Leave it to the Women…
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first year of my DMiss program. Reading, er, ransacking more than 100 books was good for my soul, and I feel like I learned a ton about flourishing inter-gender partnerships in mission.
On the other hand, you can only learn so much from a book, and, on top of that, reading and writing can be a lonely experience, and even introverts like me need good, old-fashioned human interaction from time to time!
So, that said, I’ve really enjoyed year two. My focus this year is on research. With people. With practitioners. With real-life, bona fide campus ministers who are trying to live out flourishing inter-gender partnerships in mission, day-in and day-out.
So far, I’ve conducted seven interviews, the first tithe of a group that might end up numbering at around ten times that number. And it’s been a blast. I’ve gleaned insight into how folks are holding the value for inter-gender partnerships, what they are doing to live them out well, and I’m slowly but surely gaining clarity about what just might make such partnerships really flourish in my context.
Another thing that’s emerged is that without exception people love working with people of the opposite gender. I mean, they really enjoy it, for a variety of reasons. Because it makes them sharper. Because the diversity of perspectives makes the end product better. Because it’s funner. And more.
This joy in partnership stands out in part because it is a relatively new phenomenon, because the sad fact is that in evangelical history for many years, inter-gender partnerships were something that just didn’t happen. As in, they were off the table as options. Like, don’t even think about it.
And who, you ask, were the folks that dreamed up this preposterous, out-of-the-box idea?
Recently, I read this piece, entitled “An Era of Women as Institution Builders,” in the third issue of Fuller Magazine, with interest. In the article, the writer, SPU Professor Priscilla Pope-Levison, analyzes the fruitful pioneering ministry of women in the late 19th century though the middle of the 20th century.
Here’s a quote from the article:
When the nation would not permit women to vote, when mainline denominations only begrudgingly allowed laywomen to vote in general church conferences, when a mere handful of women attended seminary, and when women’s ordination seemed a pipe dream, [these women] built their own institutions, undeterred by what culture or church had to say about their prescribed roles. In institutions of their own making, they exercised religious leadership as evangelists who led others to religious experiences, as ministers who shepherded congregations and celebrated the sacraments, as bishops who ordained ministers (female and male), and as theology and Bible teachers who instructed both men and women. By standing in the pulpit, presiding at the communion table, laying hands on ordinands, teaching classes, and evangelizing the masses, they pioneered women’s religious leadership in American Christianity.
Their significant legacy lies as well in their challenge to patriarchy in American Protestantism. These women broke ground as religious leaders by building institutions for women and men and enlisting male and female converts. Men and women joined their churches, sat alongside one another in religious training school classrooms, and filled church leadership positions at all levels. These women evangelists, therefore, rank among the first American women to build–and lead–mixed-gender religious institutions.
I don’t know. Maybe if I had historically been deprived of power, pushed to the margins of evangelical culture, I might be inclined to establish institutions that cared for and developed…people like me. And only people like me.
So how noteworthy is it that these pioneering women had a vision that was so open-handed, so generous, so inclusive, so…