American Baptist Policy Statement on Women and Men as Partners in Church and Society

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INTRODUCTION

“Partners,” as the term is used in this statement, means more than aides or helpers who give assistance from the
sidelines. The emphasis is communion, a unity of purpose that links hands and hearts as full members of the team. It stresses full participation, sharing in both the risks and the benefits of the enterprise: “giving and receiving” (Philippians 4:15). It portrays an enduring alliance as long-term colleagues rather than a casual short walk together. Each partner has a voice and a valued judgment in the conduct of the enterprise, with full powers and discretion in leadership decisions. The legal requirements and constraints of a business partnership are not included here; therefore the notions often attached to “silent partner” and “limited partner” are not appropriate here. Covenant rather than contract is the relation that is envisioned.

Partnership involves collaboration and mutual support. It encourages doing what one does best and supporting one another in such endeavors. It recognizes, uses, and celebrates the gifts that each has been given for serving the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Its objective is building up the church in love (Ephesians 4:16), and its ultimate goal is the glory and praise of God (Ephesians 3:21).

For the purposes of this statement “church” is intended to designate the organized body of Christians in any particular place; and “Church” refers to the universal church. In the Affirmations, “church” is intended to designate any and all of the American Baptist churches.

“Society” in this statement refers to all people, collectively, regarded as constituting a single community of related, interdependent individuals. With an awareness that those who occupy the earth constitute one world, this paper addresses specifically the “society” of the USA in distinction from the other nations. “Society” refers to the full range of human relations–such as employment,
education, leisure, politics, and social engagements. It includes the common affairs of everyday life at home and away from home.

BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL BASE
The Bible’s message is addressed primarily to the religious
community–to Israel, in the Old Testament, and to the new
Israel, in the New Testament. The whole society is not often
addressed directly. The message of Scripture is intended
especially for the Church.
This policy statement seeks to look to the total witness of
the Bible as a sound theological base.*
The Basis in Genesis
The foundation for the partnership of women and men in God’s
creation appears in the opening chapter of Genesis. Two
perspectives are fundamental:
1. 1. Human beings are created in God’s own image (“Let us
make humankind in our own image, according to our
likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in
the image of God he created them, male and female he
created them,”
*An article by Dr. David Scholer, dean and professor of
New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary,
is followed extensively in the Biblical-Theological
Base section of this statement. A Biblical Basis for
“Equal Partnership of Women and Men in the Ministry of
the Church,” in Christian Action, Spring 1984,
published by National Ministries, American Baptist
Churches, USA, pages 1-6.)
2. Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV.) Creation in God’s image includes
identity as male or female. Sexuality is recognized.
Neither male headship nor female submission is
suggested.
Both the man and the woman are charged with responsibility
for all of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26, 28 TEV). Together,
without distinction, the first couple was assigned
responsibility to manage the earth as partners in
stewardship.
When the creation story is told again in Genesis 2, the
equal partnership of man and woman appears again. God
provides the lonely man with a companion who is both
intimately identified with him (“bone of my bones and flesh
of my flesh,” Genesis 2:23) and his helping partner in
serving God (2:18).
Both partners were involved in disobeying God (Genesis 3:6-
7). Their relation as equal partners was scarred by sin. The
image of God was distorted. Partners who were intended to be
stewards of creation became competitors struggling with each
other for supremacy. Genesis 3:16 interprets the subjugation
of woman to man as a punishment connected with sin. God’s
design
seemed lost forever. With the passage of centuries women
were pressed increasingly to submissive service to men,
restricted in their activities to home and family, and
regarded as inferior to men in almost every part of life.
The Basis in Jesus’ Ministry
Then Jesus came. In his actions and teachings Jesus treated
people fairly as persons of worth–regardless of society’s
judgment. In affirming the value of women as persons, to be
included along with men within God’s love and service, Jesus
acted counter to the society of his day.
Jesus rejected the male-dominated divorce practice of his
time (Matt. 19:3- 9NRSV). He recalled the equal partnership
as God’s intention for marriage. He rejected the prevalent
idea that women were responsible for all sexual sin. He
reached out to women who were rejected: the woman with the
issue of blood, who could not be received in the
congregation because she was “unclean” (Mark 5:25-34); the
woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:36-50); prostitutes
(Matthew 21:31); and adulteresses (John 4:7-42 and 8:1-11).
Though rejected by society and the religious community these
women brought many to believe in Jesus.
Jesus taught women, although teachers in Jesus’ day were not
to do so (Luke 10:38-42; John 4:4-42). Jesus included women
in his group of disciples (Luke 8:1-3), empowering them as
partners and learners. These same women stayed with Jesus at
the crucifixion and burial (Luke 23:49, 55-56). They told of
the risen Lord on resurrection morning (Luke 24:1-10). All
four Gospels record that it was the women disciples who
first declared the news of his resurrection.
Jesus’ own inclusion of women in his ministry was a strong
witness to the early church of the partnership of women and
men.
The Basis in the Book of Acts
The Book of Acts shows clearly that women were part of the
first church in Jerusalem. Luke takes care to record that
“the women” (meaning those disciples who followed Jesus) and
Mary, the mother of Jesus, were among the 120 disciples in
prayer in Jerusalem awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit
(Acts 1:14). Peter interpreted the mighty events of the Day
of Pentecost as
the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: “. . . I will pour
out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your
daughters will prophesy, . . . ” (Acts 2:17 NRSV). Women
have had a foundational role in the Church’s ministry from
the beginning.
As the Church grew and spread, women were included–the
widows in Joppa (Acts 9:36-43), Timothy’s mother in Lystra,
(II Timothy 1:5; Acts 16:1), the women in Philippi
(Philipians 4:2-3), the prominent women who joined the
church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), the prominent women in
Beroea (Acts 17:12) who believed, Damaris in Athens,
Priscilla in Corinth, the wives in Tyre, and the evangelist
Philip’s four daughters in Caesarea (Acts 21:9). Women
helped to establish the church in Philippi (Acts 16:11-
15;40) and Priscilla with Aquila taught Apollos (Acts 18:2,
18, 24-26) who became a noted teacher in the church.
The Basis in Paul
Paul began his letter to the Philippians with thanksgiving
for “. . . your partnership in the gospel from the first day
until now” (Philippians 1:5 NIV). Both men and women were
Paul’s partners in ministry. In his letters he mentions nine
women by name: Mary Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans
16:6, 12); Priscilla (Romans 16:3-4); Euodia and Syntyche
(Philippians 4:2-3); Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2); and Junia
(Romans 16:7). All of these joined Paul in the gospel
ministry.
At several points in his letters Paul addresses the issue of
partnership of men and women in mission. To the Galatians he
wrote (3:28 NRSV), “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there
is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” His point
is not to erase God’s created differences between male and
female, but to stress that
gender does not determine whether a person made in God’s
image can take part in the life and ministry of the church.
In this definitive theological statement, Paul makes no
distinctions in roles or functions between men and women in
ministry.
Two texts in Paul’s letters are often used to argue against
preaching, teaching, and leadership ministries for women.
The first is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, many scholars interpret
this as a prohibition against disruptive behavior in
worship. Disruptive questioning by wives, especially in
public, was regarded as indiscreet and a breach of
etiquette. Paul’s counsel was “If
they want to inquire about something, they should ask their
husbands at home” (1 Corinthians 14:35 TEV). Paul’s concern
is about appropriateness, order, and edification. He expects
everyone to participate in the worship (1 Corinthians
14:26).
The second text in Paul’s writings often used to oppose
women in ministry is 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Many scholars
believe that when these two verses are examined in the
entire paragraph, their prohibition of women teaching and
exercising authority in the Church emerges not as an
absolute injunction but as a localized, limited instruction
to restrict abusive activity. It does not restrict teaching
and exercising of authority by women in the Church.
Two broad and basic principles of biblical interpretation
are essential– balance and consistency. Balance seeks the
total witness of the Bible to inform theological thought.
Consistency asks for an approach to all biblical texts in
the same way so as to offset blind spots and biases. It is
imperative that the full evidence of Scripture and an
understanding of balance
and consistency in interpretation be applied to our
understanding of the partnership of women and men in the
ministry of the Church.
Men and women are called to be partners in Christian life
and ministry. This is the biblical message as given in the
creation story, in Jesus’ life and ministry, in the early
church, and in Paul’s preaching and teaching. In neither Old
Testament nor New Testament times did society practice such
partnership between men and women. The Church today
struggles to understand
partnership and its meaning for Christian men and women. In
our brokenness we do not always fulfill God’s intent. Yet
the Bible is clear on God’s design: to create one unbroken
human family, all members of which share equal privilege and
equal responsibility as partners in ministry to the world.
SITUATION ANALYSIS
Human beings–male and female–are created in God’s image.
Both are given responsibility as stewards of the world.
Tragically this partnering has been marred by the fall.
Exploitation, manipulation, and oppression appear in human
society more often than partnership. Women and men are
continually used as objects instead of being regarded as
responsible beings made in God’s image and therefore worthy
of respect. Such behavior and oppression damage both
theoppressed and the oppressor.
Recognition of the problems of exploitation, manipulation,
and oppression has raised new concerns regarding the
partnership of women and men. At times the oppressed respond
with frustration, anger, and a desire for change. At other
times oppressors respond with fear and a rejection of
change. Ideally, society is enriched when men and women
harmoniously work in partnership that honors one another.
Many women feel trapped by injustices in society, church,
and home. These injustices may be caused by custom and habit
or come about as a result of fear and discrimination. Not
all women feel such oppression. Some women have become so
accustomed to their status that they do not recognize
discrimination, especially in the more subtle forms in which
it is practiced.
Some through good fortune, special skill, or personal drive
have found or developed areas of service worthy of their
talents in society, church, and home. Some women receive
sufficient recognition from their male and female peers to
prevent the feelings of oppression. Although these women may
be used as examples to prove there is no discrimination,
they are rather exceptions that may be used to defuse the
complaints of others. Some women are well-adjusted, selfconfident,
and happy with their lives. There are also women
who accept their role and have little sense of injustice
even in oppressive circumstances. The fact that injustices
are not felt, however, does not negate their existence. Some
women exploit the discrimination to their own advantage.
Examples of gender discrimination are found in employment,
public leadership, the home, social interaction, and the
church’s ministry. In each situation the oppression is the
opposite of Christlike love, the genuine caring concern for
others that seeks their full liberty as the people of God,
and their full growth to maturity as measured by the stature
of Jesus Christ.
When challenged to recognize the basic injustices of
discrimination, some men and women respond that the Bible
supports male superiority. Some men become fearful of their
loss of power and authority. Some men fear being replaced by
more competent women. Others are reluctant to surrender the
enjoyment of a superior social rank or work position. Some
men fear the power of female attraction in a setting of
equality.
Some women deal with discrimination by fear and anger and
bitterly attack those who discriminate. Other women become
like the oppressor and take on an authoritarian role. Some
react with depression and give up on meeting injustices
directly or use manipulation or other indirect means to
alter a situation. When challenged by discrimination,
however, many concerned women
and men work as partners to point out areas of injustice and
oppression in order to bring about change.
Gender discrimination in society, especially the work place,
is being dealt with to some degree through legal channels.
Frequently legislation and court actions are initiated by
Christians who have a conscience about gender prejudice. The
Church of Jesus Christ must also be concerned about the
partnership of men and women in the home and church. Often
the church has not challenged both women and men to work
equally for the nurture of the family. Often the church has
challenged people to consider professional church work, but
has not provided opportunities to both women and men to use
their talents and abilities to the maximum within the
church.
Partnership, as best evidenced today, calls both women and
men to work in leadership roles and share in a broad
spectrum of positions in church, home and society. It calls
for men and women to cultivate and use the unique gifts God
has given each of them. Genuine partnership calls for women
and men towork for opportunities for each person regardless
of gender.
AFFIRMATIONS
1. We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ liberates all
persons, female and male, to serve in any ministry to
which they have been called by God and for which they
have God-given talents. This means that women, as well
as men, should have access to and serve at all levels
of church and society–local, regional, national, and
international–in the roles of policy makers and
implementers.
2. We affirm that for the church to be whole and effective
in its witness, it must have both women and men of all
races as full partners in all parts of its ministry.
This means that the church must address those policy
issues in its own life that limit full participation in
ministry, even as it appeals to society to change its
attitudes and actions relating to women and men.
3. We affirm that the practice of partnership between
women and men can be most effectively taught in the
home with the church’s active help. This means that the
father and the mother should model mutual love and
respect for the gifts and qualities that each brings to
their marriage and the home they have established. This
means that the churches can help single parents teach
mutual respect and love to their children. It also
means that parents should teach their sons and
daughters to love and respect all persons, seeking to
free them from stifling male and female stereotypes and
encouraging them to develop skills and talents
according to their individual gifts.
4. We affirm that both men and women in church and society
should share concern for strong family units and
consistent child care. This means that both men and
women should cooperate in building a stable home
environment for child rearing, with both parents
assuming major responsibilities in home duties,
including the care and discipline of children. This
means that both homemaking and careers outside the home
should be supported as worthy callings and occupations.
5. We affirm that children are not to be neglected in
order that parents may develop their careers and/or
interests. This means that parents must give
appropriate support to their children as the family
moves through the successive stages from the birth of
children to their leaving home as adults. It also means
that both the mother and the father should be able to
develop their careers and/or interests across the years
with shifts in the requirements of time, energy, and
attention to the family. It further means that when
parents work outside the home, quality child-care
facilities and programs in the community should be
important to both men and women.
6. We affirm that the churches, as well as secular
organizations, should offer employment opportunities
for all women and men with equal compensation,
recognition, and appreciation. This means that women
employed by the church should be given equal pay and
status with men who do comparable work. It also means
that the church should take special care to open all
doors of opportunity for women in all of its
professional ministries.
7. We affirm that men and women who now hold key
leadership places in church and society have a special
responsibility to act so that more women may be moved
into many of these positions. This means that men and
women should willingly use appointive powers and make
fiscal and educational decisions that open the way for
talented women to be prepared for major roles as
leaders in church and society. It also means that able
women should prepare themselves for key leadership
roles in response to God’s call.
8. We affirm that Christian men and women have a special
calling to be advocates and models for children and
youth, by identifying early those who have leadership
promise and giving them consistent personal support and
encouragement to prepare for positions of leadership in
church and society. This means that both women and men
share responsibility for recruitment of future leaders.
9. We affirm that the church needs to use language that is
congruent with the partnership of women and men. This
means that appropriate words referring to both women
and men should be sought and used in the church’s
worship, literature, and official statements.

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