Review: Women in God’s Mission

Women in Gods Mission

Women in God’s MissionMary T. Lederleitner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: An account of research into the many ways women are leading in God’s mission around the world, the distinctive traits in their service and leadership, the challenges they experience around gender discrimination, and the conditions under which they do their best work.

No matter what you believe about women in leadership, women are serving and leading in ways that are advancing God’s global mission. Mary Lederleitner researched their stories, giving an account of their leadership, the distinctive traits that mark their work, the challenges they face because of their gender and how they cope engage these, and what conditions foster the opportunity for them to serve and lead with excellence. In introducing her study, Lederleitner writes:

“My desire is to share stories of faithful and trusted women, so other agendas or issues do not derail the conversation about women in God’s mission. Other people can write books that argue points of view. The purpose for my book is to bring the voices of respected women from approximately thirty nations to the dialogue about leadership in general, and to dialogue about service and leadership in God’s mission specifically.”

This story approach runs through the book, beginning with “Appreciating Their Stories” in Part One. She documents the incredible variety of ways women are leading in networks, new missions, health organizations, in executive roles and in their families, and much more, with a deep sense of the privilege of being able to advance God’s mission in all these ways. Yet they often have faced challenges because of their gender and creatively responded. Many had a deep sense early in life of their leadership calling and struggled between faithfulness to God’s calling and cultural expectations and limitations.

Lederleitner teased out seven distinctive traits in these women, which she summarizes as “The Faithful Connected Servant.”

  1. Leadership is not about them but God
  2. A deep commitment to prayer.
  3. A preference for collaborative leadership.
  4. A holistic view of mission.
  5. Perseverance despite difficulties and injustices.
  6. Intense care for mission impact.
  7. A commitment to excellence and continuing personal growth.

Part Two elaborates these seven qualities, illustrating them with a variety of leadership stories. As a man who has worked with women leaders, I’ve witnessed all of these traits, and found that they have stretched my own leadership. I appreciated seeing these named.

Part Three explores the reality of gender discrimination, from the abuses women endure in society to ways they are discriminated against in the workplace in terms of promotion compensation, invisibility, and having to prove themselves in ways not expected of men. She explores both the ways women sometimes accommodate established patterns of discrimination, and what women do when, out of a sense of call, they cannot accommodate.

Part Four is especially important for men to read, because we can play a vital role in unleashing the gifts of excellence women bring to the church. It begins with husbands who are not threatened by their wives but delight in their gifts and accomplishments and sacrifice so they have the opportunity to excel. It means changing our metaphor in the workplace from a fear of women as temptress (usually the man’s problem that he needs to take responsibility for) to one of seeing each other as “sacred siblings.” It means men opening opportunities for women to step forward. She concludes this section by identifying remaining issues ranging from health and family issues to equity in the workplace.

What I most appreciate with Lederleitner’s story-telling approach is that she is not perpetuating a theological polemic but rather describing present and possible realities for women, the admirable work they are doing in serving and leading, even when limited by structures or theological positions. She shows the barriers the church erects, apart from the theological discussion, in which we hurt those who seek to serve and advance God’s mission.

This is a book men need to read! We need to understand both the internal struggle, and external conditions that make it hard for women to say “yes” to God’s invitations to serve and lead, and how we often make it harder. Men in leadership of ministries and agencies need to understand the potential for the mission of our organizations to be more effectively advanced when the women among us are fully able to lead well. Empowering women doesn’t come at the expense of dis-empowering men, but rather multiplies the power of all of us to fulfill God’s mission. Given the challenges facing the Christian mission in the modern world, that seems a good thing.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Women Workers During World War 2

rosie the riveter

J. Howard Miller, Public Domain

The woman who was the inspiration for the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster, often nicknamed as “Rosie the Riveter,” died this week at the age of 96. Naomi Parker Fraley was the subject of a photograph that inspired Westinghouse artist J. Howard Miller’s inspirational poster, originally designed to boost morale in Westinghouse plants during World War 2. There was actually some controversy about the identity of “Rosie” and this Time article summarizes how they figured out who the real “Rosie” was. The poster went viral, and has come to be an icon for the empowerment of women in the workplace.

Youngstown was one of the “arsenals of democracy” supporting the war effort during World War 2 and there were a number of “Rosies” who contributed to that effort. My mother-in-law was one of them. She often spoke of her work during the war as an inspector with one of the aircraft part suppliers in Youngstown. She wasn’t a riveter, but rather inspected the riveting work of other workers, many of them women. She talked of getting people angry when she’d send an assembly back because of improper rivets. Her attitude was that the boys “over there” depended on them getting it right.

From what I’ve been able to learn, two of the places where aircraft parts were manufactured were General Fireproofing and Steel Door. At Steel Door, they manufactured fuel tanks for the aircraft. I also found this Mashable site with a color photo spread of real life “Rosies” in aircraft manufacturing during World War 2. Unfortunately, there were none from Youngstown.

Women filled the spaces in the workforce opened up by men who went away to serve. The steel mills in Youngstown ran three shifts and prospered during this time and there were a number of positions filled by women. Women filled between 8 and 16 percent of the production positions, particularly in rolling mills, fabrication, finishing, and shop maintenance.

Helena Auguston was one of the contributors to Youngstown State’s Oral History Program. During World War 2 she worked for a year at the Ravenna Arsenal making detonator caps for artillery shells. Then she worked for the remainder of the war at Republic and Copperweld, mostly as a crane operator. Here is a portion of her interview with William M. Kish of her experience:

OH1236 pdf

Screen capture from Helena Auguston interview with William M. Kish

Some, like Helena, returned to homemaking after the war. But many did not. They joined unions and advocated for women’s rights in the workplace. It clearly changed perceptions of what women were capable of doing and began to break down the divisions of work into “men’s work” and “women’s work.” This also began to change relations between husbands and wives as women no longer depended on a male wage earner, and how children were raised.

These women are some of the “unsung heroes” of World War 2. Youngstown played a huge role in the war effort, and women played a significant part in that effort, one that it seems appropriate to remember with the passing of the original “Rosie the Riveter.”

I’d love to hear some of your stories of women in your family who worked in Youngstown area factories during World War 2.

Review: Rescuing Jesus

rescuing-jesus

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming EvangelicalismDeborah Jian Lee. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.

Summary: An account of how three marginalized groups within American evangelicalism are finding increasing acceptance, and the struggles they have faced along the way.

Deborah Jian Lee writes as a journalist who has been on the inside of much of what she is covering. Raised in an Asian American family, she came to an evangelical Christian faith as a teenager, became involved as a participant and leader of a collegiate fellowship during her college years, experiencing painful encounters around issues of race, the role of women, and LGBTQ issues, which led to her distancing herself and becoming one of an increasing number of religious “nones”, still spiritual, but no longer identifying with a particular faith community.

In this book, she recounts the efforts of three marginalized groups to gain a place of their own at the evangelical table. She does this by focusing on the stories of several representative figures. Lisa Sharon Harper, an activist working with Sojourrners, represents the struggle of ethnic minorities to be accepted on their own terms rather than assimilating into white Christianity. Jennifer Crumpton represents the awakening of many evangelical women from being subordinated to men in church, marriage, and public life to discover her own identity and exercise her own gifts in ministry as a woman. Tasha, Will, and Jason were core leaders of the Biola Queer Underground and represent the many youth coming from evangelical homes who struggle to authentically acknowledge and live out their sexual orientations and gender identities and yet find acceptance within the evangelical community.

The book is divided into three parts, describing a journey from conformity to evangelical norms, to skepticism and questioning, and finally to what would seem a “radical” but honest expression of what it means to be an ethnic minority, a feminist, or an LGBTQ person yet an evangelical. The narrative of these central figures journeys is interspersed with a historical account of evangelicalism around issues of race, feminism, and engagement with LGBTQ or “queer” persons, the self-identifier most often used in the book. At various point, Deborah Jian Lee interjects her own narrative as well as her personal interactions with the central characters as well as other evangelical leaders including Soong-chan Rah, Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, as well as senior figures like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Richard Cizik whose views on the place and inclusion of these marginalized groups changed over the course of their lives.

This was a hard, and yet illumining book for me to read. I am a white male, straight, boomer generation person working in the collegiate ministry world that is the scene of both Deborah Jian Lee’s personal narrative, and significant in the wider narrative. Reading surfaced memories of stereotypes, and incidents where I grieved individuals in each of the marginalized groups she describes, and my own continuing journey of repentance. Recent years and interactions have shown me how much I don’t know, and how much I need to listen and learn from people in each of these groups. The book also chronicles how hard and complicated this journey can be.

There are some other things I wrestled with as well. One is that this was one of about ten examples of recent books with the idea of “rescuing Jesus” in the title. I’m pretty sure that it is not Jesus who needs rescuing, but rather his followers who wander into various captivities. The second is with the word “reclaim” in the subtitle. I think it is more accurate to say that each of these marginalized groups and their allies are attempting to “reframe” evangelicalism in a way that includes and affirms them for who they are.

This leads to a third, and to my mind, far more significant question. Particularly around questions of gender roles and sexual identity and acceptable practice, there are significant differences around how the Bible is to be read, or if the Bible should even be relevant to the practice of the Christian community. Biblical authority, or, what I think a more negative term, biblicism, has been considered one of the defining marks of the evangelical movement. There are some who would be just as happy to see this go, but the question is whether what is left is still definably evangelical. Lee is conscious of these tensions within evangelicalism, but evidences a desire that it would move toward a type of progressive inclusiveness that may not be so far from her own status as a spiritual “none.” This is in no way to denigrate her own beliefs or journey. But I do think it will lead others, for example Wesley Hill, who she only mentions in passing, to conclude this too great a price to pay and choose the challenging road that seeks to hold together loving the marginalized and biblical faithfulness.

At the same time, Reclaiming Jesus is a good indicator of what is happening in the Christian movement of a Millenial generation in which people of color are becoming a majority, where women are finding their voice, and LGBTQ persons have won significant battles for civil equality. The majority of white evangelicals may have played a key role in electing the next president, but are hemorrhaging members among Millenials. This book can help them understand why, and what they must address while there is still time.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

On Fathers

I’ve been thinking today of what it is we honor in remembering fathers on Fathers Day. What it strikes me what we do not honor is simply the ability to become a father. There are lots of males who have impregnated women who never step up to the plate and act as a father. And there are the real men who sometimes cannot fulfill this biological function who so live and act that they are truly worthy of being honored as fathers. So what are we honoring on this day?

Dad and Me on a ride in Mill Creek Park, Fall 2011

Dad and Me on a ride in Mill Creek Park, Fall 2011

We honor those who fully share responsibility with a woman in making a home, in providing for the livelihood of that household, and caring for the children of that union. They not only help provide for children, they help with the vital work of being present with children, from those first diaper changes, through nights awake with a sick child, through school projects, through family outings and vacations, through the changes of adolescence, driving lessons, and going off to college. They continue as trusted mentors through adult life. I don’t think of any of these as particularly “male” tasks and many single parents manage these well. But the fathers we particularly honor are those who are “all in” in sharing the work, and the joys of being present to their sons and daughters in this way.

We honor men on this day who model respect for every woman in their lives–their spouses, mothers, daughters, friends, and colleagues. Their maleness is never an excuse for verbal or physical violence against a woman. Their sexuality is never a license to force sex on a woman (even one’s wife) without her consent or a child ever. I would go so far as to say that the honoring of women extends to how we look at women, either in the real or virtual worlds. Women are not an assemblage of body parts–they are persons. Perhaps the test is to ask, would you ever want someone else looking at your wife, or mother, or sister,or girlfriend, or daughter in that way? Those people are real persons in our lives. Do we extend that to seeing all women as real persons? And these men teach their sons to define real manhood in this way by saying, “do as I do.”

We honor men on this day who keep their commitments to love and cherish, for better or worse, in sickness and health as long as the two live. My father incarnated this. He was holding my mother’s hand when she took her last breath. He kept faith with her and loved her through nearly 69 years of marriage.  He was a one woman man. It wasn’t all a walk in the park. There were times of separation because of war and employment. There were tough financial times, illness, aging parents and more. But he didn’t walk away. He kept showing up.

We honor men who do all they can to teach their children all they have learned about life–from how to love God to how to fix a toilet. Perhaps most crucially, we teach our children how to live wisely–to act with integrity, to learn to work hard and finish a job, to use money wisely without inordinately loving it, to be considerate of and empathize with others.

These are some of the things I believe we honor with this holiday called Fathers Day. These are the things I remember about my own father and have aspired to in my life. I hope these things are what I’ve passed along to my son and those of his generation. Thank you, dad for all that you taught me, and all that you were in my life!

Why Isn’t This an Ethical No-Brainer?

There is a group of people who live in fear of violence or violation every day. They are exposed to jokes, gestures, innuendos. In some cultures they can be beaten, assaulted or even killed without legal consequence. They are even accused of “wanting it” or “deserving it.” And this group makes up more than half the world’s population. They are women.

Stop Gender Based Violence

In the last day, I saw a report of a 23 year old woman who as she is dying in her mother’s arms in India is apologizing because she was gang-raped–as if it were her fault. Reports of rape have tripled in Delhi in the past year. Closer to home, someone is sexually assaulted in this country every two minutes and 95 percent of rapists in this country will not go to prison for their offense. Roughly one in four women have survived rape or attempted rape.

In the sexually enlightened EU, things are no better. Twenty-two percent of EU women surveyed report having been assaulted by a partner. In Scandinavian countries according to the same report, the incidence is closer to 50 percent.

Roughly 80% of the victims of human trafficking are women and of those roughly 70% are trafficked into commercial sex industries. There are an estimated 27 million people in some form of involuntary servitude today according to the Polaris Project, from which these statistics come.

I could go on and talk about sexual harassment in the workplace, hookup culture and the dangers women face here or even the sometimes (not always) subtler abuses of women in the religious context where the exercise of their gifts and the expression of their love for God and humanity is limited.

What continues to trouble me as a man is that the vast majority of the perpetrators of these crimes are men. And the question that baffles me is, why are we at war with those who are someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s wife?  What troubles me is that my wife, my daughter-in-law, my sister, women who are my colleagues have probably not been able to live a single day of their adult lives without this lurking wariness of men.

I’m troubled that I cannot do more. I champion the gifts and skills of the women I work with. I try to model and teach respecting the dignity of the women in our Christian communities with the men I work with. I’ve participated in anti-trafficking efforts. What the pervasiveness and stubborn persistence of this stuff tells me is that human evil goes deep in our souls and as wide as the world.

But I am aware that there is also a community of men who recognize that the following are ethical no-brainers and I hope we will speak up and speak into this culture of violence against women that:

  • Unwanted flirting and propositions and sexual innuendo aren’t cool–they are threatening and in work contexts may be illegal.
  • “No” means “no” and is not a license to use alcohol and drugs to overcome lack of consent. Sex without consent is rape. Period.
  • Violence against a woman is never justified, never deserved.
  • Those in power who abuse women or children must never be protected by our structures, whether those are businesses, churches, or political offices.
  • Real manhood is never proven through domination of women. This only shows how little of a man you are.
  • Real men see women not as parts but as partners–partners not only in marriage, but in the workplace, in public life, in our churches–using our skills and gifts together to seek the up-building of the body of Christ and the body politic.

I don’t know whether we will ever achieve a time where our sisters will be able to live without wariness, which grieves me deeply. I do hope that we might see a movement of men who at least provide moments and glimpses of safety, of care, of affirmation that provide hope for a better day.