Upon returning from a family vacation at the end of last May, I received a curious email invitation from a church leader in Kenya named Chris Lusweti. He had written to ask me to speak on the topic of biblical gender equality at their 2016 Pastors’ and Church Leaders’ Conference.
I was intrigued by the international invitation, but I was also filled with questions: Was this a legitimate request? Who was Chris Lusweti? What would actually be involved in getting me over to Kenya? My mind and heart grappled with the potential of this being a doable God-thing … or maybe not!
Over the next few months I got to know Bishop Chris, the pastor/overseer of a group of churches based out of Eldoret, Kenya. I also received confirmation from a number of American church leaders who had been there to speak at various pastors conferences over the years on timely Christian leadership topics.
Bishop Chris was certainly progressive in wanting someone to speak about biblical gender equality in his country, since Africa has a deeply patriarchal culture. The Holy Spirit has been moving in so many places around the world to give people answers on this topic, and the Lord was clearly at work among this particular network of church leaders.
For the next three months, I conducted in-depth research on biblical gender equality. I borrowed insights from a variety of scholars and authors and compiled this information into a tapestry of words that would best convey all I wanted to cover in a four day conference—which would be translated from English to Swahili.
At the conference, I introduced the topic of biblical gender equality with a series of questions that I think all Christians should carefully consider:
- Are Christian men supposed to have more privilege than Christian women in the home and in the church?
- Should gender differences influence an individual’s place in ministry?
- When it comes to expounding the Word of God in the church today, who is allowed to preach and why?
- Is the gift of preaching the “wrong gift” to have in the conservative evangelical world, when you are a Christian woman?
- If church ministry is to be grounded in servant leadership, rather than hierarchy, why are women so often not permitted to preach or teach in the local church?
- If ministry is “serving” on the behalf of Christ, then shouldn’t women and men be able to make up a ministry team to minister to the needs of the local church?
- If in Corinthians 11 it says that women should wear a head covering, why do most women attend church without a hat/head covering now? Even a few decades ago all women wore hats to church and for just going shopping downtown. What has changed?
- Does your church or would your church have a woman in the function of a pastor, elder, or deacon? Why or why not?
- Why do we need to work for gender equality in the home, in the church, and in the world?
- Does the gender power imbalance further fuel and justify violence, especially against women and children?
At first, people were curious about this female speaker from Canada, but after a day of working through the material together, they were excited to track with me through this compelling subject.
Over the course of the conference, we covered these four topics:
- What is the current state of gender equality in the church and why is it this way?
- What do some Christian leaders believe, teach, and practice today about the place of women in marriage and in the church?
- What does the Bible really say regarding “problem” passages? Do they really support patriarchal views? (No!)
- What are we going to do about it? How can Christians be part of the solution to this ongoing problem in the church and in the world today?
One illustration that struck a chord with the conference participants involved envisioning a walk to church:
Men, women, and children are on their way to church. Everyone is chatting happily and sharing the events of the past week with one another.
They approach the front doors to the church and, as the women enter, they stop talking, since the Bible says that “women are to remain silent in the church.” So, not wanting to offend God, the Bible, or their families, all the women are immediately silent.
That situation seems ridiculous and helps to show how misguided some interpretations of the Bible are.
I closed my session at the conference by showing a photo of Vladimir Kush’s sculpture “Always Together,” which I think beautifully represents male/female unity in Christian marriage and in the Body of Christ.
After seeing the photo, a friend commented: “It’s such a perfect depiction of ezer kenedgo [Hebrew for ‘helper’ found in Gen. 2:18]. Seeing those scissors reminds us that Adam was failing at ruling alone. He was a single blade—he made a ‘stab’ at ruling, but he really wasn’t ‘cutting’ it! Two matching blades are needed!”
On the last day of the conference, three of the church leaders stood on the platform and offered an apology to the sisters on behalf of all the brothers there. It was a touching moment and a significant step in their desire to apply what they were hearing from God’s Word.
That humble act further confirmed to my mind and heart that the email invitation I had received nearly a year ago—and my entire trip to this conference—was truly a God-thing. The Holy Spirit is advancing the discussion of biblical gender equality among all of God’s people—in Kenya and beyond!
Getting the word out regarding biblical gender equality requires time, energy, and funds. For those who have a heart to further this teaching in Kenya and other African nations, I can receive and forward donations on behalf of Brother Chris Lusweti, pastor/bishop of Word of Life Harvest Church in Eldoret, Kenya, to further this liberating message of biblical equality. Contact me through my website for more information.
Dr. Barb Orlowski is a speaker, teacher, researcher, and author. She lives in Langley, British Columbia, where she spends her time networking and ministering on the topics of spiritual abuse and recovery and biblical gender equality. Her doctoral research is published in Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness. She loves to connect and network with others who are passionate about the topics of spiritual abuse and recovery. Find about more about Barb and her work at churchexiters.com.