“We’re getting away from our roots in the Christian and Missionary Alliance,” those words met me during a breakfast not long ago with a group of Alliance pastors. We were talking about women in ministry and the pastor, who was new to the Alliance was holding forth on his position over a cup of coffee and a bowl of baked oatmeal.
I had been listening to this well-meaning man for a while but in the end I couldn’t contain myself. There are many perspectives, theological and otherwise, about the role of women in ministry. But the roots of the Christian and Missionary Alliance are unabashedly pro-woman. I pointed this out to the pastor, who was fairly new to the CMA and came from another, more conservative, denomination. I gave as an example my ordination mentor. He was from a “historic alliance family,” is very theologically conservative and grew up in a church pastored by a woman in a conservative part of Pennsylvania. The CMA sent (and sends) out women missionaries who conducted baptisms, served the Lord’s Supper an engaged in all manner of ministries. I was in another Alliance church this summer that was planted and pastored by a woman.
Frankly, I don’t think a lot about these issues ordinarily but I came across an essay in The Good News of the Kingdom: Mission Theology for the Third Millennium a while back. Since reading it I’ve been ruminating on the issue. The essay is entitled, “Revisioning the Women’s Missionary Movement“ by Dana Robert who is Professor of World Christianity and History Mission at Boston University School of Theology.
Dr Robert gives a historical overview of the growth of the women’s missionary movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the essay she traces the decline of the women’s movement to the decline in missions commitment in the US mainline churches. She says:
…the fact remains that in the older American Protestant denominations, the commitment of the entire denomination to mission was related to the strength of its women’s mission organization: the stronger the women’s group, the greater commitment to mission by the denomination.
This has startling implications for the Christian and Missionary Alliance; in nearly every Alliance church I hear about their struggles with women’s ministry (Alliance Women). The most common question I’m hearing from AW groups is: how do we attract younger woman to the AW movement?
I confess up front that I don’t have many answers. At the same time, if Robert is correct, and the strength of the women’s movement is correlative with the strength of the missions commitment of the denomination, then the CMA is in trouble.
I offer these humble suggestions, more as a point of dialogue than a point of argument or imposition:
1. Perhaps Alliance Women’s ministry should return to doing “woman’s work for woman” which was the central ideology of the women’s missionary movement. Perhaps women’s ministry shouldn’t be about trying to do everything for everyone. While AW generates enormous funding for CMA missionary tasks worldwide, I wonder if focusing on women’s ministries around the world might not invigorate American women to be about the God’s work among women around the world.
2. We need to encourage woman to pursue appropriate roles within our own “movement”. During the peak of the women’s missionary movement women held significant posts in denominational missions organizations. Our own Mrs. A. B. Simpson served as member of the Board of Managers, Financial Secretary and Secretary of Missionary Appointment in the CMA. In our day the role of women has steadily decreased at all levels of leadership. In the CMA we don’t believe women should hold the position of elder in the church. Fine. But I think there is a tendency in the CMA to elevate to “elder” positions which are structural and not ecclesiastical. I recently spoke with a pastor who had upbraided their district executive committee for not having any woman. A committee member replied that the DexCom functioned as the elders of the district. This isn’t true; the uniform district constitution of the CMA says, “The administrative work of this district shall be committed to the District Executive Committee of which the district superintendent shall be the chairperson.” You get my point. We tend to sacralize what is organizational and sacrifice promoting women because of it.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but if Robert is correct we better do something significant in the next 5-10 years or our movement may be in trouble.