June 11, 2008

On Equality

2008 1516 page25 capn March the Washington Post printed the opinion piece “We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?” by Charlotte Allen. The writer argued that women in general are dumber than men. She listed as examples of women’s mushy tastes the popularity of the singer Celine Dion and the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. Allen ended her article by stating that women ought to relax “and not mind the fact that way down deep, we can be . . . kind of dim.”1
“That’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever read,” my sister responded after I e-mailed her the link. Many readers concurred. The Post received more than 1,500 letters in response to the article, most of them critical.
I was alerted to Allen’s editorial through a political blog (The XX Factor). The bloggers, all women, grapple mainly with politics, but occasionally they delve into current events. About the Post piece they were mostly dismissive. You could almost see the women rolling their eyes. It’s a publicity stunt, they concluded.
One blogger, Hanna Rosin, was more concerned. She had recently released a book titled God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, about young Christians at Patrick Henry College. She had this to say about women’s rights and Christianity:
2008 1516 page25“When I travel around conservative Christian circles, it’s commonly held that a woman’s place is not in leadership. This is true even for modern, highly educated conservative evangelicals. In my book, I focus on a couple of highly successful young career-minded women who are facing this dilemma—work or cede your life to your new husband and family. Basically, they all choose the latter. This makes this ‘ism’ different from ‘racism.’ No conservative Christian would argue anymore that the black man needs to be kept down. But they do have a coherent, theological, philosophical explanation for why a woman’s place is fundamentally still in the kitchen.”2
First, I unequivocally disagree with the notion that sexism is a deeper problem than racism. Without a doubt racism has a much uglier history, and it has left a deeper mark on our nation and on our church.
But is Rosin right about how conservative Christians, including women, view gender? Do we still believe that a woman’s place is fundamentally in the kitchen?
Last summer I taught creative writing to ministers at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. Before I began teaching I was a little worried. How would these men respond to a young female teacher? Would they take me seriously?
Here I was, a women’s libber, lacking the imagination to consider even a single female minister in attendance. It turned out half of the priests and pastors were women, and they wrote about the same ministerial concerns and triumphs that their male colleagues did.
Over lunch one day I expressed my surprise over the gender balance. “Frankly, I was surprised that there weren’t more women,” one of the pastors responded. “I thought I was going to be the only man here.” We laughed at our misplaced assumptions, and then he looked at me kind of strangely. “Why were you surprised about the women ministers? You’re Adventist, right? Wasn’t your church started by a woman?”
“Yes,” I said, “Ellen White was one of our founders.” But I didn’t know how to continue.
After a radical beginning, our church quickly settled into gender norms. And while there are now growing numbers of Adventist women in ministry, they are still the minority. Even fewer women are in top administrative positions, such as conference or university presidents.
Like Samuel, the Old Testament prophet, we look at outer appearance—at gender, race, and age—and we make assumptions. This is all you have to offer, we decide for each other. But God looks at our hearts.3 He is not less inclusive; He is more inclusive. Our church leadership should reflect this.
1Charlotte Allen, “We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get?” Washington Post, March 2, 2008, B1.
2Hanna Rosin, “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen,” The XX Factor (blog), Slate, March 4, 2008. www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/xxfactor/archive/2008/03/04/a-woman-s-place-is-in-the-kitchen.aspx
3See 1 Samuel 16.
Sari Fordham is an assistant professor at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. She teaches in the Department of English and Communication.