Several years ago, Frank and I, with a group of thirty mostly Presbyterian pastors and their spouses, were privileged to meet The Honorable Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Prime Minister of The Bahamas. That meeting left the entire group in no doubt that we had just encountered a truly extraordinary person.
I mean, this woman was preaching the gospel!
What caught me completely off guard (more than hearing a government official testify publicly and fearlessly to her faith in Christ) was the thunderous chorus of heartfelt amen’s that erupted from the men in our group. It isn’t every day that a woman is cheered on by her Christian brothers like that. It’ll be a long time before I ever forget it. I can only imagine how much it must have meant to her.
This week, I attended the Florida Conference for Women, a gathering of several hundred women leaders in the Central Florida region, and I thought again of Mother Pratt. These women are remarkable, accomplished, high flyers in business, medicine, politics, finance, and education. Among those addressing the group were: Tory Johnson, Founder and CEO of Women for Hire and Good Morning America’s Career Guru, Kelly Corrigan, NY Times Bestselling author of The Middle Place, Florida’s CFO, Alex Sink (who subsequently announced her candidacy for Governor of Florida), and two local news anchors, Barbara West and Martie Salt. These strong, smart, gifted women have a lot in common with Mother Pratt.
By virtue of their obvious leadership skills and achievements, these women raise some important questions.
What happens when the Mother Pratt’s of this world show up on the church’s doorstep with their proven leadership skills and passion for the gospel, desiring to become part of the local body? Do we know what to do with them? Do they hear the cheering voices of their brothers, or does the cheering stop? And for that matter, what kind of cheering do the other women hear? Does the Bible’s message for women include today’s professional women? Does the church embrace these women or regard them with unease? Do we welcome, need, and make the most of the rich gifts these ezers bring, or should they check their gifts at the door of the church?
What do you think? And what do you see actually happening?
I don’t want to sound cynical, but in all honesty, I think there is far more cheering for women with gifts of leadership and service outside the church. The choice for Christian women seems to be either go to a Reformed church where the only honourable thing to do is bear children and bake cookies, or to a church with compromised theology and be treated with a bit more respect.
I love what you are doing, Carolyn, and applaud you for it! God’s will for women simply cannot be as narrow as the Reformed church seems to prescribe, or He would not have given us such diverse challenges. I know that every church is affected by culture, but it is tragic that in the Reformed church, there is a culturally-determined role for women that has been baptised as the biblical model. Another reason why I LOVE your books so very much!!!
Your point about women cheering also resonates. Most of the women at my home church in the US think it is absurd that I am reading for a D.Phil at Oxford, and some have even asked me why I think I need it. I am left speechless.
Unfortunately, the problem is more widespread than just one theological/denominational camp. And you have rightly pointed out the fact that the discomfort with professional women involves other women, and not just men.
I’m getting responses on Twitter from women saying “No, the church doesn’t know what to do with professional women.”
If the Florida Conference for Women that I attended was held in a different era, the plenary speaker line-up would include Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Queen Esther, Huldah, Priscilla, and Lydia. Even the Proverbs 31 woman would get top billing for her entrepreneurial and investment instincts, her business savvy, and her glowing success in the marketplace. Yet for some strange reason instead of highlighting the leadership and contributions of these women, <>as the Bible clearly does<>, their portraits have been removed from the gallery of role models held up for women today.
So what’s behind the tendency for professional women to be invisible instead of celebrated in the church?
I love your heart for the ezer.
Your comments on Mother Pratt reminded me of Mother Deborah. I did a presentation on her a few years back, and for Mother’s Day, wrote an article for my blog.
So much to learn from her, and even more to speculate about.
Because we are fallen, we can’t get the “equal in value, necessary in structure” design correct. Until God makes everything new, there will always be tension between male and female flesh.
Thank you for sharing about this wonderful black female role model! We need so many more of them. And no, I don’t think the church knows what to do with women like this. Sadly, I don’t even think that most women in the church know what to do with women like this!
As you rightly say, I think we are called to face honestly the state of this world and of our own hearts, but at the same time to persist in believing <>hopefully<> that the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference.
The story you cite—Deborah and Barak—gives us a taste of the possibilities and an example of a place in history where the kingdom of heaven breaks through and we glimpse the kind of alliance God intended for men and women to enjoy. I know some people speak negatively of Barak, but his faith and courage (yes, bolstered by Deborah) wins him a place in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame. This alliance causes both to flourish.
If I didn’t have hope, I wouldn’t bother raising the subject. But I know we have brothers (I’m married to one) who care as much as we do about this and who value women and their gifts—not just in general, but because they benefit personally from our ministries.
I am a lifelong member of the Reformed church (RCA), and I must say that I have always seen intelligent, capable, professional women embraced in the leadership roles to which they felt called. Our church ordains women; as a matter of fact, it happens to be that at the moment, all of the elders and most of the deacons serving on our consistory right now are women. There are even a few female pastors in our classis. Our church is thoroughly and solidly Reformed in theology, and the women who have been called are capable and strong Christian women.
I happily know of many examples of churches, colleges, and seminaries that support and encourage women who are called to leadership roles in the Church. However, I also know of a few examples of churches that do not. In those cases, I don’t believe that they are seeking to keep women under their thumb, but honestly believe they are doing the biblical thing. I don’t agree with that at all, but they are doing what they think is right.
Unfortunately, there are also some cases in which women are simply viewed as weak and inferior, and the bible is eisegetically used to defend such incorrect and destructive ideas.
However, I wouldn’t say that the entire universal Church has a problem with strong, professional, gifted women. There are many opportunities in theologically rich churches for women to contribute their leadership gifts, skills, and calling.
Perhaps instead of viewing this awesome story about Mother Pratt as a contrast to the culture of the Church, we could see it as an encouraging, edifying example of what is happening within the Church. Praise God for her gifts and courage! What a wonderful woman to call our sister. 🙂
I agree with Kirsten in regards to churches that are seeking to do the right thing with women but what they believe the right thing to be doesn’t look anything like Mother Pratt. Women are to be in the role of serving only women and children under the age of 12 after that it is up to the men. There is an honest belief that this is the truth of where a women need to be in the church.
This is a hard topic which I have studied and struggled much over. Your books have really opened up my study even more. Thank you for that. But even as I seek the truth and think I have found it, when I share some of it with an elder…he just doesn’t get it. Why? Because of the truth he believes in. He doesn’t really hear what I am trying to say. He is sincere in his beliefs and truly wants what is best for men and women. It is hard to cut through all of this. Out of respect and the love of Christ, I continue to pray.
It used to annoy me that Barak only, and not Deborah, is mentioned in Hebrews 11, but then it occurred to me– God devoted 2 chapters to Deborah and recorded some very powerful and stunning revelations about Israel and about Deborah. God recorded for all time, and with powerful words, an ezer!
Most commentary mentions that Deborah and her leadership was an exception. She was, it was, but only in human terms– like you say, the alliance of Barak and Deborah cause both they and Israel to flourish.