|Who Calls Women and Men Into Leadership?|
“Yes, God used the woman as a leader when a God-appointed leader was too weak and cowardly to take his place alone at the head of God’s people, refusing to go unless the woman went with him.” — W.T. Witherspoon, “Women’s Place in the New Testament Church,” p. 9.
Professor David Norris used this quote in his annotated bibliography at the end of his novel, Cara’s Call, and it resonated with me (although not really in a positive way). Most times I have heard it, I have cringed. I don’t know when this was written (the date of printing was not available in the published document) but if I had to guess, I imagine it would have dated from the 1940s or 1950s, or possibly as late as the 1960s. The immediate context for the quote was the situation of Deborah, wife of Lapidoth, Judges 4:4. Although in my reading of the biblical text, it seems to me that Deborah already was a “God-appointed leader.” She was a judge of Israel.
Certain currents of popular belief might attribute this kind of reasoning, that of casting a negative light on women in leadership, to a reaction against some trends that came out of the so-called Women’s Liberation Movement. But the truth is, women have always played important roles in leadership. Lydia, the well known merchant of ancient Thyatira; Priscilla, an important leader of the early church; Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; the Queen of Sheba; and we all know the story of Jael . . .
I believe that a significant part of the reason that women who have been called to serve ministerially within the UPC have experienced such hardship (for an example, seeCrystal Schmalz’s 10/31 post, “Leading with Integrity”), has been the widespread influence of the belief that women can be used in leadership, but only under certain conditions. It’s certainly true that anyone who wants to serve ministerially is subject to conditions. We are all called upon to prove our ministry, and our leaders are called to test us in certain ways in order to help us. However, it seems that extra burdens of proof, oftentimes unnecessarily burdensome, are too frequently loaded upon the shoulders of women.
One aspect of Witherspoon’s quote that I find particularly troubling is the light it casts on men. There is an implication that not only should there be limits on a woman’s leadership contribution, but that men who do not serve in ministry are somehow less manly. This idea of “C’mon, men, step up to the plate!” or, to bring it into a more modern vernacular, “Man up!” is not motivating or encouraging, but rather, emasculating. What if her husband (or her brother, or any other man hearing the quotation) has not been called to serve ministerially? Does that make him less of man? Does that make him a coward? Is it a person’s individual choice to be called? Does not calling come from God alone?
If God calls, He will equip. He will make room for the gifts. And He will use those gifts for His glory.
Everett Gossard is a 2007 graduate of the Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
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