I had one of those uh-oh moments as I returned to the KC airport on Saturday. I exited my bathroom stall only to see a rather bewildered man standing there. Without too much ruckus, I told him that he was in the wrong restroom, and he was only too happy for me to show him the quickest way out.
I had to chuckle a little, for there are too few places where women can claim clear institutional space. At least, we have always been able to count on the women’s room to be a clear domain! It was a powerful moment, to be sure.
Recently President Carter has written a compelling book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. His analysis of the global impact of gender discrimination and the abuse of women is riveting. He contends that liberated women can play a critical role in confronting the most serious problems that plague their communities.
Relegating women to secondary status and diminishing their power has damaging consequences—poverty, disease, persecution, and war. Indeed, women suffer the most when these conditions prevail. Carter understands that narrow religious beliefs have helped foster this ongoing marginalization. His Baptist witness is welcome, and it has far-reaching implications.
In this season of Easter, the biblical texts in Acts speak about a new kind of community. Gathered through the proclamation of resurrection, the nascent church practices a new inclusivity, what Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza calls a “community of equals.” Trusting that Joel’s prophecy of the Spirit being poured out upon all had come to pass, early expressions of ekklesia did not resist the leadership of women.
Regrettably, this new inclusivity did not last long, as restive patriarchal forces subjugated women again as a means of pacifying persecutors. When women claim equality, it disturbs those who pursue pater familias (the father as the ruling member of the household) as the natural order of things. Transposing this structure of the family into the church has extended the shadow of patriarchy across the centuries.
A core value for Central is gender equity, and we realize that it is harder for women to achieve their full potential in churches and society. We began a Women’s Leadership Initiative to correct this discrepancy, and we are preparing gifted women to serve their communities with theological wisdom and effective practices. We believe that God is calling them to craft a new future, and we are endeavoring to support them in faithful response.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church,
and serving humanity.