Hamish Blake made a little Flipagram of his wife Zoe Foster Blake and the literal+figurative hats she regularly wears. Spotify suggested some female artist playlists I may be interested in. Virgin Australia ‘grammed an all women crew who recently flew Sydney-Adelaide. David Jones launched a new ‘At the DJ table’ video content series “featuring an incredible group of Australian women.” The NSW Police Force posted a ‘shout out’ with a photo of women officers marching. My old boss and dear friend posted a pic of the old office crew decked in purple attire. Mike Baird announced the NSW Public Service was now 100% flexible for all senior staff.
My commute and lunchtime social media scroll sessions today were filled with articles, photos, quotes and statements of support for International Women’s Day.
And so it should. Today is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women – locally, nationally and globally. It’s been celebrated in varying degrees for more than a century and remains an opportunity to demonstrate how we value 49.6% of our world population, the same proportion who continue to struggle with structural and cultural inequality. It’s also a platform to bring pertinent gender issues to the forefront.
Brands, corporations, government and media agencies all celebrated differently. This weekend there were women’s fun runs and triathlons, today there were breakfasts, policy announcements, advertisements, social media posts and editorials. Their support of women was unquestionable.
However, there was one key institution absent from the celebrations. The church.
I used my lunch break to extensively search the internet – in hope. I trawled through the Facebook and Twitter channels of notable pastors, large churches and Christian organisations. I looked on key websites for opinion editorials or blog articles. I looked for anything or anyone recognising today, even just a humble #internationalwomensday.
Here’s what I found:
– Michael Jensen shared this post on the value and role of men and women.
– John Dickson took the opportunity to share and challenge the doctrinal position held by the Sydney Anglican Diocese on women preaching.
– Eternity magazine online re-posted an Open Doors article on women in Iraqi refugee camps.
Nothing from Australia’s largest church Hillsong. (Although it is their second of three women’s conferences today, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t do something with the 5000+ in attendance.)
Nothing from some of Sydney’s largest churches.
Nothing from my new church in Brisbane.
Nothing from the leaders of Australia’s churches.
It makes me wonder, why is the church not joining the rest of society in celebrating women?
We live in a day that equality is high on the agenda: be it gender, marriage or economic. Further, we live in a day that society is very critical of the church. And for good reason, the church, as an institution, does not have such a great track record with inclusion and transparency. The same sex marriage conversation is evidence enough. The inclusion of ‘to submit’ in marriage vows brought the biblical role of women in marriage into the spotlight a few years ago. And even in February, ABC deemed it newsworthy to publish an article on the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney’s response to a question on gender equality at the annual prefect ceremony. The students were torn in how to reconcile his comments and the empowering words of their teachers, and society. I can understand why.
Women make up half the population and close to 60% of the Australian church. Be it conscious or unconscious, the decision for the church to neglect the largest international day celebrating women adds propensity to the argument that the church doesn’t value women equally.
See in the church failing to recognise the importance of day, it fails in joining the rest of our society is demonstrating we value and celebrate women and their role in our communities. And while men largely lead the church, a theological conversation I’m not having here, today was an opportunity for men and women. An opportunity for brothers and sisters alike to rally around their sisters past, present and future.
Celebrating International Women’s Day is about saying to women “we love, care, appreciate, support and need you”. It’s saying it to every woman as she seeks equality in her life as a daughter, sister, mother, wife, worker, volunteer, teacher, nurse, truck driver, policewoman, children’s worker, pastor, student minister or corporate executive.
At a personal level, I know my church values women. When a sister and I raised our frustrations that the past 4 video testimonies at church had been men, my campus pastor said he shared them and knew the next 4 would be women. If only they could be more equally distributed. And again, when deciding on making it my new home church, I shared the lack of women involved in the services bothered me. It concerned him also. He shared the problem was often having enough women willing to be involved.
Taking time to celebrate women encourages women to continue on as they are, to look and push for opportunities, to enable (with words of affirmation and training) our sisters to be bold and serve, but also shows young girls to aspire to take active roles in their church. It also encourages our brothers to look to publicly and privately encourage, acknowledge and support women in the church. I hope the church values women, and I mourn the decision of friends to leave the church and the faith because they don’t believe so. But we need to hear it and see it to believe it.
Women have played a huge role in the history of the church. Women continue to play a critical role in the church. Literally. Without women the church would more than halve. Celebrating women today shows the future generations that the church does indeed recognise equality of men and women, irrespective of how scripture is interpreted and played out in denominations and individual churches. We need today to remind us we need to pray, encourage, train and nurture women to continue to be active in the church, for Christ’s glory.
When I ask the question, ‘why isn’t the church celebrating women?’ I am being deliberately provocative. But we need to be provoked.
As a post-script here are some Christian women I think are worth celebrating today:
– Florence Young, my great great aunt who led evangelistic outreaches to the Polynesian workers at her brothers’ sugar mills, served with China Inland Mission and established the South Sea Evangelical Mission
– Bobbie Houston, Hillsong cofounder who spearhead the Sisterhood ministries changing the way women meet together around the gospel
– Raechel Myers, co founder of She Reads Truth, a daily devotional website used by millions of women (and now men ‘hereadstruth.com’) regularly
– My dear friends A, H, E all currently understand ministry traineeships of various forms