November 12, 2007

Gender, Identity, and Ministry

I recently heard from a young woman (I assume from Biola) who had this to say at Flash Point:
I am ... surrounded by many intellectual single women who see no definition of womanhood outside the context of marriage and children...Before single women learn to engage their culture, they need to understand their own identity, and part of that is their gender.
I understand the longing to have God speak to each of our circumstances. For myself especially, it often feels hopeless being a thinking Christian woman with academic aspirations, but also being unequally yoked....I'm not exactly the posterchild for what is considered the ideal Christian woman. I have a lot to say about relationships, faith in God, and functional singleness as a married woman. But the bible doesn't have a lot to say about my particular situation, and so I depend on knowing what God has revealed to all of us.

So I ask, does a woman need to contemplate her femininity, her identity as a woman, prior to exercising her intellectual gifts? Outside or independent of the question of pastoral or elder leadership in the church, the answer is 'no.' These areas of leadership are not the only place in which the life of the mind is relevant. There is not monopoly on the role of the intellect by church leaders. Christians who tend toward the academic or intellectual in their gifts find themselves baffled by how to serve, but none more than women.

Does a man first contemplate his gender or identity as a man prior to his inquiry about the meaning of life, the problem of evil, the nature of the atonement, or which method of apologetics is most biblical? Obviously not. While I do hold that it is important to have a proper perspective on roles in the church, there is no exclusive correlation between these roles and the life of the mind. No where in Scripture are women asked to suppress their talents, but to use them to God's glory within the framework that is established in Scripture. And this is not limiting of women, the issue of roles in the church is very small in light of how large our world is. Women aren't expected to disengage their mind so as to cause men to look more intelligent. In fact, Mary of Bethany would have been with Martha in the kitchen if this was the expectation. What Jesus said was that being at his feet was "the good part."

So does this answer Amy Beth's concern? I think Mary of Bethany is a great example of a single Christian woman pursuing God. But I don't think her gender was a consideration in her sitting where she was until it was pointed out that she wasn't conforming to the cultural norms that existed at that time.

The definition for Christian womanhood (single or otherwise) is this: to be an obedient follower of Christ, willing and eager to serve the church with the gifts God has blessed her with. Let's not assume that so much is wrapped up in our gender that we cannot do anything until we understand what it is that makes us not male. What about what makes us human? I believe that understanding that we've been created in the image of God is of much greater significance and it is from there that we must function.


Kristine said...


I may have missed a broader context here (I'm skimming quickly), but why is the speaker referenced in this post "assumed to be from Biola"? Who was it?

Biola University Class of '82

Sarah J. Flashing said...

Hi Kristine, I knew that might come up. Here is the post she commented on:

Amy Beth said...

Hello again. It was great reading your response and realizing how difficult it is to convey ideas through short comments. So, I will attempt to articulate myself better in a longer form.

I completely agree with the last paragraph of your post that women need to love God and serve Him with their gifts now, wherever they are. Thinking and talking are both good things, but they are of no purpose if we are not actively loving Christ.

When I wrote about pursuing identity prior to action I was poorly communicating one thought from a larger thought project. I believe that gender is an important part of identity that is generally ignored or devalued among single women. Also, in order for anyone to affect culture well, they need to understand themselves.

One means of self-discovery is through action, and thusly no one should stop acting because they do not know themselves. If this were the case, no one would act. But if anyone blindly attempts to make an impact without knowing themselves, they will not know the impact they will make. Thusly, I believe that acting on God’s gifts and pursuing self-identity go together. And part of pursuing identity is seeing how one’s gender effects one’s actions.

This leads to my initial comment that spurred this Blog post. Too often gender, and thus a part of self-identity, is ignored in women who want to make an impact in our world. Gender is not THE issue, but it is an important one because is it difficult for single women to consider because of current culture. But there is not room for me to say much more in this comment, so its easy to disagree on these lately presented points.

I hope that brings slight clarity to my ideas.

Yes, I am from Biola.

Sarah J. Flashing said...

Amy, so glad you came back! I think much of my reflection and writing in the area of women in ministry to church and culture presupposes a certain understanding of identity. I consider myself a complementarian in that I believe Scripture teaches the male headship in the church and in the home. However, this is an issue of role and not entirely one of activity. Go back to Mary of Bethany, who we can identify with as a follower of Jesus, a single woman living with her brother and sister....and we know of her because she was a woman seeking to know the Lord in a location typically reserved for men in that culture at that time in history. I believe that account serves as a caution for us today, that our eyes and ears need to be in Christ and not ourselves.

So what is the role of a single woman who knows Jesus as her savior? What is her identity? She has a "head" in Jesus and in the leadership of her church. She has gifts and a calling to proclaim Christ and make disciples, the calling for all redeemed humans. She has gifts to serve the church with. She is single until she is not single. Plan A is where God has you, and we tend to think of singleness as some other plan, holding up marriage as Plan A. While marriage placed at a high level of importance throughout the corpus of Scripture, there is an element of satisfaction and joy we must have knowing God is sovereign and we are where he wants us to be. How you understand God, his sovereignty, and human freedom will frame this subject for you.

The bible speaks to the topic of marriage quite a bit, so it's easy for a single woman to struggle with all of the gender related issues. It's even difficult for me as my husband isn't a believer and I am in every way conceivable the head of my home. But I know that God has gifted each of us and called us to serve him and the church with those gifts. At times, I do pursue the use of my gifts through the filter of gender because I know that there are some roles that are not for me.

So yes, I guess I can say I've contemplated my gender, yet everything I write and speak now doesn't express this because it's my presuppositional framework. I hope this has been helpful....sorry for the rambling :)