The following is a letter I sent to my church’s elders and deacons the other day. While I will keep the rest of the email conversation private, I will say that it was well-received and will be an ongoing conversation. I’ve edited out people’s names for privacy. I am posting it here as an inspiration and a resource for anyone who also sees the need for change in her church.
Dear Members of [Church] Consistory:
I have loved my years at [Church]. When we first moved here at the beginning of 2012, we visited many churches and took about six months to decide that [Church] was the church for us. We eventually became members and had our children baptized here.
We had a list of what we were looking for in a church, and one one of them was “Does the church affirm women in leadership?” This was important to me because I’d previously been in a church that did not believe in the equality of women–it is a denomination that claims men and women have different roles. I was hopeful that [Church] was different based on my conversations with, Pastor R, Pastor D, and Pastor R2 as well as a sermon that R gave that first summer that we were here. I thought that [Church] would be different because at the national level the RCA does believe in the equality of women.
Unfortunately, here at [Church], this equality is still lacking. In [Church]’s 25 year history there has never been one woman on consistory. This is detrimental to the church as half the church is being disregarded and not represented. There are no women in leadership for young girls to look up to (unless they want to work with children or sing). The explanation I’ve been given is that women have been nominated but nobody has ever wanted to be the first one.
I have nominated women for elder and deacon every year that I have been a member, but none of my nominees have made it through the vetting process (whatever that vetting process is–I don’t even know how it works). This past year, I even asked my nominees if they’d been contacted by consistory. They said no.
In addition to this, a current elder even told my husband one day that he thought his wife would do a better job as an elder than him. I have nominated his wife every single year. If what this elder said is true, why has his wife not become an elder or deacon but he did?
It seems that most women in our church are relegated to working with children, music or giving announcements. I’ve heard only one woman, a missionary, preach at our church during my time here.
This must change.
In order for a church to thrive, all members of that church must feel welcome and valued and given the opportunity to exercise their God-given gifts.
When we do not have women in leadership, not only are we missing out on half the church, we’re missing out on what God can and will do through these women. There are messages from God that can give people hope and joy and express God’s love, but they are silenced because of this latent sexism.
On April 17, our guest speaker J challenged [Church] with the question, “what problems need to die?”
The problem of not having women in leadership is the one that I see that needs to die.
We cannot do the church’s job of spreading the kingdom of God to the world if half of the church has no input or say in what our church does and how it works. We cannot raise up young girls to preach and lead in the future if they do not see it happening now.
All four of the gospels tell us that women were the very first people to preach the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28 that this new humanity that is created in Christ has no distinctions between genders. And over and over we see, especially in the gospel of Luke, how Jesus lifts up those who are marginalized. We need the marginalized in our church to be lifted up.
You have the power to change this.
I challenge you that for the next round of nominations that you only accept women who are nominated, and that you explain this ahead of time. You might ask, “but what if they aren’t qualified?” and I would say to you “what if they are?” and “what if qualified women are being overlooked in the first place and the positions are going to less qualified men?”
If you are feeling hesitant, I encourage you to read and discuss books such as How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership or She Can Teach or Gifted to Lead or Good News for Women. I can also give you a copy of the women in leadership study that I wrote–and taught in Sunday School–a couple of years ago.
In Acts 2, we see the church coming alive. The Holy Spirit, the gift promised by Jesus, has come at Pentecost. People are confused, uncertain as to what is happening. It’s new and it’s different. It probably made them anxious, maybe even fearful.
But Peter steps in and explains what is happening. He tells them:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. –Acts 2:17-18
Peter recognized that God was not withholding the Holy Spirit from anyone. It was poured out on women and men alike, given in order to be a blessing to and make disciples in the world.
I hope and pray that [Church] will also follow the Holy Spirit.