The God who goes beyond gender stereotypes.
On Sunday 8 March, International Women’s Day will be observed around the world. This annual occasion celebrates women’s achievements, but it also reminds us that many women and girls around the world still suffer from high levels of discrimination and violence, simply for being female. Their lives are less valued than those of men and boys, they are excluded from economic, social and religious opportunities and resources, and they don’t know what it’s like to be free.
In different parts of the world The Salvation Army, as a global leader in community development, is breaking cultural boundaries to help change the lives of women and girls. In India, for example, programs give women access to healthcare and education and help to establish their own businesses. In Malawi, a water, sanitation, hygiene and food security project is transforming the lives of women, children and communities.
Closer to home, women in Australia impacted by domestic violence, homelessness and addiction are being empowered and resourced to rebuild their lives.
Through these practical actions The Salvation Army is showing generations of women and girls that they are children of God, made in his image and of equal value in his eyes. We do this because as a movement we recognise the biblical truth of equality between genders, that God made both men and women in his image. God intended men and women to share equal rights and responsibilities, to be equal partners in looking after creation.
When Jesus lived on Earth, women were not equal to men. It was definitely inappropriate for a Jewish teacher to eat with women, allow them to touch him, and have women in his close circle. But Jesus did all of these things and more. In the Bible’s book of Luke in particular, we can see that Jesus was radical and inclusive in his encounters with women.
He restricted nothing from women. He empowered women to work with him, he stood up for women, healed them and listened to their stories. He taught them, lived alongside them and gave them a voice in his church. But in the Christian church, these stories are often glossed over or never heard.
The Church should be a reflection of how God intends humanity to live. We should be showing the world that God created men and women equally in his image, and that Jesus welcomed women into teaching and preaching roles in his church. Unfortunately, we sometimes get this wrong and our failings on gender equality have impacted many people.
The Salvation Army isn’t perfect on gender equity and steps are being taken to rectify that. But from the Army’s very beginning in 1865 in London’s East End, it has been a movement that recognised the equal calling of women to preach and minister. Both its founders, William and Catherine Booth, encouraged women to preach. William Booth once wrote: “I insist on the equality of women with men. Every officer [minister] and soldier [member] should insist upon the truth that woman is as important, as valuable, as capable and as necessary to the progress and happiness of the world as man. Unfortunately a large number of people of every tribe, every class and nationality think otherwise. They still believe woman is inferior to man.”
God is not a man. God is not a woman. God is bigger than the gender stereotypes and restrictions we apply to both men and women. But God is beautifully reflected in both men and women who were both made in his image. Gender equality is essential inside and outside the church, and The Salvation Army will continue to stand up for gender equity both in Australia and around the world.
Star Conliffe is a Salvation Army officer in Victoria.