. I often tell Laura that she is better than me. There are so many things she does that I can’t even begin to do as well as her. She is a better speaker and writer. She is much more disciplined than me. I can’t even imagine what she would have accomplished if society and the church wouldn’t have subtly told her to be quiet and that her opinion didn’t matter as much as the men of the church or and society.

Laura always talks about the fact that much of her pain was caused by women in the church. I always wonder why that was. Maybe it was because they were hurt and hurt people hurt other people. If we believe the generalizations, maybe women are just naturally catty and manipulative and they just can’t help themselves but to hurt each other. Or maybe, it’s because they have been marginalized and minimized by the church and society. Maybe, their voice never really was heard and they were just trying to speak up for themselves in a way.

I’m not going to argue anymore about whether women should be able to preach, lead, speak and have positions of power. I’m just assuming, not only that they should, but that they must in times like these. I think I will spend the second half of my life doing what I can to enable this to happen. I think we need their voice and their leadership now more than ever.

Be at Peace,

Karl Forehand

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