Feminism and the church: Women search for their place in Christian leadership

By Hannah Lounsbery, Faith Co-Editor   (Photo by Reagan Thatcher/The Bison)

The movement: where did it come from?

Women’s History Month is over, but the fight for equality is not.

Across the globe, women are fighting for equal pay and respect in the workplace and, in many nations, women are fighting for their safety, access to education and the right to their own lives.

This battle has been raging in the hearts and minds of many feminists since the early 19th century, and the movement has seemed to gain traction and new momentum in recent years as women march to be heard.

In the wake of the big moves the women heading the current women’s movement are making, many Christian women are left wondering where they fit in the feminist narrative.

In order to determine whether or not Christian and feminist doctrine can work together, it is important to first figure out what feminism really means.

Alexa Rutledge, senior phycology: pre-counseling major said that the feminism today isn’t the same as it was at the beginning of the movement.

“Feminism is divided into waves,” she said. “The current wave is the third wave.”

Each wave since the original movement, which focused on expanding the franchise and allowing women to vote, has been able to focus on narrower aspects of equality.

As a result, feminism has split into a multitude of different sub-movements, which is why it’s so difficult for one to land on a precise definition of feminism and its goals.

“Feminism has a different definition depending on who you talk to,” Rutledge said.

This confusion in turn makes it difficult for Christians to decide whether the ideals of the feminist movement align with biblical truth.

“Yes, in the sense that woman and man were both created in God’s image, deserve mutual respect and that violence against women should not be tolerated,” Rutledge said. “[But] with the third wave not all of their agenda does. For example, this third wave fights for abortion. I do not believe that Christian doctrine supports this notion.”

The church: where is it going?

National political issues aren’t the only cause for discussion. For many, church politics come into question as well.

As a Christian and the wife of a youth pastor, Ruth Ivers, senior creative writing major, sees how some church policies give a distorted view of the church’s attitude toward women.

“I’ve…heard women say to me that the Bible is misogynistic and that churches are misogynistic,” she said.

While this isn’t true, the church structure rarely has female leadership, which can leave women without a voice or a way to use a call to service.

Churches often leave women out of any official leadership position that doesn’t involve children, which is difficult for women who are called to service and have no desire to be around kids.

“Women for so long have been seen as either the children’s director or the one who’s in charge of the nursery or in charge of VBS or taking care of the children,” Ivers said. “And while that’s great and wonderful…men should be able to comfortably take on those roles as well and women, for the most part, should be able to step into leadership roles.”

While Ivers said she believes that the head pastor of a church should be male, she doesn’t see any reason why women shouldn’t be serving in other leadership positions.

“I think that in some instances women and men have separate but equal roles in the church, but I don’t think that means that a woman can’t do something that generally is seen as a church as a man’s job, like a deacon,” she said.

Her husband, J.C. Ivers, serves as youth pastor at Countryside Baptist Church. In his time there, and in his past church experience, J.C. has seen women serving faithfully where ever they can.

“Other than RAs, which is specifically a boy’s thing, I didn’t have a male Sunday School teacher,” he said. “If I was waiting, for my youth group, to find male leaders, I would still be waiting…I have male students. I don’t have any male leaders.”

He has seen women teaching men for their entire lives up until they reach adulthood, where women have less opportunity.

“I think it’s pretty clear women can preach. I mean preaching is proclaiming the gospel, and I think women can do that,” he said.

Dr. Kaylene Barbe, professor of communication studies, has served as a deacon since 2008.

“Honestly, when I was asked and approached about becoming a deacon, I really thought about it for a long time before I said yes,” she said.

Barbe said she spent quite a bit of time in prayer and in scripture before deciding to accept the position.

She looked at the Biblical requirements for the position as well as the examples of women leading in the Bible, like Deborah.

“If someone really knows me,” she said, “I think they know that I didn’t really make that decision just willy-nilly or to make a statement or because I have an agenda.”

If the Lord hadn’t given her peace and a logical, Biblical precedent for her service, Barbe said she would not have accepted the position.

While her gender may allow her to serve in the position in slightly different ways than a man might, she does not believe that gender differences matter in service to the church.

“Those differences don’t matter in the kingdom of heaven,” she said.

The conversation: how should we have it?

Erin Guleserian, resident director of WMU, said she believes that Christians must be careful not to be separated by the gender debate.

“When you’re looking at the Church and a Christian context, if there’s any perceived division between men and women it’s not the Lord’s doing,” she said.

In the effort to keep gender issues from dividing the church, it is important to not to disparage or disrespect men.

“I think what we have to be careful of as Christian women is being angry and being angsty,” Guleserian said. “I think sometimes the misconception is the angrier you are, the more you’re heard…That actually stirs up more dissension, more hatred, and that’s not what the Lord asks us to do.“

In place of this angry attitude, Guleserian believes that it is just as important for women to advocate for their brothers as it is for men to advocate for their sisters.

“Me advocating for my brothers is just as important as me advocating for my sis-ters,” she said. “And if my brothers aren’t advocating for me, that’s going to turn around and hurt them too because we’re the same body.”

In her own walk with Christ, Guleserian has had to search to find her identity as a woman and as Christian.

She warned about the tendency to let the current cultural climate interpret the meaning of scripture.

“I’ve been able to see that Jesus tells me who I am, not the world, but it was easier for me to look to the world and say “Who am I as a woman? Am I bold? Am I powerful? Am I brave?”” she said.

Guleserian said that the Lord answered her difficult questions about her place in the world through time spent under the guidance of other Christian women as well as time in prayer and scripture.

“He says I can be bold and I can be courageous, and I can be strong, but I don’t have to be mean and I don’t have to be manipulative,” she said. “I believe that the Lord answers those hard questions, and we shouldn’t be afraid of asking.”

Many have said, and will continue to say, that the church doesn’t need to worry about issues that are on the surface merely social and political.

These issues, however, are a part of daily life. Every day, in every issue, faith must play a role in how Christians approach social problems that are dividing believers.

“Grace is the great leveler. At the foot of the cross, we’re all the same, but I think we have to advocate for each other when it comes to a really fallen and broken world,” Guleserian said. “I think if we don’t advocate for each other, the world can cause division amongst us even as brothers and sisters.”

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