Thursday, June 21, 2012
gender and new forms of church
The last few days of sabbatical I’ve been finalising a complete draft of a chapter on gender and the emerging church. It now stands at 12,400 words and some 115 footnotes. It is the result of 47 survey forms of emerging church participants, in which comparisons have then been made regarding male and female perceptions. That data has been brought into conversation with three books that focus on women and faith development. Which has raised the question of how women around Jesus were fed, fostered and freed in mission. Here are two concluding excepts.
One way to read Luke 8:1-3 is to suggest that in this text, men are constructed as public speakers, while women are constructed as carers and homemakers. Such a reading would reinforce, to use the quote by John Drane, “bastions of male leadership.” (Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church). As a consequence, emerging churches will be led by men, within which women will find a place of service domestically.
However Bauckham (Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels) argues that such a reading is simply incorrect. “It is therefore quite mistaken to suppose that the women are here assigned, within the community of Jesus’ disciples, the kind of gender-specific roles that women played in the ordinary family situation.” “Schottroff (Lydia’s Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity) exposes the patriarchal bias of the scholarly tradition that gives the words διηκονουν∀ and διηκονειν different meanings in texts about women and texts about men: leadership functions when men are in question, cooking and serving at table when women (and slaves) are concerned.” Rather than prescribing gender roles, Bauckham argues that in Luke 8:1-3, the women are being portrayed as offering a way of following in relation to possessions. “Thus the true male counterpart to the women’s “service,” as described in Luke 8:3, is not preaching or leadership but the abandonment of home and family … Both the men and the women among Jesus’ disciples behave in a significantly countercultural way with regard to material resources.” Thus around Jesus, both genders are called to a journey of radical discipleship, of counter-cultural behaviour in regard to material cultures.
Which has then led to this conclusion.
Fifth, in the story of Jesus, we find a gendered community in which males and females are invited into a whole bodied following, a radical community of equals, in which mission as justice-making, apostolic witness and community building occur in ways that are never gender exclusive. Gender matters, as both men and women are fed, fostered and freed into mission. This becomes a strong challenge to any community positioning itself as a bastion of “male leadership” , as actually being a betrayal of the community of practice established by Jesus.
It’s been a lot of work, but a very rich experience to write and reflect. I will now have a quiet coffee in celebration, before turning to another chapter, on sustainability among new forms of church.
Oh, the three books on gender and faith development were
- Carol Hess, Caretakers of Our Common House: Women’s Development in Communities of Faith
- Nichola Slee, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes
- Stephen Burns and Nichola Slee (eds), Presiding Like a Woman – Feminist Gestures for Christian Assemblies