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The Problem with Women’s Ministries (and Men’s)

March 1, 2006

I have a lot of appreciation for Frederica Matthewes-Green. I have read a number of her books (The Illumined Heart and Facing East)and essays. She writes from the context of the Eastern Orthodox church, I read her from the Anabaptist context. Nevertheless, I find her insights and analysis to bridge both traditions.

She wrote an essay entitled, The Problem with Women’s Ministries, that appeared in Beliefnet, July 6, 2004. I really resonate with many of the observations she makes in this piece. I would say her points are well made and should cause us to think about how ministries that focus specifically on men or women are framed. What is the thrust and integrative motiff of the women’s or men’s ministry? What are the theological views underlying the type of spirituality that is prevalent? How are men and women being called to maturity in Christ and spiritual depth? How are the ministries taking their cues from Scripture and how are they a reflection of the cultural understanding of gender and gender roles?

Matthewes-Green states:

Not only is there no “women’s ministry,” there’s no “women’s spirituality.” No lofty ephemera about women’s unique spiritual sensitivity, like we’re delicate canaries sniffling in a hallway. No giving Hildegard of Bingen the kind of gushing adoration she’d prefer we gave her Lord. No sour, resentful whining about how women’s unique contribution to the faith was trampled by the bad, bad patriarchal church.

“Women’s ministry” and “women’s spirituality” appear to come from opposite poles of the Christian compass-one is mostly evangelical right and the other more liturgical left.

And she hits a homerun in the analysis that follows:

Women and men just aren’t that different. Oh, we’re different in some intriguing ways, and it can be fun to band together for all-gal or all-guy projects. But when it comes to the tragic mess Christ came to heal, we’re pretty much the same. Men and women stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross, “working out our own salvation” in repentance and humility and without a lot of self-centered blather. Women don’t need to have our own little corner of the church where we can feel precious or, alternatively, cranky. In every essential thing, as far as life in Christ is concerned, the differences between men and women are irrelevant. So why make a big deal over them?

So on the flip side I also tend to look with suspicion on books or movements that focus exclusively on “men’s spirituality” (i.e. John Eldridge, Wild at Heart) Is it helpful to understand spirituality through gender? How might the Gospel call us to confront the unique aspects of gender with the common tools of humility and repentance, of prayer, study, community, hospitality and silence? I tend to see these tools as applying equally to both genders and sometimes see gender specific spirituality as making unhealthy distinctions in how we interact and respond to the living Christ. I think these gender-specific approaches can sometimes reinforce immature and culturally determined patterns of the masculine and the feminine. For example, while women may more easily express emotions, it is just as important that men connect with the emotional part of their being. Dominant culture does not reinforce this. Real men aren’t in touch with their emotions. This is counter to the image of men as strong and independent. I could go into much greater depth, but I will leave this post for now.

This would be an interesting topic to hear from others.

I invite your responses.

Peace.

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