Ever since Coinneach Mòr reminded me that I’m a woman, I’ve been thinking about whether it matters very much. In past blogs I have made myself subject to misunderstanding because I have played down the importance of my gender, especially where my faith life is concerned. But I wouldn’t want anyone to run away with the idea that I don’t care about that category of things loosely termed ‘women’s issues’.
Nor, for the record, do I think we’re getting it absolutely right. If I said we were, people might suspect me of being manipulated by men . . .
There are two contexts here which must be considered – my relationship with God as an individual Christian, and my relationship with His church as part of the believing family.
My personal interactions with God consist of conventional prayer, continuous prayer, and the reading of His word. In all these cases, I come to Him as myself, whether I want to or not. He knows who and what I am, regardless of the veils I may – even unconsciously- assume. Part of that self surely consists of my womanhood: it is who He made me to be.
But I don’t believe that He hears me differently simply because I’m a woman; rather, he hears me differently because I am uniquely myself.
Christ,for example, did not favour Mary over Martha, or vice-versa, but He did take cognisance of their different personalities and respond to them accordingly.
He lets us be who we are; any obstacles in the way are of our own making.
Our relationship with the Lord is untrammelled by worries about gender. I do not doubt that He loves the supplication of women as much as the petitions of men. We are all His beloved children and the blood ransom He paid had the same value for every last one.
It is really only when you take that relationship into the church visible that problems arise. I have never gone to God in prayer and wondered whether what was on my heart was alright to mention, what with me being a woman. But I have been conscious of my gender in – amongst other things – writing this blog.
Let me be clear: no one from within the church has ever said to me that I should keep my opinions to myself. For all my joking, none of the men has yet suggested I stick to teaching Sunday school and leave the thinking to them. That is not the root of the problem.
I am the root of the problem.
In my own treacherous heart, there is a constant battle with doubt. Every time I go to publish an article, I worry that this will be the one where I really offend someone. Each new blog post fills me with trepidation that I have gone too far and will be castigated for a meddling ignoramus.
And underlying all these nagging fears is the sense that I am a woman in a man’s world. Who has told me this? Well, no one, but it has been the way things have happened over the years. Men are the office bearers, therefore you have to be a man to have a voice in the likes of the Free Church.
Is that true, though? No, I actually don’t think it is. Recently, I was talking to someone about it, and the notion that Free Church women are kept down. He made me laugh when he said, ‘I’d like to meet the man who could oppress _____________’ The lady he named is just one of legions of island women who could never be kept in their boxes by even the most determined misogynist. They have opinions and they have influence just as the men do.
These are praying women, women who have mentored younger Christians. They have participated fully in the spiritual life and nothing God intends for them can be denied by mere men.
But another recent conversation has forced me to think about the role of women in the church as an institution. We were discussing the way in which complementarianism has been interpreted by the Presbyterian churches in Scotland. My friend pointed out that there is a simple enough way to ensure that we are being Biblical in our division of duties. If a role requires spiritual authority then it should properly be restricted to men. Otherwise, it should be fulfilled by whoever is best suited to it.
This isn’t radical thinking. It isn’t even feminist thinking. What we’re called on to have as a church is a spirit of service, of corporate service. Our collective gifts should be deployed in order to maximise their potential to glorify God. That is what we’re about.
Those outside of our walls often speak about power- any objection to attacks on Christianity are countered with derisive yells of, ‘you just don’t want to lose control ’. The relationship between the church and the world is not about that, however, and neither should our relationships with one another be.
Properly speaking, I am a Christian before I am a woman. What gifts I have to offer in the service of Christ have nothing to do with my gender. He has not made women less gifted than their brothers.
However, I do believe that there is progress to be made in bringing those abilities to fruition in the church. Not, I hasten to add, because of some attempt to create equality between the genders; God has already done that.
Authority is His; spiritual authority He vests in men of His own choosing.
But the freedom to love Him through active service, exercising those gifts which He has bestowed – that privilege belongs to every man and woman who loves the Lord.