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An Equal Army For A Better World
by Cadet Chris Wikle

 

It should be seen as a closed issue – settled over 130 years ago; in the small, peculiar part of the Christian Church known as The Salvation Army, women have always had the authority to lead, to preach, and to teach. The Salvation Army has blazed an important trail in this area. But when we take a look at the wider church, and the secular culture in America, should we feel a sense of accomplishment that we have played a part in advancing gender equality? Or, should we be spurred on to redouble our efforts to express, in all ways, the conviction we so strongly felt at first, that, regardless of what the dominant culture dictates, women truly have the same holy mandate to lead?

 

An honest look at ourselves and society around us will point to the reality that we must grow to fully become the people we so often laud ourselves for being. We, as The Salvation Army have progressed in this important area, but we have room to grow. When we honestly consider the state of the rest of the Church regarding women in ministry, we can see that there is still much need. When we look at the secular culture around us, we can easily see evidence that demands an urgent response.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women in the workforce earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job (Equal Pay Infographic). Since equal pay became a part of a wider national discussion on women’s rights over 50-years ago, this problem hasn’t gone away. Women are portrayed by much of today’s popular media as objects. Music videos, advertisements TV, and movies are often guilty of this. While many people would say this is unfortunate, this practice has become so ubiquitous, that there are few clear objections. God’s plan of redemption and reconciliation must be modeled by His people to this world, with its fractured and estranged relationships.

 

We say in The Salvation Army, with no small measure of pride, that we were pioneers in the area of empowering women. But we have bowed to the dominant culture surrounding us since our brilliant beginnings. Early Salvationists embraced the scandal and spectacle of sending out women evangelists and preachers. It was a radical idea and was met with vehement opposition. The right of women to preach was, to those Salvationists, not only their personal response to their interpretation of scripture, but it was an important witness for others.

 

Admittedly, there is not widespread, overt, discrimination against women who are leading or preaching today. The problem is much more subtle. The crux of the matter is that women are underrepresented in leadership in this movement. This is really a product of the lack of opportunity afforded to women in the past. A chronic preference for male advancement has meant that countless women have not had as many opportunities to cultivate their potential as their male counterparts.

 

The Salvation Army has, over the past two decades, removed or changed most of the institutional structure that has reflected bias against women. The referral to the male of a married couple as the Corps Commanding Officer, and the woman as “Mrs. Captain”, followed by her husband’s name have been modified to reflect an egalitarian perspective. What was insidious about this was not the terminology, but the thinking those phrases and structures represented. These changes are wonderful, and they represent important progress. Some may say that is good enough.

 

The Salvation Army of today, however, retains some holdovers from the male-dominated cultures of the past. Married women officers, for example, are usually assigned leadership roles that have more to do with their husband’s gifts than their own. They are not given the chance to fully lead by their own merit, but are appointed, nearly by default, to lead an already crowded women’s ministries department. Today’s Army is, at least, able to judge its single women officers by their own merit. I feel this is owed to the fact that a single woman officer has no male counterpart that can be preferred over her.

 

The recent changes the four American territories made in officer allowances should be applauded. A late as 2016, married female officers did not receive allowance in their own name. The old system was in place to benefit the Army and its officers from a financial standpoint. The shift to a unitary allowance structure, which now acknowledges the contribution of so many of its female leaders in the way which matters most to our society, was costly. However, this setback to Army wallets will reap a payday to Army values.

 

This issue affects everyone. The primary stakeholders are women who are already in leadership, as well as those considering leadership. These include pastor’s wives, as well as lay women who would be given freedom to use their gifts in God’s service. By extension, all women stand to gain from cultivating stronger female preachers and leaders, in that the Christian Church can be a major influence on society as a whole. If women are marginalized in the church, it will reinforce their marginalization in society. The opposite is also true.

 

It may seem that this issue isn’t really much of an issue. Almost everyone who is asked if they are in favor of women having an equal stake in leadership would reply, “Yes, of course.” But if The Salvation Army is, in fact, less than perfect in this area, that means men are disproportionally represented in leadership. For women to gain a stake in this area, men already in power must yield some of their authority. Sharing in this playground has proven to be just as difficult to teach as it was in the schoolyard. 

 

I feel the task set before The Salvation Army is similar in its essence to the function it performed initially; to, by its example, call society to adopt the Kingdom principle, that, “In Christ, there is neither Jew, nor gentile, male, nor female, slave, nor free” (Galatians 3:28). It may be that women have grown in freedom and opportunity greatly in the Church. But self-satisfaction on behalf of the worldwide Church for this achievement is not well-founded. In many parts of the world, women are as oppressed within the Church as they are outside it. It will take time and concerted effort to overcome centuries of deeply-ingrained prejudice against women.

 

This is particularly daunting when considering those cultures which are particularly entrenched in gender bias, which can be tied into religion, tribal custom, and traditional family structures. Our charge coalesces around this important reality, expressed by the former international leaders of The Salvation Army. “Ultimately, our standard is not Eastern culture or Western culture, but the culture of God’s Kingdom” (Rader and Rader 21)

 

We need to up our game because there are parts of the Church that believe women shouldn’t have a voice in God’s Kingdom: no voice among the believers gathered for worship, no voice in the planning and strategy of the Church, and no voice in its administration. They believe the Bible supports this claim explicitly. They cite verses like 1 Corinthians 14: 34, 35, which says women should be silent in the church, or 1 Timothy 2: 12, 13, which has Paul declaring that he does not permit women to assume authority over men. They use these scriptures, while ignoring a vast many others, to bolster a cultural viewpoint. Instead of conduct informing their interpretation of scripture, it should be scripture informing their conduct.

 

In practice, both of these scriptures are often poorly interpreted. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that women should be silent is a response to the incessant and disruptive questioning and rambling the women of the church were doing at that time. The women had just realized their liberation, by the gospel of Christ, from stifling cultural oppression. They now finally had a voice. It would be natural to use this freedom in ignorance, having previously had no education or training whatsoever, within the community of faith. The Greek verb we translate as “to speak” has an extremely wide scope of usage in the New Testament. Paul’s use of it here is more consistent with prattle, or chatter, than giving public address to encourage the believers.

 

So, to apply this ban on women speaking in the church to all kinds of speaking is to ignore what the same Apostle wrote to the same church in the same letter. In 1 Corinthians 11: 4, 5, he describes the appropriate dress for women when they pray or prophesy. If, as Catherine Booth so ably put it in her pamphlet Female Ministry, “we assume that the Apostle refers in both instances to the same thing, we make him in one page give the most explicit directions how a thing shall be performed, which, in a page or two further on…he expressly forbids being performed at all” (8). No, the Apostle Paul was not forbidding women from public preaching.

 

The current state of society regarding its view of women is very bleak. Much of the media continues to portray women as objects. Men receive higher pay for the same work. Women still struggle to achieve equality in workplace advancement. Estrangement is the standard between the genders. Our society loses a significant part of its humanity when we objectify women, or when we hold women in a reductive perspective. God’s plan is redemption and reconciliation. This must begin with the body of Christ. There is still work to be done. Much more influence can be brought to bear. We can and must speak more loudly to the world on women’s issues. We will only have an entirely credible voice when our practice matches our message.

 

Our obligation is, first of all, to act according to our convictions – that The Salvation Army would develop and empower leaders irrespective of gender or marital status. We can do this better and more completely than we have so far been able. We must also fulfil our obligation to the rest of the churches, to do our part in calling those that are lacking to more fully embrace these same values of God’s Kingdom. Finally, we can influence the world around us – a world that has an appalling history regarding women’s rights. Our society must continue to grow to value women, providing the freedom to fully achieve their potential.

 

General Eva Burrows, one of The Salvation Army’s most beloved international leaders – and only the second woman to hold the rank of General – best addresses the need for women to achieve their potential in biblical leadership in today’s society.

 

“This object-centered, technologically-minded, depersonalized world needs the

influence of those gifts with which God has graced women, and that women, standing beside men in leadership, together accept their shared responsibility. We will not only be better together, but the world and the church will be better, too” (Burrows 5)

 

A Salvation Army which fully and dynamically practices what it preaches will more effectively witness to the Church, and, in turn, the world. In opposition to this is an array of hidden prejudices that few would dare bring to light. Some within our movement, men and women alike, have an allegiance to the status quo, which prizes the comfortable and familiar too highly. Most of those, however, who are complicit with this stifling culture do not share these prejudices. All they likely require is the mindfulness to more closely examine our practices. We can, and must overcome. In all likelihood, it won’t be too much of a struggle. But we must do it. We must pursue moral excellence.

  

 

Works Cited

Booth, Catherine. Female Ministry: Women's Right to Preach the Gospel.  New York: The Salvation Army Supplies Printing and Publishing Department, 1975. Print.

Burrows, Eva. "The Church and the World Are Better When Women and Men Serve Together." Priscilla Papers 27.1 (2013): 4-5. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 9 Oct. 2015.

"Equal Pay Infographic." dol.gov/wb. U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2015. <http://www.dol.gov/wb/images/EqualPay_infographic.pdf>.

Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print. New International Version

Rader, Paul A., and Kay F. Rader. "Lest We Lose Our Legacy: Officer Women In The Salvation Army." Priscilla Papers 22.2 (2008): 19-22. Print

 

 

  

 

 

   

 

 

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