Inaugural Speech in Johannesburg
First of all thank you all for calling me as the next president of the WD of the BWA! It is an honor and a privilege to lead us on to rise and shine. No better theme could have been chosen for my turn as president.
There are two things about myself at this time I would like to share with you and which I think are vital to our ministry together to the world. They are the two things which I have learned in the past 30 years and I see them impinging on our work together towards rising and shining.
First, I do not believe in equality, and as much as I appreciate many feminist battles, the battle for equality always brings more suffering to women. There is a short video by a brilliant young women, Reni Eddo Lodge, which summarizes the main argument from a secular perspective (and I recommend to watch it!) but here is a biblical take on it.
The Bible calls us the Body of Christ, of which Christ is the head. The body, by definition consists of parts that are different and unequal. Some parts are visible, some are hidden and all have different functions. It is a perfect caricature if we imagined all the body parts striving to become the nose (because it so conveniently and prominently sits in the middle of the face and is noticed first).
Instead of fighting for equity, belonging to the body means that we know and accept who we are in Christ, but also who are the others. Just as a side comment – I don’t like the complimentary approach to the role of women precisely because often, it presupposes all women are the same – like the old feminists. I want to uphold the biblical picture of the body. In the body parts come in different sizes, colors and forms. By being themselves they contribute to the well-being of the body and so also to their own well being. The hand cannot decide to starve the stomach, because it is invisible, of different shape and color, because it is remote or because it craves food! If the hand, who has access to food and can bring it to the mouth decides to starve the stomach, it starves itself.
A well functioning body understands unity as working towards the same goal! When in 1 Cor 11 the apostle elaborates on the right conduct of Christians at Communion because they have exhibited abominable behaviour – his correction does not make the rich and the poor bring whatever they have and share equally. Instead he makes them all come to the Lord’s table equally emptyhanded and fully dependent only on the Lord (Eat at home! – is Paul’s instruction instead of what we would expected). And it is a brilliant approach! This coming together of all to the table of the Lord, but emptied of everything they possess, must remind them were their true loyalty lies. When that is recognized, the relationship to others in the Body can never be the same. Standing empty before Christ, our Head, in order to learn that we all belong together only because of him who is the Lord of all, makes it easy and natural to look out for each other. Do you see the total change in approach – we get caught up in social activism to relieve the symptoms. More often than not this is ineffective and always it is patronizing and divides. Genuine inclusive care for one another comes from our deep understanding that only together we can be the Body of Christ.
So: we need to rethink our action from social activism to intrinsic acceptance and care. We all need to share in the abundance of what we were given. Each one of us has the right to speak up; each global situation is equally important our goal. This also means that we understand resources as not just not the money.. We need to tap into local wisdom, different approaches, training, experience, talent, solutions and whatever help there is among us when a common global problem is encountered….
It also means that we, the Baptist women, are not a separate universe, but that in co-operation we join hands with others: So I am not for equality but I am for co-operation, justice, freedom, and empowerment of women. That’s the first point about me.
Secondly, I am a firm believer in Women’s work! It has not always been so. In fact, many years ago when I was called to join the Baptist women’s board in Croatia, I had severe doubts that this is the best place to display my talent. I did agree with the many men and women at that time who told me that a dying horse should not be resuscitated. Oh the sins my youth!
I have come a long way since. I have learned about the needs of the women and their difficult and more often than not marginalized lives. Much of it on my own skin. I’ve noticed and mourned the potential and the unseen and unused talent in the churches. I’ve seen frustration with the church transferred to next generations. I have also learned that the best thing you can do for the family and for the church is to strengthen its women and liberate them, empower and equip them for what they have been called to do. Recently the global community has come to recognize the importance of women in solving world’s toughest problems! World hunger, extreme poverty, illiteracy, extreme health issues (like HIV and some other diseases) slavery and trafficking or sustainable living, all are at their core a problem of women’s marginalisation. Including women and allowing them access to resources is the key to all of these problems. Or the other way around: patriarchal marginalisation of women and their roles has brought us into the mess we are now.
See this from the biblical perspectives we are in the story of Paradise lost. What we are experiencing is nothing but the curse in Genesis 3. But the curse is not God’s commandment for Christians. Genesis 3 is rather a statement about a life without God. It is a world built on human wannabe-gods. In this system many compete for the title, and the fittest get the role. Men are more likely to win this battle. They can live as if there are no meaningful relationships or children. In a world driven by materialistic gain – the women are the ones who lose. If they focus on relationships and children they will be spending money and not accumulating it. Women are not the “weaker sex” because they do not have the strength to keep up with manly jobs. They are weaker because their intrinsic approach to life is through relationships and nurturing. It does them no good in a man’s world..
To have said that – I do not claim that women are better than men. In a fallen world the men run the show, but women take selfish short-cuts by adjusting to it. These short-cuts include manipulation and selling themselves in various ways to the highest bidder. This may bring some temporary relief, but on the long run an unjust system is upheld and all are hurt.
Women tend to adapt sinful structures but we should not wonder about it. There is only one way in which the curse can be faced – by being reversed because changing structures can only be done if the curse is reversed in Jesus Christ! Lynn Smith has shown it effectively in her book on Gender and Giftedness a few years ago.
Therefore, I think, the social approach is not very effective. Injustice of structures can only be changed in places where Christ is recognized as the Head of both men and women and all are subjected to him and then in ministry to each other. The Bible calls this salvation and salvation is so much more than just my personal happiness and a certain future in Heaven. Salvation must create here and now already the necessary space for the nurture and growth of new generations.
This is why women’s work and our BWA WD is so important. We are the women who will not manipulate and teach others to manipulate, who will not be up for sale to get some personal gain. Instead we will always recognize the Lordship and Headship of Christ over the world. We will recognize what God has given us to keep, to use and to cherish. We will not put up with human gods be they male or female – who buy and sell everything, including – as the Revelation states (Rev 18) human souls!
We will pledge our allegiance to Christ, the only Lord and we will join hands in ministry with all who recognize Christ as their Head. We will encourage and enable each other and speak up against injustice and slavery, uncovering always and everywhere the structures of evil. We will not tolerate the human condition of the curse, or, God forbid, sanctify it as a God-ordained Christian living! We will call upon the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, because the Bible says that Jesus took our curse upon his body and crucified it (Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). We are NOT bound to live out the curse. In Christ we are free. Yes, women should be making fuss about it, and a lot of fuss! They should arise! Systems of curse must be torn down so that God’s light can shine through. It is not a fight for women’s rights or liberation, it is working with God for the salvation of the world.
Amazingly, the logistics and infrastructures have already been set up by Christ alone. Already the many of us are his Body. Already, there are Baptist women’s groups all around the world. Already there have been women who have worked before us and made the provisions necessary for a time like this. Wisdom and mercy have been here before me. I am confident, that God will not leave us now, and that we will be able to build on these foundations.
So you see how we are the light of the world and how wonderful God’s plan is with us? Therefore, let us remove the clutter of victimization, powerlessness and pain which try to hide our light. Let us help each other to throw it off from our shoulders so Christ can shine through us.