Gender Equality in Church

The Mass

It was Sunday and I went to celebrate mass with the local Roman Catholics in my area. At 8.00 am, I went in and waited for the mass leader to start. Everyone was quiet but the congregation later started to recite prayers. I am a Christian protestant and I did not know how to recite any of the prayers. I felt very uneasy and misplaced but my objective was to stand for I had to stay as long as it would take to collect the data I was in dire need of. Most of the people in the church were women accounting for over an approximate 55%. Men were about 40% while the rest were children.

The first thing I noted was the dressing pattern of the congregation. There was an assortment in their dressing with men from the older generation wearing suits and several of them had ties on them. They looked officially dressed. As for the male youth, they wore casual clothing apart from a few of them who had copied their older counterparts. On the other hand, the older women wore long dresses and most of them had their heads covered. However, a notable number of them wore tight skirts, which was the main dressing for the female youths. Further, most of the female youth did not cover their heads like the older women. The church was cold, there was no heating system, and most of the people inside wore some warm clothing. I had left my jacket in the car so  I had to tolerate the cold. The feeling of sanctity at this point was inevitable and I could not help but get into the prayer mood. The smell of burning candles filled the air.

After the reciting was over, people relaxed and I thought that it was time to go for my jacket. It was however announced that the priest was ready and that mass would start in three minutes. The choir led the church with a song and a group of dancers led the priest and his altar boys into the church. The choir was fulfilled of youthful individuals composed of a larger number of ladies than gentlemen.

The priest then started mass and followed a certain order. After a few hymn songs and prayers led by the priest, it was time to read the Bible. Two readings were read by ladies while the other one was read by a middle-aged man. The main reading was read while we stood by the priest.

The readings were followed by an elaboration and after 30 minutes, we were singing the hymns again. Soon, it was time for offertory. This was later followed by some prayers, hymns and then receiving the Holy Eucharist. Here, almost all older women and men went to receive it, while just  about half of the younger women did the same. Only a few male youths went to receive the Eucharist.

After this, there were a several more songs and it was time for the announcements made by the liturgical coordinator, a lady in her mid thirties. It was notable that most of the announcements were directed to women and their prayer groups. Men and youth had very few groups to be announced. She then invited the chairperson, a lady as well, to address the congregation on the official matters.

Methods

My main method of data gathering was through observation and interviewing. From where I sat, I could see the whole of the congregation and their actions and this gave me the advantage of judgment of numbers. I also carried out an oral interview with the priest after the mass.

Gender equality in church

In the recent past, there has been a perception that there are more women attending religious meetings than men, especially in Christianity (Lal, 2011). Gender is getting overturned and there is more equality in Christian churches than in any other areas. This is despite the important role that men held in the inception of Christianity. All the twelve of the Disciples of Christ were men as well as Christ Himself. However, the reducing numbers should act as an alarm to the Christians. Gender in churches has become insignificant and many women have taken up leadership positions.

For instance during this day, two of the three readings were read by women and only one was read by a man (this excludes the Gospel that was read by the priest, which is his duty and  cannot be read by anyone else). Further, two of the senior leaders were women. This was another high score against gender inequality. More importantly, the announcements suggested that there were more women attending church activities. Women were respected and they held most of their meetings, while men were left to carry out theirs. However, the leadership could have been a representation of the proportionate congregation, which had more women than men. However, taking key slots in the executive committee showed that there was a chance for no gender inequality at all. Men and women were treated equally and if there was any inequality, women were better placed than men.

Women’s involvement in main church activities has been questioned by most of the psychologists and theologists (Lal, 2011). The canonized Bible contradicts its stand over the issue since it gives different stands in different situations (Nelson, 2009). First, it dictates that God created man in his own image and commanded humankind to love each other as they love themselves. In the New Testament however, St. Paul, one of the highest ranked people helping in  spreading of Christianity, is very clear that women should not be on a level ground with men. They are inferior and should follow men. However, he states that God is above all.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God… For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man…In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (New International Version, 1 Corinthians 11:1-3; 8-9; 11-12).

It is also clearly stated in another verse in the book of Timothy.

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (New International Version, 1 Timothy 2:11-15).

Hampson (1990) disagrees with the fact that Eve could have been deceived by the snake because of her gender. It is not biologically supported and it should not be taken that she fell to the trap because she was a woman, but due to her human nature. A lot of research further indicates that there is very little, if there is at all, insignificant in leadership abilities of  women.

In his book, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, William Webb places women on a level ground with men over judgment issues. He shows that the capability of women could not be underestimated in general, but personal attributes could take toll as in case with men as well.

 “Research indicates that ability to detect deception is not linked to gender in any significant way… Rather, the ability to detect deception is the result of a combination of factors such as cross cultural differences, age, experience, socialization…and education (Webb, 2001, p. 273).

The Interview-Priest

The interview with the priest affirmed the previous assessment made through observation. There were more women taking responsibilities in church today. This is unlike in the past years when women were restricted from indulging in any religious activities. They were only required to go to church, sit and listen. They would never ask or raise questions in the church.

“In the early church, women were treated as outcasts until Christ started to honor their presence and activities. However, the Bible has made controversies through saint Paul in first Corinthians and first Timothy where it places the man far ahead of women in the social set up.”-Priest Martin.

The priest further explained that it was not initially acceptable for women to lead the church no matter the Christianity teachings on equality. Women were still considered inferior and were expected to submit to their husbands at all time with the least questioning. Their husbands were their leaders and they could not question their decisions.

“The women leadership in church was initially unacceptable. But with the social dynamism we have today due to economic and career factors, it has become impossible to eliminate women from leadership and the church has been forced to adjust. Women have become very learned and they have shown their capability to lead and organize institutions just like men and at times even better.”- Priest Martin

The priest further conceded that women did not have the full access to all positions in church. There were things that they could never be allowed by the church no matter the extent of liberation. However, the priest felt that they had had the larger part and they should be contented with the ability that the church has given to them.

 “Women have only been denied to conduct the actual mass. They can preach but they can never be ordained as priests. It has been there traditionally and will remain for the next few generations. It is hard for the church to accept to allow women to become priestesses. It might one day happen but in my opinion not in the near future…..I would not term this as gender inequality but a regulatory measure that follows the tradition of the church.”- Priest Martin

Conclusion

Gender equality has been a theme that many people are talking about today. Women empowerment in the society has been on the rise and education for all is being advocated at all levels of the society. Traditional women oppression has been fought off strongly and it seems to have started to pay off. Women are allowed in many forums that they could not have an access in the past, such as leadership in church. The society is finally accepting that women have matching capabilities, as men, and they can give as commendable results as men. If the events of that day were anything to go by, we can assume that women in church are highly empowered and have shown that their continued struggle for equality could be justified after all.

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