Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Gender and Evangelicalism: History, Culture and the Church.

Written by: on February 1, 2018

 There is no doubt that the primary source material is at least partially responsible for the adoption of this more limited lens. Much of the material upon which we depend as historians is written from the male perspective and more often than not from the vantage point of the pulpit rather than the pew[1]

This week we read the book Global Evangelicalism by Donald Lewis and Richard V. Pierard. It is a composition of 10 different short essays looking at the influence and evidence of evangelicalism in the world over the course of history.  In chapter 10 “Evangelicals and Gender” by Sarah C. Williams briefly discusses five assumptions that have been made concerning the relationship that exists between evangelicalism and gender throughout history. The differing of historical depictions, materials and discussions are highly influenced by an evangelical world view the can be witnessed in various writings, cultural influences, and church doctrine. My reflections will seek to touch on a few of the assumptions outlined in her critic.

Who is in charge or what qualifies someone to be in charge? are questions that are reflected upon when discussing leadership matters within the Church. Historically, there has been a bias that has favored men due to the fact that much of our historical materials have been written primarily by other men. This bias  has highlighted  aspects of church leadership that depict a males point of view despite the fact that history has proven that it is the women who have remained devout and influential in the building up of the church.  Due to the fact that women historically did not hold pulpit ministerial positions most of church doctrine, materials, etc. come from those who have held those positions.

In my experience, it has been many of the female laypeople within the church who have been pivotal to the growth and life of their church community. While many were not allowed to sit in the pulpit or hold particular leadership roles deemed only for men to serve in, they were the anchor that the church stood on. “In most cases it was the mothers in working-class families who were more devout, who attended the regular mothers meetings, taught their children to pray at night and organized familial participation in ecclesial rites of passage.”[2]   Personally, I can name far more women than men who were influential in my upbringing. Growing up our church attendance was primarily majority women than men. It was the woman who organized the ministries in the background making sure the operations of the church functioned. It was the men who were in the forefront of those efforts more as a figureheads than functionally driving initiatives forward. It would be the “church mothers” who would lead prayer prior to weekly services and teach women and children Sunday school classes.  It is known that these women, some who have gone on to be with the Lord, are unsung heroes of faith who were pivotal in the spiritual transformation of every life they touched. They never saw it as a badge of honor but humbly as their reasonable service to the Lord.

Williams wrote “The traditional neglect of women in historical discussions of religious influence pushed the historiography so decisively in the direction of a kind of corrective women’s history that it hassled to a scholarly neglect of masculinity and the formative construction of male and female cultural identities in dialogue with one another.” [3] Within the previous assumption surfaces another problem, noted by Williams, where the gender bias historical accounts and narratives were being rejected and new ones were emerging resulting in a pull in different directions. The male dominated historical discussions were being met with a push for scholarly historical constructions of women’s influences in life, culture, politics, religion etc. As culture continued to change in the mid nineteenth century through the 1940’s, there were writings on how the ideal nature of manliness became synonymous with spirituality and thus evangelical Christian code of conduct.  “To study either at the exclusion of the other gender is to do an injustice to the material and to contemporary understandings of the family as a complex web of relationships.”[4]

She goes on further to acknowledge that these different directions have also shed light on what she calls the separation of spheres between men and women.  These spheres were rooted in social and cultural views during the Industrial Revolution where “domestic ideology” that emphasized a woman’s role was in the home as a nurturer, mother and a care giver. The man’s role was “acquisition and competition”. Having these spheres allowed for the family structure to hold both the Christian values within the home and maintain the capitalist values outside of the home which inevitably led to private versus public spheres in society. These views shaped and influenced the culture and reinforced differences between men and women in society.

Today there is still the push for returning to practicing these values and restoring the “family order”. Much of what John Piper and others like him are attempting to reshape society through regaining religious control. The Nashville statement reflects a lot of the attitudes, biases and beliefs that have continued to be a part of the religious history of Western Christianity. Williams critic of these assumptions and views still hold true today in the 21st century.

Her summation was that when looking at gender in history evangelical women have had influence on church and culture. We should not look at evangelicalism or even church history solely from a woman or man perspective but to hold them in tandem. This will allows for us to see the interrelationship without the polarization of one gender view over another. There is no longer one domain or sphere that held by men or women but together is a part of history, present and future. William asserts that “[i]n so doing we are able to reclaim the public sphere as a place of deep reflection on the ethical direction of modern economic development from a Christian perspective and the private sphere as a profoundly important basis for cultural and political critique.”[5]

[1] Sarah C. Williams, “Evangelicals and Gender,” in Global Evangelicalism, eds. Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2014), 276.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 277.

[4] Ibid., 279.

[5] Ibid.,294.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

14 responses to “Gender and Evangelicalism: History, Culture and the Church.”

  1. Mary says:

    Christal, good evaluation of Williams’ points. The article was a mixed bag for me.
    I think some restraint is called for – let’s not go to extremes; Let’s try for a balanced picture of history that shows men and women working in the kingdom.
    The only thing I’m wondering right now is – the history of Christianity as told by mostly men is so unbalanced what can we do to give women the credit for what they have done?
    So many of the social justice organizations especially in the nineteenth century were started by women.
    I wonder if when the Fundamentalists threw out the “social gospel” they were also throwing out all of the women who were instrumental in involved in caring for the poor and marginalized?

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Mary you pose some great questions. I would like to believe that through oral tradition those women’s stories are being told or have been written. I would hope that a historian would be able to collect those stories so that they can be shared with the world.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    In most of our religious upbringing, it was always the women that ran the church behind the scenes and the men where before the church representing leadership.
    The women of the church are responsible for our character development. Yet, as school teachers, they get no ‘thank yous’
    Thank you for your views

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Yes Lynda absolutely!!! I believe it is still what keeps many churches open and going even today. I believe especially in the African American church it is special and valued part of our history.

  3. Jim Sabella says:

    Christal, I appreciate this statement.

    “We should not look at evangelicalism or even church history solely from a woman or man perspective but to hold them in tandem. This will allows for us to see the interrelationship without the polarization of one gender view over another.”

    There is no question the church has been a man’s world for many years and in many (not all) cases, women were considered second-class citizens in the church. Yet, even in that difficult place women through the centuries have had a huge impact on the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. That is a FACT! For example, some of the most influential evangelists of today are women —Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore. I can also attest to the fact that women have always been and continue to be leaders in global missions. It’s true, we need more women in positions of leadership within missions sending organizations and it is happening. But women have always been leaders on the field in global missions. Enjoyed your post.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Great connections to women in missions. Yes it is a fact that women have heavily influenced the advancement of the spreading of the gospel and the mission of God throughout the world.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “Due to the fact that women historically did not hold pulpit ministerial positions most of church doctrine, materials, etc. come from those who have held those positions.”

    Let me make an observation to connect the “global” sections of the book to this one.

    Most of Asia has a matriarchal bias. This is not always easily seen, but older women carry a lot of weight in some communities that have a “collectivist” orientation.

    Beginning in the 1960s, Communist countries in Asia (China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Korea) begin arresting Christian pastors for fear of their “counter-revolutionary” influence and sent them to work camps. At this time, most of the pastors were male. Also, the officials arrested men more because they were needed for the work camps. Some were more merciful to the women and gave them lighter sentences.

    Now, it is very common to see women leading churches in these countries. This change from male pastors to women pastors was born out of necessity, yet many of these godly women have proven themselves to be solid leaders.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Great connection with the history of woman in leadership within asian countries. Yes in order to continue the mission of God in those countries and the rest of the world. I have heard of many underground churches that were led by women.

  5. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yep-I concur Christal: “We should not look at evangelicalism or even church history solely from a woman or man perspective but to hold them in tandem.” Great statement. So much easier said than done. The reasoning why was stated beautifully when you talked about how modern theologians are not presenting a balanced gender representation to history because they are trying to gain “religious control.”
    It reminds me when I work with marriages, I am regularly reassuring men they are 100% the boss…of themselves. Their blue kingdom stops there because their wife is 100% control…of herself and her pink kingdom. If they want to work together, they need to make a purple kingdom, and purple cannot be made without both pink and blue. When I put it in this light, I see the tension drop, and the man is able to hear his wife, accepting she is responsible for her kingdom. I rarely, if ever, have had to reassure women of this. Relationships for men is often perceived in vertical or hierarchical, whereas women perceive relationships as more horizontal and collaborative. I often see when men can be reassured that they will be seen, heard, and are powerful, especially by another woman, they are more receptive to hear and work collaboratively with their wives. I wonder if those men who are fighting for religious control will pipe down and operate more collaboratively if they are also reassured they can have as much power as the woman but not more? Or do you think they just want the most control?

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Jen I absolutely love the “purple kingdom” concept. It is simple but so powerful!!! Thank you for sharing! I definitely resonate with your reflections.

  6. Christal,
    A very good post and one that I appreciate as I know I don’t have the same perspective.
    You highlight that most of history and theology, etc. has been written by men – and as such, it prioritizes (or only offers) the perspective of men.
    While there are obviously real issues with this, it shouldn’t be in anyway surprising to us, as it is really just human nature.
    Those that are in positions of power, influence and/or authority tend to operate in ways that perpetuate that power and authority. In our current context, we need to look no further than all of the gerrymandering cases in our court systems – given the opportunity, most people will ‘stack the deck’ in their favor.
    What is disappointing and, what should be surprising (although, as a student of history, it sadly isn’t) is how often this has been just as true – if not more so – in Christian structures and movements.
    It should be surprising, because Jesus – who we are supposed to emulating – went to great lengths to center those that were marginalized by society, religion and culture. So it stands to reason that we should be trying to do the same.
    But too often – the leaders of our churches – who used to only be men and are still predominantly so – are blind to their own biases and often set up structures, patterns and ways of thinking and acting that perpetuate male-centered (often white male) leadership. And one of the biggest issues with this is that, once that becomes the ‘party line’ even those that are being marginalized often buy into this way of thinking.
    I read an interesting piece of journalism (that I can’t find now – agh!) around the time of the presidential election that talked about how the things that we tend to want and look for in political candidates significantly favor men (so not just ‘strength’ – but the kind of strength that men tend to have, etc.). It was very interesting – and highlights this point.
    This article is along the same lines, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gender-bias-role-in-elections_us_564357b4e4b045bf3ded2245

    As Christians, I think we need to work diligently to follow in Christ’s footsteps in centering those voices that are so often marginalized. Thanks for highlighting that

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Chip great reflections on leadership, bias and the church. I appreciated this statement “It should be surprising, because Jesus – who we are supposed to emulating – went to great lengths to center those that were marginalized by society, religion and culture. So it stands to reason that we should be trying to do the same.”

      This is so true and also so easily forgotten. It is so important for us as leaders to be living examples of Christ so that the church and the world will see how it is supposed to be done.

      Thank you for your reflections on this post!

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “We should not look at evangelicalism or even church history solely from a woman or man perspective but to hold them in tandem.”
    I agree with this to a certain extent, Christal. On the other hand, I think we have had a great deal of male perspective and not much female perspective. It has only been through feminist theology that we have discovered that perhaps the church hasn’t been solely run by men since the beginning of time, that people like Priscilla and Phoebe were in charge of more than hospitality and potlucks, and Junia was a woman not a man.
    When I started reading people like James Cone, I realized I didn’t need to hold white perspective together with the African American perspectives I was reading – I had been bathed in them my whole life. Sometimes we just need to put the dominant perspectives on the back burner, and let the “new” voices simmer and speak.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Kristin i appreciate your reflection and want to lean into them a little bit. While I understand your point of view I do not see the examples that you used as one in the same. Gender and Race are not the same and yet they are not mutually exclusive. What I will say is holding these perspectives in tandem does not give power or precedence to one over the other but it allows for a much greater holistic understanding of history. Like I had stated in a former post, had I not learned Native American, Asian, Asian Pacific, Latino, Afro Latino and African American history collectively my understanding of what was occuring historically in time along with multiple voices speaking into what they experienced I would have a siloed world view. I believe what Cone was saying is not that white history should not be considered but that you already bring that into your reading, understanding and engagement when you dive into black history. He is simple saying for a moment set all that aside in as much as you can engage and empathize with the other narrative. I don’t think he would say that we should not hold all accounts in tandem at some point. Just my thoughts.

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