Baptist World Alliance, BWA News Release

Churches need to address gender inequality

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Panelists at a session on gender equality and gender-based violence during the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Annual Gathering said that the church should address these issues within its midst and in society.

Elsa Leo-Rhynie, former pro vice chancellor for Undergraduate Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and past principal of the Mona campus in Jamaica, said “church leaders must understand the influences which socialize and create the gendered identities which our young people develop as they grow.” She insisted that “programs designed by the church for youth must incorporate interventions which promote change leading to greater gender equality.”

Churches, Leith Dunn said, should “establish a gender policy and a gender action plan to address gender inequalities.” Dunn, who is head of the UWI Institute for Gender & Development Studies at the Mona campus said that, in order to do so, churches need to provide opportunities for the ordination of women, correct instances of gender inequality in church leadership, and set a social justice and gender inequality agenda.

Marjorie Lewis, president of the United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI), said patriarchy is still a limiting force on the power of women, including within the church. The suffering of Christ, she declared, is often used as an excuse for injustice as women and other marginalized persons are told that, as Christ suffered, so they are expected to suffer. She insisted that the need exists for the church to identify and name the instances and causes of inequality within its midst and in the broader society.

Most panellists pointed to the scriptural and theological rationale used by many to enforce gender inequality or even to engage in gender-based violence. “Churches take gender positions based on scripture,” Leo-Rhynie claimed. “Passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 have been used to reinforce gender inequality,” said the long time Baptist and former professor of Gender and Development Studies.

Women’s voices, Leo-Rhynie said, are “largely silent in the traditional churches except in the choir, in Sunday School and in women’s organizations.  Women seeking to have a voice have had to counter the many theological arguments – based on Biblical interpretation – advanced to deny women access to church leadership.” What is worse, “women who strive to break with tradition find themselves in many instances without the support of their own gender in their struggle.”

Lewis, who is the ninth and first female president of UTCWI, an ecumenical institution that trains clergy from various Christian traditions, including Baptists, said that the New Testament couple, Priscilla and Aquila, can serve as a template for gender equality. Both exercised equal partnership, including as breadwinners or providers within the home. “Theirs was a genuine partnership rather than a relationship based on subordination. Priscilla exercised ministry. Both gained and had equal respect from Paul.”

The session on gender equality and gender-based violence is one of several issues explored by the more than 400 Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers, pastors and others from more than 50 countries during the course of the BWA Annual Gathering from July 1-6 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Baptist World Alliance®
© July 2, 2013

The Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 253 conventions and unions in 130 countries and territories comprising 51 million baptized believers in 176,000 churches. For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.