I’m a Christian worship leader. And I’ve been leading for a while. So I’ve started thinking about what I’d like to leave as my mark, you know?
As a legacy to the church, I’ve decided I want to empower women. But, if I’m honest, that’s a pretty controversial thing to say to most Christian leaders. So I don’t talk about it, I just try to do it. But I’ve hit a difficulty. The reality is, the majority of band members I work with are male. My husband is often my music director. I report to male senior pastors. And within seminaries, the majority of liturgists and theologians are guys. I cherish working with these men. It’s normal for me, and it helps that I have a brother. I enjoy collaborating with and communicating with men.
So hear me clearly, I’m not against men. I’m for all people.
But I have moments where I turn around in rehearsal, and realize that my team has seven racially diverse men, while on the feminine side, it’s one backup alto singer. And I can be sitting in a discussion with thirty theologians when a particular issue comes up, and I find myself as one of three women talking. How many times have I turned up to a Christian conference and realized that the woman on the pamphlet is actually speaking in a “women’s only” meeting, and a final panel? Soooo many times.
Most pastors tell me they empower women in their midweek women’s meeting. And yes. Of course! I love the sisters with prams, and the pastors, students and mums who are free to meet at that time. That’s one method of empowering women. But what about the others?
I’m not pointing at any one church. I’m saying this is now Christian culture. How can we empower women within regular spaces of leadership? How can it be enough to have one female worship leader step forward, lead a slow song, and then step back into the choir? How can theologians claim to be thinking through the issues of the church if there aren’t women in the room? How do we empower women when a congregation often claims to prefer male worship leaders and musicians, theologians and preachers?
Sometimes I wonder how to empower myself.
In an earlier blogpost (READ HERE), I outlined some broader reasons as to why I’m interested in empowering women.
- First, because it’s biblical - Jesus loved women, and gave them significant roles in the Christian story.
- Secondly, because women in our world face many challenges, often not discussed in church.
For example, Amartya Sen has estimated that 100 million of the world’s women are missing. Many people have tried to disprove his claim but it still stands. At the turn of the millennium, governments and development agencies decided to come together to form eight global goals, called MDGs. This included promoting gender equality, and empowering women. It’s now 2015, and this month there are seventeen new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being launched by the UN. And #5 is simply, “Gender Equality” (SEE SDGs). Because while there have been steps forward, the goal of empowering women has not been met.
Women in nations around the world die disproportionately from preventable diseases, suffer from lack of nutrition and are lost in childbirth, famine and war. Women are being killed by their partners, and suffering violence in the home. Sexual violence is entrenched in some cultures. Sure, we can talk about all people. But why is violence against women so often silenced, and forgotten?
As I pointed out in my post, the answer many development agencies have come to, rightly or wrongly, is “because religion”. But surely not Christianity? The central figure of Christianity is Jesus. And Jesus embodies justice. In the Christian story, women are beloved by Jesus. They are treated as worthy in a world that may say otherwise. Jesus went against his cultural norms to convey his value upon women.
Maybe we need to make it specific, and start to ask, “Where are the missing women on our worship leader roster?” and “Where are the missing women in this theological discussion?”
IT'S TIME FOR EMPOWERMENT.
It’s time to shake off the disappointments, and even the triumphs of the last season, and move the church forward.