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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Women in Leadership: It's About Respect

I have served in churches and church-related ministries in two denominations that believed very differently about the roles of women in ministry. I have friends who support ordaining women and those who do not. In the light of a recent interview of a prominent church leader, I am going to do my best to make this point: I respect your right to have differing views on ordaining women, but differing views are not the root cause of the recent disparaging comments about one woman. Agreement is not a prerequisite for respect.

I have watched and listened as social media exploded in outrage over the undeniably rude behavior of this male church leaders. It has not surprised me that the issue often turns into an argument over the ordination of women. Theology is a fabulous distraction from the basic problem—respect for women.

My church heritage is one that ordains women. Then, for twenty-five years I served in church-related ministries in denominations that do not ordain women. I met men who respected me as a woman leader in both settings. I also faced marginalization and disrespect in both settings. In my recent endeavors as an author and advocate for mental health, support has come from both men and women—on both sides of the ordination divide. I refuse to label any denomination or gender in regards to the respect I have or have not received as a woman leader. Respect for women is a character trait, not a denominational stand.

Now for some storytelling . . . (without commentary--mostly)

When I arrived at Point Loma Nazarene University (then Pasadena College), gender discrimination in the church was a foreign concept. I knew women preachers, my ordained dad respected all women, many women leaders had been my mentors, and I had already been in several leadership roles in the church and district. I enrolled as Christian Education major with no desire/calling for pastoral ministry.

My junior year, I realized my ambitious “complete two majors in four years” scheme had one hitch. I couldn’t fit a theology course in—unless I took Pastoral Theology. The registrar said, “It doesn’t fit the requirement, you aren’t a Pastoral major, and there are no women in the class.” I countered, “Then you shouldn’t call it theology and since the Nazarene church ordains women there should be women in the class.” My logic held, and yes, I was the only woman in the class. On the day the professor returned midterms, he walked in with a smile. “Well, guys, the only one who got an ‘A’ was Janyne.”

No one from that class ever asked me on a date and I eventually met and married a Baptist while working in a very conservative church. My leadership skills were not a good fit, but this would be my world for many long years. This provided a crash course in the culture which clapped and cheered when Beth Moore was told to “Go Home,” BUT I fully believe there were those in that crowd who also found it appalling. I believe this because of those who respected me as a woman leader—no matter their views on ordination.

Yet, there were always times when my place as a woman was clearly defined. One year the church we attended put on a big “Find Your Spiritual Gifts” campaign. I filled out the questionnaire and mapped the results on the chart. It said, my gifts were exhortation and leadership. It also said an appropriate role would be pastor. This amused me, but at the same time, it made me realize how limited I was in using my gifts in the church. I shared the results with the pastor of the church. He said, “Well, you need to go find another church.” (That is just so close to “Go Home.”)

This didn’t mean that I wasn't given the opportunity to use my gifts in children’s and women’s ministries. Since I had never felt called to pastoral ministry, this was fine. My most enjoyable experience was a church wide campaign to promote and train for children’s ministries. Wisdom Tree Ministry involved teacher training and some men wouldn’t attend the trainings when a woman was teaching. Despite the few dissenters, most men were appreciative of my expertise. I refused to focus on the few.

Then, I returned to the church of my heritage. Speaking in chapel was an opportunity never possible at the previous college. My son was attending and one evening, as he walked into the chapel, he passed two men walking out. One said, “We aren’t going to stay and listen to a woman preach.” I am proud of my son’s control in that moment. Some of his greatest spiritual growth came while listening to Nina Gunter who served as a General Superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene. Eric and his wife, Kelly would eventually be ordained in the same service. My father spoke the ordination prayer.

My first course for my doctoral work at the University of Colorado, Denver was a leadership class. I took this opportunity to delve into the role of women leaders within the church. It was a ten-page document, but this was my conclusion: “No matter what the theological viewpoint, when top positions in a hierarchal leadership paradigm are only available to men, the result is a limit on those women who would desire to pursue leadership roles. If the issue were not domination, then the power could be shared and equal opportunity for leadership provided, even in a context where ordination was deemed theologically incorrect."

Before retiring, I began searching for another college-level position. I was on a Christian universities job posting site and saw a description for the head of an Elementary Education Department in a college in California. My qualifications and experience were a perfect fit, so I applied. Then, I did more research and realized the stance Masters College had on women in ministry.

When called for an initial phone conversation, I said, “You know, I think I should have explored your college more before applying. I need to say that my daughter-in-law is ordained in the Church of the Nazarene and I will always be vocally supportive of her.” His response? “Oh, that is so disappointing. You are such a perfect fit for this job. But thank you for explaining this right up front so we didn’t waste time unnecessarily. I wish you well in your job search. You have excellent qualifications.”

Diminishment and disrespect of women is a battle that has no winners. It is cultural and goes across the ordination divide. I honor those men in my life who have respected me as a woman leader. The men who step out of dominant culture both in society and the church deserve acknowledgement. We saw the worst of the worst in the video this week, but they do not represent the men in my life who have stepped up to support me as a woman leader. The essence of a man’s character is prominently displayed in his treatment of women. This is not a theological debate. It is simply following the example of Jesus.

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