The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ’woman, ’for she was taken out of man.” Genesis 2:23
Why are women underrepresented in senior leadership roles in the Church? A Conference organized by Chapel for Europe titled – Role of Women in the Church: Clichés, Reality and Dreams – posed this question. Five women, deeply involved in the Church life, with different personal, professional and confessional backgrounds shared their experiences and perspectives.
How the Scriptures shaped this division
It is important to understand at what is being referred to in defining the role of women differently from that of men in the ecclesiastical context, beginning with
Corinthians 14:34-35: ‘Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church’. The context of this sentence is controversial since the same St. Paul addressed the role of women in different ways within the same chapter and letter. That is why theologians suggest the reading of the whole chapter as a key to understand the message behind. Nevertheless, much was based on this sentence in the past centuries.
Forgotten passages and roles
On the other hand, we generally forget passages like Joel 2: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy.” or Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.
In catechism lessons, we speak of the apostles as only men and we forget too easily the role of women around Jesus, and more particularly that they have an important role; both in the Old Testament, with Miriam, Deborah, Esther or Sarah, and in the New Testament with Mary Magdalene. She was the first person to be commissioned. And she was charged with going to the men to share her testimony and to give the Word. One of the points that was emphasized during the Conference is that many consider the gesture to be intended as a simple statement, but not as a commission as an apostle. But Jesus did not make this distinction: To the apostle to the apostles.
Feeling invisible in their role
It’s well recognised that barriers to women are also prevalent in other settings outside the Church. Gender bias runs deep in the church and has historically prevented women from fulfilling their leadership call. It’s time to dispel the myths about the role of women.
The frustration associated with the commitment and the devotion that these women speak of is palpable.
Why women can teach in the name of the Church, commit to parish work in the name of the church, be the biggest proportion of church attendees and so on, yet they have to do it without recognition of their deep commitment?
Even in the branches of Christianity that allow a woman to become pastors, there are no measures such as maternity leave to facilitate their role.
So how can these women feel that they belong to the Church if it continues to be a club for gentlemen only? How they can feel included if they need to keep acting behind the scenes?
Recognition of their role is still a burning topic. Women contribute to the life and work of their churches in many ways, from the very beginning. Currently, a commission is working in the Vatican to understand how to deal with the possibility of women serving as deacons and the next steps to be taken .
This is good sign of openness, but a lot is still to be done in order to give women a respectful career path as for their male colleagues.
JESC assistant to the Director