Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Where are all the women???

“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.



Beth said...

This is very interesting to me. I had no idea that the roots of the Alliance are pro-woman, that there is such as thing as an Alliance church pastored by a woman, or that women are allowed to conduct baptisms or serve the Lord's supper. I don't attend an Alliance church, but I have worked in this building for five years and I never heard any of this. I would like to hear more. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Jen said...

I've been at a CMA church for just one year now. I didn't even know there was an Alliance Womens group until last month when someone from it came to speak at our Women's night. I find our women's nights something to endure rather than something I look forward to. This is definately food for thought and prayer.
Off topic, Jeff, my boys said yet again this morning how much they miss you and wish you could come for another visit and bring your whole family. You made a big impression on them.

Anonymous said...

Despite what this or that denomination concludes about the role of women in ministry, the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where He pleases. Women in the C&MA have been called to plant churches, pastor churches, preach the Gospel, bind up wounds and heal the sick. And never forget that some women missionaries in the C&MA have been called to martyrdom.

Beth said...

Of course everyone knows that women in many denominations have always been allowed to be more active on the mission field than they would in a US church, probably mainly for practical reasons. One of my many beloved "aunts" (single missionary ladies I grew up with) once told me that she was very careful never to let her US supporters know that she preached the Sunday sermon each week in her tiny Japanese church plant - not that she had any aspirations to do so, but with no male convert available, she had no choice.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the comments gang. I'm not sure the CMA was so much pro-woman as "pro-get the job down by whatever means necessary." My sense is that the sense of urgency in preparing for the Coming King drove the agenda.

Jen, tell the boys I said hi! I'm still hummming, 'da da da daaaa...'

anony: Well said! The Spirit does as he wishes, and no should ever question the dedication and sacrifice of women missionaries from many eras and many denominations!

The interesting point in Robert's essay was that the women's missionary movement started and thrived despite the obstacles that were placed in their paths. That's, perhaps, the subject for another post.

Dr. D's Diagnosis said...

Jeffery you rock! Just imagine what the CMA may get accomplished if we unleash our girls! I have always said, and you know it well, that Brenda is the REAL missionary in our family. She prays, preaches and lives it much better than I do. Please send me a private email and warn me which DEXcom said the moronic elder thingy . . . I want to make sure I stay outta there :-)