Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.
No one moved.
Thinking his request was muddled or unheard, Zeke repeated it. He was met with crossed arms, averted eyes, and the creaks of bodies shifting uneasily in the pews. Silence wrapped the Northwest church like a pea-soup fog.
"Sorry brother," Elder Darrell strode to the platform and stood next to Ezekiel behind the podium. Smiling, he clapped Zeke on the shoulder and explained, "We don't allow that sort of thing here."
"The Bible is clear when it tells us that women are not to usurp authority over men," explained Elder Darrell. The members of Community Christian believe that includes pulpit ministry, any form of church leadership, and public prayer, particularly prayer that takes place under its roof. "Corporate" prayer meetings are divided along gender lines: women and girls pray in one room, men and boys in another.
Zeke felt like a country fair snow cone on a sweltering August afternoon. A porcupine silence ensued until "Brother Franklin" came forward and prayed for the women of Zeke's host country.
"What did he pray?" I asked Zeke as he unrolled his story over lunch a few days later.
"Franklin prayed that God would teach the women of that country to submit to the men."
I swallowed. Hard. "Aside from the fact that 'women submitting to men' is a pseudo-biblical view," I probed, "what else did Darrell say?"
Zeke sighed as he raked a sun-bronzed hand through his sandy hair. "It's like Community Christian's view of 'biblical womanhood' is 'clipped wings' and 'seen but not heard.' I don't get it," Zeke dabbed a French fry into a pool of ketchup. "That's the kind of thing that goes on in my host county." He cited instances of female subservience, male dominance, and gender discrimination in education, work, worship, and the legal system.
"Didn't the Lord Jesus come to set the captives free? Is that just spiritual, or is it something more?"my young friend wondered between bites of his cheeseburger. "How come some Christians refuse to see women as full partners in kingdom work, as equal joint-heirs in Jesus?" Zeke sipped his lemonade while I listened. "What's with the top-down totem pole view of gender roles? How is that different from the country where I work?"
"I don't get it," Zeke reiterated, shaking his head. "Why would an 'evangelical, Bible-believing church' treat women just like some of those who are outside Christendom?"
Kristine Lowder is a professional writer, blogger and co-pastor of a simple church called The Sheepfold. She and her husband Chris are the founders and leaders of the Grays Harbor Chapter of Christians for Bibilical Equality.