Five Reasons to Reconsider Gender Specific Ministry
February 16, 2016
I don’t have a problem with a fun ladies’ night out. Some girl friends and I get together on a regular basis, we call ourselves the ATP (Afternoon Tea People) and we have a great time. I also write for a sisterhood blogging collective over at SheLoves Magazine where I have loved the fellowship I have found with those women.
What I take issue with is the alarming proportion of events in Christian communities that are segregated by gender. There are women’s retreats, men’s breakfasts, mom’s prayer group, ladies’ Bible study, etc. it feels like Christian Culture is obsessed with wedging a thick divide between the two genders. As I said to my Raising Children UnFundamentalist FB Group, I simply do not think it is a healthy culture to reflect to our children. Here are five reasons why:
1. It excludes intersex and transgender people. I know, I know, many people are uncomfortable with the “blurring” of gender distinctions. Well, I am sorry but it is a fact that intersex people exist. It is also a fact that transgender people are among us, identifying as a different gender than their biological anatomy. And guess what? They are children, young adults, and they are in your communities. What message are we sending by further isolating their already marginalized existence? And what is the church’s responsibility towards the most invisible people among us?
2. Women like bacon too. Often gender specific events are coordinated with stereotypical gender activities and too many of us are tired of conforming to a narrow mold of man/womanhood. Some of us like cutesy, crafty things but we also want pancakes and BBQ. And not all men are into testosterone in hyperdrive events like this one: Meat, Message, and Mayhem. (Events include: weight bench contest, football toss, and bull riding, featuring a special speaker who is a former WWF wrestler.) Sounds more like mayhem than message to me. What irritates me most however, is the intellectual divide, where women events tend to be fluffier, as if we aren’t capable of having substantial theological discussions along with our brothers in the church. These are not-so-subtle traces of patriarchy preventing women from rising to leadership in the church and it is not okay.
3. We need to learn from one another. Gender stereotypes exist because there is some truth in them. There are certain ways most men think and behave that are beyond my intuitive sense. But that makes it all the more important for me to learn from them, especially in matters of faith. God is not gendered, and God exhibits God’s image in every unique person, in both men and women, and if we want to continually strive to see more reflections of God, we can’t be shielded from the perspectives of the opposite gender. I want to learn from men, but more importantly, men need to learn from me and other women. This simply needs to be a priority because for too many years of human and church history, women’s voices have been sidelined, and it is time to turn that tide.
4. Providing opportunities to practice non-traditional roles. When I have suggested more co-ed activities, one common excuse I hear is that gender segregated events happen organically because of childcare arrangements. Dads typically work so Moms get a night out while Dads watch the kids. Well, seeing as this is the twenty first century, many moms work and an increasing number of Dads are staying at home. Our family schedules are not dictated strictly across gender lines anymore. Church ministries should consider meeting the needs of modern families.
5. Learning (and modeling) healthy boundaries. At the root of all of this gender segregation lies the same old fundamentalist fears: it’s simply too messy if wives start falling in love with other people’s husbands. It’s easier to be above reproach, stay far away from temptation, and put up a good pretense that we all are thriving in safe, happy marriages.
But aren’t you tired of being afraid of authentic human relationships? I know I am. Aren’t you afraid of what we’re missing out on by staying safe? I don’t know what might happen if we allow men and women to share in more activities together, to seek after God together, to practice resurrection life together, maybe it would be messier. Most likely, it will be. But we will never figure out how to relate to each other in authentic community if we don’t have the opportunities to try. How can we learn from opposite genders in a way that draws us into deeper relationship with God without compromising healthy boundaries as married, singles, divorced, and transgender people in relationship with one another? How will our children, who will eventually venture into a world with male, female and queer coworkers cultivate skills to develop healthy relationships with others if they don’t see it modeled by their parents and the people in their community?
Like I’ve said, I am not saying we can never have a fun ladies night out or do gender specific activities ever. Certainly, when I was nursing my babies, I needed the camaraderie of other nursing mothers to lament nipple pain. I simply think perhaps we have overestimated the importance of such events at the expense of experiencing a fuller range of our humanity within Christian communities.
I think that dividing wall has been artificially built out of fear, and it’s time to tear it down.