Let us observe a lesson from history:
Jean Sartre maintained that the ‘Marxist intellectual has believed to serve his party by raping his experience, that is, by disregarding unpleasant details, by simplifying in the worst possible ways given facts…’ only to make sure the ideology in general, stays intact. It is worth paying attention to such evaluations of history because they tend to reveal some standing truths. I think Christians in particular need to understand this one, especially as it refers to women’s work.
First, a secular connection, and then how this plays out on Christian Women’s Work.
Yugoslavian feminists won a huge victory at the end of the 2nd World War, it is claimed. The Constitution of Yugoslavia and its diverse documents and laws proscribed equality of women as an ‘outright result of the struggle of the women themselves through their feminist and anti-fascistic female organization before and during the War.’ That was 1945. But already in 1959, the Anti-Fascist Women’s Front supposedly suspended itself as obsolete. That is the official version. Behind the scenes, these women’s groups were becoming too annoying to the Party while pointing to its repeated shortcomings of putting the laws into practice!
For the Party, that was it: the laws were put in place, and will eventually sort themselves out when all the comrades have been properly enlightened. Later Yugoslavian feminists came to disagree with this optimism. When their “militant” organization was terminated, they claim, the women were practically again at square one: they were either ikebanas on the diverse boards to prove the ideology of equality right (with no real voice); or they had the fake choice between staying at home and getting a “female” low-paying job. Someone has rightly concluded: oppression is not one event. Thus, it cannot be solved with one decision. Rather, oppressions happen through a series of often indistinguishable, small steps.
As Christians, we should not be surprised. The apostle Paul has rightly stated that salvation does not come from having the law but through doing what the law requires. He was referring to God’s law, but it can be applied to human laws, too. As good as laws are, they go no further than the letter and outside appearance. The law can say: Do not do this! But it cannot prevent people from doing it if they want to. At best the law can punish – after the wrong has been committed. Also, we know that no law can even start anticipating all the wrongs that can be done by people! So, in the case of the factual inequality of the Yugoslavian women after 1959, Slavoj Žižek, the at once praised and scolded Slovenian philosopher, evaluated that by setting up the equality law but depoliticizing women’s concerns by terminating its political groups, the Communist party in Yugoslavia embarked on a nifty way to marginalize women to the apolitical spaces and so to prevent equality. At the surface, the women had all the rights. Under the surface, they were marginalized and silenced even to the point of not even having a voice.
I am concerned because I see a similar tendency and effect in the Baptist Unions of the ‘liberated West.’ Women’s Work has been terminated (often by the women themselves) in several places in Europe, for instance, because it is ‘no longer needed.’ Many more are considering terminating it. After all, some of these Baptist Unions made a lot of effort to come to the point of stated and accepted equality of men and women in the church. The Bible has been researched, the work evaluated, social studies conducted. They have done a great job.And, there were no serious reasons found to question equality of men and women in both salvation and ministry. So, after all this, who needed women’s work? I know! I have been there and believed that! Possibly, it can be even considered as “unequal” to have a women’s ministry without “men’s ministries”! And often – let us be frank – the women’s work just did not suit the new generations of women.
Sure, women’s work sometimes lacked the necessary skill and insight to regenerate and reform, and including new generations has not come naturally. But it was suspended because of the romantic belief that by figuring out equality and accepting a resolution at the national Baptist Union level, the work of women has become oblivious. Women were now, after all, welcome to all the ministries and positions – if they met the searched for criteria!
Authentic Christian Living
This positive decision which included long and tedious discussions in the churches, unfortunately, ended up creating some of the same outcomes as the belief they were trying to overcome: that namely women are not equal but “created ontologically inferior to men”. This is still held in many places around the Globe by people who prefer to
understand Galatians 3:28 (about the equality of all and oneness in Christ) as Paul’s eschatological (heavenly) vision of the church. Only in Heaven, they claim, maleness and femaleness will be overcome, but not in the earthly church! Women and men may be equal “in Christ” – but on Earth there are still biological roles, and godly women gratefully accept their subservient roles.
Believers in Christ rightly reject such interpretations, because these interpretations go against the great biblical doctrines of creation, sin and salvation, and then also because they diminish and terminate the value and spiritual gifting of more than a half of the Church. But so far, I have not seen them noticing that their own agenda of terminating women’s work on the account of equality, also removes the tools by which a just attitude towards women can be achieved! They are forcing us, as Sartre would say, into a “raped experience”: we should claim equality as a higher good where in fact, there is often just lip service paid to it and a sporadic female example is set forward so that it can be pointed to as this great proof of equality.
So what can one do? There are many reasons why even in marvellous “Western” circumstances, there is still an immense need for women’s work in Baptist Unions. Even more so around the Globe There are deep and numerous reasons for inequality of humans and the interplays of such reasons – some we have not yet started to see, even in the so-called enlightened West. They must be unearthed and confronted. It is not likely that men, as benevolent as they may be, will even see them, let alone fight them – with due respect for the noted and few exceptions, like President Carter. Most likely the reasons will be dug up, noticed and confronted by an engaged, God-fearing women’s work and then supported by others. For instance, I am deeply frustrated when I see my girls going through some of the same unjust situations which I had to go through, in both society and in the church, although these organizations now confess to equality. If one gets ridiculed and disregarded in such a place – what with the many places that openly stand for inequality? Sin has many devious ways to infiltrate even the best of our intentions and the newest of our inventions. Talking to women in the West, it is clear to me that, yes, even we feel the pain of inequality in both society and the church – Yes, we may be MUCH better off than the rest of the world, but that should only make us the more aware of the need for a platform where these issues will be brought up for the sake of our sisters and their potential. May be that is the stuff God created to help the world? And if we still believe that a platform like this is not needed for our own sake, then let us have one for the sake of our sisters who are mistreated, abused, insulted, injured and sold – on a daily basis in what is called the “majority world”.
The Baptist Women’s International Day of Prayer is at the door – celebrated on each the first Monday in November. If you have not yet been involved, you should try finding or even founding a group of women who will observe it with you. This may be your first step towards looking the truth in the eye. There are women out there and they are in bondage. But Christ came to set us free. It is not a future freedom, it starts here and now. Let us not “rape” reality by closing our eyes from the truth. Enduring injustices big and small without addressing them means supporting the perpetrators. Let us not give up on our women’s groups or prayer and support for those near and those far. Let us consider our women’s groups as islands of support and hope, and platforms where hard issues may be brought up, inspected critically and graciously and discussed. I am certain that God wants to bless communities through women who have been set free by him and for his purposes.