Gender Equity and the Image of God
One day I sat in chapel at a Christian college to hear a presentation by Salvationist scholar Roger Green. While he spoke on women in the holiness movement, a young man next to me texted another student, “Why are they making us listen to this? It’s not even an issue anymore.”
I thought, Can women in leadership still be an issue?
In 1859, Catherine Mumford Booth, co–founder of The Salvation Army, published Female Teaching whose alternate title was Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel. Since then, the Army has elected three women Generals (international leaders).
Colonel Julie Campbell, the Army’s national advocate for gender equity in Australia, argues that we shouldn’t measure progress on the basis of publications or on senior leadership positions (Others magazine, October 2017). These high–visibility signals belie the everyday situations of numerous women. Women deserve dignity and respect at all levels, not just in our stated ideals or hierarchies.
Proper views call for proper actions regarding women in leadership. Consider the beginning: Genesis opens with a creation narrative, making profound claims about God, the process and products of creation, and particularly about humans. Scripture insists that both men and women bear God’s image; they are thus of equal worth. Humanity reflecting God’s image requires gender equity.
Mounting a fuller argument, Roger Green emphasized that the Army believes in women in ministry not in spite of the Bible but because of the Bible; yet Colonel Janet Munn observes that, although women are a significant majority of Army participants, they remain a small minority of decision–makers (Theory and Practice of Gender Equality in The Salvation Army, 2015).
William Booth (Orders & Regulations for Staff Officers, 1886) wrote, “One of the leading principles upon which the Army is based is the right of women to an equal share with men… She may hold any position of authority or power in the Army from that of a Local Officer to that of the General… Women must be treated as equal with men in all the intellectual and social relationships in life” (quoted by Scott Simpson in Others, July 2017).
Booth’s last sentence has practical implications for ordinary people, such as you and me. Most of us will never have the privilege of sitting on the Army’s High Council and electing a woman General or of appointing a woman to be the commander of a division or territory. But, we all interact with women every day, who are called by God to serve in various capacities and deserve encouragement. We all have the role of affirming and embodying dignity and respect toward women. We are all decision–makers to some measure.
The Apostle Paul acclaimed the spiritual leadership and ministerial labors of women (Philippians 4:3, Colossians 4:15, 2 Timothy 1:5), and Christ Jesus relied on women to proclaim the Gospel and exemplify discipleship (Matthew 28:10, Mark 12:43, Luke 7:44–46).
I witnessed my mother’s leadership in spiritual, domestic, and professional capacities. I learned from competent and passionate, hard–working and gifted women teachers of biology, ballet, and the Bible. I’ve seen my wife lead people to greater accomplishments than I could achieve. At the same time as these women are good at what they do, they often endure suspicion, harassment, and resistance. Let it not be so among us. Let the world see that none have a higher esteem or more affirming practice toward women than Christians.
by Isaiah Allen