Female leadership is on the rise! How is your congregation helping create equality for women?
Did you know the Native Americans had one of the most egalitarian societies ever?
Yes, many tribes alternated between female and male leaders. The males were appointed to lead in times of war, and when peace was achieved the women would take over society. This balance was used to ensure that the different sexes could provide the society with their respective strengths – combat prowess or nurturing – when most appropriate.
And yet, as a country founded on the principles of religious tolerance, many of America’s largest denominations do not ordain women or allow them into leadership positions within the congregations. Roman Catholics, Mormons, Southern Baptists, and others all adhere to the strictest interpretations of scripture that deprive women of equal opportunity within the church.
We must remember that the holy scriptures were written millennia ago, pre-science. In these times, biology was misunderstood, misogyny was rampant, slavery was commonplace, and otherwise, immoral behavior was perfectly acceptable. But times have changed and our minds have expanded.
While formal discrimination against women has been largely removed, the marginalization and subordination of women’s rights persist in many areas of society. Riviera Presbyterian Church sees itself as part of the vanguard to bring women’s roles – and those of other minority groups – into an equal state with men’s. Thanks, foremost to a very empowered female community within the church, the Presbyterian congregation has a long history of promoting women’s rights. Like Riviera Presbyterian Church, many of our sister congregations happily appoint females to the role of deacon and elder.
In this post, we’ll look at how the strong voice of the Presbyterian faith has helped overhaul outdated attitudes towards women’s rights within the church itself and around the world. Ours is a congregation dedicated to the march for progress, intent upon ushering in a new standard of acceptance and equality in this era of Christendom. We’ll start today by looking back to how Presbyterian advocacy for women’s issues began, how the movement for change has evolved, and what’s being done by your progressive church to advance the roles of women in every community.
What’s the real story?
Even before women could vote in the United States, Presbyterian women were active and empowered. Yes, more than 100 years before the Woman’s Suffrage vote granted women the right to democratic process, the first Presbyterian women’s groups were challenging the widespread idea that a woman’s only place was in the home. Defiant of societal and church conventions, these frontrunners represented the earliest resistance to entrenched patriarchal biases.
In 1875, the “missionary enthusiast” Sarah Foster Hanna was invited to speak to the General Assembly on behalf of the women’s advocacy. After getting the thumbs up from leadership, Hanna established the Women’s General Missionary Society – the first national organization for Presbyterian women. Wasting no time, her fundraising efforts paid for the salaries of ten female missionaries independent of male oversight, which decidedly expanded the capacity of a woman within the church hierarchy.
After ten years, the Women’s General Missionary Society had expanded to support 56 female missionaries at home and overseas. Looking back, we see how one woman’s passionate call to action would unite the segmented voices of all concerned. Hanna’s groundbreaking organization would deliver legitimate agency to women who had historically gone unheard.
By 1930, the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) allowed women to fulfill the role of elder. While it opened up seats of the General Assembly, this expanse of power established the precedent of women in leadership roles previously reserved for men only. By 1960, the Southern chapter, the Presbyterian Church of the US (PCUS), would follow suit.
Mirroring the civil unrest that erupted within the country during the mid-1800s, the Northern and Southern branches of the Presbyterian church experienced a lag in policy agreement over women’s rights. Yet the only constant during these troubled times was the courage and proactive charity of women’s groups on both sides. Women above and below the Mason-Dixon line were courageous in crusading for the rights of not only women, but children (from underage labor), Native Americans, other immigrant groups, and injured soldiers. Prayers and donations were fundamental to sustaining the movement towards change during troubled times.
Regardless of respective church policy, these women’s devotion to God would sustain both sides until formal repair and reunification in 1983. Both halves would come together again under the sign of The Presbyterian Church (USA), though some disagreement would linger. As of today, biblical considerations are ongoing but earnest in doubtful segments.
And while some make up their minds, let us consider that were it not for the earliest endeavors of women’s groups, bringing their sisters from a restrictive position into the fore with missionary action and charitable outreach, who knows where we’d be today? To be sure, spreading God’s love with compassion was a right to be fought for. And once hard-earned, women’s equality has become an irreplaceable piece of the heart of Presbyterian church culture.
That’s not all.
Women in Today’s Presbyterian Church
These days, Presbyterian women assemble as they did in the past: devoted to promoting women’s rights while furthering the rights of all men and women under God. We at Riviera Presbyterian take great heart from the resolute dedication of our church as a whole, especially female members, as we take strides towards advancing equality for all – at home and away.
After all, women’s rights are human rights. Speaking from a recent Human Rights Defenders Forum, former President Jimmy Carter said the abuse of women is the “most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation in the whole world.” He continued by calling these abuses fundamentally contrary to the premise of all world religions, Christianity included. As witnessed by the Presbyterian leadership, you faithful members, and former President Carter – an outdated interpretation of religious texts has long been used to validate the subjugation of women. For thousands of years, Orthodox outlooks across the globe have regarded women as inferior and subservient to men. As a result, women of these cultures are relegated to degraded positions that ensure economic disadvantage, reproductive oppression, social marginalization, and often promote trafficking and systematic violence.
As a representative of the larger faith, we at Riviera PresbyterianChurch stand against these abuses and systematic repressions. Our longstanding legacy of missionary outreach to women abroad is an ongoing endeavor, and worthy of your immediate involvement. Join us as we share the message of love and mutual respect. To take part is to combat oppressive attitudes and help unite the world with a greater sense of God’s love and understanding. Each societal hardship and individual suffering we encounter is but an opportunity to affirm our faith in what’s right. We are blessed to live during a more progressive century in recorded history, so we must look to intellectual, cultural, and sociological developments as benchmarks and confirmations in our progressive study of God.
We take action within our communities because our faith leads us to care for women in mind, body, and soul. We support a woman’s right to choose because true freedom is embodied and can only be sustained with total control over reproductive rights. Health and freedom are unconditional principles given by God that are granted to each individual. For these reasons, Planned Parenthood is a pivotal service within our safe and responsible communities. Providing top-tier women’s services, abortion, and sex education materials of all types, this non-profit organization truly aligns with the values of a church that stands for women. When our members attended “Stand with Women” rallies, and protested the recent invasive measures against a woman’s right to choose in Washington it was a mission to secure equality with our most effective tool: our presence and our passion.
Why does this matter?
Women in Church Leadership
“It is a big job and for me it’s a big, wonderful opportunity and a big risk and so I think the Riverside Church has really stepped out here to set a great example for the rest of Christendom.” — Rev. Amy Butler, Riverside Church
The Presbyterian community leads the way towards equality with many recent female appointments insole leadership positions. In recent times, the ordination of women to eldership has raised serious questions for many outside and within the Presbyterian faith. The traditionalist outlook prohibits the advancement of women’s rights. But despite this, we are a progressive church that aligns itself with the living values and true spirit of all our congregation members. From equal rights to equal pay, our community members share an absolute love of all church members, just as God is absolute.
We believe that faith in God renders us all equal. Thus, we believe women are perfectly qualified to lead the conjuration as elders and deacons. We are all autonomous individuals within the divine order, and though responsible to ourselves and communities, we are each consecrated with a corresponding quality and inherent purpose, though each has his or her own pursuits and potential. Since women’s rights pose no threat to family values – and a woman is an integral part of a family just as the man – why shouldn’t our female members raise not only a family but also raise their voice to lead a congregation? Elders and deacons are meant to shepherd the flock against the external world, to provide guidance and protect. We believe a woman is a most natural shepherd, as it is she who rears and raises children of her own body and spirit, indivisible from God’s love.
According to a Faith Communities national multi-faith survey, only 12% of congregations in the United States have a female in a position of ordained or senior leader. Within mainline Protestant assemblies, including the Presbyterians, women account for 24% of the leadership. Keeping with this progressive tendencies, a Barna PastorPoll reported that the numbers of females in Presbyterian church leadership have doubled in the years from 1990 to 1999, moving from 5% to 10%.
“My hope is that little boys and little girls see me and the other clergy and think if that’s something that they say and others think God’s calling them to do, then they can do it.” — Reverend Shannon Johnson Kershner
Our Progress Continues
The church is the medium between the word of God in ancient scripture and the direction of modern culture. Our charge is to interpret what constitutes true faith, and today this means standing untied that women and men are both spiritually and bodily equal under God’s law – and should be treated as such. As life is given, so is the woman’s right to choose her reproductive path. Under the umbrella of equality should come the certainty of equal treatment, equal consideration, equal pay. And while progressives have been achieved, much remains to be done. JustPresbyteriansains stood opposed to slavery, stand with LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter – women’s equality is a critical issue to our inclusive faith. With an open heart and vigilance to what is right, we will move the needle of progress.
So I challenge you: what can you do today to improve the society for women? For all?