by Jim Reapsome
Talk about women in missions and in some circles you are branded a radical or worse.
Talk about women in missions and in some circles you are branded a radical or worse. The problem with the issue, as with others in missions today, is that it drives people to extremes because of what both friends and foes have done with it. By foes we don’t necessarily mean radical women’s rights activists. We address ourselves to those whose beliefs and policies are determined by Scripture, not by ebbing and flowing social tides. We do need to observe the tides; the’ trick is not to be carried along by them, whether the issue be women’s rights or something else.
Talk about women in missions and there’s a good possibility one will be suspected of trying to replace the male directors with females. One will be suspected of pandering to the disgruntlements and disillusionments of frustrated women. One will be suspected of overriding biblical teaching about male/female relationships. One will be suspected of links with liberal minded proponents of the ERA amendment.
All such suspicions prevent rational discussion of the issue. Those who feel there are male-female situations in missions that need to be improved will not feel free to raise them in business meetings, and those who should hear them raised will have their ears and minds plugged.
Is there any need for improvement, any hope of improvement? Yes. It seemed significant that the audience to which Elizabeth Jackson’s paper (which we publish in this issue) was addressed was mostly male, and it shouldn’t have been. It was the annual meeting of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. It was obvious that if any members of the association have any female executives, very few of them were at the meeting. It was commendable that the male leaders of the EFMA invited Mrs. Jackson to give her paper.
We are not calling for any kind of female quota system among the EFMA-IFMA executives. We are calling for these brothers to look around and recognize the status quo for what it is. Are there no capable women executives in the ranks of these missions? If mission policies forbid such, are such policies really valid, not only biblically but also historically and culturally? What we address to homeside executives we also address to field directors as well.
We venture that most women missionaries fear what Mrs. Jackson expresses so well, that they will be regarded as pushy, or worse, agitators and troublemakers. We also venture that there aren’t many among their ranks who are agitating for executive positions. They shouldn’t have to agitate in the context of Christian fellowship anyway, because their brothers should be sensitive and alert to both their aspirations and their abilities.
We fear that evangelical missions may be one of the last holdouts when it comes to changing attitudes toward women leaders. This is no doubt partly because of biblical, historical and cultural conservatism. We are not calling for radicalism as the solution, but for openness to take inventory. Perhaps our fears are unfounded; perhaps there are more women in leadership positions than we know. The missions associations could take a quick census to find out.
After inventory comes hard study of biblical languages and church history. We are rightly suspicious of those who would elevate women on the pretext that biblical teaching is culturally conditioned when it comes to male-female relationships. On the other hand, neither can we assume that what was handed to us in Bible school and seminary is necessarily the final word either. It is encouraging to see a number of fresh examinations being made by reputable scholars of Greek in our finest evangelical seminaries. It is enlightening to discover that even our translations are slanted toward a male bias. It is instructive to note that even the most highly regarded lexicons have widely different views of what the word "head" means symbolically in the New Testament.
The missions enterprise must be willing to take a second look, to refine, to redirect, to invite reconstruction of policies as they relate to women. Beyond the leaders, every Christian must reexamine his attitudes, not because of the women’s lib movement, but because the welfare, vitality and strength of Christ’s body demands it. "The eye cannot say to the hand , ‘I have no need of you’" (I Cor. 12:21). Neither can males imply, suggest or even hint they don’t need the leadership insights, gifts and capabilities of women.
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