Growing up I attended numerous events where achievement was recognized and accomplishment rewarded. Typically a prominent male figure was the recipient of the award and the focus of the event.
More times than I can count, immediately prior to the ultimate presentation, the proceedings would halt and the Master of Ceremonies would say something like this: “Before presenting the award for this evening, we want to take a moment to recognize a very important person among us. We all know that behind every successful man stands a supportive wife, and so would Mrs. So and So come up here to be recognized.”
At that point Mrs. So and So would blush, make her way to the stage and be presented with a bouquet of flowers.
Don’t misunderstand the purpose behind recalling these events. The intent was right, the expression sincere and the recognition necessary. Unfortunately the whole thing was a bunch of hooey. Beneath it all was a thinly veiled premise of male superiority. It assumed that the man was the brains, the drive and the expert while somewhere in the background his supportive wife made sure his shirts were properly laundered and his children kept occupied so as not to disturb him.
Contrast that scenario to my current reality. My physician is a woman. So is my accountant. My last visit to a lawyer to ensure that all my worldly possessions are properly apportioned was with a woman. The head of the RCMP in this province, who as chaplain I salute and call “Ma’am,” is a highly accomplished woman.
These ladies need to stand behind no one or assume a secondary role simply because of their gender. They are as competent and accomplished as anyone I have ever met.
Unfortunately I’ve had to face the reality that according to tradition, my own Christian faith has been one of the obstacles high achieving women have had to overcome. Through some ill-advised treatment of biblical texts it was assumed that part of God’s ordained order was one of a male-dominated world with women assuming only subservient positions. I was recently overwhelmed with disappointment as I considered how that view played out in my lifetime. In churches of all stripes women have always been allowed to teach children.
Further, they are almost universally encouraged to teach other women. Add to that the fact that many of the most notable missionaries to developing nations have been women and their teaching and leadership to indigenous people especially in Africa has been highly celebrated. If you put all that together you are left with the discomforting realization that traditionally the only people women have not been allowed to teach or supervise were white males, or at least males from first world countries. How did we ever arrive there?
Fortunately more insightful interpretations of the Bible have resulted in a more egalitarian view of the world. Part of the wholeness of redemption is that, as St. Paul says, “There is no longer either Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul says the divisions which once mattered, matter no longer.
For those who wish to debate the interpretation of the scriptures I am very much aware of texts which on the surface appear to differ with the tone of this article. I am also aware of solid answers to those interpretations. If one thinks the limitations placed on women in leadership is harsh, keep reading the scriptures to see the even harsher limitations placed on men.
I am convinced it’s time more of us stood up and recognized the incredible and equal role women play in society. For the record this is not an argument in support of the feminist movement. This is not about equal rights. Rather it is an argument for mutual submission and humility of both males and females. It is an argument for recognizing that giftedness, talent and worth have nothing to do with gender. Perhaps when we begin to treat all God’s children with dignity, worth and respect, more categories and distinctions will disappear and more accomplishments will be realized.
Tim Schroeder is pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna. This column appears in Okanagan Weekend.