Friday, January 3, 2014

To the Male Powers That Be

Dear Brothers in Christ in Leadership Positions in the Church—

Let me start by saying that I know you work hard, putting in sometimes long hours to serve and counsel the flock in your care. I know that many of you do everything out of a sincere desire to live in a right relationship with God and man. Please know that I thank you for that.

I am in no way a feminist. I was only in third grade when Helen Reddy zoomed to the top of the charts with her "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar," and I thought it was ridiculous, even then. I have no desire to see women in power over men. A power hungry man is bad enough. A power hungry woman is just as bad.

I do believe that God has called men to be the leaders within the church, at least in some positions within the church. If I did not believe so, I would have gone hunting down churches that believe otherwise. But, for a variety of reasons, I am at peace with the structure that I believe God has put in place.

That said, I see some problems that arise from an all-male leadership structure. I don't think these are problems that anybody has intentionally set in place, I think they are problems that come from a "business as usual" attitude and a basic desire to stick within a comfort zone. But the problems are real and cannot be denied and I am asking you, dear brothers in Christ, to step up to the plate. Remember Spiderman? "With great power comes great responsibility."

You have power. You may not even realize how much power you have. You have power over the wellbeing of your congregation. That power extends, not only to their spiritual health, but also to their emotional, mental and, yes, even physical health. So this is what I want to say.

If men are going to take leadership in the congregation, then women MUST know that they will be listened to, respected, and protected by these men.

LISTEN to them. Ask them how they are doing and be genuinely interested. Educate yourselves about the issues that women face and the things that make life challenging. Not only will it make you a better leader, but I bet it will make you a better husband and father as well. If you listen to them, even on boring, daily, humdrum matters, then they may be more likely to come to you when they have serious concerns.

Listen to THEM. I know among some portions of conservative Christianity there is a male headship thing really going on and some seem to take that to mean the the husband is the spokesman for the family. Often times the powers that be tend to assess the health of a family based on what the husband says. There are two problems here. The head of the house, out of no malice whatsoever, may not be totally in tune with the concerns of his wife or their children. Worse yet, the head of the house may not want you to know what is going on in his family. If he is being neglectful or overbearing or cruel or abusive; or if he is abusing drugs or alcohol; or if he is gambling away the family money or spending the evening viewing pornography, he's not likely to tell you those things. If you have developed a positive trusting relationship with the wife, she still may not (out of fear or shame) tell you, but she just might.

RESPECT them. It seems to me that there is still a tendency among many men, maybe more so in the older generations, to pat women on the head and write them off as overly emotional or excessively alarmist. The fact is that women ARE usually more emotional than men and we are also much more relational. God made us that way. It means that we see things differently and notice things that you may miss. Use our gifts, don't dismiss them.

PROTECT them. This really flows out of the other two and this is really where the rubber meets the road. You cannot protect them unless you listen to them and respect them.

The very hard truth is that women always have been and probably always will be the more vulnerable sex. We are, for the most part, physically weaker. We are, in many cases, more vulnerable. We hear this from the pulpit. We hear this in the Sunday School classes. Yet the reality is that women are often left to fend for themselves in the most sensitive of areas.

Take issues such as abuse seriously. Acknowledge that they exist, and may exist even within your own congregation. It is way too easy to sit around debating every jot and tittle of theology while a wrecking ball swings through the life of somebody in your care.

Horrors such as domestic violence and sexual abuse are happening right now. Possibly right before your eyes and under your nose. Acknowledge that fact, learn about it and be equipped to protect those in your care. And equip your congregation as well.

The male leadership that does these things will have a mighty force of female warriors behind it, allies in bringing grace and peace to a fallen world.

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