Through my teen years, my maternal grandmother was my best female friend. Although I only spent the summer months with her and my grandfather, those times left an indelible impression on me; and even when we weren’t together, her phone calls always encouraged me. I saw in her the caring heart of God. I experienced the same through my relationship with my mother.
I gained an even deeper understanding of the heart of God through observing my wife and her dealings with our children from pregnancy to the present. I learned that life in all its beauty cannot exist if women don’t exist. I have also observed that same gentle, loving, nurturing element even within women who have no children of their own. They love in ways that I struggle to love.
So, if women are so integral to our existence and well-being, why have they frequently been so horribly mistreated in our often patriarchal society? The fidelity and goodness of millions of husbands notwithstanding, why have so many lost the true meaning of Ephesians 5:25–33? Why have some men chosen to treat women and girls as nothing more than chattel to be sold and bartered as mere commodities? More so than we choose to acknowledge, in some parts of the world girls are forced into child marriages. Girls are expected to not be able to read, which, of course, leads to becoming women who are unable to read. With impunity, women become the victims of domestic violence—and often receive the blame and carry the shame as if they were the perpetrators of such atrocities. What can the church do to combat these ills? What can pastors do to address such inequities?
Is there a solution?
In our lead article, Heather-Dawn Small and Raquel Arrais, director and associate director, respectively, of the Women’s Ministries Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, tackle these and other questions. They point out that the two aforementioned questions must be approached from twin perspectives: first, the membership of the Adventist Church is composed of more than 60 percent females; second, there is a world filled with women who suffer and seek relief, who look for a caring God and need to know that their fellow humans care about their plight.
A starting point for pastors
Undoubtedly, pastors and churches cannot repair all the issues previously broached. But as leaders of our congregations, there are things that we as pastors can teach and, more importantly, model to our church members. I acknowledge that what I am about to share sounds like I write exclusively to male pastors. But at the risk of offending some of my male colleagues, my experience has been that most female church members and all female pastors whom I know already understand what I am about to write—and so do most male pastors. So allow me to discuss what my approach has been during my ministry as it relates to recognizing and affirming women in the life of the church and as members of the larger society.
Listen to your wife. No one knows the mind-set and experiences of a woman better than another woman. Therefore, she can best point out those issues of which you may not be aware. Such has been critical for me because my sister was eight years old when I left for college so I did not grow up with the understanding that so many others have of living with females in the house (other than my mother). If you don’t have a wife (as I did not when I started my pastoral ministry), you will find that God places wise “mothers of Israel” in your congregations who provide that same wisdom.
Maintain eye contact. A wise pastor shared these words with me many years ago: “When speaking with a woman, don’t look below her chin!” Looking her in the eyes while speaking, far from being flirtatious, communicates recognition of her as a person. This communicates to her that you value what she says.
Don’t objectify them. Earlier this year, Barack Obama, the president of the United States, was rightly criticized for commenting on the physical appearance of the attorney general of the state of California. In the process of doing so, he diminished her professionalism. Women are people, not objects, fully capable of accomplishing every task that God calls them to achieve. They don’t exist to serve us (males), nor should they exist to stroke our egos.
The example that we as pastors establish goes a long way in setting the tone for gender relations in our churches and, by extension, the communities in which we live and serve.