femalemale“Are women allowed to be leaders in this organization?” I knew I was being naughty but I did want to know. We were having a discussion on vocation and I had tried to make the point that both men and women should be encouraged to discover and pursue their callings, especially wives who often subsume their lives under the lives of their husbands in more patriarchal communities. I discovered straight away, again, that the evangelical world is still divided on the topic as to whether women are permitted to be primary leaders, with good people holding on to differing views on the subject.

I wasn’t there to settle this issue. But I did try to make the point that, whatever our position on this topic, we need to move away from a man vs. woman paradigm, or even the single leader paradigm. We should try to think in terms of leadership teams consisting of both men and women, with men and women contributing their unique strengths to the task. So even if some hold that the team leader should be male, and some are comfortable with the team leader being either male or female, we are still dealing with leadership teams with man and woman in partnership.

God’s ideal is clear. Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 state clearly that the call to oversee creation on God’s behalf was an assignment given to both man and woman, and that it is as man and woman, that we bear the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28 NET)

It is sin that pits men and women against each other (Genesis 3:12;16). And since Christ came to undo the effects of sin, we are not surprised that the New Testament points us back to the norm of mutual dependence between man and woman.

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God. (1 Corinthians 11:8-12 NET)

This is a notoriously difficult passage to interpret, but the point about mutuality is clear.

While it is true that woman is man’s glory, having being created for his sake (v.9), Paul now affirms that that does not mean that woman exists for man’s purposes, as though in some kind of subordinate position to his aims and will. To the contrary, God has so arranged things that “in the Lord” the one cannot exist without the other, not meaning of course that every Christian man and woman must be married, but that as believers man and woman are mutually dependent on each other. (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987, 523.)

The church’s commitment to the equal value of man and woman will be one of the ways we shine as light in the darkness. The recent caning of three women in Malaysia for sex outside of marriage rankles for so many reasons. Here is a statement from a moderate Islamic organization:

This case constitutes further discrimination against Muslim women in Malaysia. It violates Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination as whipping of women under Shariah Criminal Offences legislation contradicts civil law where women are not punishable by caning under Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code. (Dr. Hamidah Marican, Executive Director, Sisters in Islam, “Sisters In Islam Condemns Caning Of Three Muslim Women Under Syariah Law,” Press Statement, 17 February 2010.)

But discrimination against women is by no means confined to the growing Islamization in Malaysia. It is fairly universal, especially in Asia. A recent issue of the Economist carried a number of articles on the topic of “Gendercide” (The Economist March 6th – 12th 2010). In their lead article, they point out that the end result of three forces, “the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for small families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus” (11) have resulted in millions of women being aborted. And of course abortion does not hold the same horror as actually killing a new born.

For those who oppose abortion, this is mass murder. For those such as this newspaper (Economist), who think abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” . . . a lot depends on the circumstances, but the cumulative consequence for societies of such individual actions is catastrophic. China alone stands to have as many unmarried young men . . . as the entire population of young men in America . . . It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions — aborted, killed, neglected to death. (The Economist, March 6th-12th 2010, 11)

Mao Zedong said that “women hold up half the sky.” In China and in many other places, the sky is tilting and falling. Whatever may be our view on women in leadership, the church is united on her commitment to the equal value of man and woman. Increasingly this commitment will be a key way that we flesh out the gospel.