DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mixed Messaging – All welcome but not equal.

Written by: on January 25, 2019

If you are looking for a fairly comprehensive perspective of the history of evangelicalism and how it has taken over much of the world, a great place to start is with Global Evangelicalism. Beginning with David Bebbington’s classic definition of an evangelical, including a focus on conversion, the Bible, activism, and the cross, Global Evangelicalism outlines the types of evangelicals, their histories, short-comings and continental reach. Even further, the text dabbles in critical assumptions around gender.

Reading through Global Evangelicalism, I was immediately taken by two aspects: the history of Europe and North America and the chapter on gender. Together, these are the primary focus of the beginning of my dissertation, identifying a problem. The title of my recent essay was, “The Historical Theology of Inclusion in the Wesleyan Tradition,” with inclusion focusing on women and people of color. The history of the Wesleyan Tradition was anchored in an abolitionist movement with the women’s movement into leadership close behind. At the forming of multiple Wesleyan denominations (as noted in Pierard’s section on nineteenth century North America), freedom for slaves and leadership for women in ministry were foundational. However, while many of the denominations created a place for both groups to belong, most did not write into their policy at their founding about the equality of both groups. Thus, over time, the majority of Wesleyan movements waned in expanding their leadership, and even participation, to people of color and women.

Through my research of the history of the Wesleyan Tradition, I realized an aspect of race and ethnicity that was confirmed through the US census and in Global Evangelicalism. There was a long period, from 1790 until 1860 in the US at least, in which people were considered either black or white.[1] Although indigenous people groups, along with others from across the globe resided in the United States, the only ones that were recognized were whites while all people of color were designated as slaves. This narrow focus reveals a small but telling aspect of the depth and breadth of the privilege felt by white leadership in the church as well as in the society.

While evangelical church leadership throughout the world primarily began in the West, many of the countries reached through Western evangelical missions have received the minority among them, even when colonial models were introduced, and allowed for conversion and integration. Only in recent years, as the demographics have begun to shift more dramatically in the US, have American churches reconsidered the need to actively diversify to continue to reach their communities. This may especially be true as the US census predicts less than fifty percent of the population to be white only by 2050.

Two of several important highlights in the history of Global Evangelicalism with reference to the need of all people leading toward individual and societal transformation are Mark Noll’s extensive list of both women and men who promoted evangelism and social activism.[2]  Charles Finney is also a significant figure, as a mid-nineteenth century evangelist who both “allowed women to testify and pray in services” as well as urging “converts to become involved in social reform efforts.” As Wolffe and Pierard write of Finney, “Like others of his time, he believed that the way to transform society was through the conversion of individuals.”[3]

With an historical review, the final chapter on “Evangelicals and Gender” points out five problematic assumptions surrounding evangelicalism with regard to masculinity and femininity. Each of the five bely the complexities between the sexes that “inhibit and distort our understanding of the range and depth of evangelical influence on historical structures of thought and patterns of life.”[4] Fear of female authority and feminist reaction tend to sit at the heart of the discussion. Unfortunately, the disunity between male and female is rooted in Genesis with the fall and plays out through all of Christian history, especially in the evangelical church. However, as Williams notes and others have seen, there have been expressions of women and men working together in important and effective ways to grow the church globally, whether as leadership or parishioners or both.

Lewis’ text explains that evangelicalism has risen in the last century to be second only to the long-time leader, the Catholic church.[5] Spreading through the global South, Evangelicalism is alive and well. While Global Evangelicalism claims the continued growth of evangelicals world-wide, the North Atlantic, as Charles Taylor puts it, is beginning to decline in its distinctiveness as the leader in the movement of Christendom. Problems named such as the lack of understanding around the term evangelical and lack of visibility as a singular movement such as the universal Catholic church are only a portion of the struggle for the Wesleyan Tradition. With a growing diversity in the world, the Wesleyan denominations have a ripe opportunity to develop leadership for the future by reaffirming their original DNA. By reasserting the value on those most marginalized by race and gender, particularly women of color, the Wesleyan Holiness denominations would not be deviating from their missions, but rather fulfilling their calling as evangelicals.

 

[1] What Census Calls Us: A Historical Timeline,” Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends, June 10, 2015, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/interactives/multiracial-timeline/.

[2] Lewis, Donald M., and Richard V. Pierard. Global Evangelicalism : Theology, History & Culture in Regional Perspective. IVP Academic, 2014. Chapter 1.

[3] Lewis, Chapter 4.

[4] Lewis, Chapter 10.

[5] Lewis, Chapter 1.

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

8 responses to “Mixed Messaging – All welcome but not equal.”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trisha,
    Thanks for sharing your work on the Wesleyan Tradition and egalitarian review on women and people of color. I am in debt to our LGP learning strategies, curriculum, and diverse assortment of readings to help me become more in tune with many of these regional and global equality challenges. I always enjoy reading your posts and thanks for helping expand my knowledge while at the same time challenging my assumptions and paradigms. You have my hopes and prayers as you help the Wesleyan’s see the opportunities and fulfill their missional calling.
    Good post.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Trish!

    I am so interested in your work for leaders in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. I trust that your leadership grants are going well!?

    How do you decide who you give to, and what do they have to do to apply? (No, I am not applying for a grant, I am genuinely interested in the criteria). Is there a place I go that shows me what people do to apply, and what they must tell you?

    Your work is fascinating to us all. Keep it up!

  3. Trish, your post reflects what I so frequently experience in the church-world. Acceptance and inclution IN THEORY, and marginalization and dismissal IN PRACTICE. I find this is almost harder to fight that outright discrimination, because I have total verbal agreement on the role of women, but nothing changes in behvior. Thanks for helping me to better understand this experience!

  4. Trisha,

    Yes, I agree with Jenn above. There is often a big disconnect between theory and practice on women in leadership, and its often harder to fight because there is verbal assent to the inequities but only more rarely is there action. I’d support programs to favour the promotion of women in leadership; men already have a leg up.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trisha,

    The Wesleyan tradition has long been at the forefront of progressive initiatives as you point out. Unfortunately, those efforts in this movement as with similar ones in other movements are not always consistent. It is a very strong person indeed who is willing to push an agenda that has the potential to undermine their own security or position of influence. I find myself caught in this trap. As I apply for higher ed positions around the country I also find myself in interviews reminding the interviewers that these are the key types of positions that need to be filled with women and people of color to change the landscape. Unfortunately, I think they follow my advice which means I get looked over. But, I believe this is a necessary step in the Church and Christian higher ed so that students have the opportunity to see people who look like them in positions of authority. Keep up the good work not only for the Wesleyan tradition but for the example that it may set for others.

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, as always…excellent post. I would like to ask a question, in the hopes that it really does come out with sincerity rather than sounding like a sexist pig asking the question. LOL.

    In chapter 10, the first tenant that was addressed was the “Who is in Charge” question. In it was written, “If women do indeed predominate in ever are of religious life except in formal leadership, then it makes little sense to limit the scope of enquiry to officially designated institutional leaders…”

    The problem followed by my question:

    I have heard many…and I do mean many “role of women” debates and arguments in my life. As a man that was raised in a house full of women, I was taught to love, honor and respect every one of them…or there would be a price to pay. My views on female leadership have always been based upon Scripture, not tradition…after all…the women rights movement has been alive longer than I have. I noticed that the solution mentioned in the book was merely…if they do everything else…they they might as well do this.

    However, is that really an acceptable reason for changing something, especially if those…like myself…belief that God put those “designated” roles in place?

    Please note, my feelings on leadership are not based on intelligence…because frankly…including the women in this program, I know some very intelligent women; it is not based on ability; because again, I know some incredibly able and skilled women…even in regard to preaching; however, it is based upon how I understand Scripture. I noticed the authors did not really bring scripture into the equation. Should I really abandon what I believe Scripture has dictated simply because society is moving in a different direction?

  7. Great post Trisha! So glad to see you highlight the chapter on gender and how the evangelical church has been negatively impacted by the oppressive and limiting views of women. We all suffer when the church and other orgs are missing out on half the population. God designed men and women together to be the ultimate representation of His image in the world, but we have grossly missed the mark and have not provided enough opportunities for the world to see and experience God’s Image through both genders. So glad you are a strong woman advocating for yourself and other women, and I hope you know you have me and other men standing beside you as well, championing your leadership in the church and beyond. Blessing to you friend!

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    good job Trish. I liked your emphasis on minority and women in this blog. I think evangelicalism has typically been popular with this demographic although that may be changing now.

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