Hot Button Christian Issues: Women in Leadership

Chances are good, women make up a large portion of your church’s leaders.  They probably outnumber the guys in the choir, teaching Sunday School, leading local ministries, assisting the church office, and orchestrating worship services.  However, the sermon is almost always delivered by a man.  In fact anything requiring an ordained clergy member in your church is most likely performed by a man instead of a woman.  And this has raised many questions concerning the prerequisites for spiritual leadership within the church.  Why is it that being a pastor is a predominantly male career path?  Why do some believers look down on co-ed ministers?  If women are so heavily involved in the church at every level but the pastoral, then why deny them this area as well?  Isn’t this a little backward given the current social trends regarding women in the work place and government?  Well, maybe.

When people provide a clear cut yes or no, they usually do so without acknowledging the points made from the other side.  For example, those who reference I Tim. 3 as proof that only men can serve as Church leaders rarely respond to the rebuttal that the Bible was written in a cultural setting where women were not granted the privilege of leadership of any kind.  Even among those who worshipped the Greco-Romans, the male priest was considered more authoritative than his female counterpart, if there was one.  Therefore, they conclude, Paul may simply be observing cultural guidelines that do not and should not affect the modern Church.  Similarly, those promoting women to be within the clergy are quick to point to the fact that women were the first to declare the gospel message of the risen Lord.  However, they seem to be silent when it is pointed out that Christ chose male disciples to be his apostles and that the apostles did not recognize women to be of the same authority as them.  Thus the other side contends that God never intended or wanted women to lead the Church.  The result becomes an unending gridlock between those who support female pastors and those who don’t.

This indicates that both sides are incorrectly interpreting this issue as a problem instead of a symptom to a much larger one.  In fact, I would argue that many of the discussions and debates in the American Church involving women leaders, homosexuality, modesty, etc. are all inter-related because they belong to one common problem within the Church: the response of the faithful to a world with ever changing cultures.

Think about it.  The argument for women pastors is often an argument from culture.  Because the culture is different, we must then be allowed to change with it.  In a way this goes back to the debate I wrote about earlier, Ancient Faith or Cultural Christianity.  As I mentioned then, culturally based beliefs lack the objectivity needed to keep believers unified in the faith.  But what about the times that the argument for women pastors is not based on cultural preferences?  There are many women who feel called by God to lead a congregation and preach the gospel in a church on in the mission field.  How do we respond to this?

Again, it is difficult to give approval or disapproval because now we’ve thrown God into the equation.  When someone says, “God has called me to do this,” others tend to be cautious in their response.  The person could be lying and using God as a means to give the deceit credibility.  However since we were not the ones called, we cannot say for certain that God did not call them.  If we look to Scripture to break the stalemate, we find that few women ever took on a role of leadership.  And when they did, it was always because no man was either physically present or spiritually able to lead.  The best example of this is the judge Deborah.  When the Israelites were attacked by Canaanites, their general, Barak, went to Deborah for aid.  And even after she had given it, he wouldn’t lead the Israelites into victory unless she came with them.  Because of this Barak wasn’t given the right to be proclaimed judge or allowed to claim victory over the enemies of Israel because he didn’t have the faith needed to serve as a leader for the people.  Another, from the New Testament, is Lydia the dyer of purple cloth.  She is attributed for founding the church of Thyatira because no men were present with her to receive the gospel message.

However someone would again bring up culture as a factor for why women have been restricted in their roles as leaders of God’s people.  After all, culture does affect our behavior and view points no matter how convinced we are that it should be irrelevant to what we do or say.  But this line of thinking then begs the question.  “What good is the Bible if its message is obscured by the cultural bias of the writers?”

The answer depends on how one views the Bible.  If it is simply a product of men who may have by accident or happenstance discovered some truth about God, then I would have to question if you truly adhere to the Christian faith because the Bible is ultimately the greatest confession from men about God.  And if their testimony is in question, then our faith is uncertain as well since it is based on what they proclaimed to be true.  If, however, the Bible is the inspired, written word of God, then what’s the concern?  God is not bound to time or limited to social constructs.  In fact, Genesis 1 denounces a crucial aspect of ancient Near Eastern culture by denouncing pantheism.  Seriously!  Most ancient people in the Near East believed anything and everything were in some way divine or connected to the divine.  But the Creation account in Genesis 1 says that all of Creation is just that, created matter and nothing.  Even the Torah goes against other cultural practices like idolatry, human sacrifices, and the practice of magic.  And Jesus also went against custom by letting Mary, the sister of Martha, sit as his feet as an equal follower with the apostles.  It seems then that God is not limited to culture.  With that in mind, it is reasonable to conclude that had God truly intended for women to be equal candidates for the clergy he would have permitted it already despite the culture.

Now does this mean women should become passive participants within the Church?  By no means!  Even in the Orthodox Church, perhaps the most conservative of the Christian traditions, women are sometimes regarded as equals to the apostles because of their deeds in spreading the gospel and strengthening the Church.  Therefore, I believe we should encourage our sisters to do what is that God asks of them.  And if they must teach as if they are pastors, let them do so in a manner that rebukes and encourages us men to do a better job to be leaders in our communities.

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ISIS: A Black Mark on Obama’s Foreign Policy

Last night, President Obama declared he had authorized military airstrikes against the militant forces of ISIS which have driven out Iraqi forces and minority groups from northern Iraq.  And while it is great that he has finally taken an active and positive position with this issue, the problem still remains that he has FINALLY taken an active and positive position on this issue!  And from what I’ve read of his statement to the American people last night, he still doesn’t get that his decision to withdraw America’s presence in Iraq and the world has dire consequences.

Now some might say that I’ve been unnecessarily hard on the President and that I need to try to see things from his perspective.  Typically I would agree and accept this suggestion.  After all our national leaders are privy to information that isn’t immediately available for the public.  Thus they sometimes act in ways that confound us only to be vindicated later.  The problem I have with this advice right now is that it is coming from the same people who were given the same advice 6yrs ago in regard to Bush’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And when you add the fact that Obama campaigned to be Bush’s political opposite, the hypocrisy becomes more and more apparent which in turn makes it increasingly frustrating to know how or if the President intends to be a global leader.

If you didn’t have a chance to see the President speak, many news websites like the Wall Street Journal have provided transcripts of his speech.  As you read the opening remarks, you might find yourself a tad confused as if something has been left out.  And that’s because something is missing, the President’s sense of chronology.  “First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq…” is at best an honest mistake and at worst a shameful cover up.  While it is true that ISIS has been most active during the month of June, it had already crossed large swaths of Iraqi territory as early as January.  According to the Foreign Policy Initiative, FPI, ISIS had already captured the city of Fallujah which is located in central Iraq about 40 miles outside the capital city of Baghdad.  The distance between Syrian border, ISIS was and is part of the civil war in Syria, and Fallujah is more than 200 miles assuming ISIS left from Abu Kamal.

Why is this important?  Well again, it indicates that the President either made an honest to goodness mistake or he is intentionally trying to cover up the fact that he dropped the ball.   The question then becomes, “Which is it?”  Before we answer this, let’s keep going through the speech.

After a few comments about the brutality of the terrorists toward minorities and his decision to answer the cry for help, the President says the most mind-boggling thing.  “…American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.  The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”

What?  Seriously?  So the answer, “the only lasting solution,” President Obama has to offer isn’t treating the terrorists as…well, terrorists.  It isn’t providing greater military support to the Iraqis to combat the militants.  It is bringing together Iraqis to settle their disputes.  Oh and having stronger Iraqi security forces would help as well, but the process of reconciliation should be the primary focus.  Again, I ask, “What?”  It is as if the President has stopped paying attention to his daily briefings or the news for the last year.  Honestly, how does one make the same conclusion as the President does knowing that Iraqi forces have been repeatedly defeat by ISIS with no sign of ever gaining the upper hand and knowing that ISIS has no qualms of settling community disputes with beheadings, crucifixions, etc.?  Plus, how can you say that “stronger Iraqi security forces” are part of the solution with a straight face when your military advisors told you that they were not ready to hold their own in military conflicts?

Again, let’s hold off from answering for a moment.

“And while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place…And I’ve been careful to resist calls to turn time and again to our military, because America has other tools in our arsenal than our military.  We can also lead with the power of our diplomacy, our economy, and our ideals.”

Wow…Just, wow…Has anyone told the President that the reason America has made the world so secure and prosperous is because we’ve turned to our military?  I’m not saying diplomacy, economy, and ideals aren’t important and haven’t helped during moments of tension and conflict.  But they only hold weight when the other side places the same amount of value on them as we do.  And people like those who make up ISIS, Iran’s government, and leaders like Putin don’t place those values on American diplomacy (which doesn’t have a great track record on your watch), economy (which by the way isn’t doing so well), and ideals (which they’ve repeatedly shown not to share).

Again, I ask, how can any of this be said with a straight face?  How can the President of the United States come to the conclusion that the crisis caused by ISIS can be handled through diplomacy when they have shown no indication to accept peace talks?  And the answer is he can’t unless he’s trying to save face.  It would have been one thing had Obama admitted that the ISIS problem had gotten out of hand and he was discussing ways to curb the militants war path as well as weaken their power in Iraq.  Then we could have dismissed his June comment as a technical error on the part of his speech writing staff.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he tries to wash his and the nation’s hands of the whole affair by leaving it as a solely Iraqi problem.  Again, never mind the President’s decision from the beginning was to be anti-Bush and against American involvement in the Middle East despite the consequences of withdrawing America’s presence in the region based on political ambition instead of practical policy.  The result, unfortunately for the President, will be another black mark on his foreign policy legacy.  Instead of rallying world opinion and toning down America’s usage of the military as he originally promised, he has left the global arena without strong and reliable leadership from the US.  The result has be an aggressive Russia in eastern Europe and turmoil in the Middle East.  It will be interesting to see if the supporters of the President will be willing to accept that whoever takes the Oval Office in 2016 will be inheriting a mess as great or greater than the one Obama received from Bush.

What Should Christian Movies Look Like?

I’m not sure what the reason is, but the movie industry has produced quite a few biblically based or themed films this year including the controversial Aronofsky drama Noah and God’s Not Dead!  Now the fact that Hollywood (to be used synonymously with the movie and TV industry in general in this post) produces this flics is not terribly surprising.  Like the Three Musketeers, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. the stories of the Bible are well-known and popular enough that people will be willing to buy tickets to see them on the big screen time after time.  However, they are generally not so heavily concentrated in one particular year but usually one year out of every 5-20 years.  And now that Ridley Scott has announced that his film Exodus: Gods and Kings will wrap up the year of Bible movies this December, many Christians are wondering if this is a sign that they are finally having an influence in Hollywood.  Some are hoping this surge will give Christian studios the chance to gain credibility in the eyes of movie-goers in general and not just youth groups and Bible studies.  Yet to do so, I think Christian films will need to reinvent themselves.

Part of the problem I think movies from Focus on the Family and others have had is that their message is too blatant.  If film making is an art, then it should convey its message or messages in a subtle manner.  For example, in the Star Wars epic the Jedi were convinced that certain emotions like anger, fear, and loss were dangerous and needed to be controlled.  If a Jedi Knight failed to do this, he or she would inevitable join the Dark Side of the Force.  Yet look at what happens to the character of Luke Skywalker in The Return of the Jedi during his duel with his father Darth Vader.  While they fight, Luke maintained the peace and inner stability every Jedi tries to obtain until Vader threatened to turn his sister Leia.  In one instant Luke goes from calm and collected to the fear of losing his sister and intense anger toward the man who would dare twist his sibling into becoming evil.  According to what the Jedi taught, Luke should have lost his way and allied himself with the Dark Side.  Yet that’s not what happens.  Instead he realizes these emotions and feelings occur to everyone, but that doesn’t automatically make them evil.  He realizes this when he considers the mechanical limbs he and his father Vader both have.  They symbolize the loss of humanity.  Vader lost his humanity by surrendering to his emotions.  Luke would have lost his by trying too hard to be in control of his emotions and everything connected to him.  The message then is that our emotions don’t determine who we are, but how we respond to them does.

Now some might say that this is over-analyzing, yet I have to disagree.  The purpose of art is to make people think (usually through a pleasant medium), not what to think.  If Christian movie producers would take this aspect into their films, I think we can move away from the simple plot lines of “I have a problem, asked God to help, God does, the end” to more complex stories that will hopefully prompt people to question the possibility of God and the gospel.

Another reason I think many Christian films don’t do well is their unwillingness to get gritty.  I’m not saying family friendly flics are bad and should be avoided, but I think we as a Church need to accept that the world can be very nasty and repugnant.  In fact there are parts of the Bible that wouldn’t fit into the G and PG mindset of many Christian families and churches.  Yet we value and uphold the written word of God as something to be revered and trusted.  For this reason, I think we should allow Christian films to expand and grow when comes to issues of violence, sex, and profanity.  I’m not saying we should give the green light to hard core sex scenes and ripping out people’s intestines on the big screen.  But I think we shouldn’t cringe at the idea that characters may have extra-marital affairs, occasionally take the Lord’s name in vain, etc.  Those are real world problems that the Church was called to confront, not to sweep them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.

There are other things Christian movie producers could do to help make their films more mainstream, but these two points I believe are the most important and most likely to level the playfield.  What do you think?  Are there different steps Christian movies should be prioritizing as well?  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

NOTE: An earlier edition of this post incorrectly attributed God’s Not Dead! to Kirk Cameron.  I was notified of this error in the comments section and have since removed the connection between the two.