The death of George Floyd in the United States has sparked off the nation-wide and even world-wide demonstrations in the United States and in the world. The slogan “Black lives matter” has become the motto which inspires and encourages thousands and thousands of people to march to the street to fight for racial justice. Among them are the blacks, and even the whites.
The death of George Floyd revealed how the blacks in the United States had been suppressed and exploited all these years. Martin Luther King Jr fought for the equality of the blacks nearly half a century before, his famous speech “I have a dream” still echoed in the hearts of millions of people, he even died for this cause. Many years have passed, yet the situation of the blacks in the United States has not undergone substantial changes.
Sadly to say, racial injustice and inequality do not only occur in the United States, they also permeate in different sectors in different parts of the world. Even in multi-ethnic churches in Europe, racial inequality is still inevitable.
Not only do we need to fight for racial equality, we also need to fight for all kinds of equalities. What I have been fighting for is gender equality in my church.
My church is a Baptist church established by a US Baptist missionary organization nearly 40 years ago, our theological conviction, tradition and culture are all shaped by the indoctrination of the missionary organization. About 25 years ago, I was most struck by one incident which ignited the fire that transformed women’s role in my church.
While I was supposed to be the worship singing leader in a Sunday worship, I received a telephone call by a US pastor the day before, asking me not to go on the pulpit to serve when he was to preach that day, simply because I was a woman. It was because the US pastor, in his religious convictions, considered that women should not teach men. His religious convictions came from Timothy 12: 14. In an embarrassing tone over the phone, he suggested I continued serving the following week while he was not there to speak. I obeyed that time.
My gender was the reason behind my being rejected the chance to go to the pulpit to serve on that particular Sunday morning when the US pastor came to preach. The US Baptist missionaries have been very conservative towards women’s roles in churches. In their convictions, on the basis of a few two Pauline verses in the Bible, women cannot be the leader and they cannot be visible on the pulpit. As such, I need to be invisible on the day he came. My question was if that was the biblical truth, which should be followed strictly in whatever circumstances, why could I go on the pulpit again the following week when he did not come? I began to wonder if it was a biblical truth, or it was just his convictions, or the convictions of the US Baptist missionary organization? Was there a bias when they interpreted Pauline verses? Should we follow their interpretation?
In my theological studies ten years afterwards, a word “patriarchal” came to me. This became a magic word to me. I could use it to name the situation in my church. “Patriarchal”, could best describe the incident that happened before and the other situation in my church, such as women could not be the chair in the Deacon Board, pastor-in-charge can only be men, woman pastor could not preach in Sunday’s worship and woman leaders could not lead the liturgical part in Sunday worship.
With this awareness, I then asked my pastor-in-charge if we should keep these situations intact or we should make a change. He fully supported my suggestion, as a result, a Task Group was thus formed. Meetings were held and debates were conducted. References were made to the different interpretations of the few Pauline verses. With the re-interpretation of the few Pauline verses on which the US missionary organization based for their convictions, a breakthrough was made for women. A resolution was made where woman pastor could preach and woman leaders could also lead the liturgical part in Sunday worship.
I was the first woman leader to lead the liturgical part of Sunday worship. I opened up a critical space for women in my church. When women became visible on the pulpit, it created a tremendous impact on the congregation, especially among women themselves. They had a new perception of their own, unmasking the internalized belief that only men should and could be leaders on the pulpit. They had a new understanding that women could also play the same role as men, and as best as men could be. This new perception has even motivated other women to have the courage to break through and treasure this visibility and equality once denied to women.
Gender equality parallels with racial equality, in the sense that they need to be fought for. They are won through battles, not necessarily with bloodshed, however they are not freely given. This is not God’s desire that all these inequalities exist in the world. However, in a fallen world, this is the result of the sins. We need to eradicate these sins, and to construct a world where men, women, blacks, whites and yellow are equal, there is a noble cause for it and it is worth for us to pay our painstaking effort with persistence and perseverance to achieve this end.
About the Author
Dr. Elaine YIP, is a graduate of Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology in Anglia Ruskin University in 2019. Her research interest was feminist theology and her thesis was entitled “Exploring the Journey towards Women’s Empowerment in a Chinese Congregation in Hong Kong”. She is a deaconess in a Baptist church in Hong Kong and has deep concerns for women’s rights in the church. She is also a founding member of “Asia Academy of Practical Theology HK”, which aims at promoting practical theology in Hong Kong and Asia.