It might not look like it, but I am an egalitarian. In Christian theological terms, that means I believe that (among other things), in the eyes of God, men and women are of equal value and that the traditionally understood Biblical list of spiritual gifts are given to men and women alike.
I understand that there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary. After all, I am a Mennonite pastor, I live in Alberta, my wife adopted my last name and she generally keeps quiet regarding matters of church business.
My cultural background is probably the biggest reason people might be skeptical of me claiming this position. Like most immigrant communities, the men I knew were much quicker to switch from cultural to mainstream clothing than the women were. The women interacted less with the world around them and so they were slower to learn the language and other cultural norms. Some of that was voluntary, some was externally enforced, and some of it was simply the reality of what they understood as their domestic responsibilities.
I grew up with five older sisters and no matter how busy they were or how unbusy I was, they were called upon to wash the dishes, etc. I still assert that the jobs my dad invented that I needed to do were a lot harder than my sisters realized, but they did way more work than I did.
The church I attended had rules against hiring female pastors, but there were no women clamoring for the opportunity either.
The message I got was that I, as a man, was by definition stronger, smarter and a more capable leader than my sisters or any of my female counterparts at school or church. That message was what I repeated back to others, rarely trying to be sensitive, humble, or even logically consistent. The trouble, besides the offense I caused to my well-meaning teachers and classmates, was that deep down I knew that message was wrong.
The girls in my school classes weren’t just better behaved and more respectful, they were smarter than the boys, a lot smarter. (I’m not trying to be had on these guys, but our culture didn’t push guys to achieve academically, so most of them didn’t try. Many of these guys would go on to demonstrate their considerable intelligence in a variety of ways.) The girls at my church demonstrated a much deeper and more sincere spirituality than the guys did. The girls were more committed to church teachings, they were more active in evangelism and they took ownership of what was happening at church, despite the fact that much of our activities were geared toward attracting more guys to come. (The secret is that activities don’t bring guys to youth group events, girls do.)
Even though they could never dream of being ordained, even though they didn’t want to marry pastors or missionaries, and even though their talents could easily have led them to secular college programs with more lucrative careers, these girls attended Bible college in droves.
If us guys did as much as they did, the church would have interpreted that as a sign of leadership potential. Since it was just the girls, people wondered if they were just desperate to find boyfriends. (Desperate or not, the pickings must have been pretty slim. Almost all of them graduated single and eventually had to marry less educated, less religiously devoted men.)
All of this evidence was in the back of my mind as I went off to college. There, I met women who were aspiring to be leaders. I had the opportunity to visit churches where women were the pastors. While I knew there wasn’t anything sinful about their leadership, I used the fact that their sermons didn’t inspire as my last shred of counter-evidence against women in church leadership. Since then, I have realized a few things that have removed any and all obstacles. I saw that there are a variety of speaking styles, and lots of other people were engaged by those other speakers. I learned that my level of engagement doesn’t determine someone else’s success as a leader. I realized there are a wide variety of other pastoral duties that many women, including my wife, could do better than me.
My own marriage is a metaphor too. I respects my leadership, and I respect hers. Each of us has the freedom to correct the other, and when we’re in the right frame of mind, we might even listen to that correction. I have different responsibilities, skills and opportunities, but we are in a relationship of co-dependence. She relies on me, and I rely on her.