Church gatherings begin in a variety of ways, some with an opening prayer, some with a song. Our community begins by welcoming guests and often includes raoucous family bantor peppered with humor. Recently, after welcoming guests, the greeter made a plea to join the Gideons International, an organization he is a member of. Many people learn about this organization when they find a Gideon Bible in their hotel room.
After his appeal, someone asked if women could be part of the Gideons. The man replied “Oh, no. Women can’t be Gideons.” A woman tried to clarify, saying that while women can’t be Gideons, they can join the auxillary and even pass out Bibles, just not Gideon Bibles. This woman seemed perfectly content with her secondary, eh…auxillary role within this organization.
I was a bit shocked by how this blatant gender discrimination was being passed off as normative. Later in the service, I was asked to collect the offering. The pastor, an egalitarian with a quick sense of humor, quipped, “Just don’t pass out any Bibles!”
During the week that followed, I shared this incident with fellow egalitarians who weren’t surprised at all by the Gideons’ policies. They knew that women were barred from its organization (other than in a secondary auxiliary role, of course). In addition they told me that the Gideons deny membership to blue-collar men and restrict their membership to business and professional men, a fact which was confirmed when I checked the Gideons’ website. With these kind of membership requirements, most of Jesus’s disciples wouldn’t qualify to be Gideons and even Jesus, as a carpenter, would be banned from membership.
By the time church rolled around the next week, I was still feeling a bit snarky about the Gideons’ stance on gender. At the last moment, I made some stickers for my husband and I to wear to church which included the universal sign for “no women allowed” right beside the Gideon symbol.
Once we arrived at church, a man saw us and immediately noticed the Gideon emblem on my husband’s sticker. “Oh, are you a Gideon?” he asked excitedly. “Oh, no,” my husband said. “I am just wearing this because the Gideons don’t allow women to be part of their group. Its my wife’s idea.” (While the stickers were my idea, I felt a distinct connection with Eve in that moment.)
Immediately the man started defending the Gideons saying that women are part of the Gideons and can go where the men can’t, like into the women’s prison. I pointed out that it was his wife who said that women couldn’t be Gideons, which he staunchly denied. When I told him that the Gideon’s discriminate against women, he said scornfully, “I am not even going to go there.” He then notified me that the Gideon symbol was copyrighted, as though I would be selling my stickers. I felt dutifully shamed.
Within a minute or two, a red-faced woman rushed in and confronted my husband and me. “What is this I hear that you are putting down the Gideons? They have been around a hundred years and they do a lot of good passing out Bibles,” she accosted. My husband, now recovered from his earlier indiscretion, stood by my side, cool and calm, and told her that she was the one who said that women couldn’t pass out Gideon Bibles the week earlier. A long heated exchange followed. She denied what she said and my husband attempted to correct her memory. Back and forth they argued until finally it was established that wives of Gideons can pass out Gideon Bibles, but women who don’t have a Gideon husband cannot. In the end, I removed our stickers and told the livid woman that we meant no harm but that we were concerned about the Gideons’ discriminatory stance on women.
Later, the red faced woman, now with less color in her face, hugged me and told me that she loved me. I again apologized saying that we meant no harm but that I was passionate about gender equality.
“Oh, I know you are,” she replied earnestly. “We will all be equal in heaven. We will be like the angels.”
A bit shocked by her response, I told her that we are all equal now according to the new covenant. I reminded her “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female for you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
“Oh, no,” she said sweetly. “There has to be order, the created order. God, Jesus, man then woman. Man is the head. We can’t have two heads. That would be like Siamese twins.”
Realizing that there was nothing I could say in that moment to change her mind, I just said, “Well, I just see it differently.”
Later, I shared this drama with a good friend who is the president of the Gideon’s auxiliary (and coincidentally the wife of the greeter). “Of course the Gideons discriminate against women,” she said. “I know it. I just do the auxiliary to get the Bibles to give away.”
On the way home, my husband and I had a lengthy discussion about this whole debacle. I was again reminded how important it is to study the Scriptures for myself. I was grateful for the season when I met with other women and studied the difficult biblical passages on gender. Our study led to a grounded certainty that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, and it is the Holy Spirit that determines our calling based on the gifts He gives. Women are not an auxillary part of God’s kingdom. Rather, we play a vital, equal role alongside our male counterparts, even if those male (and female) counterparts deny our equality.
The truth is that many people don’t want to engage in this messy, difficult process of sorting through what is truth and what is tradition. I was reminded of this when I read this quote by a very wise author:
To a large degree, we are all prisoners of our genes, family beliefs, mentors, experiences, traditions, and culture. Each represents a bar on the window of our prison cell. Our perception of what is true and eternal is colored by each bar. To deny this truth is not just to add another bar, but to add one which is stronger than the rest combined. Our only escape is through a never-ending quest for truth. Christian integrity in a setting of intellectual freedom demands that we never stop searching. The world and the church are better because men and women dare question that which has already been settled, if for no other reason than the personal confirmation of one's belief, rather than having one's faith simply passed on from generation to generation.
Error can be passed on as easily as truth. It can be defended with equal vigor. But when error is passed on and defended as truth, succeeding generations are imprisoned, and the church suffers.
Tragically, many prisoners grow accustomed to their prison cells, and need the security and safety they offer.[i]
[i] Rowland, Robert H., I Permit not a Woman ...To Remain Shackled
GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com.